It's the first edition of A Closer Look of the 2018 regular season! If this is your first time reading the column, welcome aboard! Each week, we review all of the news impacting closers and their handcuffs from across the league. As you have come to expect from Fantistics, all of our analysis goes deeper than the normal standard five pitching categories. Instead, we focus much of our attention on statistics like swinging strike rate (SwSt%), groundball(GB%) /flyball (GB%) rates, contact %, hit quality metrics, velocity, pitch values and more.
We believe there's three types of relievers in the player pool for fantasy baseball. The first type are the relievers with opportunity (i.e. currently seeing save chances or save chances are imminent). These are the pitchers that have value simply because they contribute to your pitching staff's counting stats, but may not necessarily have the skillset to positively impact all of those categories. The next are those that have the skillsets. These are the players with high strikeout rates, good ratios, and other positive indicators that point towards future success in the closer role. The final category is the ideal situation. It's the players with both opportunity and the skillset. These classifications are already baked into the tiering that I use to rank current closers, but in order to help identify handcuffs or closers-in waiting, I also use a grading scale from A-F to classify the relievers who might be next in line for save changes. Below are those definitions:
Handcuff Rating System:
A - Pitcher has elite underlying skills and will positively contribute regardless of role.
B - Player has above-average skills and could be rostered in appropriate formats.
C - Pitcher has moderate skills that won't hurt your team, but would only provide significant value if saw save opportunities
D- Pitcher's value is mostly dependent on role and carries moderate risk
F - Pitcher's value is dependent solely on save opportunities and has a realistic chance at actually hurting your team's counting stats
Around the League:
San Francisco - If you followed our pre-season notes this spring, we talked about Mark Melancon's struggles and our skepticism that he would start the year with the closing role. Sure enough, he hit the disabled list on Thursday and manager Bruce Bochy named Hunter Strickland the closer. Strickland has been a favorite target of ours for the last several years, but his inability to get left-handers out (.370 wOBA against LHB vs .259 wOBA against RHB) makes him a bit of a risk. Nonetheless, he would be a perfect platoon partner for Tony Watson, whose skillset and stability we prefer anyway. Strickland has upside, don't read this wrong, but it's foolhardy to spend a significant (I.e. more than 15%) or you total FAAB to acquire him.
Arizona - Staying in the NL West, the Diamondbacks also threw us a curveball by naming Brad Boxberger the closer over Archie Bradley. There's no question that Bradley is the most talented arm in the bullpen, which is also likely why we're in the situation we're in. Bradley is extremely valuable because he can be used in any situation, regardless of inning or score of the game. As a result, those who speculated on Bradley saves will be forced to look elsewhere, but it's probably not advisable to drop Bradley, unless it's the shallowest of leagues. Even without saves, Bradley can be an Andrew Miller-esque contributor is the ratio columns and even strikeouts.
Texas - Keone Kela finished camp with the closer role for the Rangers and he has the skillset and the lack of competition to hold on to the role for awhile. Kela's 34% strikeout rate helps offset the unfavorability of his inflated 12% walk rate, as well as boost up his 79% strand rate. The only concern is whether or not he'll be able to sustain his high strikeout rates despite falling swinging strike percentages each of the last 3 years. If the strikeout rate continues to fall without subsequent reductions to his walk rate, he may be less able to get himself out of self-inflicted jams. The good news is that Alex Claudio probably won't be challenging him for his job anytime soon.
St. Louis - It's a Bud! It's a Leone! No, it's a Holland! It only took until Opening Day, but the last remaining "big name" free agent has landed. Greg Holland signed a one-year deal with the big arm-rich, but closer-poor St. Louis Cardinals. In a standard 5x5 roto league, Greg Holland posted phenomenal numbers that season, but his underlying metrics are full of red flags. His first half 1.56 ERA was hiding his 3.63 xFIP, 12% walk rate and 37% hard hit rate, all of which came crashing back down to earth in the second half when he posted a 6.38 ERA with a 4.51 xFIP and 1.33 WHIP. Holland's supported will point towards his recovery from Tommy John surgery as the reason for the lack of endurance last year, but sabermetricians will realize that while the bad performance came in the second half, he posted unfavorable metrics the entire season. Tread carefully here.
Closer Rankings and Handcuff Grades:
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