The 2020 Pitcher List positional rankings continue today with closers, a role that seemingly becomes more and more volatile as the years go by. As has been the case in the past, there once again is a near 50% turnover rate at the position from last year. Only one of last year’s top 5 closers at this time remains in the top two tiers this season (Aroldis Chapman). It’s been said before, but we really shouldn’t be chasing saves early on in drafts. For those in standard 12 teamers, I suggest waiting 12 or 13 rounds before considering a closer.
Guys like Liam Hendriks, Taylor Rogers, Hector Neris, Brandon Workman, Emilio Pagan, Hansel Robles, and Ian Kennedy were all waiver wire adds last season, and ended up finishing the year as top 20 relievers. Archie Bradley also did wonders for owners as a midseason pickup, as his 18 second-half saves were the 5th most in baseball. In fact, 8 of the top 20 relievers for saves last season were either undrafted or taken after the first 200 picks on average.
As long as you are monitoring leaguewide bullpen situations, especially early on in the year, you should have no problem making up for your lack of saves from the draft. Not to mention, there is plenty of value to be had right now after pick 150 in many leagues (article to come shortly). If you need another reason to wait on saves this year, Alex Fast’s great Going Deep piece on reliever usage from a year ago should be the nail in the coffin. Just to follow up on that article, 2019 actually broke 2018’s record for most relievers to pick up a save, with 199 relievers converting at least 1 save.
There are two caveats to this strategy, however. As with other positions, it comes down to how the rest of your league values certain stats. If your league mates are all employing the same or similar “punt saves” strategy, then, by all means, consider drafting a top closer if they start to hang around longer than anticipated. Also, if you are more of a casual player who may not follow the waiver wire on a daily basis throughout the entire season, it definitely makes some sense to draft a well-rounded team from the get-go, closers included.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get to our closer rankings…
NOTE: All ADP’s mentioned are based on NFBC data from January 1st on)
It should come as no surprise to find Josh Hader at the top of the list, especially after finishing 2019 with the highest strikeout rate among all relievers by a whopping six percent. He also led in SIERA (by .28 points) and SwStr% (by 3.4%). For the second consecutive season, Hader saw his K% rise while also lowering his BB%, a trend we’d obviously want to see in any pitcher.
While Hader was fantastic for most of last year, he did run into some issues between July and August, allowing 7 HR’s over a 14.1 inning stretch. He eventually turned things around by the end of August, and was his usual self by September. Being a reliever who relies on his fastball more than 80% of the time, Hader does tend to get in trouble when he’s unable to elevate the pitch, leading to more hard-hit balls in play. It’d be nice to see him develop a little more trust in his slider but as it stands, there’s not a whole lot to complain about with Hader.
Since the 2018 MLB trade deadline, only Kirby Yates and Roberto Osuna have 50 saves, but only Yates can claim the 2nd best K% and K-BB% among relievers over that span. As with Hader, Yates too was able to up his K rate while dropping his BB rate last year. He also finished last season with a league-low 1.30 FIP, .52 points lower than the next qualified reliever. While Yates may not post elite level swing and miss numbers, perhaps his only drawback, he makes up for it by suppressing hard contact, and keeping the ball out of the air at a near 48% rate.
His fastball, although improved, is still not a special offering (12.8% SwStr since 2018), but his splitter continues to dominate, finishing with a 12.9% pVAL last season. With an improved rotation and a bullpen that’s absolutely loaded heading into next season, expect another monster season out of the Padres closer. He and Hader are 1a and 1b in my eyes, with one offering slightly more upside (Hader) and one offering slightly more security (Yates).
Chapman’s velocity continues to trend downward, as we knew would eventually happen. But now that we’re at this point, it’s not as worrisome as I think we thought it’d be. He’s turned into a more complete pitcher, with his slider usage steadily rising over the past 4 years (15.7%, 19.7%, 25.4%, and 31.1% last year), and he now looks like a pitcher more concerned with how he can get outs, than a guy looking to get up there and throw as hard as he can.
This new “pitch to weak contact” Chapman did have its drawbacks, however, as his K rate fell to 36.2% last year, and his 14.1% SwStr rate isn’t anything to write home about. Not to mention his walk rate still remained over 10% last year, not the most promising sign for someone getting fewer swings and misses. It would also have been nice to see the increased slider usage result in more hitters chasing out of the zone. However, his O-Swing remained the same as it was 2018 (32.9%), which was 2% lower than his 2017 mark. Still, Chapman and his absurd Statcast profile should be in line for another 30+ save season, which would be the 8th in his 9-year career.
