Welcome back to “Build a Better Bullpen, 2016” Part 2. You can see Part 1 here if you missed it. This season, no less than 11 of the 30 MLB teams have either major questions at closer, or no one clear reliever seemingly in line for the job. We are not even in April yet and the position is in chaos. I doubt it gets any better soon. Gone are the days when most teams had a clear cut closer for 162 games.
The newest trend appears to be collecting as many closers as one can. No, not in Fantasy drafts, I’m talking MLB teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros, and last season’s deadline deal debacle. Did anyone else stare dumbfounded at their computer screen in disbelief when the Nats traded for Papelbon, when they had a dominant closer already. It screwed them, as Storen was so dumbfounded he imploded, Paps got in the face of the Face of the Franchise, and the Nats missed the playoffs, firing the manager and some executives to boot. Karma’s a bitch. I owned Storen on most of my teams. Nuff said.
Hopefully my articles will make some sense out of it all. Some of these Closer Committes and battles include pitchers I’d never considered rostering at all, let alone ranking. So, I apologize if some potential closers are ranked higher than set up men with far better skill sets. But, we can’t discuss MLB relievers without covering all the closer issues out there, especially for those of you in 5X5 Roto Leagues.
Some quick housekeeping and then I’ll get started. I’ll mention scoring stats that are less familiar. H = Holds, and IRS = Inherited Runners Stranded. Our leagues use a balanced scoring system which allows us to rely less on saves as a stat and rely more on skills. Therefore, many middle relievers are ranked higher on my lists than many closers. But anyone in my top 50 here should be rostered in any league. Many middle relievers are ranked high as well if they are next in line to close, and I call them CLEWs (Closers en Waiting). After 50 I’ll list some RP’s that can accumulate Holds and IRS that didn’t make the top 50 cut, but are must owns in league’s like ours. Generally, Set Up men nail the most Holds, though they’ll often get IRS and Saves as well. IRS are mainly the domain of the specialists. Loogies (lefties) and also right-handed pitchers who come in with runners on and face a batter or two to get out of an inning. They also get Holds, but can’t contribute much else with their lack of innings.
26A. Jon Papelbon,Was, Closer: I don’t need to tell you what Paps can do. With 350 Saves in the past 10 years he is clearly a closer. He is also 35 and long removed from double digit K rates. He’s got the Washington closer role all to himself now, but needs to avoid blowing crucial saves again if he wants to justify the Storen trade.
26B. Drew Storen, Tor, Closer: In spite of all that happened, Storen IS an elite closer. On July 28th last season he had almost 30 saves, 1.73 ERA, & 11.0 K rate. The Nats were still contenders and could have used several pieces, but hardly a closer. Both Storen and the Nat’s season went up in flames following that head scratcher of a trade. He’s been assured a “steady role” in Toronto by Mgr. John Gibbons but still has to beat out Bobby Osuna for the gig..
26C. Roberto Osuna, Tor, Closer/Set Up: He is only 21, but has a total of 68 MLB games & even fewer MiLB games under his belt. He also throws very very hard and did well after taking over the closer’s role. The Jays envision him as a SP long term, and they expect to contend this season. For all those reasons, Storen should be the closer. I’ve been wrong before. Osuna will still be worth owning depending on his role.
27. A.J Ramos, Mia, Closer: Ramos blossomed as a 28-year-old closer in Miami, saving 32 games and registering the highest K rate (11.1 k/9) of his brief career. More importantly, he cut his historic walk rate (6.0 BB/9) in half. It’s his job to lose, but at this point in the rankings we are not talking established closers here. He still walks too many and has flame throwing Carter Capps in his rear view mirror. Capps is the one in my queue.
28. Glen Perkins, Min, Closer: Always reliable, having saved over 30 games 3 years running and pitches to one of the best K/BB ratios in the game, averaging well over 5.0 K/BB for the past four seasons. Perkins would have made last week’s article, but now has a balky back which cost him the last month of 2015. There is no such animal as a guaranteed closer anymore, but one with a bad back is a scary draft pick. Draft 28B as a handcuff.
