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Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Opening Day

by Andrew Seifter | @andrew_seifter | Featured Writer
Jul 22, 2020

At long last, the wait is over. If you’re half as addicted to fantasy baseball as I am, the last four months have felt more like four years as we’ve patiently waited for the first pitch to be thrown. Thankfully, we’re finally here: Opening Day. It has an especially nice ring to it this year, doesn’t it?

Now that the games are about to count, you can consider this your first Closer Report of the regular season. The last preseason one was only one week ago, but plenty has changed in the last seven days, including the fact that Houston’s Roberto Osuna has joined Aroldis Chapman as consensus top-five closers who will apparently not be ready to go by Opening Day. Meanwhile, we received some much-needed clarity from Cardinals manager Mike Shildt on his team’s closer situation, but we remain completely in the dark on the status of Pittsburgh’s Keone Kela.

I’ll cover all that and more this week — and then meet you right back here every week of this mad 60-game sprint. But remember, if you’d like my thoughts on any closer situation that isn’t addressed here, just hit me up on Twitter @andrew_seifter.

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Team (Closer) Rank (Δ) Notes
Padres (Kirby Yates) 1 (-) Top-3 closer in ’19 is poised for a repeat
Brewers (Josh Hader) 2 (-) Best reliever in baseball, but his job security in the ninth is threatened by Corey Knebel’s return
Mets (Edwin Diaz) 3 (+1) Coming off a disastrous ’19, but projections point to a major bounce back
A’s (Liam Hendriks) 4 (+1) Top breakout closer of last year should maintain success
Dodgers (Kenley Jansen) 5 (+1) Missed start of camp with COVID-19, but looks ready for Opening Day
Cubs (Craig Kimbrel) 6 (+1) Elite track record is too good to completely write off based on 20 bad innings last season
Blue Jays (Ken Giles) 7 (+1) Posted 1.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and career-best 14.09 K/9 in 2019
Twins (Taylor Rogers) 8 (+1) Excelled in the closer role last year, but could have fairly short leash as a late-blooming left-hander in a deep bullpen
Indians (Brad Hand) 9 (+1) Overall 2019 numbers look good (3.30 ERA, 13.19 K/9, 34 saves), but he struggled mightily with “tired arm” in the second half
Rays (Committee) 10 (+1) Nick Anderson won’t see every save chance, but elite K potential should provide plenty of standalone value
Reds (Raisel Iglesias) 11 (+1) Posted career-worst ERA and WHIP in 2019 — but career-best save total and strikeout rate
Nationals (Sean Doolittle) 12 (+1) Durability issues less concerning in shortened season, but Daniel Hudson lurks
Phillies (Hector Neris) 13 (+1) It turns out that he never had COVID-19 after all; ready to roll for Opening Day
Astros (Ryan Pressly) 14 (-11) Has the stuff to be dominant fantasy closer, but the window for saves could be short
Yankees (Zach Britton) 15 (-) Can be a solid fantasy closer, but how long will Aroldis Chapman (COVID-19) be out?
White Sox (Alex Colome) 16 (-) Strikeout rate won’t wow you, but he could rack up saves on improved White Sox squad
Rangers (Jose Leclerc) 17 (-) Has the stuff to dominate if he can keep the walks under control
Red Sox (Brandon Workman) 18 (-) Major regression candidate, but misses enough bats to provide value if he can hold onto the job
Braves (Mark Melancon) 19 (-) Looking like the Braves’ Opening Day closer with Will Smith currently on the COVID-19 IL
Angels (Hansel Robles) 20 (-) Coming off a terrific season, but some regression is likely
Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley) 21 (-) Hasn’t quite lived up to the hype and wild at times, but can still get the job done
Cardinals (Kwang-Hyun Kim) 22 (+3) Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, and Carlos Martinez appeared to be top contenders for this job, but in the end, Kim will get the first shot
Tigers (Joe Jimenez) 23 (-) Won’t likely put up great ratios or a huge save total, but can help with Ks
Marlins (Brandon Kintzler) 24 (-) Journeyman right-hander should have little competition for saves in Miami
Royals (Ian Kennedy) 25 (-3) Was quietly effective as closer last season, but his role is now in question
Rockies (Wade Davis) 26 (+1) Owning Davis could be a rocky ride
Pirates (Committee) 27 (-3) Pittsburgh will “mix and match” at closer while Keone Kela is out
Giants (Committee) 28 (+1) Tony Watson looks set to lead an uninspiring committee in San Francisco
Mariners (Committee) 29 (-1) Hard to see any Seattle RP having much fantasy value unless they have the closer job to themselves
Orioles (Committee) 30 (-) Orioles’ closer job is up for grabs, but fantasy owners may want to take a hard pass

Big Movers

Houston Astros
Astros manager Dusty Baker insists that Roberto Osuna isn’t injured, but he reportedly won’t be ready by Opening Day as he continues to get himself into “game shape.” Enter Ryan Pressly, who Baker has tipped as his interim closer. Pressly was flat-out fantastic for the Astros last year, registering a 2.32 ERA and 0.90 WHIP to go along with a sparkling 6.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In many respects, it was a continuation of his 2018, when he was even more dominant after joining Houston midway through the season. Pressly can be an elite fantasy closer for however long he has this job; it just doesn’t seem like it will be too long before Osuna is back.

