Closers to Target from Unsettled Situations (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
More than ever, teams are electing to go with a closer-by-committee approach. By my count, nearly one-third of teams should have multiple relievers nab at least ten saves apiece. Our goal here is to cut through the noise and determine who has the skills to help you in that committee or to just run away with the job altogether. Here are five of my favorite targets (and two not-so-great targets) to look for throughout the middle and late rounds.
St. Louis Cardinals
Projection: 65 IP, 25 SV, 2.78 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 77 K, 9th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 220, 23rd RP
Miles Mikolas is still dealing with arm trouble from the end of last season. Adam Wainwright is 38 years old. The remainder of the Cardinals’ starters, aside from Jack Flaherty, are young and unproven. So, why do we think that Carlos Martinez will start the season as the closer, when he may be desperately needed as a starter? There are plenty of rumors that Martinez will start the year in the rotation. This leaves Giovanny Gallegos, the man with a 16.3% swinging-strike rate and absolutely wipeout slider. Batters swing and miss half the time at it! Jordan Hicks will come back sometime in the second half, but it’s worth riding out the Gallegos wave. He’s going to move up multiple rounds quickly if Martinez is confirmed to start the year in the rotation, so act before that news comes out.
Projection: 55 IP, 23 SV, 3.49 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 53 K, 29th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 241, 27th RP
For a team that will win a lot of games, this is quite a murky situation. Five pitchers have all been closers at one point in their careers in this bullpen. However, the good news is that GM Alex Anthopolous expects Melancon to be the closer. While Will Smith clearly is the better pitcher (more swings and misses, better command), Melancon nailed down 11 saves after coming over from San Francisco. Smith has also fared much better against lefties than righties in his career, meaning that Melancon is on the strong side of any potential platoon. If you are playing in a saves + holds league, Smith is the much better buy due to his strikeouts, and likely lower WHIP and ERA. However, the job is Melancon’s to lose. I would rather target the guy above and the guy below this paragraph – talent seems like it will win out in both of these scenarios.
Projection: 52 IP, 24 SV, 2.89 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 55 K, 20th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 208, 22nd RP
Daniel Hudson’s better 2019 playoff performance has many fans calling for him to be the closer. However, there is no news that remotely suggests that Doolittle is out as closer. Many people see Hudson’s surface-level stats (ERA, WHIP) from last year and think he is better than Doolittle, but let’s dive further.
Hudson’s BABIP last year was .247, 45 basis points below his career average. How about Doolittle? .313, 45 basis points above his career average. I’m betting on that evening out this season. Plus, Doolittle’s three-year average walk rate is half of Hudson’s. Add in the strawberry on top – Doolittle’s K rate was also a few percentage points above Hudson’s, which is backed by his better swinging-strike rate. I’m banking on that talent winning out in this situation.
Tampa Bay Rays
Projection: 66 IP, 20 SV, 3.09 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 100 K, 17th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 221, 24th RP
If you haven’t done so, do yourself a favor and go and check out Anderson’s Baseball Savant page – it is nasty. We already know that 7-10 relievers will garner at least one save for the Rays, but I am expecting Anderson to get the bulk of them. Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado both are lurking just behind Anderson, but Anderson’s dominance is too good to pass up. The Rays will likely win 90+ games again, making Anderson a nice target after the first couple waves of closers get drafted.
Projection: 60 IP, 15 SV, 3.14 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 63 K, 31st-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 285, 29th RP
Yes, Wade Davis has been named closer. However, his declining walk and strikeout rates suggest that it won’t last very long. I’m expecting the Rockies to hand Oberg the reins sometime in June, and he probably won’t look back. The only problem is that the Rockies are projected to stink, so they probably won’t be garnering too many saves (especially if they ship off Nolan Arenado).
While you are waiting for the reins to be handed over in the meantime, Oberg will give you greater than a K/9 along with solid ratios in an inflated run environment. With that said, this is my nearly my least favorite target, just ahead of the team below.
San Francisco Giants
Projection: 60 IP, 25 SV, 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 48 K, 30th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 478, 37th RP
This situation all around is just like middle school lunches – pretty gross. Watson had a rough 2019, and the Giants are also projected to stink. However, Watson has the closing experience to win the job in the spring, and the Giants have the incentive for him to perform well – he could be easy trade bait for a contender to trade for at the deadline. Watson won’t help much in any other category, so only nab Watson if you are desperate for saves at the end of drafts.
Projection: 60 IP, 20 SV, 3.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 62 K, 28th-ranked RP
NFBC ADP (as of 2/1): 478, 42nd RP
There’s some early chatter that Matt Magill is going to close for the M’s. He did end 2019 converting five saves, and his swinging strike rate (and K rate) were significantly above his career norms. However, he still lacks command (8.7% walk rate) and isn’t so great at hard contact management (bottom 5% of the league). Hirano has the same swinging-strike rate, but has much better command and has consistently been able to induce soft contact (top 6% of the league). This will be a committee in April, but I’m expecting Hirano to put his stamp on the gig by June.