Osuna was once again one of the better closers in baseball last season, as he posted strong numbers across the board, despite nothing really standing out as “elite”. That is, except for his walk rate. After posting a ridiculous 2.9% BB% in 2018, Osuna saw a 2% rise this past season, which was still good enough for 2nd on this list, and 10th best among all qualified relievers.
Still only 25 years old, Osuna saw a nice uptick in his fastball velocity this past season, perhaps the reason for his career-high 16.9% SwStr rate (7th highest among all closers). After failing to throw his changeup more than 9.4% in any season since 2015, Osuna went to it 18.4% of the time this season, with mostly positive results. As a rare four-pitch reliever, it’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with that usage this season. Similar to Chapman, Osuna is as safe a bet as any for saves in the 2020 season, just remember that the term “safe closer” is an oxymoron.
Now for the fun part of this tier, with three (maybe four) guys a year ago no one would have imagined being in the top 10 closer discussion. The big change for Hendriks this past season was his fastball velocity, rising from 94.4 MPH in 2018 to 96.5 MPH last season. That extra velocity doesn’t seem like some fluky thing either, as he actually seemed to get stronger as the season went along.
Perhaps more impressive was the difference in how Hendriks used his arsenal. He started trusting his fastball up in the zone more, which paired with his two quality breakers down in the zone (aka The Blake Snell Blueprint), led to a breakout season. The only real negative with Hendriks last season was that when he did get hit, he tended to get hit hard (bottom 25% in Hard-Hit and Exit Velocity). That, and the fact 2019 could just be a one-off season, similar to fellow teammate Blake Treinen’s 2018. With a new fastball and redesigned approach, I don’t see that being the case.
Somewhat similar to Hendriks, Rogers’ breakout can also be attributed to upping his velocity as well as a new approach. Rogers was mostly a sinker/curveball pitcher from 2016-2018 but decided to throw his slider 33% more last season. The increased slider usage helped him post a .208/.251/.359 with a 28.1% K-BB% against right-handed hitters, a big reason why the Twins stuck with him in the closer role down the stretch. Rogers’ improved sinker command also attributed to his success in 2019, as the pitch saw a 4.7% drop in walk rate, and put his overall walk rate at just 4%, the lowest among all closers.
Despite the improvements to his arsenal, Rogers is still not missing a ton of bats, with his 10.9% SwStr, 30% O-Swing and 83.6% Z-Contact all ranking in the bottom 10 amongst the closers on this list. However, in large part due to his superb command, he was able to find a way to pull off a 35.3% CSW, 4th highest amongst relievers. While the swing and miss potential may limit his upside, it’s not a major concern, especially given his command of the strike zone, and ability to limit walks. The Twins once again field a strong bullpen full of potential closer options, so Rogers will need to get off to a strong start to extend his leash on the job. From what he showed us last year, that shouldn’t be an issue.
For those looking for the next Josh Hader, look no further as Nick Anderson is your guy. His fastball/slider combination was truly electric last season, with his slider racking up a 25% SwStr rate. His fastball did get hit around early on in the year, with the month of May being the one real outlier. However, once he moved to Tampa at the deadline, Anderson became a whole other animal. In fact, it actually started before that, as his crazy second-half numbers indicate. Over the second half, Anderson led all MLB relievers in SwStr%, CSW%, K%, K-BB%, SIERA, xFIP, and Z-Contact%, was 3rd in Zone% and Contact%, and 9th in O-Swing% and F-Strike%. He had a 52/4 K/BB rate over 27.2 second-half innings. That’s just insane.
Outside of this just being a one-year sample size, the big concern in drafting Anderson this year is that the Rays have not named a closer since trading Emilio Pagan a few weeks ago. Even if Anderson isn’t the primary closer to start the season, he is still absolutely worth the gamble at his current cost in drafts (ADP is still just 179 since Pagan trade!). Although, I’d imagine that price will continue to grow by the time you are reading this.
