Closing Time: A Guide to the 9th Inning in 2019

Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)

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The landscape of the closer position is an ever changing one. The amount of teams that use one closer over the majority of a given season is miniscule.

Between injuries, inefficiencies and failures, the closer role has lost its luster as a one-stop-shop for ending a game in its tracks. There seems to be less stability and more turnover than ever before.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you the best closer options by ability, predicted saves and pedigree. There are a countless amount of already-published lists including that information if that’s what you’re looking for.

My goal for this piece is to rank bullpens by situation. The top of the list will consist of bullpens that will use their closer in a tradition sense with few options to dethrone the incumbent closer. Moving down, you’ll see strong groups of bullpen arms, where every asset has the ability to save games. There are different approaches to drafting closers this season in redrafts, and different strategies in looking to acquire saves in dynasty leagues. I hope to guide your decided strategy through the tiers presented below.

Tier One – In Command

Pittsburgh Pirates – Felipe Vazquez – I don’t think there is another closer who has the combination of youth, stuff, security and lack of supporting staff. Keone Kela is the only legitimate threat to Vazquez in Pittsburgh, and the left-hander has proven over the last two seasons that he’s a viable option amongst big league closers.

New York Mets – Edwin Diaz – The only difference between Vazquez and Diaz is Jeurys Familia. Diaz will be the Mets’ number one option at all times, but there is another reliable, proven arm in this bullpen. I believe Diaz should be the first closer selected in redrafts, but Vazquez could prove to be the best value a few rounds later.

Cleveland Indians – Brad Hand – As of this post, there is no one else of concern in Cleveland. Hand was excellent for the Padres last season before being traded, and he was excellent for the Indians in the second half. Hand is a value play that will go later than Jansen and Chapman but could prove more stable.

Colorado Rockies – Wade Davis – 43 saves in his first season with the Rockies after 32 saves in 2017 with the Cubs and 27 in 2016 with the Royals. Is a 50 save season out of the question? Tremendous value pick in the late middle rounds with stability to boot.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Kenley Jansen – I wouldn’t consider Joe Kelly a concern, but he could become an option if Jansen has any lasting effects of offseason heart surgery or his diminishing velocity continues (let’s pray neither of these things occur). Keep an eye on him this spring, but expect to see the Jansen of old on the mound this season. Whether you want to pay the acquisition price is another story. I personally would not.

Los Angeles Angels – Cody Allen – Mike Scioscia is gone and Angels fans rejoice. Maybe not, but fantasy owners sure do. The closer job belongs to Allen and, excluding his mechanically flawed 2018 campaign, the track record speaks for itself. Expect a successful campaign under Brad Ausmus with minimal competition. His draft day price is tremendous value.

Tier Two- Big Names with Big Price Tags

Craig Kimbrel – When Kimbrel signs, he will move up to tier one. For now, he sits and waits for a new home. The idea that one of the top closers has yet sign is amazing to me, especially in an age when bullpen arms are all the rage. He has primarily been linked to the Phillies, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins and the elusive “mystery team”. My gut still says he ends up back in Boston. Drafting with the uncertainty is risky, but it could pay big dividends as Kimbrel continues to show elite stuff. He should immediately become *the guy* wherever he lands.

Houston Astros – Roberto Osuna (Hector Rondon) – Osuna continued his elite closer status when he returned for the Astros last season, but Rondon’s success filling in lingers. There is a scenario I see where Osuna is used in high leverage and Rondon sees some saves. Osuna is elite and may come at a discount this season, so if you miss on the top guys he is a clear target.

Oakland Athletics – Blake Treinen (Fernando Rodney, Joakim Soria) – Treinen is one of my favorite closers. His move to Oakland was career altering and his stuff is filthy. And while Treinen is certainly elite, there are other relievers on this team with closing experience, and that factored into my ranking. I do believe this could be beneficial to Treinen and, more often than not, rosterers will be awarded with a clean inning (though every once and awhile it might come with a hold instead of a save). He is still a top notch closer, but the price has reached an unfortunate ceiling.

