Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 11
The long wait for Craig Kimbrel to find a team is finally over.
On Wednesday night, two days after the MLB Draft eliminated the need for any team to send a compensation pick to Boston, the Cubs signed the elite closer to a three-year, $43 million deal. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Kimbrel is expected to make his team debut by June 20.
He obviously needs to be added if still on the waiver wire. Once he returns, Kimbrel will start near the bottom of the position’s top 10. There will be plenty of room for upward mobility if he assuages fears of early rust while shrinking last season’s 12.6% walk rate. As the owner of a career 1.91 ERA and 41.6% K rate, the dominant closer has the ceiling to sway the title picture in MLB and fantasy leagues.
For now, he’s not featured on this list’s Closer Depth Chart. Without many other major developments on the ninth-inning front, most of these rankings changes are simply a matter of personal preference between myself and Andrew Seifter.
|Team (Closer)||Current Rank||Previous Rank||+/-|
|Brewers (Josh Hader)||1||2||+1|
|Padres (Kirby Yates)||2||1||-1|
|Mets (Edwin Diaz)||3||6||+3|
|Yankees (Aroldis Chapman)||4||5||-1|
|Indians (Brad Hand)||5||6||-1|
|Pirates (Felipe Vazquez)||6||8||+2|
|Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)||7||8||+1|
|Astros (Roberto Osuna)||8||5||-3|
|Blue Jays (Ken Giles)||9||11||+2|
|A’s (Blake Treinen)||10||9||-1|
|Phillies (Hector Neris)||11||16||+5|
|Reds (Raisel Iglesias)||12||10||-2|
|Giants (Will Smith)||13||13||–|
|Nationals (Sean Doolittle)||14||17||+3|
|Cardinals (Jordan Hicks)||15||18||+3|
|Diamondbacks (Greg Holland)||16||15||-1|
|Tigers (Shane Greene)||17||12||-5|
|White Sox (Alex Colome)||18||14||-4|
|Braves (Luke Jackson)||19||27||+8|
|Rockies (Wade Davis)||20||25||+5|
|Red Sox (Committee)||21||10||-2|
|Rangers (Shawn Kelley)||25||24||-1|
|Marlins (Sergio Romo)||27||26||-1|
With the cloud of a potential Kimbrel reunion no longer looming, I’m ready to declare Luke Jackson the closer in Atlanta. He appeared to lose his grip on the role by relinquishing four runs in back-to-back outings on May 18 and 21, prompting Sean Newcomb to record his first and only save of 2019. Jackson has rebounded to allow one run over his last 5.2 innings while compiling 11 strikeouts and no walks. He has eight saves on the season; no other active Braves reliever has more than one.
Furthermore, Jackson might not just be any other closer. He could be a great one. While they won’t blow anyone away from a high-leverage reliever, a 3.03 ERA and 1.18 WHIP are both perfectly fine returns supported by superior peripherals. He has already forfeited three home runs despite brandishing MLB’s second-highest ground-ball rate (71.8%) behind Zack Britton. Balls that don’t stay in the infield are simply not going into play, and he has amassed 42 strikeouts with just eight free passes in 29.2 frames. These skills have yielded a 2.07 SIERA that places seventh among all qualified relievers as well as a .234 wxOBA ranking sixth among all pitchers with at least 100 plate appearances. Add Jackson if playing in the 53% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues where he remains available.
Wade Davis could return as soon as this weekend, according to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. Scott Oberg has registered three saves in the last 10 days, but Davis should immediately get his role back. He has rattled off 50 saves as the exclusive closer since joining Colorado last season. The 33-year-old is a strong source of saves and strikeouts despite issuing an alarming 10 walks in 14.2 innings before going on the IL with an oblique injury. Coors Field always threatens to damage his ERA, so he’s not soaring back up the rankings just yet.
Maybe it’s time to embrace Greene’s success. Even putting aside the unsustainable pace of his 19 saves, the 30-year-old righty has registered a 1.08 ERA with a career-high 28.3% strikeout rate. He’s far better than the subpar pitcher managers tolerated just for saves last season, but don’t buy into this new stud. Is he really going to suppress hits on batted balls (.183 BABIP) at a better rate than Josh Hader (.189) all season? And if the bottom doesn’t fall out, Greene could still get shipped to a contender’s setup role.
