Closer Report: Sean Doolittle, Zach Britton, Greg Holland
It’s the playoffs (for most head-to-head leagues, at least). As fantasy baseball players begin to turn into fantasy football players and “C” goes from catcher to center, a few lucky ones will get to play both. Those owners who made it to the playoffs know that the difference between a win and a loss could be as simple as one save, one strikeout, or one one-hundredth of a point in ERA and WHIP. Roto league owners know it is crunch time as well. One good outing by a relief pitcher could push a team up in a category, earning an all too valuable point in the standings. With the playoffs here and football breathing down our necks, here’s a look at which closers might be able to make the minute difference required to come out on top.
Closer News Around the League
After starting the season with Tyler Clippard as the closer then seeing Drew Pomeranz uproot Edward Mujica, the A’s finally have the guy who was meant to be their closer all year long pitching in their ninth innings. Lefty Sean Doolittle saw his first save opportunity of the season on September 7th and performed brilliantly. He came into a one-run game and had to face Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Carlos Gomez. He induced one-pitch pop outs to the second baseman from the first two and then struck out Gomez on three pitches, earning his first save of the year on only five pitches total. With his one save, he is now tied for third on the A’s behind Drew Pomeranz (3) and Tyler Clippard (17). Doolittle was meant to be the closer all along, and with this dominating performance under his belt, he should be the one getting the ball in the ninth inning from now on. He’s a must-add in all formats for those owners still looking for saves.
The Orioles have had a mostly disappointing season, sitting at 67-72 and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. One thing they have not had to worry about, however, is a lead in the ninth inning. Closer Zach Britton has been fantastic, saving 32 games to go with a 4-0 record and a 1.89 ERA. His WHIP is an even 1.00 and he’s striking out 10.74 batters per 9 innings while walking only 1.89 per 9. Most remarkably and contributing the most to his dominance, Britton has a league-leading 79.3% ground ball rate. Striking out a lot of hitters, not walking any, and inducing ground balls from those who don’t strike out is an excellent recipe for success. Britton is inching his way into the top tier of closers, and his skill set is definitely sustainable for years to come.
Kansas City Royals
Ned Yost’s Kansas City Royals may have the deepest bullpen in the American League. With the way closer Greg Holland’s 2015 season has gone so far, that bullpen may be tested in October. Holland’s 2015 numbers are the worst of his career across the board. He is 3-1 with 30 saves but a 3.64 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. He’s striking out 10.07 per 9 but walking 4.93 in the same span. Throughout his career, he has only posted an ERA over 1.80 once, pitching to a 2.96 mark in 2012 and a WHIP over 0.93 once, in that same 2012 season. His career ERA overall is 2.38. So what’s wrong with Holland? Has he been unlucky or what? His FIP is at a career high 3.17 and his BABIP against is only 0.009 points above his career average.
The real issue has been velocity. Holland has averaged 95.5 mph on his fastball throughout his career, peaking at 100.2. This season, he’s sitting at an average of 93.7 mph and has peaked at 97.2. He’s lost even more of that velocity of late, with manager Ned Yost more or less admitting that Holland’s fastball velocity may never return. He’s been touching 90, but mostly sitting in the high 80s for a few weeks now. Fantasy owners should grab Wade Davis just in case. With the Royals already making October plans, they have no reason to use Holland and risk further injury, so Davis could be in line for a few saves between now and the end of the regular season.
Quickly becoming the star of the Injury Updates section of the Closer Report, Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins remains on the shelf but seems just about ready to come back. He won’t regain his ninth inning role right away, however. According to manager Paul Molitor, Perkins will need to make multiple outings once he returns to the mound before taking his job back from Kevin Jepsen. Fantasy owners of Perkins should hang on tight to Jepsen for at least another week.
For as much as the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen has struggled to hold leads, ties, or even close games, closer Kenley Jansen has not been the problem. Since August 5th, Jansen has allowed 1 run in 17 innings, walking 2 and striking out 23. If that isn’t dominance, nothing is.
Top Performers for the Week
- Kenley Jansen – 4 IP, 3 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP
- Shawn Tolleson – 3 IP, 3 SV, 4 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP
- John Axford – 3 IP, 3 SV, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP
- Jeurys Familia – 3 IP, 3 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
This week, four closers collected three saves for their teams without allowing any runs.
Jansen tossed four innings, striking out five and allowing only a hit and a walk. He’s owned in 93% of fantasy leagues, so if he’s on your roster: enjoy him.
Tolleson had a great week as well, saving three games while striking out four and only giving up one hit. Despite concerns about his workload, with the Rangers in the thick of the playoff chase, he’ll likely keep his ninth inning role for the rest of the season.
Axford has had some struggles this season, but he had a solid week, saving three games and striking out three while only allowing one base runner on a hit. Axford could be a sneaky source of saves down the stretch as he is only owned in 35% of fantasy leagues.
Familia is somehow throwing a 95 mph splitter and making hitters look silly on a nightly basis. This week, he picked up three saves to go with five strikeouts, allowing just two hits and a walk in his three games. He’s been a rock in the ninth for the Mets and seems to be getting stronger as the year goes on.