New York Yankees- Aroldis Chapman (Dellin Betances, Zach Britton) – Chapman has seen time on the DL numerous times in his stint with the Yankees. On top of that, while the Yankees should pile-up the wins in 2019, their margins of victory might limit the left-hander’s save opportunities at times. Chapman is still among the top talents in the game at the position, but the bullpen depth and injury history give me pause. Paying a 5th round price this preseason doesn’t work for me.

Washington Nationals – Sean Doolittle (Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal) – Another injury-plagued yet elite-level closer, Doolittle will lead this underrated bullpen as long as he can healthy. Perhaps, in an exaggerated attempt to keep him healthy, the Nats consider giving Doolittle extra off days when possible. The Nationals offense could potentially take a hit if/when Bryce Harper does not return, so close games will be the norm. Saves opportunities should be plentiful in D.C. this season, so if you can handle the injury risk, grab some shares of Doolittle this preseason.

Tier Three- Stay Woke

San Diego Padres – Kirby Yates – This tier is full of sleepers. Job security is not the issue here, and now that the Padres signed Manny Machado, the lineup looks more competitive. The issue here is if the Padres once again become sellers at the deadline, the 31-year-old journey man could be moved for prospects. He is cost-controlled and has really turned a corner the past few seasons. If he remains in San Diego during the entirety of the regular season, Yates should thrive.

Milwaukee Brewers – (Cory Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader) – This is an interesting situation. Each of the three names listed above are capable of being the closer on many teams in the MLB. Each could see 10+ saves attached to their name by the end of the season. They all offer elite strikeouts and ratios throughout the season. Keeping this in mind, current ADP is begging you to take Jeffress, who is the least owned amongst this trio (34% on Yahoo). He was filthy last season with 89 strikeouts in 76 innings with a 1.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 15 saves. For comparison, Hader had 143 strikeouts in 81.1 innings (!!!) with a 2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 12 saves. Knebel, who lost the job early in the season, finished with 88 strikeouts in 55.1 innings with a 3.58 ERA, 1.084 WHIP and 16 saves. Outside of strikeouts, an argument could be made that Jeffress was the best reliever on this team in last season. If you want to buy into this bullpen, Jeffress is the high-value play.

Atlanta Braves – (Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter) – Another situation to monitor this spring, the Braves are going to likely use both of these guys in the ninth inning at different points this season. I happen to love both of them and would look to draft whoever ends up in the “setup” role at the cheaper ADP. There will be plenty of save opportunities in Atlanta, and in an effort to keep these two healthy, there may be mixing-and-matching throughout the season to lock down saves.

Chicago Cubs – (Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Morrow) – My money is on Pedro Strop not only starting the season with this job, but retaining the spot all season and leading the team in saves. Morrow can’t stay healthy and has already been rumored to likely miss at least April after undergoing offseason elbow surgery. Cishek and Carl Edwards have both been a story of ups-and-downs throughout their respective careers, and Joe Madden seems to like them in middle inning-to-high leverage roles. Strop was fantastic last season when given opportunities, and he remains one of my late save targets.

Texas Rangers – Jose Leclerc (Jesse Chavez) – This a situation I am likely avoiding, but the fact Leclerc is basically the only option in Texas makes him a strong candidate to keep the job and get the bulk of opportunities. My fear is this: since 2014, the Rangers have had a different leader in saves every single season, often thinking ‘outside of the box’ with their ninth inning man. That said, I would not be surprised to see someone like Jesse Chavez or Shawn Kelley end up closing 10+ game for the Rangers in 2019.

Philadelphia Phillies- (Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson) – The Phillies have two huge arms at the end of their bullpen, and either could eventually run away with the job. 15+ saves each would not be a shock. Robertson has the closing experience from his days in Chicago, and Dominguez was never officially given the role last season but basically ended the year as the Phillies’ default closer. This season, I would expect more of the same. I doubt Kapler ever names a closer and instead elects to play the scenarios. This isn’t a fantasy-friendly proposition, but you could do worse than taking a shot on one of these two considering their strikeouts and ratios will be excellent.

