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Pitching by the Numbers: Closers in waiting

This is the year of the failed fantasy closer. Injuries and poor performance have jettisoned preseason guys from saves duty, or threaten to. So let’s try to chart up the relievers in the best position to be promoted.

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The data suggests Aroldis Chapman could thrive as a closer. (Getty)

But what are the key metrics? Fortunately, there’s no need to get fancy with relievers presently not getting saves. With starters, we must look deeper because everyone sees the stats that directly relate to fantasy categories. But most of these guys aren’t even rostered in standard Yahoo! mixed leagues and many escape notice altogether.

To make this chart, relievers must have less than three saves and also (1) have thrown 15 innings through Wednesday, (2) have a K/9 of at least 9.00 and (3) walked 4.00/9 or less. (Since 1980, only 10 closers have at least 69 saves with a rate higher than that.) But we also note other key factors – ERA (because no manager is going to go all in on a guy that has an ugly number on the scoreboard for all to see every time he’s summoned), strength of the current team closer (opinions may vary) and average fastball velocity. “Who cares about the radar gun?” you may ask considering that we have K/9. But closers generally light it up and managers are creatures of habit, which is why they want designated closers to begin with. We start with 20 guys:

Player Team IP K K/9 BB/9 HR ERA Team Closer AVG FBV
Aroldis Chapman CIN 19.1 34 15.83 2.33 0 0.00 Medium 96.7
Ernesto Frieri SD/LAA 16.1 28 15.43 3.86 2 1.65 Weak 92.5
Boone Logan NYY 15.2 24 13.79 3.45 1 2.30 Weak 93.7
Tim Collins KCR 20 30 13.50 2.25 3 3.15 Medium 93.3
David Hernandez ARI 17.1 24 12.46 2.08 2 2.08 Weak 94.4
Steve Delabar SEA 17.2 23 11.72 2.04 5 4.08 Medium 94.8
Joel Peralta TBR 16.2 20 10.80 3.24 4 5.40 Medium 90.3
Cory Wade NYY 17 20 10.59 1.06 0 1.59 Weak 88.2
Tom Wilhelmsen SEA 20 23 10.35 3.60 2 4.05 Medium 95.4
Glen Perkins MIN 15 17 10.20 3.00 2 4.80 Medium 94.6
Mitchell Boggs STL 16 18 10.13 3.38 0 2.81 Strong 94.4
Craig Stammen WSN 21 23 9.86 1.71 1 1.29 Weak 90.9
Darren O'Day BAL 18.1 20 9.82 1.96 2 1.47 Strong 84.2
Luis Perez TOR 19.1 21 9.78 3.72 1 2.33 Weak 93.4
Alfredo Simon CIN 15.2 17 9.77 2.30 1 2.30 Medium 93.8
Manny Parra MIL 17.2 19 9.68 3.57 0 3.06 Medium 92.4
Alexi Ogando TEX 20 21 9.45 0.90 0 0.45 Strong 96.6
Aaron Crow KCR 18 18 9.00 4.00 1 2.50 Medium 94.9
Bobby Parnell NYM 17 17 9.00 1.59 1 2.12 Weak 94.9
Vicente Padilla BOS 15 15 9.00 2.40 2 5.40 Weak 92.6

First thing we need to do is eliminate from speculative closer consideration the guys who are on teams with strong closers. So out go Boggs, O’Day and Ogando. Next, the guys with an ugly ERA despite solid peripherals. So out go Peralta, Perkins and Padilla. I sort of like Perkins still, but rules are rules. Now we have to consider the bias against lefties, who have the platoon disadvantage most times and also are needed for situations earlier in games. Again, I personally have nothing against lefty closers and am well aware of many good ones. But they are the exception to the rule and if managers didn’t like rules, we wouldn’t have designated closers. But let’s not be crazy and just carve out a Chapman exception, okay? So now we lose Logan, Collins, Perez and Parra. Finally, the below average velocity guys get scrubbed: goodbye Stammen and Wade.

Sorting by weakest closers, the guys to get are Frieri, Hernandez and Parnell. The next tier is Delabar, Wilhelmsen and Crow (who all have medium strong current closers, both of whom will likely be traded soon if they continue to pitch well and if they don’t….). Chapman forces us to ignore Simon. Plus if Marshall does get hurt or implodes and the Reds still want to use Chapman earlier in games, Jose Arredondo is clearly next in line and pretty darn good even though his walks are high.

Delabar similarly seems to be behind Wilhelmsen in the pecking order. But he has much better control and seems to be at least as difficult to hit. Plus managers hit the reset button when they need to replace a closer, I think. So I would not count Delabar out and I do think he’s worth rostering now at least in AL-only leagues.

I note a couple of other guys who this chart didn’t capture: the White Sox reliever Nate Jones and Arizona’s Bryan Shaw. Jones just missed the K/9 but throws over 96 mph on average plus Robin Ventura is all over the place with who closes. Shaw has one of the best cutters in baseball and is just very tough to hit. Also, given the problems the Cubs have closing games, keep an eye on Double-A closer Kevin Rhoderick, who has a Wiffle Ball slider. The Cubs current closer, Rafeal Dolis, has one pitch (a straight hard fastball) and no business being anywhere near the ninth inning – as hitters will soon make clear.
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