Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 14
We’ve got a change at the top of this week’s closer rankings, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the big closer news of the week. Craig Kimbrel has made his 2019 debut in Chicago, Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending elbow injury, and Edwin Diaz, Raisel Iglesias, and Wade Davis appear to be imploding before our eyes. We’ll cover all that and much more in this week’s Closer Report.
|Team (Closer)||Current Rank||Previous Rank||+/-
|Brewers (Josh Hader)||1||2||+1|
|Padres (Kirby Yates)||2||1||-1|
|Indians (Brad Hand)||3||3||–|
|Yankees (Aroldis Chapman)||4||4||–|
|Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)||5||6||+1|
|Pirates (Felipe Vazquez)||6||7||+1|
|Astros (Roberto Osuna)||7||5||-2|
|Cubs (Craig Kimbrel)||8||26||+18|
|Giants (Will Smith)||9||12||+3|
|Blue Jays (Ken Giles)||10||9||-1|
|Nationals (Sean Doolittle)||11||11||–|
|Phillies (Hector Neris)||12||10||-2|
|Tigers (Shane Greene)||13||13||–|
|White Sox (Alex Colome)||14||14||–|
|Mets (Edwin Diaz)||15||8||-7|
|Angels (Hansel Robles)||16||15||-1|
|Cardinals (Carlos Martinez)||17||16||-1|
|Diamondbacks (Greg Holland)||18||18||–|
|Royals (Ian Kennedy)||19||20||+1|
|Reds (Raisel Iglesias)||20||17||-3|
|Rangers (Shawn Kelley)||21||23||+2|
|Braves (Luke Jackson)||22||24||+2|
|Mariners (Roenis Elias)||23||27||+4|
|A’s (Liam Hendriks)||24||19||-5|
|Red Sox (Committee)||25||21||-4|
|Rockies (Wade Davis)||28||28||–|
|Marlins (Sergio Romo)||29||29||–|
Kimbrel was deemed ready for Major League action on Thursday and proceeded to quickly earn his first save of the season against the Braves. There isn’t much that needs to be said about the Cubs’ new closer — he is one of the most dominating closers of the last decade and joins a squad that should provide plenty of save opportunities in the second half. I initially anticipated slotting Kimbrel in around 10th in the closer rankings, but he debuts at No. 8 thanks in part to the recent drama involving Diaz and Iglesias.
New York Mets
I struggled with just how far to drop Diaz, given his velocity and strikeout rate are just fine. With a ridiculously high .403 BABIP allowed you could make the case that Diaz is actually a great buy-low candidate. But there’s simply no sugarcoating the fact that Diaz now has a 4.94 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, or that he’s given up 13 earned runs over his last nine innings dating back to May 29. He still has the upside to be the number one closer over the rest of the season, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to closers. There’s always the risk that something else is going on here, so I can’t justify ranking him ahead of relievers who have been getting the job done without incident for three months.
The Mariners have had a whopping seven different relievers collect saves this season, but they appear to have finally settled on a single ninth-inning man here in late June. Roenis Elias has each of Seattle’s last five saves and is now up to 10 saves on the year while nobody else in this bullpen has more than three (and that’s Anthony Swarzak, who is now on the Braves). It’s certainly fair to question whether Elias is good enough to be the team’s long-term answer in the role (his xFIP and SIERA both suggest his ERA should be in the mid-4.00s), but he has managed to strike out over a batter per inning this season and has a 3.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last month.
Blake Treinen tumbled down the closer rankings last week, and now he disappears completely thanks to a lingering shoulder strain that forced him to the injured list. The A’s seem optimistic that Treinen’s stay on the IL will be a short one, but in the meantime, Liam Hendriks will handle the ninth inning. Hendriks is having a strong season, posting a 1.42 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 54 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. He’s a plug-and-play option until Treinen returns, and could have longer-term value if Treinen suffers a setback or is unable to rediscover his form.
The Remaining Committees
Many teams went into the 2019 season without naming a designated closer, and many of those committees stuck for weeks if not months. But as we approach the midpoint of the season, most teams have settled of a single pitcher to protect the vast majority of their ninth-inning leads. That shift away from committees necessarily makes the pitchers in committee situations less valuable by comparison, even if they are capable of producing strong ratios and strikeout totals. The Red Sox and Twins both have at least three pitchers in the mix for save opportunities. Tampa is currently down to just Emilio Pagan at the moment, but Jose Alvarado’s return is imminent and Diego Castillo should be back in a couple weeks.
In case you’re wondering why Josh Hader jumped Kirby Yates at the top of the rankings this week, it’s pretty simple. It no longer appears likely that Jeremy Jeffress will infringe upon Hader’s hold on ninth-inning duties, and as long as Hader is the undisputed closer in Milwaukee, he’s the undisputed top closer in fantasy baseball. Yates is a terrific pitcher, but there is simply no other reliever who can match Hader in terms of piling up strikeouts, eating innings, or limiting baserunners.
St. Louis Cardinals
The bad news dropped on Monday that Jordan Hicks had suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, and it was quickly determined that he would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have several interesting arms in their bullpen, but GM John Mozeliak has made clear that Carlos Martinez will serve as the team’s closer going forward. A starter by trade, Martinez was moved to the bullpen last season to preserve his health and has taken well to the role change. He’s fully capable of being an above-average closer over the rest of the season, and perhaps even an elite one.
Iglesias’ no good, very bad month continued on Wednesday when he gave up four runs to the Angels while pitching in the eighth inning of a tie game. The poor performance actually marked only the second time in 17 appearances that Iglesias has allowed the opposing team to score, but it comes on the heels of Michael Lorenzen picking up back-to-back saves last week while Iglesias was used in a setup capacity. The Cincinnati Enquirer notes that Iglesias has a 1.96 ERA in save situations and a 6.28 ERA in non-save situations, but Reds manager David Bell does not sound like someone who is about to suddenly start using Iglesias in a traditional closer role. Iglesias is too good a pitcher to give up on, but if he isn’t going to be the exclusive closer, it would at least be nice if he didn’t blow up his fantasy owners’ ratios.
After three straight clean outings, Davis was hit hard once again on Thursday, surrendering four runs in the ninth inning of a tie game against the rival Dodgers. Davis is currently walking six batters per nine innings, which basically guarantees catastrophe, especially when you pitch half your games at Coors Field. He’s now got an 11.57 ERA in 9 1/3 innings since returning from the injured list on June 7. Oof. If/when the contending Rockies finally decide they’ve seen enough, Scott Oberg stands ready to step into the closer role.
Sergio Romo left Thursday’s game with a bruised left knee, but the team doesn’t seem concerned about it. Romo shouldn’t miss much if any time, so there’s little point in rushing to the waiver wire for Adam Conley. Romo remains a “hold your nose and bear it” closer who will give you a save here and there along with suboptimal ratios.