Closer Report: Buy Low, Sell High Edition
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This week’s Closer Report has a completely different look. Since the All-Star Break created four days of no fantasy baseball, this week’s report will be a detailed look at each team’s ninth-inning situation. It will include targets for fantasy league players to buy low, to sell high, and to watch and wait. With the July 31st trade deadline rapidly approaching, many late-inning relievers will end up in new roles as trades occur.
With that said, there was one big news item over the past week. Atlanta Braves closer and prime trade candidate Jason Grilli ruptured his left Achilles tendon. He will miss the remainder of the season but will attempt a comeback next year. Fantasy owners, even those in keeper and dynasty leagues, can safely drop Grilli. Jim Johnson will take over for Grilli and should be picked up immediately.
Brad Ziegler took over as closer for the Diamondbacks after Addison Reed was thoroughly ineffective at the beginning of the season. Ziegler has held the job down since then and has been excellent, saving 14 games with a 1.18 ERA. His strikeout rate is puny though, at 4.97 K/9. Also, his FIP is at 3.44, still solid but not near the elite 1.18 of his ERA. Ziegler is a trade candidate if the Diamondbacks decide to sell, but they currently sit only five games out of a Wild Card spot, so they may decide to keep him.
Verdict: Sell high on Ziegler. He’ll either be traded to a team where he’ll likely pitch the eighth inning or he’ll stay with the Diamondbacks and regress in the second half.
Both Jason Grilli and his primary setup man, Jim Johnson, have been surprisingly effective this season. With Grilli out for the season with a ruptured Achilles, Johnson will slide into the closer’s role. He’ll likely perform similarly to Grilli. For the season, Johnson has already saved five games working on days when Grilli was unavailable. He has posted a solid 2.09 ERA and 6.49 K/9. While none of those numbers are close to elite, they are good enough for him to keep the job. The Braves were surely looking forward to selling high on Grilli at the deadline, so they may do the same with Johnson, although he seems more likely to stay in Atlanta.
Verdict: Johnson might still be on the wire. He’s owned in only 45% of fantasy leagues right now. Pick him up if he’s there. If he gets off to a fast start, try to sell high before the deadline, but don’t expect much.
Zach Britton was an All-Star and is one of the premier closers in the league. He’ll start the second half with 23 saves and a 1.72 ERA. His 10.06 K/9 combined with his 1.96 BB/9 rate means that he’s actually been as excellent as his numbers suggest. He has a 1.85 FIP, therefore predicting no real regression in the second half. If Britton is on your team, consider yourself lucky and enjoy what is likely to be another dominant half.
Verdict: If you own Britton, hang on to him. Since all owners are likely to do the same, he’s not really a trade target.
Boston Red Sox
For all the issues the Red Sox have had this season, the ninth inning has not been one of them. Koji Uehara has saved 22 games and posted a 2.45 ERA. He’s struck out 10.09 per nine innings and only walked 1.64. His 2.17 FIP actually shows that he may be due for improved numbers in the second half. That being said, he’s been good enough that owners are unlikely to unload him for cheap.
Verdict: Try to buy low on Koji since the general consensus is that he’s having a “decent” season when he’s actually been great. He may have an even better second half ahead of him, though he has a history of wearing down.
Joe Maddon has made the Cubs bullpen into a mess. Jason Motte, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop have all been called on to save games. Rafael Soriano has been working in the minor leagues and may muddle the situation even further. The Cubs are one of the most likely teams to acquire a closer before the deadline, so none of their current options are particularly valuable right now.
Verdict: If you own any of the Cubs “closers,” sell them now before they acquire a real closer and knock everyone else down a rung. Wait for a hot streak by one of them if possible, but don’t wait too long to sell.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have had a rough 2015, currently sporting a 41-45 record. Closer David Robertson signed a four year, $46 million contract before the season and while it is hard to say a guy who has pitched 36.2 innings has “lived up” to that amount, he has certainly been great. Robertson has 19 saves and a 2.45 ERA. More impressively, his K/9 rate is an elite 13.01 with a low 1.72 BB/9. Robertson opens the second half with a 1.90 FIP, showing that he should improve on his first half dominance.