St. Louis Cardinals
For most of the preseason, Kwang-Hyun Kim was engaged in a fierce competition with Carlos Martinez to squeeze into the Cardinals’ crowded starting rotation. Given Martinez’s durability issues, it seemed quite possible — if not likely — that he would need to remain in the bullpen after having plenty of success as the team’s closer last year. But Martinez was adamant that he wanted to return to the starting rotation, and he ultimately got his wish.

The bigger surprise is that Kim will now be the Cardinals’ closer. At various points, Martinez, Giovanny Gallegos, and Ryan Helsley each looked like the favorite to close, while Kim was rarely talked about for that role, perhaps because it’s one he never had during his successful career as a starter in South Korea. Kim put up very solid numbers in Korea, but the transition to MLB can be difficult to predict for each player. One possible warning sign is that he’s never struck out more than a batter per inning, and it’s hard to say whether he’ll be able to get by on guile against Major League hitters. He’s certainly a solid closer to target given his favorable team situation, but we may not have heard the last of Gallegos or Helsley.

Kansas City Royals
Royals manager Mike Matheny has expressed a desire since March to move away from a traditional bullpen structure with a designated closer, and he’s reportedly even more inclined to go in that direction now that we’re dealing with a truncated 60-game season. Presumed closer Ian Kennedy was surprisingly effective in the role last year, piling up 30 saves with a 3.41 ERA and 10.37 K/9 ratio. But Kennedy was already a logical trade candidate, and he’s no longer a great bet to see the vast majority of the save chances while he remains in Kansas City. He’s still the slight favorite for saves and remains worth rostering, but now belongs in a more questionable tier with names like Joe Jimenez, Brandon Kintzler, and Wade Davis.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Keone Kela has been on the Injured List for almost a week, but we still don’t know whether he has COVID-19. What we do know is that he’s very unlikely to be the Pirates’ closer to begin the year with Opening Day only a matter of hours away. It’s impossible to say what his timeline to return will be until we get more information. In the meantime, the Pirates reportedly plan to “mix and match” at closer, which makes it hard to envision any of their relievers producing much fantasy value until Kela returns. Kyle Crick is probably the best bet, but a dark horse could be Nick Burdi, who is coming back from a second arm surgery in as many years. Burdi has at least shown some intriguing bat-missing ability over his very limited minor and Major League career.

Random Musings

Philadelphia Phillies
It sounds like Hector Neris was exposed to someone with the coronavirus but never had it himself. He’s now fully expected to be the Phillies’ closer on Opening Day, and he has to be considered an above-average fantasy closer, given all the uncertainty at the position right now.

Atlanta Braves
Mark Melancon is going to begin the year as the Braves’ closer, but Will Smith is now expected to return from the COVID-19 Injured List soon. Given that the season will only be 60 games, Melancon is a solid bet to hold onto this job all year, even though he’s had his ups and downs in recent seasons. Still, Smith is a player worth rostering in many formats, given his elite strikeout ability and an easy-to-imagine path to saves.

Seattle Mariners
Yoshihisa Hirano is yet another closer candidate who has found himself on the Injured List for unspecified reasons that could be related to COVID-19. In his absence, Mariners manager Scott Servais has named Matt Magill, Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, and Anthony Misiewicz as candidates to pitch in late-inning situations, but Servais has also made it clear that none of them will serve as the team’s exclusive closer. As of now, this isn’t a situation I’d recommend in most fantasy leagues until we see one of these guys earn a few saves in a row or start putting up the kind of strikeouts and ratio help that can produce standalone value.

Baltimore Orioles
Hunter Harvey profiles as “the Orioles’ future closer,” according to The Baltimore SunBut before you get too excited and rush to your waiver wire, the Sun adds that “there’s work to get him to that point.” Last year, the 25-year old Harvey struck out 11 batters in just 6 1/3 innings for the O’s, showcasing his bat-missing stuff. But he posted ERAs well north of 4.00 in Double- and Triple-A over the last couple seasons, proving the Sun’s point that there is plenty of work to be done here. No Orioles reliever is currently a must-own commodity in standard mixed leagues, but if you had to pick one, Harvey probably deserves the nod over 30-year old Mychal Givens, who is less likely to take a sudden leap forward.

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Andrew Seifter is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrew_seifter.

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