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Closers To Target From Unsettled Situations (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Eric Cross | @EricCross04 | Featured Writer
Mar 29, 2022
Matt Barnes

After a rough second half of the 2021 season, Matt Barnes could return some fantasy value as Boston’s main closer this season.

As I mentioned in my relief pitcher primer here on FantasyPros, there are plenty of bullpens that don’t have a set closer entering the 2022 season. Some have mentioned going with the dreaded “closer by committee” while others simply won’t commit to a name publicly. Both of these are incredibly frustrating for fantasy managers and can create plenty of uncertainty in drafts. But hopefully, this article will help steer you towards the names in these clustered bullpens that could help you the most this fantasy season.

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Boston Red Sox: Matt Barnes (RP – BOS)

As a Red Sox fan, Matt Barnes caused me and the rest of Red Sox Nation countless headaches last season. It was a tale of two seasons for Barnes. From Opening Day through the end of July, Barnes had a 2.30 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, .163 BAA, and a 41.5% strikeout rate, which ranked 4th among relievers in that timeframe. Then, from 8/1 on, Barnes recorded an unsightly 9.26 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, .321 BAA, and saw his strikeout rate fall to 28.6% while his walk rate ballooned from 6.9% to 14.5%. It appeared that he was tinkering with his curveball too, as the shape changed from more of a hammer 11-5 break to more of a slurvy break. Maybe this and his performance had something to do with the sticky stuff crackdown.

Which Barnes will we get this season? The answer is likely somewhere in the middle and closer to what we’ve seen from Barnes in years past. Barnes is a 7th inning guy masquerading as a closer due to the fact that Boston has neglected to bring in anyone better for that bullpen. Both Tanner Houck (SP,RP – BOS) and Garrett Whitlock (RP – BOS) will likely be used in other capacities, so the bulk of save opportunities will once again go to Barnes. If he performs well enough to keep the role, Barnes could be a serviceable back-end RP2 this season for fantasy managers with the potential for 25 saves.

Cincinnati: Art Warren (RP – CIN) (Or Lucas Sims (RP – CIN))

As I mentioned in my relief pitcher primer, the Cincinnati Red bullpen is a mess and has been since they traded Raisel Iglesias (RP – LAA) to the Los Angeles Angels last offseason. As of now, Roster Resource has four relievers listed in the closer committee: Art Warren, Luis Cessa (RP – CIN), Justin Wilson (RP – CIN), and Jeff Hoffman (SP,RP – CIN). Here’s how these four performed last season:

Notice one that is head and shoulders above the others? These are all small sample sizes but Warren had the best ERA, WHIP, K%, and SwStr% of this quartet last season, and it wasn't remotely close in K% or SwStr%. The 29-year-old Warren was a former 23rd-round selection by the Mariners and came to Seattle from Texas in January 2021. He works with a four-seam/slider mix with the slider being used 59.5% of the time. Averaging 86 mph, Warren's slider recorded an exceptional .104 BAA, .125 SLG, .123 wOBA, and a 46.6% whiff rate last season.

I'm not sure Warren will be named the closer between now and Opening Day, but he's the most talented arm in the current bullpen contingent as Tejay Antone (RP - CIN) is out for the season and Lucas Sims will miss the beginning of the season with back issues. If you're looking for a late-round reliever dart throw, Warren is an intriguing target.

Pittsburgh: David Bednar (RP - PIT)

It's a bit surprising to see David Bednar and Chris Stratton (RP - PIT) listed as co-closers on Roster Resource and other Pittsburgh depth charts. For me, Bednar is the better pitcher and the more desirable target for fantasy purposes this season. In 61 appearances last season, Bednar recorded a 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 32.5% strikeout rate over 60.2 innings. On top of that, Bednar ranked in the top-8% of pitchers in xBA, xSLG, wOBA, xwOBA, xwOBACON, hard-hit rate, strikeout rate, and xERA. He was able to limit hard contact exceptionally well and only allowed 17 extra-base hits all season, which equates to one roughly every 3.5 appearances.

All three of Bednar's offerings (four-seamer, slider, splitter) had an xBA under .200 and an xSLG of .325 or less last season with the splitter and slider each missing bats above 35% of the time. His ability to limit hard contact and miss bats make Bednar an intriguing RP2 this season and don't be surprised if he adds 20+ saves as well. Yes, Pittsburgh is terrible, but they should still win 60+ games and when they win, it will likely be close. Don't shy away from Bednar due to the "co-closer" tag or the name on the front of his jersey.

Seattle: Paul Sewald (RP - SEA) and Diego Castillo (RP - SEA)

There are so many talented arms in this Seattle bullpen, picking one to target is incredibly difficult. So, I'm going to go with two. Starting with Paul Sewald, the 31-year-old journeyman reliever surprised many last season when he posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and a 39.4% strikeout rate over 64.2 innings. He quickly became Seattle's most reliable reliever and was called upon regularly whenever they needed those tough outs in the final few innings of the game. Sewald did allow 10 homers which is an issue, but both his four-seamer and slider can miss bats and each recorded a BAA under .200, a SLG under .375, and a wOBA right around .250.

As for Diego Castillo, he recorded 14 saves as the primary closer for Tampa Bay before a mid-season trade sent him to the Pacific Northwest. Castillo has always been a slider-first pitcher with 2/3 of his pitches being sliders last season. It's easy to see why as his slider recorded a .130 BAA, .233 SLG, .188 wOBA, and a 40.1% strikeout rate last season. Both Castillo's four-seamer and sinker got hit around a bit, but he only uses them 1/3 of the time combined and has found success with this pitch mix. Castillo's 33.3% chase rate and 32.8% whiff rate were both well above league-average last season as well.

I'm sure Ken Giles (RP - SEA) will factor in at some point as well, but he's coming off an injury and will likely be eased back into high-leverage situations, especially with the impressive depth Seattle has in the bullpen. I'd be looking to target Castillo and Seward over Steckenrider in 2022 drafts due to their ability to provide solid ratios and impressive strikeout numbers.

Tampa Bay: Andrew Kittredge (RP - TB)

Over the years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been known to mix and match in the 9th inning, often playing the matchups or riding the hot hand. That could be the case again this year with several recording multiple saves, but the arm to target for fantasy purposes in this bullpen is Andrew Kittredge. In 57 outings last year, Kittredge totaled 71.2 innings with a stellar 1.88 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with a 5.3% walk rate and 27.3% strikeout rate.

Kittredge works primarily with a sinker/slider combination while mixing in a four-seamer a little over 10% of the time. His slider was a rock-solid offering in 2021, recording a .195 BAA, .301 SLG, and 40.8% whiff rate with above-average horizontal and verticle movement. It offset his 95.4 mph sinker exceptionally well, and Kittredge's above-average command of each offering was crucial.

I'm not sure he'll ever be an elite strikeout arm to match the names we're taking inside the top-100 overall, but a 28-30% strikeout rate with good ratios and around 20 saves could be in the cards for Kittredge this season, which would have him pushing top-15 value among relievers. He's a phenomenal value in drafts right now, currently going off the board around pick 250 on average.

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