I remember watching Jonathan Broxton at his height in 2009 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. With an average fastball velocity of 97.8 mph and an average slider velocity of 88.6 mph, he was something to behold and represented what I thought was the first of the modern-day relievers. Even at his peak, however, I saw him eke out a save despite not being able to locate his fastball or his curveball. The only pitch he could locate was his slider, which he threw seven consecutive times to get his final out that night. I owned him in both of my dynasty leagues back then, but after watching that game I traded him the next day. He was still a closer for the next three years, but he wasn’t on my team.
Yesterday, I posted four underrated relief pitchers you should draft. I likened relievers to the energy drinks of baseball because they can provide such a boost to your team when it needs it the most. The following relievers show what happens when you have too many energy drinks: Focused and controlled becomes manic and erratic. Pitches fly at heads or bounce in front of the plate and you find yourself planted face-first in the dirt, not knowing how you got there.
The point of all this is that anybody can be a closer. The closing role alone does not make a reliever valuable. In fact, a guy just being a closer often will fool you into thinking he is valuable, when he really isn’t. When I think of closers, I think of what George Carlin said about children: “They are like any other group of people, a few winners and a whole lot of losers.”
Below are four losers.
Wade Davis (CL, COL), ADP: 119
Let’s view Wade Davis in this perspective: the Colorado Rockies closer has an ADP of 119 and Josh Hader has an ADP of 108. Who here thinks the difference between Hader and Davis should be one round or less? Davis is the perfect example of the bias and laziness that fantasy owners have toward saves. You’re going to see this trend a few more times below: Just because a pitcher gets saves doesn’t mean he can help you. Closers like Davis represent a trade-off: how much they help you in one category versus how much they hurt you in the rest of them. In 2018, Davis notched a career-high 43 saves; he also posted a career-high (as a reliever) ERA of 4.13. We already have an even trade-off of helping and hurting your team. Davis posted neutral strikeout numbers (10.7 K/9) and a WHIP (1.06) that will help your team (although that was his best mark in three seasons). With two categories helping, one hurting and one neutral, Davis embodies the line between a pitcher being valuable or not. On the other hand, just one round before, Hader, was picked, a non-closer who helps you in at least three categories.
Ken Giles (CL, TOR), ADP: 141
Sometimes I feel like I’m living on the island of the TV show Lost, where people just vanish and reappear years later as if nothing happened. Have we forgotten about the last two years of Ken Giles? I don’t know how that’s possible; he’s been here the entire time! Still, we are eagerly picking a reliever who hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 in two years, a WHIP below 1.10 in two years, and who has been demoted from his post as closer twice in two years. Yes, he was marginally better with the Toronto Blue Jays, after the Houston Astros gave up on trying to mold him into their closer of the future, but even this improved version of him wasn’t all that good:
|2019 w/ Blue Jays||19.2||4.12||1.12||22||1.8|
I believe this is the best you can hope for from Giles, except for maybe the HR/9 rate, which was extraordinarily high. Allowing two home runs per nine innings for a reliever equates to blowing almost one in four save attempts due to dingers alone. That HR/9 rate is probably why Giles held a career-worst 4.33 FIP while posting some of his best numbers in recent memory.
Jordan Hicks (RP, STL), ADP: 199
I mentioned Jordan Hicks in four underrated relief pitchers you should draft. Simply put, he is not a valuable reliever—not yet anyway. Even if he is a closer, he’s not valuable because all he’s good for is saves. His ERA is subpar for a reliever (3.59), his WHIP is subpar for any kind of pitcher (1.34), and his strikeout rate will drag you down (8.1 K/9). He’s pretty much the pitching version of Billy Hamilton—if Hicks is even a closer. If he’s not, he’s the pitching version of Yoan Moncada: He does some amazing things on the field (like when Hicks hits 104 mph on his fastball) and he shows you a ton of promise, but he’s not usable yet. I doubt Hicks will reach relevance in 2019 because he didn’t show any sign of measured improvement throughout the previous season and his major-league totals are strikingly similar to his minor-league performance:
His low strikeout rate, high walk rate, and high WHIP throughout the minors and majors all indicate that he didn’t figure anything out in 2018. Maybe he’s showing improvement this spring, with four scoreless innings and 10 Ks, but I’m not going to bet on that by picking him before 200.
Arodys Vizcaino (CL, ATL), ADP: 185
I want to make one thing clear: This final entry has nothing to do with talent. In a bubble, Arodys Vizcaino is a good to very good closer; the problem is he needs to pitch in a bubble to not get hurt. In the past three years, he’s gone on the DL four times. He’s missed an average of 52 days per season in that time. It’s not just how much time he’s missed—although that alone might be enough of a red flag—but it’s also the kind of injuries he’s had: Two of those four DL stints were due to shoulder problems. A recurring shoulder injury in the recent past is a concern, especially when such an injury shut him down in 2018. He’s probably healthy, but his spring performance won’t put you at ease (7.71 ERA) in a very small sample size (2.1 IP). If Vizcaino weren’t injury prone, he’d be worth his ADP as a closer, but with all his baggage and A.J. Minter breathing down his neck, I wouldn’t draft him here.
(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)