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Closing Concerns

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. Around 15 years ago one of my best friends left the area to pursue a career in the telecommunications field. For a man who had a bit of a wild streak; life on the road with a nice paycheck to boot had quite the appeal. His days would be filled getting big business equipped for the upcoming technological advances. At night there wasn’t a gentleman’s club within a 40 mile radius he wouldn’t visit. During his time in the field his visits were few and far between. “I’ve got a big install starting Monday.” would be his excuse for not making it in. In reality his weekend was spent in a penthouse suite, enjoying the fruits of his labor.

The Royals playoff runs of 2014 and 2015 has changed the game of baseball. More and more teams have devoted their offseason to building up the bullpens to improve overall pitching deficiencies. From a financial standpoint, this method would seem to make sense.  Take the Miami Marlins offseason for example. The Marlins added Brad Ziegler and his career 2.44 ERA along with Junichi Tazawa and his 3.58 career mark, for a combined 14 Million a season. In comparison the Marlins are paying the newly acquired Edinson Volquez 11 Mil, for his career 4.44 ERA. Sure Volquez will pitch 120 more innings than either reliever, but if you are able to add enough depth, the quality of the work can begin to outweigh the volume.

This new approach to handling a pitching staff has already begun to spill over into fantasy. In 2012, 31 starting pitchers compiled 200 or more innings; that total was 36 in 2013. The year the Royals made their first World Series run, 34 starting pitchers meet or exceeded 200 innings, but in the season after the total dropped to 28. After winning the World Series in 2015, the tally on 200 inning workhorses totaled a mere 15. So while all these innings are coming off the starters totals, they’re not exactly bleeding into the relief pitchers values in regards to fantasy. More and more teams are rostering the additional reliever option leaving another arm to disperse those innings onto.

Without the influx of innings totals, I’m still left to ultimately value relievers solely based on the Save statistic when it comes to fantasy.  Sure, the Miller’s and Dellin Betances’ of the world have appeal, but lets face it – 70 combined saves between two closers is going to help you win a league title much more than the 80 K advantage the aforementioned duo affords you. It goes without saying that my top priority when prepping for upcoming drafts is identifying where the saves will come from.

Collect the Save and win the category, a simplistic approach that I feel too often gets over analyzed. If early ADP and Rankings for 2017 hold true, I personally feel some owners will not be getting what they pay for on draft day.

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Seung Hwan Oh and Edwin Diaz are being
drafted amongst the elite of the position.

Neither possesses the most appealing drawing card the position has to offer; equity. Seung Hwan Oh has all of three months of on the job training, while Diaz has two. Both were exceptional last season, and while I don’t expect either to falter, if forced to pay a premium I would prefer to have an option who can have a bad month and be ok. Trevor Rosenthal was among the best closers in the game just 12 months ago.

Diaz doesn’t have  107 saves breathing down his neck, but Nick Vincent pitched well last season and Steve Cishek is working his way back from hip surgery. Both teams played meaningful September games only to fall short in their playoff pursuit. Will either be given the luxury to “figure things out”, should struggles find them? I happen to find that difficult to believe.

Matt Bush, Kyle Barraclough, and Mauricio Cabrera
are currently being miscast as Closers in waiting.

The first misconception is how the incumbents are being viewed. Sam Dyson doesn’t have the K-rate most desire, but he converted 38 of 43 saves for a team that won their division. A.J. Ramos has compiled 72 saves over the last two seasons and was 40 of 43 last year. Jim Johnson is simply a victim of ageism; old and boring aren’t the most sought after fantasy commodities.

The second misconception with this group is what will actually happen in the unlikely event one of the incumbents does blow up. Matt Bush has spent more time in Prison than he has in late inning relief. The Rangers also have former closer Jeremy Jeffress, who compiled 27 saves just last season. Bush is currently being drafted 18 spots earlier than Jeffress in NFBC drafts.

As for Barraclough: his ADP of 38 among relief pitchers is the 4th highest among relievers with no perceived path to saves. If the attraction to Barraclough is simply to capitalize on the strikeout potential then at that price I’m fine with it. However, the dialog is that of Barraclough being the next in line should Ramos falter or become injured. Barraclough is two years away from arbitration. They are currently paying Brad Ziegler 8 Mil this season – the same Brad Ziegler who effectively closed 22 games just last year. Organizationally the Marlins have no reason to add potential salary onto Barraclough with a more than capable option already being paid as such.

Collectively we’ve got to stop with the radar gun numbers on these pitchers. Cabrera was one of two pitchers to average 100 MPH on his fastball (Chapman being the other). All that heat netted him a 7.51 K/9 and a K% of 19.8, the same K% of one CC Sabathia. In fact, Cabrera has only posted a K/9 above 9.00 at two stops, neither exceeded more than 18 innings of work. Hard and straight will work when you’re 12 – not so much at the major league level. Cabrera is currently the 57th relief pitcher off the board. Unlike Barraclough, Cabrera is currently going behind Arodys Vizciano (46th), but in all the drafts I have completed thus far Cabrera was clearly being drafted as the perceived next man up. Even with the control issues, Vizciano and the superior skill set is who the job would belong to.