Verdict: Robertson may not get as many save opportunities as some other top-tier closers due to the White Sox’s situation, but he is striking guys out at a great rate and putting up awesome numbers. Buy low on him if you can get his current owner to believe his low save numbers are all that matter.
Aroldis Chapman blazed through his inning in the All-Star Game much as he’s blazed through hitters throughout his career. This season, he’s been elite again, saving 18 games with a 1.69 ERA. His 15.67 K/9 is outstanding, but his 4.82 BB/9 is a bit troubling. Still, his FIP (1.71) is basically equal to his ERA so he should continue his first half success. The question is what uniform he will be wearing in August. Chapman has been the subject of trade rumors for a while now. He’ll certainly close for any team that acquires him and any contending team should win more second half games than the Reds. That means Chapman’s value has nowhere to go but up from here. The target for fantasy players is actually JJ Hoover, who will almost certainly inherit ninth-inning duties if Chapman departs.
Verdict: There shouldn’t be any buying or selling of Chapman, but his fantasy value should go up so if someone is willing to trade him, certainly jump on it. Meanwhile, grab JJ Hoover from the wire, he’s currently owned in only five percent of leagues and should have a decent second half in Chapman’s place.
Indians closer Cody Allen had a few rough outings early in the season which had owners and Indians fans worried. Since then, he’s been incredible. In total, he has 19 saves and a 3.13 ERA. His 13.98 K/9 is excellent, but his 4.10 BB/9 could be something he looks to improve on. Still, Allen’s FIP is 1.84, which shows that he’s been unlucky to have a 3.13 ERA. He won’t be going anywhere at the deadline and should continue locking down the ninth for the Indians.
Verdict: Buy low. Allen’s ERA is decent at 3.13 but he’s actually much better than that. He’s a guy who is almost certain to improve on his already solid first half.
The Rockies struck gold in signing closer John Axford to a one year minor league contract. He’s saved 16 games despite missing some time and has a 2.36 ERA to go with it. He has a solid strikeout rate (8.44) but his walk rate is a bit high (3.71). Also, pitching home games in Denver doesn’t help anyone’s value. With the Rockies sellers at the deadline, Axford might move to another team in need of late-inning help.
Verdict: Sell high on Axford. If he is traded before the deadline, he likely won’t close for his new team.
The Tigers just got done with a disappointing first half and closer Joakim Soria was a big part of it. While he hasn’t been as bad as Tigers fans might have you believe, he is definitely someone the team would like to replace through a trade. Soria has 20 saves and a decent 3.38 ERA. His 5.12 FIP, however, shows that he’s due for plenty of regression. The Tigers are never afraid to make trades and it would be surprising to see Soria still pitching the ninth inning for the Tigers in August.
Verdict: Sell high while you still can. Stats show that Soria has been lucky to even be decent, besides that he’s likely to have his job taken sooner than later.
The surprising Astros have unsurprisingly had an excellent bullpen. Josh Fields, Pat Neshek, and Will Harris have all been excellent in bridging games to closer Luke Gregerson. Gregerson has 18 saves and a 3.24 ERA. His nearly identical FIP (3.26) shows that he’s in for a very similar second half. Gregerson isn’t an elite closer, but he also shouldn’t be in danger of losing his ninth-inning job despite the other great arms in the Houston bullpen.
Verdict: Hold/buy low. Gregerson is a mid-range closer putting up mid-range stats. If his owner thinks less of him, then try to buy low. Otherwise, target another closer with more upside.
Kansas City Royals
Everyone knows the Royals bullpen is the stuff of legends. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera were All-Stars despite neither one being his team’s closer. Kansas City closer Greg Holland might be the third best pitcher in his own bullpen. Since he is the one who gets the majority of the save opportunities, he’s the most valuable fantasy asset for now. Holland has 19 saves so far and a 2.70 ERA. His strikeouts are down a bit from his career average and his walks are way up, so there is a bit of cause for concern. Wade Davis and his 0.46 first half ERA could immediately step in and become an excellent closer. He has already saved nine games this season while Holland was out due to various injuries.
