Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 21
It’s the final week of the Closer Report for 2019 (it’s ok to cry) and change is afoot. At this stage of the fantasy season, we need to prioritize the here and now above all else. Whether you’re trying to close the deal in a rotisserie league or prepping for a playoff run in a head-to-head format, you’re better off with closers who are in top form right now than proven commodities who are enduring a rough stretch/meltdown.
This is all a nice way of saying that two of the best closers for the balance of the season, Josh Hader and Brad Hand, are looking at a big drop in this week’s rankings. For my money, I’d rather have Liam Hendriks, who didn’t earn his first save until late June but has been lights out ever since. You may say I’m overreacting, but we’re not trying to predict the best closers over the next three years. We’re trying to predict the best closers over the next three weeks.
Of course, that’s not to say you’re dropping Hader or Hand. They still have value as long as they’re handling the ninth inning, and either one could turn things around at any moment. But I certainly wouldn’t mind parking them on my bench for a while, especially if you have some other options to give you those precious saves as you chase a fantasy championship.
|Team (Closer)||Current Rank||Previous Rank||+/-|
|Padres (Kirby Yates)||1||1||–|
|Yankees (Aroldis Chapman)||2||3||+1|
|A’s (Liam Hendriks)||3||9||+6|
|Giants (Will Smith)||4||4||—|
|Astros (Roberto Osuna)||5||7||+2|
|Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)||6||8||+2|
|Pirates (Felipe Vazquez)||7||6||-1|
|Phillies (Hector Neris)||8||10||+2|
|Reds (Raisel Iglesias)||9||12||+3|
|Cubs (Craig Kimbrel)||10||26||+16|
|Brewers (Josh Hader)||11||2||-9|
|Indians (Brad Hand)||12||5||-7|
|Red Sox (Brandon Workman)||13||15||+2|
|Blue Jays (Ken Giles)||14||11||-3|
|Rays (Emilio Pagan)||15||17||+2|
|Cardinals (Carlos Martinez)||16||13||-3|
|Royals (Ian Kennedy)||17||16||-1|
|White Sox (Alex Colome)||18||18||—|
|Angels (Hansel Robles)||19||19||—|
|Rangers (Jose Leclerc)||20||20||—|
|Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley)||21||21||—|
|Tigers (Joe Jimenez)||22||25||+3|
I said last week that Hendriks would continue to rise in the rankings if he kept pitching well, and I’m a man of my word. His meteoric rise into the top-three certainly has something to do with Hader and Hand making way, but Hendriks has also undoubtedly earned it. He’s been the most valuable relief pitcher in standard 5×5 leagues over the last three months, according to Baseball Monster, and has impressively been the second-most valuable reliever for the entire season despite only closing for the last two months.
With a 5.28 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, Craig Kimbrel admittedly hasn’t done much this season to earn a spot among the top-10 closers. But we shouldn’t overreact to 15 subpar innings. He’s picked up two quick saves since returning from the injured list, and we all know what he is capable of doing when healthy and effective. Kimbrel’s pedigree and team context provide hope he can be an elite stopper down the stretch.
Hader is the best reliever (pitcher?) in baseball when he’s on his game, but he has decidedly not been on his game of late. Over his last six innings, Hader has surrendered seven runs, including four home runs. It should be pointed out that he has struck out 11 batters over those six innings, but while he has continued to miss bats with regularity, his subpar form dates back even further than that. Since July 1, he has a 6.19 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. I don’t think he’s “lost it” and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him in the long run, but if you’re asking me how confident I am that his next appearance will be a clean one, the answer is not very.
Like Hader, Hand has been a top-five closer in these rankings for a big chunk of the year. But Hand’s season began to go south when he gave up five runs to the Royals without retiring a single batter back on June 25, and it’s gotten much worse over the last couple weeks. He’s given up seven earned runs over just 3 2/3 innings dating back to August 11. Indians manager Terry Francona refuses to “run from Brad,” which is probably the right move, but we simply don’t know when Hand will regain the form that made him one of the best closers in the game over the last couple seasons.
Sean Doolittle is yet another top closer who has struggled mightily in recent weeks, culminating in a trip to the injured list last weekend with knee tendinitis. The knee ailment isn’t made up, but whether that or a fatigued arm is to blame for Doolittle’s struggles is unclear. Regardless, the Nationals hope he will emerge from the IL refreshed and ready to dominate hitters over the regular season’s final month. Manager Davey Martinez has already confirmed that Doolittle will regain the closer role as soon as he’s back.
Given that Doolittle’s stay on the IL is expected to be a short one, the Nationals haven’t bothered naming an interim closer and most fantasy owners can probably afford to ignore the situation. But if you’re trying to squeeze out every save you can get your hands on, Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland are the best bets to get one.
Scott Oberg deservedly inherited the ninth inning from Wade Davis, but Oberg’s time as the team’s closer was short. He landed on the injured list on August 18 with a blood clot in his arm and will miss the rest of the season. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery and is back strong next year. In Oberg’s absence, Colorado’s bullpen is quite the garbage fire. Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, and yes, Davis, could all factor into the ninth inning, but this is a situation to be avoided if you can possibly help it. But if you’re really in the mood for speculating, Estevez and Diaz appear to be the most likely to see save chances — and the least likely to burn your ratios.
Raisel Iglesias has had a turbulent season, dating all the way back to Spring Training when we learned he wouldn’t be used as a traditional closer. Iglesias has pitched much better in save situations than other high-leverage spots, but he’s been good in all circumstances in the season’s second half. Prior to getting roughed up by soft contact on Friday night, he had nine saves and a cool 0.84 ERA and 0.56 WHIP over the last month, making him the most valuable fantasy closer in baseball over that stretch.
Toronto Blue Jays
Ken Giles looks to be past the elbow issues that killed his trade value but will miss a few more games for a happier reason: he was placed on paternity leave on August 22. Derek Law will handle save opportunities while Giles is out, but he blew his first opportunity in ugly fashion on Thursday (3 ERs in 2/3 of an inning).
Matt Magill has emerged as the best option for saves in Seattle, closing out two games over the last week. Magill remains the best bet for saves moving forward, but others could see opportunities from time to time. Still, this is another situation that is unlikely to bear much fruit for save-chasers over the rest of the season, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.