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:
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:
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:
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):
Throughout 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.
|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
Tier Two: Westerns
These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.
||New York Yankees||Adam Warren||Matt Thornton
|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.
|9||Francisco Rodriguez||Milwaukee Brewers||Will Smith||Jim Henderson||Tyler Thornburg|
|10||Huston Street||San Diego Padres||Joquain Benoit||Dale Thayer
|11||Steve Cishek||Miami Marlins||Mike Dunn
|12||Joe Nathan||Detroit Tigers||Al Alburquerque||Joba Chamberlain
|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.
|20||Sergio Santos||Toronto Blue Jays||Steve Delabar/Neil Wagner
|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?”
|25||Luke Gregerson||Oakland Athletics||Sean Doolittle||Ryan Cook
|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|