Verdict: This is a tricky one because Ned Yost isn’t very fond of bullpen tinkering. Holland should hold down the job unless he experiences a prolonged stretch of poor outings. He isn’t having as great a season as the ones he has had in the past, so if you see him start to struggle and can sell high based on name recognition, you may be able to get some value out of him.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Angels closer Huston Street ended the first half injured, but his injury is not a cause for concern and he will be ready for the first game of the second half. Street has been his typically solid self this season, saving 24 games with a 2.27 ERA. His strikeouts and walks are right around his career averages and his FIP (2.99) shows that while he may fade a bit he should still be more than serviceable.
Verdict: Buy low. The Angels are suddenly in first place and playing great baseball. With more wins come more save opportunities so Street may be primed for a big second half. Try to buy low quickly based on his very minor injury.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenley Jansen will always be an injury concern, but when he is pitching he is one of the elite closers in the league. He has saved 16 games despite starting his season on May 15th. His ERA is a tidy 1.66, but stats show that he’s actually been even better. His 15.78 K/9 is outstanding and he mixes that with excellent control (0.83 BB/9) to be one of the best closers in the game.
Verdict: Hold. Owners of Jansen should hold on tight and never let go, so it is unlikely he’ll be moved in fantasy leagues for anything close to a fair trade.
Readers of Closer Report already know how I feel about A.J. Ramos. In a bigger market, on a team that won more games, he’d be considered elite. Ramos has saved 14 games despite not starting the year as the closer and not playing on a team that has won many games. He has put up a 1.11 ERA to go with 11.07 K/9 and 2.21 BB/9. The thing making Ramos so good this season is his control. Last year, he led all of baseball in walks per nine inning with just over six. He’s walking about a third of that this season and striking out even more batters than ever before.
Verdict: Buy low. People still don’t know the name AJ Ramos and he only has 14 saves. He plays on a team struggling to string wins together so don’t expect huge save numbers, but he’ll be great everywhere else.
The Brewers are having a tough year but their All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez is not. K-Rod has saved 19 games and pitched to a 1.41 ERA. He’s right around his career average for strikeouts and has actually been walking about one batter less per nine innings. He is a pretty attractive trade candidate and the Brewers will be sellers before August begins, so it is tough to pinpoint K-Rod’s value. He will see his value increase if he is traded to a team where he will close but will of course lose most of his value if traded to be a setup man. The man to own from the Brewers pen if K-Rod is traded is Jeremy Jeffress.
Verdict: This one is tricky. Stats show a bit of regression for K-Rod, but he should still be very good. If he keeps closing, he’s a valuable fantasy asset, but if he moves to earlier innings, he is basically droppable. If you own him, try to sell high just in case, maybe targeting a lower-tier closer with a more secure job.
Glen Perkins has been on the mound as the American League has won the past two All-Star Games. He earned a save in 2014 but pitched in a non-save situation this season. Still, that shows that he is considered one of the premier closers in the league, and rightfully so. Perkins has saved 28 games so far to lead the league. He has a 1.21 ERA and shows little signs of slowing down. Perkins may not light up the radar gun or collect strikeouts in bunches, but he consistently gets the job done.
Verdict: Perkins may be the most reliable closer in the American League. Odds are, his owners won’t want to trade him, but you can try to buy low from owners who aren’t impressed by his strikeouts.
New York Mets
Jeurys Familia wasn’t even supposed to be the closer and only got his chance when Jenrry Mejia was injured then suspended at the start of the season. Familia has been great for the Mets, saving 27 games in the first half and posting a 1.25 ERA. His peripheral stats show that he’ll likely come down a bit, but he should still be a solid closer in the second half.