Baltimore Orioles – Mychal Givens – He isn’t the best option out there, but his situation is near the top in the league. Givens was shaky at times last season and the Orioles obviously leave a lot to be desired, but it’s hard to name another closing option with no competition and a likely long leash. You can snag Givens very late, and I advise you to do so for cheap saves.

Tier Four- Buyer Beware

Toronto Blue Jays – Ken Giles (Ryan Tepera) – The roller-coaster ride that has been Ken Giles’s career continues this season. Giles accrued 14 of his 26 saves last season after being traded to Toronto, and he should be in line for a healthy dose of saves this season if he doesn’t crumble like he did in his final days in Houston. Ryan Tepera is a solid option, but he shouldn’t receive any more chances than the average setup man typically does. As long as the train stays on the rails, Giles could be good value. Expect some bad with the good though.

Cincinnati Reds – Raisel Iglesias (Jared Hughes, David Hernandez) – Iglesias is among the elite talents at the closer position. He has proven to be lights-out time and time again. Unfortunately for us, Iglesias is often utilized in high leverage situations, and new skipper David Bell has mentioned this will be the normal course of action this season. There should be more save opportunities in Cincinnati thanks to an improved roster, so the most high leverage situations in a game could occur more frequently in the 9th inning this season. With that said, Iglesias’s current price is quite high when you consider you might be paying for an arm who won’t always earn the final out of a game. I don’t trust any of the other names for saves either.

San Francisco Giants – Will Smith (Mark Melancon, Tony Watson) – This is another situation that seems too good to be true. Three relievers with pedigree and experience give the Giants a very solid bullpen, even with a pedestrian supporting staff. Smith proved last season that he could get the job done when Hunter Strickland went down with injury, and the left-hander seems to have the job locked down early this spring. Melancon has had injuries and diminished velocity, so re-earning the role would require a miraculous return to form or Smith quickly declining.

St. Louis Cardinals – (Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks) – General Manager John Mozeliak has come out and said the Cardinals will ease Miller into action following the injuries that derailed his 2018 campaign. With Jordan Hicks throwing heat and seeing time as a closer last season, it would not be surprising to see him start in the role this season. However, Miller is an all-star reliever who has shown he can also get the job done. I think Miller will end the season with more saves, but it might be a shaky start.

Chicago White Sox – Alex Colome (Kelvin Herrera, Nate Jones) – Another three-headed monster of a bullpen, each of these guys has closing experience and it is currently anyone’s guess as to who leads the tandem in saves this season. The White Sox aren’t quite ready to legitimately compete yet, and having three options to close with minimal opportunities is never a good omen for fantasy owners. I would monitor the spring and injuries (Kelvin Herrera is already dealing with a foot injury), but if everyone is healthy at the time of your fantasy draft, let someone else in your league deal with this headache. My prediction is Herrera ultimately leads the team in saves.

Tier Five – Saves will be Saves

Tampa Bay Rays – Jose Alvarado (Chaz Roe)- If Alvarado was on any team other than the Rays, I would be all over him regardless of his role. But the Rays mix-and-match their pitchers like we’ve never seen before, implementing the ‘opener’ and making waves across the league. Only time will tell whether Alvarado, or anyone else for that matter, will have a concrete, consistent role this season. But if the big left-hander does become the unquestioned closer, sprint to pick him up. Please note: left-handed prospect Colin Poche might have a say in this closer situation before the end of the regular season. The 25-year-old struck out an astronomical 45.6% of the batters he faced last season between Double-A and Triple-A.

