Saving Nolan Ryan: Relievers and Strikeout Rates

I’m going to do something a little different with this week’s closer report. As opposed to just reporting on bullpen volatility, I will try to answer the question “Who is next?” and “Are my guys safe?”

Since the season started, 11 teams have replaced their [projected opening day] closer; four of those were due to injury; Aroldis Chapman, Jason Grilli, Bobby Parnell, and Casey Janssen, while the others because of poor performance. (Jim Johnson, Ernesto Frieri, Jim Henderson, Neftali Feliz, Nate Jones, Chad Qualls and Jose Veras) At just the 15% mark of the 2014 season, we’ve seen a 35% closer turnover. We all know that closers turn over, and while some will argue that this means one shouldn’t pay for closers, I stand on the other side saying PAY FOR ELITE CLOSERS.

Identifying elite closers is not as difficult as it sounds. Of all relievers with 50ip in 2013, the following had a K rate above 10/9ip and a BB rate below 3/9ip:

Reliever K/9 BB/9 ERA SV
Greg Holland 13.84 2.42 1.21 47
Jason Grilli 13.32 2.34 2.70 33
Craig Kimbrel 13.16 2.69 1.21 50
Kenley Jansen 13.03 2.11 1.88 28
Trevor Rosenthal 12.90 2.39 2.63 3
Koji Uehara 12.23 1.09 1.09 21
Glen Perkins 11.06 2.15 2.30 36
Casey Fien 10.60 1.74 3.92 0
David Robertson 10.45 2.44 2.04 3
Francisco Rodriguez* 10.41 2.70 2.70 10
Neal Cotts 10.26 2.84 1.11 1
David Carpenter 10.14 2.74 1.78 0

*47 ip

Of the 12 relievers that qualified in 2013, 9 are closers in 2014; 8 of which are in the top 10 closers in my tiered rankings below. Jason Grilli would have been in the top 10 as well had he not been placed on the DL by the Pirates over the weekend. By finding 12 relievers that met the criteria last year, we’ve identified 9 of the best 10 closers in 2014. Taken even further, the 10 best relievers of 2013 ranked by K rate, with a BB rate under 3/9ip gave us 9 of the best 10 closers in 2014. Using this information should help identify which closers in 2014 are looking like safe bets to remain elite options and which ones that may be in for a decline.

Looking at the current season, here are the only 7 current closers that qualify:

Reliever K/9 BB/9 ERA SV
Greg Holland 16.00 2.00 3.00 6
Koji Uehara 15.43 0.96 0.96 5
Francisco Rodriguez 13.20 2.40 0.00 12
Glen Perkins 13.09 2.45 4.09 6
Huston Street 11.45 1.64 0.82 10
Rafael Soriano 11.00 2.00 0.00 4
Addison Reed 10.50 2.25 3.75 6

Holland, Uehara, Rodriguez and Perkins are all locked in and should each finish 2014 with top 10 RP value.

Rafael Soriano struck out 6.88 batters per 9 innings in 2013, after averaging 9.18 in his career. If he can bounce back to near those levels with his solid BB rate, he may hold good fantasy value and last the season as the closer in Washington. Interestingly enough, the closest season Soriano came to achieving the 10k and 3BB benchmarks was in 2009. He followed that season with his best year: 45 saves with a 1.73 ERA.

Huston Street is only one season away from meeting those targets; in fact for his career he has struck out 9.07 hitters per 9, while walking only 2.29. If Street is healthy, he’s a top 10 performer meaning this is a good time to acquire him from a nervous owner, at a price likely lower than any other top 10 closer in baseball.

Addison Reed has a career 9.39 strikeout per 9 innings rate while walking only 2.78. Ignore his current ERA and target him everywhere. The best closers in baseball typically do exactly what he’s doing currently.

