by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Are you someone constantly on the lookout for the next potential closer? That’s what we are trying to pinpoint here, with our Top 5 Closer In Waiting Power Rankings. These rankings look at the pitchers who appear capable of taking over their team’s respective closing duties (though in some cases, will need some help to get there). Keep in mind, if a pitcher is currently part of a committee they will not be included in these rankings despite not currently “holding” the job outright.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how things stand (all stats are through Saturday):
1) Zach Putnam – Chicago White Sox (NR)
Current Closer – Ronald Bellisario
Bellisario isn’t blowing saves, but he also isn’t pitching particularly well of late. In his past four outings (through June 20) he’s allowed 2 ER on 6 H over 3.2 IP. How much longer can he keep dodging these bullets? How much longer until the team decides to try a younger option?
Putnam is a groundball pitcher (62.9%) with significantly more strikeout potential than he’s shown thus far (7.09 K/9 despite a 13.9% SwStr%). The question is going to be if he can avoid the walks (3.71 BB/9). It’s been more of an issue lately than it has overall (7.74 BB/9 in June after posting marks of 2.70 and 3.00 the first two months) and he also owned a 3.2 mark in 179.1 IP at Triple-A. There’s a lot to like and, when the team moves on from Bellisario, he figures to be next in line.
2) Jeurys Familia – New York Mets (NR)
Current Closer – Jenrry Mejia
Mejia has had his issues of late, including battling a back ailment and having to be lifted from a save opportunity against the Cardinals before he completely coughed up the lead. For now Familia appears to be the next best option, as he has gotten opportunities when Mejia was unavailable and owns 32 K vs. 15 BB over 36.2 IP. Another young pitcher, it makes sense to see if he can handle the role in case Mejia proves he isn’t up for the job.
Some may want to say Vic Black will assume the role, as he has blow away stuff and was viewed as a potential closer entering the season. The question is going to be if he can harness his control. Overall he owns a 6.08 BB/9 in the Majors this season, with walks in 6 of his 12 appearances.
3) Joba Chamberlain – Detroit Tigers (2)
Current Closer – Joe Nathan
We aren’t just going to forget about Chamberlain and the struggles of Joe Nathan, but there’s hope that the latter has turned things around. He put together back-to-back strong outings Thursday & Friday, with 5 K and just 1 H allowed while earning a pair of saves. While he’s not completely out of the woods (especially after struggling on Saturday, though it being his third straight day could’ve played a role), it’s clear that Detroit wants him to remain in the ninth inning. He’s been given a lot of rope and hopefully has turned the corner. That said, until he puts a lengthy string of strong outings together he may be one misstep from being removed from the role.
4) Rex Brothers – Colorado Rockies (NR)
Current Closer – Latroy Hawkins
Prior to the season it was assumed Brothers would step into the closers role if (or should we say when) Hawkins was removed. However he struggled significantly early on and was clearly bypassed by the likes of Adam Ottavino. However, while Ottavino has fallen on hard times Brothers has righted the ship. He hasn’t allowed a run in his past 8 outings, walking just 2 over 5.2 IP over that span.
Of course, Hawkins continues to pitch like one of the dominant relievers in the league. Can that last over the entire season? Will the Rockies try out Brothers (or another option) to see if they have their 2015 answer already on the roster? Could Hawkins get traded if the Rockies fall out of contention? There are going to be a lot of ways for Brothers to assume the role, it’s just a matter of which one ultimately gets him there.
5) Tony Sipp – Houston Astros (NR)
Current Closer – Chad Qualls
Can Qualls continue to thrive at the end of games? Could he ultimately be traded to acquire another asset for the future? He’s been dominant, but neither scenario would be surprising.
Sipp is no youngster, as he will turn 31 in July, but it’s hard to ignore how impressive he’s been. In 17.2 IP in the Majors he owns a 12.23 K/9 and 1.02 BB/9, nearly mirroring his numbers in 14.2 IP at Triple-A (12.89 and 1.23). His control has always been an issue, and he also is a fly ball pitcher (52.6% for his career) which could cause him issues pitching in Houston. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the numbers he’s been putting up and he has to be on our radars as a potential closing option.
Others we’re watching:
- Neil Ramirez – Chicago Cubs – He handled himself well while Hector Rondon was unavailable due to injury. If Rondon shows any signs of struggles, Ramirez should step in. However, at least at this point, there’s no risk of that.
- Dellin Betances – New York Yankees – It’s hard to imagine the Yankees removing David Robertson from closing, but we all know Betances has emerged as one of the elite setup men in the game. Don’t be surprised to see him assume closing duties in 2015.
- Joaquin Benoit – San Diego Padres – We all know the trade rumors are going to pick-up surrounding Huston Street and Benoit would seamlessly be able to step into closing duties.
Moved into closers role:
- Mark Melancon – Pittsburgh Pirates (3)
Fell off the list/Part of Committee:
- Jake McGee – Tampa Bay Rays (1) – You could argue that he should be in the “Moved into closers role” category, but Tampa Bay appears to be going with a committee. They also could turn things back over to Grant Balfour at any time, which would put McGee squarely back on this list
- John Axford – Cleveland Indians (4) – He took a major step backwards this past week, including 3 ER on 2 H and 4 BB over 1.1 IP between two outings.
- Joe Smith – Los Angeles Angels (NR) – He appears to be part of the committee in LA at this point, or more likely the closer when healthy.
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, Baseball Reference
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