We don’t know who Kevin Cash will tab as his closer yet, but we do know he has mostly stayed with one closer at a time, with the lone exception being the first half of 2019. Just a quick reminder, prior to Corey Knebel’s injury last winter, Hader was still a top 150 pick despite not being in the mix for saves at the time. If Anderson lasts until pick 150 or so in redrafts, he could be the ultimate value pick if he breaks camp as the teams closer. Even if he doesn’t get the job, he’s still a great source of K’s and low ratios. The “risk” is totally worth it.
I’ve been known to overvalue Ken Giles in the past, and while I was tempted to place him 5th on this list, I think I need to temper expectations for once. Yes, Giles was fantastic, as usual, when it comes to expected stats and Statcast data. When compared to the rest of this list, he finished in the top 5 in FIP, xFIP, SIERA, SwStr%, K%, K-BB%, WHIFF%, and xwOBA. His 36.1% CSW ranked 1st among all relievers. His slider was one of the best in baseball last season, posting a 12.7 pVAL and a 39% PutAway rate. He also has perhaps the best job security at the position, with absolutely no competition around him to start the season.
So why is he ranked this low? Volatility for one, as Giles real-life results seem to yoyo despite always having been backed by good peripheral numbers. The Jays, while improved, are unlikely to make a playoff push this season. Therefore, Giles, a free agent by year’s end, is likely to be dealt come August. He should be able to muster up 20 or so saves by then, but after that, his value is up in the air. He also is coming off a season where he was hampered by elbow inflammation, always a concerning problem for any pitcher. I still like the thought of taking a gamble on Giles if he slides to pick 150 or so, but his current ADP (135) is just a bit too rich for me.
After back to back “down” years following a 7 year run of dominance, I think we can safely move forward accepting that elite Kenley Jansen is probably not coming back. His bread and butter pitch, his cutter saw a career-low pVAL of just 2 last season, this after averaging 15.69 since his first full season in 2011. His velocity continues to plummet as his cutter has lost MPH each of the past 4 seasons (93.9, 93.2, 92.1, 91.7).
He’s seen a lot of usage in his career with only Tyler Clippard working more innings as a reliever since 2011. Even past his prime, Jansen still grades out above average when it comes to getting swings and misses and ranked in the top 2% at suppressing hard contact. That should keep his floor steady for next year as he functions as a fine low-end RP1 for fantasy purposes. Just don’t be expecting a return to 2016-17 form.
No. 10: Brad Hand (Cleveland Indians)
Brad Hand started 2019 off on a high note, allowing just 3 ER over his first 31.1 IP, good for a .87 ERA. Over his last 26.2 IP though, he allowed a whopping 18 ER, bad enough for a 6.18 ERA. So what happened after June 20th? Well, there’s a good chance he was just fatigued after being completely overworked the prior 3 seasons. His 223 appearances and 240.2 IP from 2016-2018 were the most by any reliever in baseball after all. We also saw a dip in fastball velocity towards the end of the year, which was probably related to the elbow issue that eventually got him shut down in September.
On the bright side, he did have a higher BABIP then usual with a .362 mark (5th highest among qualified RP’s), .69 points higher than it was in 2018. Hand ultimately graded out as a good, above-average closer across the board in most categories, but still failed to crack the top 10 closers outside of what was a career-low 2.80 FIP. I’d still expect some positive regression, assuming he’s at full health next season. Something to keep in mind, he has 2021 club option for $10 million that I’m sure the Indians will explore moving by August.
No. 11: Edwin Diaz (New York Mets)
Similar to Hand, Edwin Diaz was an abject disaster once the calendar hit June, as his 7.16 ERA from June on shows. So what went wrong for Diaz in 2019? Well for starters, his HR/9, aided by a flyball rate that jumped up 9%, went from .61 to 2.33, which was the worst rate among all relief pitchers. His .377 BABIP happened to be the 2nd highest rate among all relievers and was almost a full .100 higher than his 2018 mark, showing there was clearly some bad luck involved. Just how much of it was purely bad luck though?
Diaz was hit hard, like drastically hard compared to years past, as his hard-hit rate was in the bottom 2% among all pitchers. Oh, and that signature wipeout slider of his had a .942 OPS against over 362 pitches (it had never been above .440 prior). He still remains a dominant strikeout option as his 39% K%, 17.8% SwStr from 2019 prove, and with some better luck, could return to his 2018 or 2016 form. The flyball and HR rates are still concerns, as is his lost slider, but I don’t mind the idea of taking a chance on him as a bounce-back RP1.
