Welcome back to A Closer Look for the 2020 season! Today I'll be providing a glimpse at our top-10 closers in our Draft Advisory Program along with a tease of some of the player notes in the software that subscribers will see in the full edition.
Josh Hader (MIL) - Hader has solidified himself as the best closer in the game after posted an absurd 22.7% SwStr%, which supports his 47.8% strikeout rate. He's as nasty as they come with best in class plate discipline metrics - 61% contact rate, 65% zone contact rate, and 35% chase rate. Even when batters do make contact, his 15% hard%-soft% help limit the damage. He is a flyball pitcher, so he can be burned by the long ball (21.7% HR/FB), but he cut down on his walks last season (6.9%) and he should have a good shot at his first 40 save season in his first full year as a closer in 2020.
Kirby Yates (SD) - Kirby Yates emerged as the 1b option to the 1a Josh Hader in the top of the closer tier. Yates' 36.2% K%-BB% is a big reason he's been able to support strand rates >80% each of the last two years. Yates benefits from his cozy home ballpark and has recently upped upped his groundball % thanks to the introduction of his splitter in 2018. As a result, he's actually a little less flammable than Hader, albeit with just slightly less strikeout upside.
Brad Hand (CLE) - After averaging 89 innings pitched each of the last 5 years, Brad Hand's arm finally started to show signs of fatigue at the end of the 2019 season. The Indians closer has been one of the most effective left-handed relievers over that stretch and is signed through 2020 with a club option for 2021. Depending on how the Indians season goes, he could be a candidate to be traded mid-year. As a lefty, he's always viewed as a non-conventional closer, so be cognizant of that scenario while drafting him in 2020. Performance wise, there's nothing to be concerned about - Hand was maintained a strong 13.2% swinging strike rate and consistently posts K%-BB% numbers between 25-27%. One interesting change was Hand's shift from being a groundball pitcher to being a flyball pitcher in 2019. Despite more flyballs, his HR/9 actually dropped, but that's an area to watch if his flyball tendencies continue.
Ken Giles (TOR) - Sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs to reach his potential. As we indicated last season, Giles' elite raw talent has always been there, but struggled with the pressure in Houston. In Toronto, Giles' elite skills came shined through and he posted numbers we've been hoping he would for years. Giles' 18.7% swinging strike rate is on the upper echelon at the reliever position and does support a strikeout rate around 40%. While Giles upper 90's fastball has always been the draw, the development to his slider was key to him taking the step up last season.
Aroldis Chapman (NYY) - The days of an upper-40's strikeout rate are probably gone for Chapman and as he has aged, we see him relying less on his still-blazing, but slower fastball (98 MPH avg) and more on his slider, which he threw 30% of the time in 2019. The development of his slider (2.96 sl/c pitch value) is a big reason why the 32 year old has been able to maintain his position as one of the most feared late inning arms in the game. A shift away from his sinker to his 4-seam fastball translated to more strikeouts and fewer ground balls, so expect that trend to continue in 2020.
Lance Hendriks (OAK) - One of the best stories of 2019 was the emergence of Liam Hendriks into the elite class of closers after Blake Treinen's demise. Unfortunately, Hendriks' time in the spotlight may be relatively short-lived given his delayed breakout at age 31. Hendricks outperformed his 3.21 xFIP to the tune of a 1.80 ERA. Some of that is due to his heavy flyball tendencies, which tend to keep his HR/FB rates low, particularly pitching in Oakland, but even with that assistance it'll be hard for him to repeat a 5.6% HR/FB rate in 2020.
Roberto Osuna (HOU) - The Astros sign-stealing scandal has overshadowed just about anything else in Houston, including Roberto Osuna's own off-the-field issues. The closer did well in his first season after his MLB-imposed suspension posting strikeout rates at levels we haven't seen before his domestic abuse issues arose in Toronto. Osuna saved 38 games in 2019 and should once again have plenty of opportunities. A strong strikeout rate (29%) paired with an even better walk rate (5%), doesn't leave much room for too many positive outcomes for the hitter. Since 2016, only Kenley Jasen and Edwin Diaz have more saves than Roberto Osuna.
Nick Anderson (TB) - Nick Anderson came out of nowhere for the Marlins last season and was eventually dealt to the Rays. Now, heading into 2020, he looks like the frontrunner to receive the lionshare of save chances for Tampa. Anderson has a remarkable 19.3% swinging strike rate, the second highest rate among all relievers trailing just Josh Hader. Anderson is a great source of strikeouts, but like many with his high velocity & swing and miss skillset, he does get hit hard when opponents make contact (41% hard hit rate), granted his contact rate is extremely low. Tampa will probably still mix and match in the 9th, but that's the only thing holding Anderson back from being a top-5 closer.
Edwin Diaz (NYM) - Edwin Diaz was an unmitigated disaster in 2019, but from a macro level, his 3.07 xFIP and 39% strikeout rate would suggest he was a better pitcher than he actually was. Diaz dealt with injuries and was prone to the long ball (26.7% HR/FB rate), which his success in 2020 will largely depend on both of those things to happen less this season.
Hector Neris (PHI) - Hector Neris has all the tools necessary to be an effective reliever, sporting a 45% groundball rate and a 32% strikeout rate. Neris dealt with some inconsistency in 2019, but he was excellent down the stretch and is poised to be the undisputed closer in Philly in 2020. Neris relied more heavily on his split-finger in 2019, which accounts for his jump in ground ball rate 15%. If he continues to utilize that pitch in this upcoming year, there tremendous upside.
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