Tony Watson, Raisel Iglesias,  Cam Bedrosian, and Hector Neris
appear to be the Closers of their respective teams.
What if I were to suggest not a single one will be closing out an Opening Day victory?

Tony Watson would seem to be the safest at this point. Despite this I still have my concerns. The Pirates currently have 4 LHP projected in the bullpen. Both Antonio Bastardo and Felipe Rivero have had success vs RH bats, but both struggled with LH hitters last season. Wade LeBlanc was picked up in September of last season and pitched well in relief down the stretch. Should any of these 3 emerge as a late inning option then the job will be Watson’s to run with. That is pending of course on his own success.

Over his career Watson has managed to hold RH hitters to a .634 OPS, but last season that number was .711. Three year increase in BB/9 helps explain Watson exceeding the 3.00 ERA threshold for the first time since 2012. Perhaps the 225 IP from 2013 to 2015 have taken its toll? At 5.5 Million per season, the contract for Daniel Hudson certainly feels to me like something more than bullpen depth.  With the forward thinking front office of the Pirates, I envision a scenario of split closer duties to begin the season, much in the same model as the Indians employ.

Raisel Iglesias is currently the 22nd RP off the board. All indications at this time point to the Reds using some sort of committee to begin the season. Personally I see the Reds using a rather unique bullpen approach this season. Iglesias  and Michael Lorenzen have the ability to pitch multiple innings. Could Iglesias and Lorenzen alternate multiple inning appearances, ultimately throwing about 4-6 innings per week? Iglesias pitched two or more innings in relief 17 times last season, Lorenzen did so 12 times.

At this point Tony Cingrani is projected as the lone LHP in the Reds bullpen. So with two pitchers is long relief roles and another designated as a LHP specialist, could Drew Storen be in line for some save chances? Despite his unsightly 5.23 ERA last season, Storen did manage a nice K:BB rate along with a return to his GB lean. That profile has led Storen to post ERAs of 2.75, 2.37 and 1.12 during his career.

Cam Bedrosian is currently the 25th RP off the board, while last seasons closer, Huston Street, is sitting at 55. Street was nothing short of a disaster last season posting an ERA of 6.45. Perhaps even more concerning was his K/9 which fell below that unsightly ERA, at 5.64. For what he lost in K rate he added in walks posting a 4.84 BB/9. Bedrosian hasn’t fare much better at the major league level, posting a 5.40 ERA in 2015 and a 6.52 in 2014. He did show a remarkable turn around last year (1.12 ERA), but was that enough to unseat the incumbent Street.

Look for Mike Scioscia to give Street the first crack at the job. Given the free fall in production last season I can’t help but think that injuries played a big role in the demise. Should that be the case, then Street will either pitch good enough to earn the job back or his loss of stuff will prompt an early retirement.

Hector Neris is the first Phillies reliever off the board at 26th overall among relievers. Neris got much of the love last season but only had two saves to show for it. Jeanmar Gomez had 37 saves for the Phillies last season and has already received a vote of confidence from management. At 29 Gomez is a Free Agent after the season, and at 4.2 Million this season, late game success could lead to some trade value.

Conversely, Neris is 27, but is still 2 years away from arbitration. Given his advanced age Neris isn’t likely to be a long-term fixture in the Phillies organization. Yet, with his team friendly contract and solid stuff, he is already an attractive trade piece for a team that is still more likely to sell than buy. By inserting Gomez, or even Joaquin Benoit into the closers role, another potential trade chip could begin to emerge.

*****

Every one of the aforementioned closer candidates are being drafted ultimately to provide one statistic. Some of the names mentioned may offer a more appealing skill set. Some may come at a much bigger discount. Ultimately, however, only a select few of the players above will have any type of relevance come Opening Day. The others will fade into obscurity, only to resurface at the first sign of trouble from the incumbent.

The time on the road eventually ended for my good friend. The huge employee boom was no longer needed once the infrastructure was developed. The demands for installs and system upgrades had been replaced with basic service calls. My buddy, like so many others, was no longer of any use. Gone were the company expensed hotels and the late night adventure funded by his daily per diem.   He would later define this time of his life as going from the Penthouse to the Outhouse – much like the perceived fantasy closer who’s pitching with two-outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the 7th.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.

4 comments on “Closing Concerns

  1. Bedrosian’s era was 5.40 in 2015. Last year his era was 1.12′

  2. Thank you for pointing it out Mark. My apologies on the error, having the correct information is rather important.

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