No. 12: Hector Neris (Philadelphia Phillies)
2019 marked a nice return to form for Neris, who despite only having one real down year in his 5-year career continues to be valued unfairly it feels. Neris dropped his fastball usage 12.5% to 35% overall, with his splitter (10.7 pVAL) usage going up 16% to 65%. Is that sustainable though? I know Nick is anti-splitter and I am as well to some degree, as it’s different for relievers. The problem with the pitch in general is that it tends to be hard to command, while at the same time it almost needs to stay out of the zone to be effective. Splitters that hang around in the zone typically don’t end well for the pitcher, as Neris’s high HR/FB rate over the past two seasons would seem to indicate.
Despite the high HR rate, Neris’s xSLG of .341 and xBA of .199 place him in the top 10% of pitchers, and he continues to miss bats at a near-elite clip (17.6% SwStr, 38.5% Whiff%). There’s going to be rough patches, but Neris, like Diaz, should be a 4 category contributor more often than not. His current ADP (142) seems fair, and he’s definitely some to target around that part of your drafts.
What a revelation Workman was to the Red Sox bullpen last year as he was able to settle into the closer role towards the end of the season. While there was a lot of good, such as great FIP, WPA, GB%, K%, Whiff%, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and Hard Hit numbers, his walk rate (15.7%, 3rd worst among 158 qualified relievers) leaves something to be desired. An excruciatingly bad April (24.5% BB rate) makes it look worse than it really was, but he was still sitting around a 14% BB rate after the first month. His BABIP (.209) and HR/FB (2.6) numbers are also totally not sustainable. He somehow allowed just 29 hits over 71.2 IP, which is not possible, right?
He upped his curveball (12.5 pVAL) usage to 47%, more than 10% higher than the season prior, which may help explain a lot of these crazy numbers. Even with the higher curveball usage, his SwStr%, Z-Contact% and O-Swing% all ranked in the bottom third among 2020 closers, making it tough to imagine that 36.4% K rate being repeatable. Certainly, some regression is coming, but just how much is the question. He truly is a wildcard this season, but could be worth the gamble at his current ADP (166).
Giovanny Gallegos enters the season in a similar situation to Nick Anderson and can be treated as Anderson-lite for the time being. If he becomes the Cardinals closer, you’ll be getting someone with a CSW%, xwOBA, SwStr, K-BB% and Whiff% all top 10 amongst today’s closers. Last year Gallegos basically scrapped his curveball and changeup and upped his slider usage 20%. That slider had a ridiculous 13.4 pVAL and 24.6% SwStr.
A super low BABIP (.222) and no history of past success make him a risk but even with a little regression baked in, he should fit in as an RP1, assuming he’s closing out games. With it looking more and more likely that Carlos Martinez will return to the rotation, it leaves Gallegos as the clear cut top reliever in this bullpen. Even if he doesn’t close right away, he should continue to have some value as a high K rate reliever with low ratios. He is currently being taken after pick 200 in most drafts and should provide huge value at that spot.
Going back to July of 2018, postseason including, Craig Kimbrel has an ERA of 5.80 and WHIP of 1.47 over 51.2 innings. His fastball velocity has been on a steady decline since 2017, down over 2 MPH. His SwStr rate went way down in 2019 to 14.8%, his lowest mark since 2013. The absurd 36% HR/FB rate from 2019 is obviously not realistic but still worth mentioning. Overall last year was a year to forget for Kimbrel and there’s not much in his underlying profile to suggest he’ll return to his elite form.
A lot of relievers, even some of the best ones, hit that career wall abruptly and given Kimbrel’s usage, he may be at the end of the line. Or maybe he will get himself right, maybe he will return to full health and get back to being the dominant late-inning force he was not too long ago. The answer could lie somewhere in between for all we know but one thing is for certain, Kimbrel is one of if not the biggest question mark among closers entering the season.
No. 16: Jose Leclerc (Texas Rangers)
I think I’m still kind of in on Jose Leclerc even after his super frustrating 2019 season. After an atrocious April (8.44 ERA, 2.16 WHIP) to start the year, Leclerc was able to turn things around in May (2.13 ERA, .79 WHIP) before eventually evolving into the Jekyll and Hyde act he was for the last 4 months of the season. It seemed as if every time he went on this nice run of shutdown appearances, right as it looked like he was truly turning a corner, he ended up blowing up in a big spot.