28B. Kevin Jepsen, Min, Set Up: Jepsen did a great job covering for Perkins in 2015, pushing himself into the CLEW conversation at the age of 30 (CLoser En Waiting if you missed last week’s article). In 2015 he saved 15 and also had 24 Holds landing him at #29 on our relief pitcher rater. His biggest warts are walking too many and not having an elite K rate, both of which make him better suited to a set up role. I owned him last season and will again.
29. Will Smith & Co., Mil, Closer/Set Up: Finishing at # 23 on our RP Rater, Smith has been the precise definition of a CLEW. In 2015 he registered 20 Holds and 30 IRS (Inherited Runners Stranded), placing him among the leaders in those categories. His 13.0 K/9 was 6th best in baseball for pitchers with more than 50 IP. Who finished ahead of him? The three Yankees, Kimbrel, and Jansen. Good company. Here is where it gets dicey. Mil says he is in a competition with Jeremy Jeffress for the role. Jeffress is not nearly the pitcher Smith is, but this is the closer position we’re talking about. Smith has earned the shot and I think he’ll become a dominant closer if he can shave another walk off his BB/9 of 3.5. I owned Smith last year, he’s in my queue, and will be 27 in July.
30. Brad Boxberger, TB, Closer/ Set Up: 36 pitchers racked up at least 10 saves in 2015. Of those, Box was 4th with 41, one of only five 40-save closers in 2015. Of those same 36 closers, only two had a worse WHIP than Boxie (1.365) – John Axford (1.581) & Fernando Rodney (1.404). Not such good company. His 1.29 HR/9 rate was tied with Rodney for 2nd worst after Perkins (1.42HR/9). He’s never had an HR rate below 1.0 in the majors. Lucky for him his biggest competition is Danny Farquhar, whose numbers were even worse. Someone has to close in Tampa, so he’s a must draft in Roto. He won’t see one of my rosters anywhere.
31. Sean Doolittle, Oak, Closer: Here is where you might find some value at the closer spot. Doolittle has closer stuff, but missed 2015 with injuries. Early reports out of A’s camp say he looks like the Doolittle of old, and he is only 29. Hard to believe stat: Doolittle seems like he has been the A’s closer for years, but he only has 29 career saves, 22 of them coming in 2014. He’s got the stuff, so as long as he has the health, you can probably get 30 saves late in the draft if people have forgotten him. The ever brittle Ryan Madson and the ever unpredictable John Axford are in the fold for insurance. Madson is worth rostering late for both Holds and IRS, and has good K/BB numbers, plus the handcuff spot to Doolittle. As for Axford, see Boxberger, Brad.
32. Arodys Vizcaíno, Jason Grilli: Atl, Closer?: Arodys is a risky pick, but one that could turn into good value if he builds on what he did in 2015 once he took over the closer role from an injured and ineffective Jason Grilli. Grilli is coming off Achilles surgery and is about to turn 40. Another amazing fact is that Grilli really only has one full season as a closer in his 13 year MLB career, and that was 2013 when he was 36. Vizcaíno has always had good stuff, but injuries cost him 2012, 2013, and 2014. He may never be the starter once envisioned, but he was dominant in the pen in 2015, posting good numbers across the board including a 1.6 ERA and a K-rate of 10/9 IP, but a walk rate of 3.5/9 IP. Like many inexperienced 25-year-old pitchers, cutting that walk rate will determine his future. Fredi González is saying all the right things – that Grilli is the incumbent and it’s his job to lose. I bet he will, but I’m not reaching too high for either of these guys. Old reliable Jim Johnson is on the roster in case these two fail, but he is better as a set up guy, on the waiver wire.