Verdict: Familia has been outperforming his peripheral statistics a bit, so sell high if you have a chance. Keep in mind that he’s still likely to have a great second half, just not as great as his first.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have two of the best relief pitchers in baseball at the back end of their bullpen in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Betances closed for a while when Miller was injured, but with Miller back, Betances has settled back into his setup role. Despite his time on the disabled list, Miller has 18 saves and has pitched to a 1.53 ERA. Because of all the lefties in the Yankees’ bullpen, Miller is better suited to handle the ninth while Betances is able to be more versatile outside of the specified inning-by-inning role. Both are valuable, but Miller’s value is much higher because of the consistent save opportunities.
Verdict: Andrew Miller could very easily end up with the most saves in the second half. His counting stats aren’t great because of time spent on the DL, so you can try to buy low but don’t expect anything. If you own Miller, hold on tight.
The A’s have been without closer Sean Doolittle all season except for a one inning appearance on May 27th. In his place, Tyler Clippard has saved 17 games and posted a 2.43 ERA. His strikeout rate (8.51 K/9) is decent, but his walk rate (4.38 BB/9) is pretty high. Also, his FIP (3.78) marks him as due for quite a bit of regression. Add to that the fact that he’s likely to be traded to become another team’s setup man, and Clippard might be the most sell high candidate of all.
Verdict: Absolutely sell high. Clippard is unlikely to be closing games in August and is due for regression besides. Target a position of need for your team or a low-tier closer with job security.
There is no player in baseball more certain to be traded this month than Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon. Besides the fact that the Phillies need to rebuild, Papelbon himself more or less publicly asked for a trade over the All-Star Break. He’s been great this year, saving 14 games with a 1.60 ERA. His strikeout numbers are down from his career average, but up from the past few years. His walk rate is lower than his career average as well. He’ll likely close for the team that acquires him (Blue Jays? Cubs?) so his value should increase sometime soon. In the meantime, Ken Giles should start seeing his fantasy stock rise as he’ll almost certainly take over for Papelbon in the few games the Phillies will be winning in the ninth inning after the deadline.
Verdict: Buy low, carefully. Papelbon will likely be unhappy setting up for another closer, so the odds are he’ll be traded to a team that needs ninth inning help. His numbers are great so he should be a solid second half closer for a winning team. There is always the chance that he’ll go to a team that needs him for earlier innings though, hence the carefully.
There was a lot of talk about the struggles of Mark Melancon earlier in the season. All of a sudden, he’s an All-Star who has saved 29 games and posted a sparkling 1.47 ERA. His low strikeout numbers lead to his FIP showing a bit of regression in store (2.87), but he should still be excellent. Melancon won’t get you the strikeouts other guys might, but he’s basically the National League’s Glen Perkins: he’ll get the job done, and he can be relied on day in and day out.
Verdict: Buy low. Some fantasy players don’t like Melancon because of his low strikeout numbers, but he’s still among the best at finishing games. Depending on who currently owns him in your league, you may be able to steal him away.
San Diego Padres
It’s weird not hearing Craig Kimbrel’s name when people talk about the best closers in baseball this year. Truth is, Kimbrel is having the worst season of his career. That being said, the worst season of Craig Kimbrel’s career is still better than the best season of most relief pitchers’ careers. Kimbrel has 23 saves and a 3.24 ERA. The highest ERA Kimbrel has ever had in a complete season was 2011’s 2.10. His strikeouts are down, but only slightly (by about 1.5 per nine innings) and his walks are a bit higher than usual. All of this despite pitching his home games in the pitcher’s heaven that is Petco Park. There are some rumblings of Kimbrel being dealt at the deadline, but that’s far from a sure thing.
Verdict: Buy low. Kimbrel is still good. Really good. If you can pry him away from an owner who wasted an early round pick and is tired of seeing mediocrity, you may have the steal of the season in your hands.
San Francisco Giants
This is Santiago Casilla’s fourteenth season in the big leagues and only the third in which he has a strikeout rate higher than nine per nine innings. He has 23 saves and a 3.34 ERA for the defending World Champions. His peripheral stats aren’t too pretty though, putting his FIP at 4.04 and calling for some second half regression. The Giants may be interested in acquiring another arm for late in games and that arm may take some save chances away from Casilla if he struggles.