Leclerc’s stuff is still good enough for the role and his fastball velocity actually increased last year. As is the common theme here, his HR/FB rate skyrocketed up to 10.4% in 2019, up 8.2% from 2018. Leclerc needs to drastically lower his BB rate to live up to his true potential, but even as is, I believe he can at least settle in as a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 30% K rate type of closer that’s worth rostering as your RP2.
Raisel Iglesias and Leclerc are very much comparable for this season, but Leclerc gets a slight boost due to having next to no competition for the role. We saw Iglesias lose saves to Michael Lorenzen last season, something that seems likely to continue this year. Despite this, he still found a way to rack up a career-high 34 saves, so maybe his role won’t be much of an issue after all. Although he was terrible when pitching in non-save situations, and his overall numbers really took a hit from those outings.
Iglesias finished outside of the top 12 amongst closers on this list in many of the stats taken into consideration but still managed a career-high 24.4% K-BB% with both his K% and BB% rates trending in the right direction. There still seems to be some upside left to chase here, but it all comes down to how he will be used. I do think his 3 pitch mix would be better suited for a multi-inning relief role earlier in games, but for fantasy purposes, I want teams to use their best reliever in the closer role. For now, Iglesias is still that guy in Cincinnati.
A popular question I’ve been hearing this offseason is whether or not Robles 2019 was a fluke. Well for starters, his 2.88 FIP, a much improved 5.7% BB% rate and most of his hard-hit metrics were all above average. However his xFIP, SIERA, SwStr%, Whiff% and O-Swing% all rank amongst the bottom third of closers on this list.
The biggest difference last year for Robles was his increased changeup usage, going from almost non-existent in 2018 (4% usage) to 22.4% usage last year. The pitch ended up having a pVAL of 7, the best pVAL for any offspeed pitch in Robles five year career. He’s also seen his velocity rise 2.2 MPH since 2017, which combined with the improved changeup, led Robles fastball to a career-high 8.9 pVAL. His inability to miss bats at a high rate limits Robles’s ceiling, but as long as he has that fastball/changeup combo working for him, he should be a relatively safe second closer in fantasy this season.
While Shane Greene was supposed to be the big deadline bullpen acquisition for the Braves last season, it was Mark Melancon who came in and helped stabilize the team’s closer situation. He finds himself back in the role to begin 2020, even after the Braves gave his former bullpen mate Will Smith $40 million over 3 years. Smith will definitely find himself finishing some games this year, but Melancon has deserved a chance to be the team’s primary closer.
Melancon’s 2.86 FIP and 3.06 xFIP from last year were the lowest they’ve been since he left Pittsburgh in 2016. A groundball specialist with a 62.1% GB rate last season, we know not to expect much in the strikeout department from Melancon. Even bumping his curveball usage to a career-high 31% and the pitch having an 8.3 pVAL, Melancon’s K rate still sat at just 23.9%. The other talented arms in this bullpen will always be lurking, but Melancon may finally be reverting back to the guy the Giants thought they were signing in 2016. I’m definitely willing to take a chance on that being the case, especially at his current ADP in the 230s.
No. 20: Alex Colome (Chicago White Sox)
How does someone with 30 saves, a 2.80 ERA and 1.07 WHIP a year ago end up this low? Well for starters, Alex Colome grades out among the bottom third or worse among closers in every single metric used for these rankings. There’s literally no underlying stat to get excited about with him. As his paltry 22% K rate shows, he lacks any K upside. His .215 BABIP was .64 points lower than his career average and the second-lowest among these closers.
Colome does possess a pretty good cutter (10.9 pVAL) and with the usage at 71% last year (a 16% increase from 2018), it has really become his go-to offering. Colome always seems to outperform his underlying numbers each year and with the White Sox much-improved, Colome might actually stick around past the trade deadline. There’s certain to be some negative regression but if you’re just looking for some cheap, durable saves late in the draft, Colome could be your guy.
2019 was not too kind to Sean Doolittle as his fastball velocity (93.5 MPH), SwStr rate (12.1%) and K-BB% (19.6%) were at their lowest in four years while also finishing with career highs in FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. He continues to rely heavily on his four-seam fastball, a pitch he’s consistently thrown over 88% of the time in his career. However, he was only able to muster a 1.9 pVAL from it last season, which was 16.2 points lower than his 2018 mark, and the lowest of his career since his injury-shortened 2015.
