Teams are dancing the Depth Chart Shuffle, but the closer landscape has remained relatively steadfast. Per MLB.com, 27 of 30 teams have denoted who will be their respective 9th-inning man on their depth charts (labeled “(CL)”, for reference). For reasons largely pertaining to simplicity, I have completed a preliminary round of projections for closers and have provided it for your viewing pleasure. Keep in mind that things will (likely) change as the offseason progresses into the preseason progresses into the real, authentic season.
The rankings are catered to classic 5-by-5 rotisserie leagues with $260 budgets. Bonus feature: You can manually input a budget amount as well as an expected share of total spending on closers. For example, the teams in my league historically spend about 10 percent of the aggregate wealth on closers. If your league values closers more highly, you can accordingly adjust for such.
The players on teams that have not solidified their closer situations are marked with asterisks. Note that the very elite Dellin Betances is one of these players. This will inevitably be sorted out by March.
Craig Kimbrel will likely fall short of 49 saves — although, if the Braves can compete in the few games they are expected to win, he may have a lot of small-margin-of-victory save chances coming his way. Tough call, but there’s legitimate arguments to be made about him being maybe only a top-3 RP — which is really nothing about which to write home.
The aforementioned Betances is projected for the second-best ERA, second-most strikeouts and third-best WHIP among all closers. Betances threw a ton of innings last year, so it suffices to say I’m eager to see how his usage shakes out. Given how the Yankees have historically used closers, however, I think he’ll be closer to his projected 63 innings than his 90 last year.
Sean Doolittle isn’t an upside play, but I suspect he will be underrated on draft day. Koji Uehara is perhaps an upside play: his projection factors in his health concerns, so if he can stay healthy all year, he should bolster his return on investment.
Will Zach Britton continue to induce an absurd number of ground balls? Yes, although perhaps not as extremely as he did last year.
No offense to Brett Cecil, but I think the Blue Jays will trade for someone in due time.
Dark horse candidates in Mark Melancon and Jake McGee as they round out the top 10. I think they may be a bit overrated, but I would take them over literally everyone below them except maybe Cishek, if we’re pulling hairs.
Bobby Parnell is competing, so to speak, with Jenrry Mejia; Jonathan Broxton is competing with who the heck knows. Santiago Casilla could likely cede the role back to Sergio Romo. Other pitchers in some sort of danger of losing their jobs during the seasons include Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Drew Storen, LaTroy Hawkins, Neftali Feliz and Chad Qualls.
Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Addison Reed seem to have some semblance of job security, but they also seem to have a semblance of not being very reliable anymore. Papelbon and Nathan will be the most interesting bullpen storylines, especially if Nathan struggles again and the Tigers are competing.
I haven’t contextualized these rankings for points leagues or a top-300 type of thing for roto formats, but hey, that’s why it’s preliminary.
Rankings based on standard 5×5 rotisserie format.
Name – Saves / ERA / WHIP / K’s
- Craig Kimbrel – 47 / 2.32 / 0.65 / 106
- Aroldis Chapman – 41 / 2.42 / 0.83 / 114
- Kenley Jansen – 39 / 2.48 / 0.87 / 103
- Greg Holland – 42 / 2.21 / 0.99 / 97
- Trevor Rosenthal – 39 / 2.41 / 1.00 / 90
- Koji Uehara – 34 / 2.42 / 0.69 / 81
- Joe Nathan – 40 / 3.15 / 0.95 / 72
- David Robertson – 38 / 3.13 / 1.05 / 82
- Jason Grilli – 34 / 2.80 / 1.14 / 78
- Sergio Romo – 36 / 2.93 / 0.99 / 67
- Grant Balfour – 43 / 3.46 / 1.11 / 74
- Glen Perkins – 34 / 2.93 / 0.98 / 68
- Ernesto Frieri – 36 / 3.74 / 1.14 / 91
- Steve Cishek – 31 / 2.92 / 1.14 / 70
- Casey Janssen – 34 / 2.91 / 1.01 / 54
- Addison Reed – 32 / 3.19 / 1.18 / 71
- Jonathan Papelbon – 33 / 3.30 / 1.14 / 66
- Jim Henderson – 32 / 3.76 / 1.18 / 80
- Fernando Rodney – 32 / 3.26 / 1.32 / 74
- Bobby Parnell – 32 / 2.76 / 1.16 / 48
- Nate Jones – 30 / 2.64 / 1.22 / 52
- Jesse Crain – 27 / 3.13 / 1.09 / 61
- Huston Street – 29 / 2.52 / 1.15 / 47
- Jose Veras – 33 / 3.62 / 1.22 / 69
- Rafael Soriano – 43 / 3.85 / 1.25 / 52
- Jim Johnson – 36 / 3.42 / 1.17 / 41
- John Axford – 35 / 4.36 / 1.33 / 80
- Neftali Feliz – 29 / 4.13 / 1.19 / 43
- Rex Brothers or LaTroy Hawkins
- Chad Qualls – pending
- All ERAs are inflated a little bit. Closers (and relievers in general) tend to strand more runners than starters and, thus, prevent runs from scoring as often. My model fails to capture this nuance, but the difference isn’t a huge one, as a 2.32 ERA from Kimbrel is still really, really good. But for a guy with a career 1.38 ERA, it makes sense to expect even better from him.
- The top 5 are pretty much consensus picks. I think Uehara is worth considering as part of a potential “Top 6” elite tier of closers, and he is absolutely better than Nathan. Are you aware that Uehara has posted a 0.702 WHIP in 219-1/3 innings since 2009? Are you serious? And he still strikes out double-digit batters per nine innings.
- Johnson is absolutely overrated. The Baltimore Orioles generated 113 save situations the past two years. The Oakland Athletics, Johnson’s new employer, generated only 83. That’s two-thirds the opportunities he used to get. If you’re expecting 50 saves again, you’re crazy. He also strikes almost no one out. Try to catch lightning in a bottle if you want, but I think he is one of the worst investments in the game for saves.
- Henderson and Crain are really underrated (compared to ESPN), but they also don’t have the job security. That leaves Frieri as the last true bargain. He walks too many batters, but at least he strikes out twice as many as Johnson does. Also, if the Angels bounce back in a big way, he will be the beneficiary of greater workload.
- Sorry, I was too lazy to project Brothers or Hawkins. I just don’t think Hawkins will last long, but it’s tough to say exactly how long, and it’s not worth guessing. Just get him on the cheap, handcuff Brothers to him and be ready to jump ship.