Closers to worry about and relievers to target if you're speculating on saves

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Detroit Tigers closer <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9670/" data-ylk="slk:Shane Greene">Shane Greene</a> is racking up saves, but some advanced metrics suggest he could be a player to fade. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene is racking up saves, but some advanced metrics suggest he could be a player to fade. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

How do you figure out which closers are on shaky ground and which are poised on those teams to be promoted? We’re vexed by relievers having small samples, which means that the most conventional measure, ERA, is especially bad for them. And beyond effectiveness, a closer historically has to be dominant.

As we’re about a third of the way into the season, our best single stat to measure overall effectiveness is on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). And dominance is already stable for most of the qualifiers, measured by percentage of swings that miss. We get both of these stats via our friends at MLB stat provider Inside Edge.

There are 219 qualifiers. I simply ranked them in OPS allowed and in percentage of swings that miss. I added up both rankings so that the lower number is better and higher is worse. Then I looked at teams that had closers who are lowly ranked in this two-stat index and looked to see if any relievers on that team were most highly ranked.

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Shane Greene is the worst closer on our list — 147th. He’s allowing a .731 OPS and is 126th in swings that miss. Meanwhile Joe Jimenez is cruising with .579 OPS allowed and a swings that miss rate over 30%. He’s 25th in our index and clearly the guy to target if you want to fade Greene, as you should. Getting Jimenez now is the top call in this model.

The Rays can’t decide on a closer but the model says it should be Jose Alvarado, who is 32nd (26th in OPS allowed and 70th in swinging strikes). The velocity is top shelf, too. He’s just 20% owned. So go get him if you need saves.

Keone Kela seems okay (70th in the index) but then you see that Jose Leclerc, who always merely had to harness control, is 2nd (.428 OPS allowed and a 40% rate of swings that miss). I can’t see Kela holding him off. Leclerc needs to further cut the walks but he’s making great progress after issuing 40 free passes in 45.2 innings in 2017. Leclerc is basically available in every Yahoo league.

Nate Jones of the White Sox is good (44th in the index). But he is a trade candidate and then is unlikely to close. So who would step in for the White Sox? Most are betting on fireballer Bruce Rondon (27th). But Jace Fry is 12th. Fry is a lefty though and does not throw very hard, making Rondon the best bet.

Arizona closer Brad Boxberger is 89th in our Index — good but not closer worthy if you define a closer as the best pitcher in the bullpen. Arizona has all year seemed to have a different definition, keeping 2017’s best reliever Archie Bradley in a holds role. But Bradley is 126th and, most shockingly, 200th in percentage of swings that miss (18.5%). While both have OPSes below .600, Yoshihisa Hirano’s .513 is the best. And his percentage of swings that miss (28.5%) is also by far the best of the trio.

Staying in the NL West, Wade Davis has been mildly disappointing, ranking 78th among the 219 relievers in our index. Adam Ottavino is sixth including first with a puny .340 OPS allowed, a miracle pitching half his games on the moon at Coors. He’s sixth in our index with a missed swing rate of 35.8%. Ottavino’s on the shelf with a non-arm injury but is expected back in the next week.

Some raced to the waiver wire to pick up Robert Gsellman last week when he got a save (as is recommended), with Jeurys Familia pitching the eighth inning. But Gsellman is 91st and Familia 72nd. Expect Familia to keep closing. The rest of the Mets bullpen is too obscene to talk about in a family-friendly forum.

The Phillies had relied on Hector Neris to close despite being below average as a reliever (107th), but as commenters pointed out after this story went live, Seranthony Dominguez now appears to be the first choice in the ninth. He did not qualify for the list due to not having enough innings. I liked Edubray Ramos but he’s 68th. The guy worth a closer look, according to the index, is Victor Arano (eighth). Ramos throws a little harder. But the model likes Arano, who is unowned across fantasy leagues (note he has battled some shoulder woes). 

Fernando Rodney is 103rd but the favorite spring fade for him, Addison Reed, is 170th. Rodney will still be closing when we’re all dead, I’m convinced. Just zombies and Rodney closing.

There are no good answers in the Toronto pen. Roberto Osuna struggled even before being placed on administrative leave stemming from an assault charge (113th). Ryan Tepera is 92nd, Tyler Clippard 80th and Seung-hwan Oh 75th. Oh should not only be 10% owned given this data. Feel free to move that number up by rostering him.

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