Doolittle did look better in the playoffs and was a big part of the Nationals World Series run but it’s fair to wonder if he can hold up and last 50+ innings anymore. Due to the durability concerns, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris are there to vulture saves as the team protects Doolittle. He’s obviously a dice roll but given his past success, he was elite just two years ago, Doolittle makes for a nice late-round gamble.
Kennedy bounced back in a big way this past season as he was able to add a few mph to his arsenal, a roughly three-mph uptick across the board. He also only focused on his plus pitches as he completely scrapped his changeup in 2019, going with a heavy fastball-cutter mix (68% and 15% respectably) while mixing in his curveball 15% of the time. Among the other changes he made this season, he dropped his arm angle, getting more horizontal movement on his fastball, which resulted in a career-high 44% ground-ball rate.
The changes showed as his 2.99 FIP ranked 14th among all qualified relievers. Despite all the positive changes, he still wasn’t able to generate a ton of swings and misses, finishing with a below-average 9.9% swinging-strike rate. However, his 21 K-BB% was still a career-high by almost four percentage points. The biggest downside to Kennedy remains the fact that he’s all but guaranteed to be traded most likely into a setup role, at some point this season. That being said, I’d still take a shot after pick 200 in most leagues.
The 2019 season was a tale of two halves for Bradley as he was terrible in the 1st half (4.95 ERA and 1.73 WHIP) before improving drastically over the 2nd half (1.71 ERA and 1.07 WHIP ). So which half represents the real Archie Bradley? Bradley’s second-half turnaround was likely the result of luck, as both his FIP and xFIP rose more than a quarter of a point each while his BABIP went from .398 in the first half to .250 in the second half.
Bradleys velocity also seemed to decline as the second half progressed and his swinging-strike rate dropped a full 3.1 percent, which at just 8% ranked 162 out of 171 qualified RPs. Being perhaps the most hittable closer (dead last among SwStr rate 9.6% and Z-Contact 87.5%) with a BB% over 10% seems like a recipe for failure. He’ll open up the year as the Diamondbacks closer, but Kevin Ginkel could get a shot before seasons end.
No. 24: Joe Jimenez (Detroit Tigers)
Despite this ranking, I think I’m actually in on Joe Jimenez for 2020. His 76.3% Z-Contact, 31.9% K% and 14.8% SwStr rate alone make for intriguing late-round value. His elite spin rate fastball (95 percentile) and improving slider (PutAway% up to 26.3%, Whiff% up to 40.5%) are exactly what you like to see out of a young closer. His changeup on the other hand either needs to be scrapped or completely overhauled this spring to become a viable third pitch. Oh, and if he could stop finding barrels so often (10.8%), that’d be a big help too.
Jimenez is years removed from his former top prospect status but he may finally be putting it all together. People like to point to the fact that he pitches for a terrible Tigers team as a reason to avoid him but that same team just gave Shane Greene 22 saves by the end of June last year, which was the 2nd most in all of baseball at the time. I can see a 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 30% K rate, 30 save season on the horizon for Jimenez, which would be great value at his current ADP (225).
Keone Kela is a polarizing player, to say the least. Over the past 4 seasons, he has had only one year with 40 IP or higher and in his 8-year professional career, minors included, he only has pitched 50+ innings twice. He’s continuously battled numerous elbow and shoulder injuries throughout his career and is a real risk health-wise. We rarely talk about maturity level, but for someone with such a loose hold on the closer role, it’s worth reminding of Kela’s past. He was demoted by the Rangers for his “attitude” and showing an “unprofessional lack of effort” and they moved quickly to trade him in the middle of his 2018 breakout, despite having him under team control for 3 more years. Last year he was suspended due to an altercation with the team’s director of cultural readiness and peak performance coach, which is definitely not a good look.
On the field, Kela’s 4.28 xFIP, 10.7 SwStr%, and 18.5% K-BB rate over his 29.2 innings last year are nothing to get overly excited about. He’s still just 26 years old, loaded with talent and possesses a crazy good curveball (32.2 pVAL over 1317 pitches), giving Kela the potential to be this year’s breakout closer. That will only happen if he can find a way to stay on the field for a full season.