33. Jake McGee, Col, Closer/Set Up: Once again, someone has to close in Colorado, and McGee has the most experience in the role with all of 26 saves at the age of 29. He is dominant though, and has had a K-Rate in the 11.5 range all of his career, while keeping the bases empty (1.00 WHIP) with few walks and less than a hit per inning. Even his home run rate is good. So, what’s the problem? McGee is a lifetime .6 GB/FB pitcher, meaning he gives up about 3 fly balls to every 1 grounder. That works at the Trop, but what about the rare air? This may scare a lot of guys off at the draft table, but I think that is overblown in this case. My fear is that he just won’t have a secure hold on the job with a rebuilding club who could trade him at any point to a contender. So, once again, must draft in ROTO, though in this case I’d add him too, as he is valuable in any role. In case he fails, the Rockies also brought in retreads Jason Motte & Chad Qualls, who both will compete for the role. Adam Ottavino, who was the closer early last season for about a minute till needing TJ surgery, may be a factor in the 2nd half as he comes back around mid season. Don’t draft Ottavino, but don’t forget him either.
34. Luke Gregerson, Hou, Closer/Set Up: We already covered Ken Giles here in my previous article and, despite doing a fair job as closer last season (31 Saves), Luke likely slides back into a set-up role. He was among the league leaders in Holds the entire 6 years prior to last season. Don’t be surprised, however, if they let Gregerson, who has far more experience, start the season in the closer spot, setting him up to be overtaken by Giles. That is how the Dodgers slowly gave Jansen the spot, even though we all knew what was coming. This kept Brandon League relevant for an extra year or so. I’d rather own the guy who will take over than the incumbent. Luke is still worth owning for Holds, and as an extreme ground ball pitcher he won’t get knocked around much. Don’t expect a lot of K’s, however.
35. David Hernandez, Phi, Closer/Set Up: Another reason to avoid chasing saves. Someone has to close in Philly, and they said he gets 1st crack at closer because he has a guaranteed $4M contract. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Plus, Ernesto Frieri, Edward Mujica, and Andrew Bailey are all on hand if he fails to nail down the closing gig. But if on May 1st he blows a save and is removed, which of those former closers are you making room for and blowing FAAB on? None of them will see my roster, but sadly, Hernandez is a must own in Roto or any 5 X 5 league.
36. Steve Cishek, Sea, Closer/Set Up: If he pitches like 2013 & 2014 when he saved 73 games total, then he is golden as the closer. In 2015 he got lit up with nearly a 1.50 WHIP & a Babip of .354, or 50 points higher than his MLB avg. He should begin 2016 as the closer.
37. Joaquin Benoit, Sea, Closer/Set Up: Steve Cishek is in front of him, so Benoit will only get a few saves barring injury. He is worth owning, whether he closes or not. He tied for 6th in Holds in MLB with 28, and for 5 of the past 6 years had 20 or more. He turns 39 in July.
38. Joakim Soria, KC, Set Up: The former closer has become both a dominant set up man as well as some of the best closer insurance out there, with 24 & 18 saves the last two seasons. Davis is not losing his job, but we all know s___ happens, especially with closers. (See Holland, Greg) He’ll be drafted in all leagues before the last of the closers are gone, and he should be.
39. Darren O’Day, Bal, Set Up: Always one of the best set up men, O’Day was absolutely dominant in 2015, having what is easily his best season and finishing 15th on our player rater (which includes closers). He struck out 82 batters in 65 IP, and both his walk and homer rates were elite, even in Baltimore. His H and IRS numbers were mid pack, but no one on the O’s did much there. I’ll be drafting him.
40. Koji Uehara, Bos, Set Up: Always a great set up man, he just wasn’t durable enough to rely on as a closer. Now at 41 he won’t have to worry about that. He finished 45th on our rater, racking up 25 saves and a K rate of 10.5/9 IP. He is likely only 3rd on the Boston depth chart behind Kimbrel and Smith, but can still rack up holds and IRS as a specialist.
41. Junichi Tazawa, Bos, Set Up: Boston has a good pen if this is the 4th Sox reliever on the list so far. 2015 was not his best season, but he has been a top set up man for several years now and is only 29. With the added firepower comes less pressure, and he should bounce back.
42. Pedro Strop, ChC, Set Up: #29 on our reliever rater, he is both a dominant set up man and a perfect example of a CLEW. His 28 Holds were good for 6th place in MLB, his ratios great, with a handfull of saves and a K/9 of nearly 11. He is a Hector Rondon injury or hiccup from Saves.
