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) Brad Ziegler – Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
Current Closer – Addison Reed
Last week Reed received the dreaded vote of confidence from his manager, after he blew his fourth save of the season. Reed has always been a closer that carried an inflated ERA (4.75 and 3.79 over the past two seasons), but with strikeouts and control it was always poor luck that was perceived to be the issue. This season it’s certainly not luck that’s the problem, as he continues to serve up home run after home run.
Ziegler, meanwhile, proved he could handle closing duties last season and has been one of the better relief pitchers in the game since entering the league in 2008 (2.39 career ERA). You could argue that he’s more of a specialist, similar to the argument that we’ve made in the past regarding Joe Smith, and that’s definitely fair. You also could argue that the Diamondbacks, who are heading towards a rebuild, would be much better served to get Reed (25-years old) figured out instead of Ziegler (34) since the latter is not going to be the long-term solution.
Either way, if Reed continues to falter a move is going to have to be made (even if it’s just in the short-term).
2) Jason Grilli – Los Angeles Angels (1)
Current Closer – Joe Smith
It’s funny, because the argument you can make in regards to Ziegler not being a good fit as closer is the same one you can make regarding Joe Smith. He’s always been more of a specialist and his career splits show it. While he’s been getting the job done, how long is that really going to last?
Grilli has pitched well since arriving from Pittsburgh and could easily step into the role once Mike Scioscia decides the time is right. While Grilli had fallen on hard times in Pittsburgh, there’s no question that he can do the job and do it well. Since we all assumed Ernesto Frieri would ultimately be returned to the role, there’s no reason to think that the team won’t turn to Grilli.
3) Joba Chamberlain – Detroit Tigers (2)
Current Closer – Joe Nathan
Chamberlain has not only been a mainstay on this list for the past few weeks, but he constantly has been near the top of it. Nathan continues to be inconsistent, at best, yet the Tigers have appeared to be committed to sticking with him through good times and bad. Does that mean his job is 100% safe? We wouldn’t jump to that conclusion.
Chamberlain, meanwhile, continues to appear to be revitalized outside of New York. Not only is he generating strikeouts and avoiding walks, but he’s also showing one of the best groundball rates of his career. That has helped to correct his home run issue (as has getting out of Yankee Stadium) and there is little not to like with his production. The real question is if the Tigers will ever get frustrated enough to pull the plug on Nathan or not.
4) Neil Ramirez – Chicago Cubs (4)
Current Closer – Hector Rondon
Rondon has proven that he can handle closing duties, though also the propensity to blow up at times. You have to wonder if that will ultimately lead to him being removed from the role. Ramirez has benefited from a bit of luck thus far and also has a bloated fly ball rate (which could work against him in Wrigley Field), but he’s demonstrated blow away stuff. There’s risk for a significant regression, but if you are looking for a potential closer he has to be on your radar.
5) Pat Neshek– St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
Current Closer – Trevor Rosenthal
Could Rosenthal’s latest implosions lead to a change in St. Louis? At this point, it’s not impossible in the short-term while the team tries to get Rosenthal back on track (just like Sergio Romo in San Francisco). It’s hard to argue against Neshek and his numbers, with a 0.77 ERA and 0.57 WHIP. Of course you could easily argue against his control (1.03 BB/9) and luck metrics (.179 BABIP, 92.2% strand rate), indicate that a major regression could be in his future. For now, however, with a change possible Neshek appears to be first in line to take over.
Others We’re Watching:
- Joaquin Benoit – San Diego Padres – He could assume closing duties for the Padres, should Huston Street get traded. Of course, recent rumors have Benoit being the one on the way out, with Street staying put.
- Dellin Betances – New York Yankees – There’s no questioning the dominance, but it’s going to take an injury to David Robertson for him to get an opportunity.
- Jeurys Familia – New York Mets – He is next in line for the Mets, but there’s no reason to think they are going to pull Jenrry Mejia from the role.
- Ken Giles – Philadelphia Phillies – He’s been impressing in a setup role and could have leapfrogged Antonio Bastardo to be next in line. Of course, that’s contingent on a trade of Jonathan Papelbon, which could be difficult to facilitate.
- Dan Otero – Oakland A’s – There’s no reason to think Sean Doolittle is going to be removed from the role, but Otero has stepped up and appears to be the next in line if something should happen.
Fell Off The List:
- Tony Sipp – Houston Astros (3) – He’s completely imploded recently, likely costing him an opportunity to take over.
- Jean Machi – San Francisco Giants (5) – Sergio Romo has been removed from the closer’s role and while the team has moved to a committee, it doesn’t include Machi. Instead it’s Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt who are going to get the opportunities (at least for now). Keep your eye on Machi for now.
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