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 (for example we’ve excluded the situations in Tampa Bay & Chicago).
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how things stand:
1) Daniel Hudson – Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
Current Closer – Brad Ziegler
He picked up a save on Sunday, though it’s not that he’s overtaken Ziegler… At least not yet, but he’s clearly leapfrogged Addison Reed on the depth chart. The save was impressive, despite the 4-0 lead, as he came into the game with runners on first and third and no outs and stranded both runners (he had 1 walk and 1 strikeout).
Hudson’s conversion to a relief pitcher has been impressive, posting a 3.41 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8.69 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9 over 29.0 IP. His velocity is up (95.5 mph) and he’s been generating a lot of swings and misses (12.4% SwStr%). In fact, after a slow start you can argue that he’s been one of the best relievers in the league since May 1:
- April – 7.27 ERA (8.2 IP)
- May – 1.93 ERA (14.0 IP)
- June – 1.42 ERA (6.1 IP)
Without the strikeouts we know that Ziegler’s time could come to an end before long and it looks like Hudson has the ability to take the job and run with it.
2) Fernando Rodney – Seattle Mariners (NR)
Current Closer – Carson Smith
It’s unfortunate, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rodney returned to the closers role almost immediately with Smith having allowed runs in his past two appearances. We all know what Rodney is, and he’s been one of the worst relievers this season, but opportunity is going to trump that. If someone in your league gave up on him now is the time to grab him.
3) Evan Scribner – Oakland Athletics (2)
Current Closer – Tyler Clippard
While Scribner has had a few recent bumps, there are two key things working in his favor of getting an opportunity:
- Sean Doolittle was transferred to the 60 day DL
- Tyler Clippard trade rumors are already surfacing
The first point means Doolittle won’t be back until August, at the earliest, and then will need time to get back up to closing speed. In other words, the chance of him making an impact is minimal. The second shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Oakland has already fallen out of the race and relief pitching is at a premium.
Even with his recent issues Scribner owns a 3.21 ERA and 0.98 WHIP on the season as he’s shown strikeouts (9.89 K/9) and control (0.80 BB/9). We recently profiled him, which you can read by clicking here, and it should just be a matter of time before he gets a chance to shine.
4) Jim Johnson – Atlanta Braves (3)
Current Closer – Jason Grilli
The key to Jim Johnson’s turnaround has been his control, as his strikeouts (7.06 K/9) and groundballs (56.8%) have been there. Overall he owns a 3.07 BB/9, the problem is that it’s been heading in the wrong direction:
- April – 3.18
- May – 2.19
- June – 4.76
It’s only 3 BB over 5.2 IP in June, so it’s not something to panic about. He represents the better long-term solution for Atlanta, especially with Grilli seeming like a ticking time bomb (30.4% line drive rate). Time will tell, but it’s likely a change comes at some point.
5) Ken Giles – Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
Current Closer – Jonathan Papelbon
The Papelbon trade rumors are growing and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he’s dealt. That would leave Giles to take the reigns and, while we have questions, the upside is certainly there. Control has always been an issue, despite a 2.17 BB/9 over 45.2 IP for the Phillies in ’14. This season he’s been rather inconsistent:
- April – 5.79
- May – 3.00
- June – 4.76
Over his minor league career he owned a 5.4 BB/9, so May is looking like the aberration. Obviously consistent base runners is the biggest concern for closers, who often enter the game with minimal leads. The strikeouts make him appealing, obviously, but we can’t ignore the risks.
Others We’re Watching:
- Arquimedes Caminero – Pittsburgh Pirates – While Mark Melancon is getting the job done, for now, his lack of strikeouts make him a major risk of blowing up once again. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates having the same patience they did earlier in the season and the team could opt to keep Tony Watson in the eighth inning while Caminero has a typical closer skill set (10.48 K/9, 3.49 BB/9).
- Sam Dyson – Miami Marlins – Steve Cishek is back and A.J. Ramos has pitched well, so there are a lot of obstacles for Dyson. That said he is a groundball machine (65.4% in ’15, 65.2% for his career) and has strikeout stuff (8.80 K/9, 11.4% SwStr%). He could become a Zach Britton type closer if given the chance.
- Latroy Hawkins – Colorado Rockies – Despite Axford’s success (0.47 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), we can argue that he is the most likely closer to blow up and lose his job. He had posted a WHIP of 1.44 or worse in each of the previous three seasons, has benefitted from significant luck (.212 BABIP, 89.5% strand rate) and has yet to allow a home run. Yhey could easily turn back to Hawkins (who recently returned from the DL), when things go south.
- J.J. Hoover – Cincinnati Reds – It’s hard to imagine the Reds trading Aroldis Chapman, but he’s an impending free agent and if they decide to sell it’s very likely they move him. While Tony Cingrani could also be in the mix (when he returns from the DL), he’s stumbled of late and Hoover could get the first opportunity to step in.
- Jeremy Jeffress – Milwaukee Brewers – He’s been viewed as a potential closer of the future before and is showing strikeout stuff (9.98 K/9). Having risen into a prominent role in the Brewers’ bullpen, he’s worth monitoring.
- Keona Kela – Texas Rangers – You can argue that he has a better closer skillset than Shawn Tolleson, but the latter has been so good it’s impossible to think a change is anywhere close.
- Roberto Osuna – Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have finally given Brett Cecil save opportunities and he’s gotten the job done. Still, given his early season struggles it may only take a slight bump for the team to make a change and they’ve already proven willing to give a rookie a shot.
- Hunter Strickland – San Francisco Giants – Yes they have both Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, but Strickland owns a 10.97 K/9 and 0.84 BB/9 over 10.2 IP for the Giants and has been moving into a backend role. With impressive numbers and closer stuff, he needs to be on radars.
- Junichi Tazawa – Boston Red Sox – Koji Uehara has been replaced before and could become a trade candidate. Tazawa, meanwhile, continues to thrive with an 8.67 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 2.67 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. If something happens he should certainly get a chance to prove he can handle the job long-term.
Dropped off the List:
- Addison Reed – Arizona Diamondbacks (1)
- Pat Neshek – Houston Astros (4)
- Sergio Romo – San Francisco Giants (5)
Sources – MLB.com, Fangraphs, Minor League Central