Verdict: Sell high. Casilla is due for regression and may ultimately be replaced. Sergio Romo has excellent peripheral stats despite a huge ERA as well as closing experience.
Despite manager Lloyd McClendon’s insistence to continue using Fernando Rodney and Carson Smith as a sort of two-headed closer, Smith is bound to break away sooner than later. While Rodney has a 5.50 ERA/5.27 FIP and -0.6 WAR, Smith has a 1.73 ERA/1.95 FIP and 1.0 WAR. Smith is the better pitcher by far, and some day soon McClendon will notice what everyone but he and Rodney have already noticed. While both will remain in the mix for saves for now, Smith will likely take over soon and should end the second half with significantly more value than Rodney’s likely negative value.
Verdict: Sell high, if that’s even possible, on Rodney before he has absolutely no value at all. In the meantime, buy low on Smith before he’s finally named to the closer role full time.
St. Louis Cardinals
Trevor Rosenthal and the Cardinals ended the first half on a bit of a sour note, losing late leads and ultimately games to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite the hiccough, Rosenthal remains one of the league’s elite closers. He goes into the second half with 26 saves and a 1.49 ERA. His strikeouts are way down from last season, but he’s been able to cut down on his walks too. Stats show he may regress a bit, but he’ll still be great and the Cardinals will certainly continue to win a lot of ballgames.
Verdict: Since he struggled to end the first half and missed the All-Star Game with an arm injury, there may be a tiny window open to buy low on an elite closer. Give it a shot, send a decent offer to Rosenthal’s owner and see if you can pry him away.
Tampa Bay Rays
Like Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs bullpen, Kevin Cash’s Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is also a bit of a mess. Cash’s mess, at least, seems to have a bit more clarity. While save opportunities are spread around a bit more than on most teams, Brad Boxberger still seems to be getting the majority of them. For the year, Boxberger has 23 saves and a 3.25 ERA. His strikeout numbers (12.00 K/9) are great, but his walk numbers (4.50 BB/9) could be better.
Verdict: Sell high. With the instability in Tampa Bay’s bullpen combined with Boxberger’s rather pedestrian 3.80 FIP, you may be able to get more value from flipping Boxberger than from keeping him and potentially watching Jake McGee take over the closer’s role.
Shawn Tolleson kind of came out of nowhere and took over the Rangers’ closer job after a bit of early-season ninth inning turmoil in Texas. He has saved 13 games in 14 chances and has a 3.13 ERA. His FIP is an identical 3.13, so he is likely to have a very similar second half. Tolleson strikes out about a batter per inning and doesn’t walk many, so he should be able to keep his job throughout the second half despite not having name recognition.
Verdict: Buy low. Tolleson is good, not great, but he’s seemingly being valued as even less than that. In fact, he’s currently owned in only 61% of fantasy leagues, so before buying low have a look at your wire in case he’s completely free.
Toronto Blue Jays
Despite the fact that Roberto Osuna has been doing very well, the Blue Jays are one of the teams most likely to acquire ninth inning help at the deadline. Osuna has a 2.25 ERA to go with a 2.35 FIP, so he likely won’t regress at least based on numbers alone. However, he is only 20 years old and you have to imagine the thought of a 20-year-old saving games in September for a team in the playoff hunt has to scare the Jays at least a little. Whether they acquire Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, or someone else, it would be a surprise to see Osuna on the mound closing out games in August.
Verdict: Sell high on Osuna. He’s an excellent pitcher and will likely continue to put up great numbers, but the Jays are very likely to acquire bullpen help soon which will likely push Osuna back to the eighth inning.
Drew Storen is quietly having an excellent year for the Nationals. He has 27 saves and a 1.89 ERA to go with a nice 10.26 K/9 and a relatively low 2.16 BB/9. The Nationals are in need of bullpen help and will likely acquire some before the deadline, but the ninth inning has not been their problem. They may acquire a closer from another team, but he will certainly slide into the eighth inning behind Storen.
Verdict: Storen is an excellent closer and his owners will have no reason to let him go for a low price nor should they.
We welcome any comments and suggestions you have to make the report as useful as possible for your fantasy team’s needs.
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