Non-closers that meet the thresholds:

Reliever K/9 BB/9 ERA SV
Tony Watson 11.91 1.59 2.38 0
Danny Duffy 11.88 2.16 0.00 0
Zach Duke 11.68 2.19 1.46 0
David Carpenter 11.32 2.61 2.61 1
Drew Storen 11.17 0.93 0.93 0
Pat Neshek 10.97 2.53 1.69 0
Adam Ottavino 10.95 1.45 0.73 0
Esmil Rogers 10.38 2.57 5.79 0
Hector Rondon 10.22 2.92 0.73 1
Ernesto Frieri 10.12 2.53 7.59 2

Zack Duke and Tony Watson are situational lefties and as such don’t fall into the “potential future closer” category.

While owners are still hanging on to Rex Brothers as the next closer in Colorado, Ottavino may be the best stash. If he can maintain this steep decline from his career walk rate of 3.5 per 9 innings, he could be the next Rockies closer.

Danny Duffy is performing well in his relief role and is worth adding in all leagues that count holds. His strikeout stuff has never been a question and he can help in all ratios.

David Carpenter and Jordan Walden are next in line for the Braves if, God-forbid, anything should happen to Craig Kimbrel. Walden has an even higher strikeout rate than Carpenter but each was given an opportunity while Kimrel was off. Let’s not imagine a world where Kimbrel doesn’t return to his dominance of the past.

Drew Storen looks to have taken over “next in line” from Tyler Clippard in Washington. While I praised Soriano earlier, we are looking at a very small sample size and his fastball velocity still has not returned, making Storen a fantastic stash.

I’m filing Pat Neshek under the heading “St. Louis knows how to manage a bullpen”. Neshek is way down the pecking order for future closers in St. Louis and can be ignored in all leagues for now.

Esmil Rogers: screw it, SSS.

Hector Rondon has been lights out for the Chicago Cubs and if he is given the closer role, he has the ability to run away with it. The walk rate may creep up keeping him out of the top closers bracket, but he should be a serviceable option for fantasy owners. If he’s available in any of your leagues, now is the time to grab him.

Ernesto Frieri should be given every opportunity to win back the closers job in Los Angeles from Joe (Is that his real name?) Smith. While Frieri has always been done in by his high walk rate, in 2014 the culprit has been the long ball. Frieri has given up 15 fly balls and five of them have left the yard. Remarkably his ground ball rate is 36% this year after a career average of 25%, leading one to believe that at least some of that 7.59 ERA can be notched up to small sample size. If he’s been dropped, I would monitor both Angels relievers closely over the next week or two.

Here are the rest of the closers and how they stack up vs the established target rates, including a scale of how concerned you should be as a fantasy owner (1 means set and forget, 5 means you should be losing sleep over them):

Closer K/9 BB/9 ERA SV Concern Level
Craig Kimbrel 19.16 4.35 2.61 8 1
Kenley Jansen 16.71 3.21 3.21 9 1
David Robertson 7.50 3.00 0.00 4 2
Trevor Rosenthal 12.15 4.72 4.73 7 2
Sergio Romo 8.18 1.64 2.45 6 2
Steve Cishek 10.38 3.12 2.08 5 2
Joe Nathan 10.24 4.66 5.59 4 3
Grant Balfour 6.10 7.84 6.10 4 5
Jonathan Papelbon 7.15 3.18 2.38 8 4
Mark Melancon 6.75 0.75 1.50 0 2
Fernando Rodney 12.96 6.49 3.24 5 4
Joakim Soria 9.00 1.80 3.60 6 2
Sergio Santos 16.20 8.64 5.40 5 4
Latroy Hawkins 4.35 1.74 2.61 8 3
Tommy Hunter 6.23 1.04 3.11 6 3
John Axford 8.38 6.52 2.79 8 5
Matt Lindstrom 4.50 4.50 3.75 3 5
Kyle Farnsworth 6.35 1.59 2.38 2 4

Saving Nolan RyanThroughout the season, I’ll be looking at bullpens for all 30 major league teams.  As closers fall off one by one (and they will), I’ll prepare you for who is next in line.  For holds leagues, I’ll list the most likely arms on each team to come through for you.  Finally, I’ll list a sleeper from each bullpen that may find themselves in a key role that you need to keep an eye on.