Seattle Mariners- Hunter Strickland (Anthony Swarzak) – Confession: I’m not a fan Strickland. I don’t like when pitchers throw high-and-inside intentionally, especially against one of the game’s best. I am all for rivalries and fights, but trying to hurt a player like Bryce Harper, who I dislike as a Mets fan, just isn’t my cup of tea. In terms of fantasy, this team is rebuilding and may not win 55 games, but that doesn’t mean saves won’t come. There are limited options behind Strickland, so believe it or not, he could become a fantastic saves option in 2019.

Arizona Diamondbacks- Archie Bradley (Greg Holland) – Torey Lovullo likes to have a main man in the 9th inning. Early money to earn that role should be on Bradley, who has been with the team, has the trust of the management and a recent track record of dominance. The only likely obstacle is Greg Holland, who looked much better at the end of last season and has a track record of closing. If Holland picks up where he left off, he could be a weapon. Stay tuned on this situation.

Minnesota Twins – Blake Parker (Trevor May) – Parker was serviceable in his time with the Angels, but he comes to a team notorious for their use of a closer-by-committee. After they moved on from Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed just wasn’t good, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers saw the bulk of save opportunities in 2018. Parker might get the bulk of the chances early this season, but May is somewhat of a dark horse option as the season progresses.

Kansas City Royals – Brad Boxberger (Wily Peralta) – This situation is not as messy as people are making it out to be–it’s just not good. Wily Peralta is okay. Boxberger is average, but that’s better than okay. I think Boxberger should see the bulk of opportunities, but he is more than capable of losing this job. Peralta will also see some save opportunities throughout the season, as manager Ned Yost has said high leverage situations will play a role in his decision making. Stay alert on this bullpen to see how things shake out.

Detroit Tigers – Shane Greene (Joe Jimenez) – Greene, again, will be the closer on Opening Day, but Jimenez, again, will be hovering nearby. It feels like the latter has seemingly been the Tigers’ “closer of the future” for nearly a decade. At long last, I think Jimenez finally takes his rightful place this season. Greene, I predict, will actually be traded at the deadline, with Jimenez moving up the closer ranks quickly thereafter. I’m likely stashing Jimenez wherever I can.

Miami Marlins – Drew Steckenrider (Adam Conley, Sergio Romo) – Steckenrider is assumed to be the closer to start 2019, but the signing of Romo makes things a little murky. Romo will be used in numerous scenarios and has proven to be reliable throughout his career in various bullpen roles. I think Adam Conley has a chance see a number of save opportunities too. He’s a converted starter and really reshaped his game to be quite effective. I was a big fan of his potential before the role change, now I see him as Josh Hader Lite. I am most excited to see how he fares this season and would key-in on him over the other options in Miami if it appears as though he’ll receive save opportunities.

Boston Red Sox – Matt Barnes (Ryan Brasier) – As it currently stands, this is easily the worst closer situation in the majors. The defending World Series champion Red Sox have yet to re-sign their elite closing option Craig Kimbrel. I want to take a leap and say he will be in Boston when April rolls around, but I’ve become increasingly skeptical. As for the current options in Boston, they leave a lot to be desired. Barnes and Brasier have been serviceable, but an organization like Boston should have stability at the back of the pen instead of possible question marks. Losing Joe Kelly to the Dodgers could prove to be a big hit to this staff. I don’t think I will be drafting either of these options. If Kimbrel decides to sign elsewhere, look out for prospect Durbin Feltman, a 21-year-old who was selected in last summer’s draft. He has all the makings of a potential impact reliever.

So as you can see, I like a lot of these late-tier options, primarily those who have less competition. Givens, Strickland, Giles, Strop and Yates, in no particular order, are the types of closers you can get a little later in drafts who will give you a big boost in saves. Pairing one of these pitchers with Felipe Vazquez or Wade Davis, who continue to be underrated from an ADP standpoint, gives you a upper-echelon closer plus late round stability at the position. Kimbrel’s eventual landing spot and situation may shake this list up, but not enough to change my mind on what we see today.

Follow P365 staff writer on Twitter! @mel_reich

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