Blake Parker might have pitched himself out of ninth-inning work. After seemingly locking down the strong side of a righty-lefty closer platoon with Taylor Rogers, Parker has permitted seven runs — four home runs — in his last three outings. His 3.74 ERA isn’t particularly pretty, but it could get way worse. A pedestrian 17 strikeouts and eight walks in 21.2 innings have afforded the 33-year-old a grotesque 5.84 FIP. A 48.3% hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant’s Statcast data, leads to a .361 xwOBA above his actual .307 mark. Even if the Twins continue to trust him, fantasy investors can’t rely on him to post respectable ratios. A .200 BABIP won’t protect him forever.
Rogers, who recorded a six-out save Thursday night, will at least offer better numbers alongside 12-15 saves when the batting order leans lefty in the ninth. He’s worth rostering in most leagues despite the committee, especially if there’s a chance of him now drawing more chances. Parker’s troubles could give Trevor May an opening to receive save opportunities, but a 14.1% walk rate dampens the preseason excitement. Ryne Harper, a 30-year-old boasting a 1.82 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, is worth a speculative add in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. After missing out on Kimbrel, look for the AL Central leaders to be in the market for a high-end reliever before the trade deadline.
I initially had Neris ranked in the same spot as Seifter, who moved the Phillies closer up six spots to RP16 last week. After taking a closer look, I couldn’t come up with a justification for positioning him behind Raisel Iglesias. Both have a dozen saves, but Neris has outclassed Cincinnati’s closer across the board:
Everyone assumed Gabe Kapler would torment fantasy players with a loose ninth-inning approach. He has instead handed the keys to Neris, who sealed seven saves in his last nine appearances dating back to May 17. Having recorded more than three outs in three of them, the righty will get plenty of opportunities to expand upon his 38 strikeouts. Only five qualified relievers pose a higher swinging-strike rate than his 18.3%, which is actually lower than last year’s 19.1. Let’s stop holding 2018’s 5.10 ERA against him; he also submitted a 2.28 SIERA that pointed to a demonstrative bounce back.
Perhaps this is too aggressive on my part, as he’s probably one slump away from dropping back outside the top 15.
Greg Holland has recorded one measly save since May 3, but there’s no closer controversy in Arizona. None of his teammates have recorded a save since Zack Godley pitched the final three frames of an 18-2 rout on May 24. Stay the course with Holland, who has posted a 1.31 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. Perhaps there’s even a buy-low opportunity if his owner is getting antsy over the dry spell.
Boston Red Sox
Matt Barnes recorded his first save since May 7 on Thursday, but not before allowing a run in a 7-5 victory. He has permitted six walks and runs apiece in his past seven outings, and there’s no indication more save chances are in store. A sky-high 44 strikeouts and 60.0% ground-ball rate in 24.2 innings, however, make him worth rostering in mixed leagues anyway.
In his first outing back from a hamstring injury, Strop retired the Rockies in order for a save. The following day, Steve Cishek notched his sixth save despite ceding a run. It’s possible Pedro Strop is the temporary closer who simply isn’t available to work back-to-back days, but both veterans could split the remaining opportunities until Kimbrel arrives.
Los Angeles Angels
I nearly removed the committee label since Ty Buttrey has not picked up a save since May 18. Hansel Robles, however, has just two over that same span. He also concluded May with a pair of two-run outings, inflating his ERA to 3.77. While Robles induces too many fly balls (50.6%) to hold down this job all season, Buttrey’s 1.74 ERA and 2.16 FIP would look even better with some saves.
Per Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Jose Leclerc is “getting close” to reclaiming the closer role. He has struck out 23 of 40 batters faced in his last 10 outings, over which he has permitted only three hits and two runs. The explosive 25-year-old is a top-20 option with top-10 upside if/when he takes the save opportunities away from the placeholding Shawn Kelley. Grab Leclerc now if he’s sitting on the waiver wire.
Toronto Blue Jays
Ken Giles is third in K-BB rate (35.4%) behind Josh Hader and Kirby Yates. His 1.16 FIP ranks third behind Yates and Emilio Pagan, and that’s lower than his 1.08 ERA. Two spots may not seem like a seismic shift, but leapfrogging Blake Treinen is substantial given their vastly contrasting 2018 campaigns. Coming off a season in which he imploded his way out of Houston with a 4.65 ERA, the fear of Giles ruining his progress with one nightmarish week may never subside. The volatility keeps him out of the premium tier of ninth-inning superstars, but the 28-year-old has refound his footing as a top-10 stopper.