Tier One: Super Hero Motion Pictures

These closers have superhuman abilities and are dedicated to protecting your team from the evils of Dr. Blown Save, hereafter referred to as B.S.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
1 Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves David Carpenter
Luis Avilan Jordan Walden
2 Greg Holland Kansas City Royals Wade Davis Aaron Crow Kelvin Herrera
3 Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Chris Perez/Chris Withrow
Brian Wilson J.P. Howell
4 Koji Uehara Boston RedSox Junichi Tazawa Chris Capuano
Edward Mujica


Tier Two: Westerns

These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
5 David Robertson
New York Yankees Adam Warren Matt Thornton
Shawn Kelley
6 Glen Perkins Minnesota Twins Jared Burton Casey Fien Michael Tonkin
7 Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals Carlos Martinez Kevin Siegrist Jason Motte
8 Sergio Romo San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla Javier Lopez Jean Machi


Tier Three: Dramas

As in film this is the largest group assembled. These closers have big questions and real conflicts.  You’ll see their best, their worst and everything in between.  Tragically, some of these closers will not survive the season while others will persevere and triumph.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
9 Francisco Rodriguez Milwaukee Brewers Will Smith Jim Henderson Tyler Thornburg
10 Huston Street San Diego Padres Joquain Benoit Dale Thayer
Alex Torres
11 Steve Cishek Miami Marlins Mike Dunn
Carlos Marmol
12 Joe Nathan Detroit Tigers Al Alburquerque Joba Chamberlain
Ian Krol
13 Addison Reed Arizona Diamondbacks Brad Ziegler Oliver Perez J.J. Putz
14 Rafael Soriano Washington Nationals Tyler Clippard Drew Storen Craig Stammen
15 Mark Melancon  Pittsburgh Pirates Tony Watson Bryan Morris Jason Grilli 
16 Joakim Soria Texas Rangers Neal Cotts Jason Fraser Alexi Ogando
17 Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Mike Adams Antonio Bastardo Jacob Diekman
18 Grant Balfour Tampa Bay Rays Joel Peralta Jake McGee Brandon Gomes
19 Fernando Rodney Seattle Mariners Charlie Furbush Yoervis Medina Danny Farquhar


Tier Four: Disaster Films

Be prepared for the shipwreck that’s coming. Whether by injury, age or diminishing arsenal these closers are about to be left to freeze and die in the Arctic Ocean.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
20 Sergio Santos Toronto Blue Jays Steve Delabar/Neil Wagner
Brett Cecil
Casey Janssen
21 Latroy Hawkins Colorado Rockies Rex Brothers Matt Belisle Adam Ottavino
22 Tommy Hunter Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day Brian Matusz Evan Meek
23 John Axford Cleveland Indians Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Mark Rzepcynski
24 Joe Smith Anaheim Angels Kevin Jepsen Michael Kohn Ernesto Frieri


Tier Five: Mysteries

Secrets, plot twists and unpredictability are all the order of the day. While some leave you asking “whodunit”, the  mystery with others is “what are they thinking?”

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
25 Luke Gregerson Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle Ryan Cook
Jim Johnson
26 Matt Lindstrom Chicago White Sox Ronnie Belisario Maikel Cleto Daniel Webb
27 Jonathan Broxton Cincinnati Reds Manny Parra Sam Leclure Aroldis Chapman
28 Kyle Farnsworth New York Mets Daisuke Matsuzka Jose Valverde Gonzalez Germen
29 Hector Rondon ? Chicago Cubs Justin Grimm Pedro Strop Jose Veras
30 Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields/ Anthony Bass
Houston Astros Matt Albers Kevin Chapman Jesse Crain
Paul Hartman

Written by 

Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.

One thought on “Saving Nolan Ryan: Relievers and Strikeout Rates”

  1. I’d be interested to know how the K/9 as well as some other “skill” ratios bare out with the elite closers compared to closers who lose their jobs and the setup men who replace them over time. My general strategy is to focus on the high K/9 guys, especially with setup guys who might be able to steal closer jobs.

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