43. Tyler Clippard, Ari, Set Up: 2015 was not his best season while he was on the rosters of three teams, including the WS Mets. He’s been so consistent for years, though, that I have to include him here and assume he’ll bounce back nicely. He appeared in 70 plus games for the 6th year in a row, and racked up 19 saves and 8 Holds in mixed use. Walks appear to be the biggest problem, as it was his worst walk rate in five years. Great CLEW for the Snakes as Brad Ziegler is not Craig Kimbrel.
44. Daniel Hudson, Ari, RP: Here is my sleeper pick for 2016. He was carving a good career as a SP before multiple injuries sidelined him for 3 years. He seems to have settled in the pen and had a good season in 2015, even sneaking in 4 Saves and 20 Holds. His K rate was near 10, but his walks are still too high. They say command and control come last. He’s a big comeback candidate and may have closer in his future if things shake out well for him.
45. JJ Hoover, Cin, Closer/Set Up: Sigh. Someone has to close for Cincinnati and Hoover is likely to get the first shot. He managed 19 Holds behind Chapman, but a middling K Rate and a walk rate over 4.0 don’t point to extended dominance or success. I’m not targeting him or anyone else from that pen such as……..
46. A &B, Tony Cingrani, Jumbo Diaz, Cin, RP: These guys are here for you Roto guys whom need to be the first in your league to ID and roster the Cinci closer. Let me just say that Cingrani is worth keeping an eye on. He’s always been a SP, but has closer stuff.
47. Joe Smith, LAA, Set Up: The perpetual CLEW, mainly because he does not have closer stuff. He’s gotten his saves here and there, and with Huston Street in front of him he’ll continue to grab some. He is a good set up man and was 3rd in MLB with 32 Holds. All his other stats are average at best, so there is not urgency to roster him unless your league counts Holds or you see a hangnail on Street. Last season he hurt some of my numbers while i waited for Street to go down. It never happened.
48. Addison Reed, NYM, Set Up: Reed has gone from top closer to shaky closer, to the dog house, to CLEW, to the World Series all in 4 seasons. His velocity and K rates have come back, and the Mets announced yesterday he will open the season as the 8th inning guy. He’ll never lead the league in ERA or WHIP, but is a good handcuff for Familia, and should accrue a good amount of Holds with all the leads the Mets SP should hand over.
49. Javier Lopez, SF, Set Up: Lopez is here because he is the consummate Loogie, and has been for 13 years. He’s 38 now and has no strikeout potential to speak of, mainly because he only faces a batter or two per game. But they are all left-handed, so he only gave up 19 hits in 39 innings pitched over 77 games, with only 1 HR. Amazing stat: Lopez has given up 23 home runs in his entire career spanning 13 years and 771 games played. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is an incredible 4.1 to 1. How can he help me in fantasy? He was 2nd in MLB with 51 Inherited Runners Stranded, only 9 pitchers in the MLB topped 40 in 2015. He led the MLB in the combined Hold/IRS stat with 71, stranding 86.4% of inherited baserunners. If your league counts IRS you must seek out the Loogies.
50. Justin Wilson, Det, Set Up: Wilson is a CLEW who also will score a good amount of counting stats. He was the 20th ranked reliever in Fantrax, and 3rd in MLB in combined Holds and IRS with 66 total. Jared Hughes of the Pirates is the pitcher in between Lopez and Wilson in that category, but he is not as good otherwise. Wilson has a K rate near 10, but still walks a few too many. The Tigers brought K-Rod in to close, but Wilson, along with Mark Lowe, will be the primary set up men. Wilson will likely not see many Save opps as a Loogie, however.
I was going to stop talking at #50 but we still have not covered the Padres closer. Sigh.
51A. Fernando Rodney, SD, Closer: Closer is all he has ever been. Use him in Roto for Saves, but he’ll kill you in H to H, doing more damage than good. He is a heart attack to watch pitch, but somehow managed to close for four different teams since 2009, racking up over 200 saves during that time. His lifetime WHIP of nearly 1.40 gives him no room for error and that luck may have finally run out, as he put up an ERA of 4.70 and a walks per 9 over 4.0 as well in 2015. The Padres brought him into their black hole, but he won’t see my roster.