Like so many other pitchers, Mychal Givens fell victim to the launch angle/juiced ball revolution last year as his HR rate skyrocketed from 5% to 22.8%. Other than the HR problems, 2018 was actually a somewhat promising year. His K% was a career-high 33%, as was his 15.8% SwStr rate, both strong numbers for a reliever. He also saw his Z-Contact drop close to 6% to 74.5% (3rd lowest on this list) as well as a career-high in O-Swing (32.4%). Ultimately he actually became more unhittable this past year, but it just so happened that when he did get hit, there was a good chance it was going to leave the yard.
Givens bumped up his changeup usage from 5% to a career-high 12% last year and to be honest, he needed to raise that even higher. The pitch held a 22.6% SwStr rate, the highest of any single pitch in a season over his career, as well as a .587 OPS against while both his fastball (.743 OPS) and slider (.768) were routinely knocked around. In fact with the exception of 2018, his changeup has been a really good pitch for him that he keeps underutilizing.
There’s been talk of Hunter Harvey potentially being in this role to start the year, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense for the rebuilding Orioles. Smart money would be for them to keep Harvey in a middle/set up role and let Givens get as many saves as he can to boost his trade value (while also keeping Harvey’s future arbitration numbers down). Even though his roles uncertain and he’s a prime trade candidate, I’m all for taking the plunge here in the last round or two of my drafts.
With so many other talented relievers in the league, this tier just goes to show how outdated the “save” stat as a fantasy category truly is. Anyway, the show must go on. Ok, so Wade Davis used to be pretty good not that long ago, right? Because of that, I guess it’s possible he could at least return to his 2017-2018 form? That’s probably the best we can hope for at this point, right? He was so inexplicably bad last season that there’s really no point to even talk about his numbers. It’s the only way to move forward and keep an open mind when it comes to drafting him this year.
There’s a chance the oblique injury was the main driving force behind last year’s catastrophe, but at the very least it has to be partially to blame. I’m still willing to give Davis a shot in the last round or two in drafts, where you shouldn’t have to worry too much about him being available. If he blows up in the first week, you can cut bait and grab Scott Oberg.
Brandon Kintzler was actually not half bad working in a middle relief role last year for the Cubs. His 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP were career lows. His 21.2% K rate was actually the highest in any season since 2011. His .255 BABIP, .42 points lower than his .297 career average, was also the lowest of Kintzler’s career.
The ground ball specialist was very lucky in 2019, but that’s not to say he can’t be valuable for the first half of 2020. As is the case with the rest of this tier, expect the Marlins to try and get the most out of Kintzler before shipping him off at the trade deadline. As is also the case with the rest of this tier, there’s not much harm to scooping up someone like Kintzler in the last round or two of your draft and seeing how things play out.
No. 29: Yoshihisa Hirano (Seattle Mariners)
The Mariners have yet to name a closer for the upcoming season so this is still just speculation, but for reasons similar to the ones mentioned for Givens and Kintzler, it makes sense to give Yoshihisa Hirano the first crack at the job. Despite the 4.75 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, Hirano was able to see gains in the swing and miss department with his 14.2% SwStr and 26.2% K rates an improvement over his 2018 numbers. He also was able to land in the 94th percentile for hard-hit rate with a 29.3% mark, more than 6% lower than the year prior.
The big culprit to last year’s struggles was a .314 BABIP up from .250 in 2018 as well as a 68% LOB rate, down 11.3% from 2018. So assuming the real Hirano lies somewhere in between his 2018 and 2019 numbers, and he is given the keys to the closer role, he makes for a worthwhile dart throw at the end of drafts. For what its worth, if Hirano, or Matt Magill for that matter, win the job outright this spring, I’d probably move them up one, maybe two spots.
With Gabe Kapler managing the team, the Giants have of course expressed interest in going with a bullpen by committee this season. That being said, veteran Tony Watson should get the first real crack at save chances. He has the experience, an expiring contract for the Giants to trade away, etc. etc.
While strikeout rates seem to be on the rise for most relievers these days, Watson’s fell nearly 10% last season despite his SwStr rate (12.7%) staying exactly the same. There was talk of Shaun Anderson potentially being in the mix after he closed out two games to end last season, but the team currently plans on stretching him out this spring. That would certainly be a more exciting option from a fantasy perspective, but for now,
only Watson makes sense no Giants relievers need to be owned for fantasy purposes.
Photo by Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)