Welcome to the first edition of A Closer Look for the 2018 campaign! This is a special pre-draft article that takes a deep dive into every team's current projected closer for the upcoming year. Each of these player blurbs can also be found in the 2018 Draft Advisory Program and as the pre-season unfolds, we'll continue adding new notes as the newsflow changes out of the various camps.
Kenley Jansen (LAD) - Kenley Jansen is in a class of his own at the top of the closer pool after a second straight season with 40+ saves and an ERA below 2.00. His 2.7% walk rate is unbelievable, but paired with a 42.3% strikeout rate, 67% contact rate and 26% hard hit rate allowed, it makes him one of the most difficult pitchers to hit against.
Aroldis Chapman (NYY) - Lost his job mid-season, but regained the role and was nearly unhittable in September (12 IP / 6 SV / 3 H / 0 ER / 17 K). Strikeout rate took a big step back last year (32.9% vs 40.5%), but a lot of that was likely due to the way the Cubs handled him in the 2016 postseason, as we pointed out in last season's notes. Pitched much better in the second half of 2017, so a rebound year looks likely.
Craig Kimbrel (BOS) - By most results metrics, Craig Kimbrel had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017 after somewhat struggling in the first year as member of the Boston Red Sox in 2016. His 126 strikeouts finished just 1 shy of his career best, while his 5.5% walk rate was easily the best of his career. Despite the rock solid final stats, his 47% hard hit rate allowed in the second half is a cause for concern.
Felipe Rivero (PIT) - Has the potential to post numbers much higher than where he's being drafted, Felipe Rivero checks all the boxes we like to see from closers - 53% ground ball rate, 29% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate, and 69% contact rate). Another nice value in the middle of the closing pool this year.
Ken Giles (HOU) - Lost his job during the postseason, but was dominant for most of the second half. Has a history of worsening performance in September each year of his career, so he may lack the endurance to last an entire season. His struggles on the road are a little concerning (1.00 FIP, 39% K, 5% BB in at home vs. 3.84 FIP, 29% K, 12% BB on road), but he is expected to open the year as the Astros closer. His 98 MPH fastball and 87 MPH slider make a lethal combination with an 11 MPH velocity differential to keep hitters off-balance at the plate. Possesses all the necessary skills to be an elite closer, if he can improve his endurance.
Corey Knebel (MIL) - Knebel burst on to the scene in 2017 racking up an impressive 39 saves after taking over the closer role for the Brewers on May 14. Was pretty fortunate with a 92% strand rate, which will be an issue when it regress this season, particularly if he maintains the 13% walk rate he posted last year. Has the ability to strike out batters to get out of trouble, which helps limit his downside. A young, rising arm that could take a big step forward if he can improve his control.
Roberto Osuna (TOR) - While he lacks the upper-end strikeout rate of Kenley Jansen (33.3%), the two do share an elite walk rate (3.6%). The Blue Jays have used him a lot over the last three seasons (69.2, 74, and 64 IP), but Osuna only just turned 23 years old and will once again enter the season as the Blue Jays closer. The physical skills are there, but don't forget he was removed from the closer role at the end of June for a few days after dealing with anxiety issues. Being a young player and living away from your family in a foreign country is stressful enough, but being a closer adds even more angst to the equation. His struggles in the second half indicate a player who may still be working through some things (2.06 ERA and 20% hard hit rate in first half versus 4.97 ERA and 36% hard hit rate in second half).
Rasiel Iglesias (CIN) - A converted starting pitcher that moved to the bullpen to help his health, Iglesias was highly productive in his first season as a closer. Possesses an 11 MPH differential between his fastball and slider and has an excellent 14% SwStr%. Has a better skillset than where it's being valued in drafts this year, so might be a good value with upside if you miss out on the top tier.
Edwin Diaz (SEA) - Dealt with control issues for most of the year, nearing doubling his walk rate from 6.9% to 11.5%. Still possesses potential for a strong strikeout rate, but his 2017 32% strikeout rate is much more in line with his minor league numbers than his 40.6% 2016 strikeout rate. Don't pay for the potential of a 2016 rebound, but his 2017 season is certainly repeatable. The Mariners don't have a deep bullpen, so his job should come with a relatively long leash.
Sean Doolittle (WAS) - If we had a magic ball and knew how many games he would be available, we could better value Sean Doolittle. When healthy, he's one of the most effective relievers and closers in the game. He's primarily a fastball thrower, but hitters still struggle to make contact even when they know what's coming thanks to his pinpoint command. Potential for lots of saves in Washington, but health has been a serious problem for him and the Nationals bullpen is loaded with alternatives that could take the job and run with it, if given an opportunity.
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