51B. Drew Pomeranz, SD, Set Up: The Padres traded for Pomeranz from the A’s and he has mostly been a SP in his brief career. He was a top prospect from Col for many years, but never put it together as a SP. The A’s moved him to the pen and, other than a walk rate over 3.0/9 IP, he excelled in the pen. He could be a dark horse for saves in SD once Rodney implodes, unless they move him back to the rotation. That would leave Quackenbush. They already have 1 Quack as a closer now.
Holds and IRS Collectors: Roster if you need them. In order of my ranking using 2015 stats.
52. Jim Johnson, Atl RP: 10 Saves, 25 Holds, 15 IRS, CLEW
53. Bryan Shaw, Cle RP: 23 Holds, 31 IRS, CLEW
54. Jeremy Jeffress, Mil, RP: 24 Holds, 19 IRS, CLEW
55. Jared Hughes, Pit, RP: 21 Holds, 47 IRS(2nd in MLB), CLEW
56. Zack Duke, ChW RP: 26 Holds, 30 IRS, LOOGIE
57. Keone Kela, Tex RP: 22 Holds, 22 IRS
58. Ryan Madsen, Oak, RP: 20 Holds, 19 IRS, CLEW
59. Seth Maness, STL, Set Up: 20 Holds, 45 IRS (3rd in MLB)
60. Justin Grimm, ChC, Set Up: 15 Holds, 31 IRS
61. Kelvin Herrera, KC, Set Up: 21 Holds, 12 IRS
62. Mike Dunn, Mia., Set Up: 23 H, 41 IRS The 64(H + IRS) was 6th in MLB.
63. Cesar Ramos, Tex RP: 52 IRS; led the MLB
64. Zack McCallister, Cle, Set Up: 30 IRS + Holds 11.0 K/9 Rate. Relief agrees with him.
65. Josh Fields, Hou, RP: 24 IRS + H. K-9 of nearly 12.0/9IP. Always had closer stuff.
66. Brett Cecil, Tor, Set Up: 26 IRS + H. Elite K/BB of nearly 6.0. Age 29. Needs a role.
67. Brandon Maurer, SD, RP: 22 IRS + H, Good young SP/RP Good K/BB. Needs role.
68. Mark Rzepzinski, ST L RP: 47 Holds, 8th in MLB
69. Luis Avilan, LAD RP: 17 H, 47 IRS, 64 IRS + Holds, 6th in MLB
70. Matt Thornton, FA RP: LOOGIE, 18 Holds, 27 IRS
71. Jason Motte, Col, Set Up: 25 IRS + H, former closer. CLEW. Lucky Man.
There are many more I could have included. Keep an eye on your waiver wire.
Don’t forget about:
Adam Ottavino, Col; Casey Janssen, FA; Greg Holland, FA; Kevin Gausman, Bal; Adam Warren, ChC; Nate Jones, ChW; Bruce Rondon, Det; Neftali Feliz, Pit; Bobby Parnell, NYM; Jason Grilli, Atl; John Axford, Oak
Hall of Shame:
Jenrry Mejia: WTF? Dude, You had the World by the Pelotas.
Rex Brothers: WTF? Dude, Home plate is over here, no, here, no, not there….
Joe Nathan: WTF? Dude, You had a great career. Knowing when to walk away is just as important. If you come back, someone will draft you.
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly Show: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #2 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will be discussing the Outfield positions. Our Thursday show will cover the American League OFs from fantasy and MLB perspective. Our Sunday show will tackle the N.L. side of that topic.
Our guests this week are Bryan Luhrs and Hernan Batista. Bryan is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports. Hernan is a verteran owner in our baseball leagues, and he is an excellent researcher of statistics.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday, February 28th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will be breaking down the National League outfielders from a fantasy and MLB perspective.
Our guests this week are Kyle Amore and Jesse Ellison. Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, former college player, and pro in Italy. He is also the co-host of our Thursday night shows. His articles publish every Tuesday. Jesse is a good child hood friend mine, fantasy baseball fan, and is the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction which he founded in 2011. I encourage everyone to check out his organization.