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 (like the mess that is Tampa Bay, for instance)
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how things stand (all statistics are through Monday unless otherwise noted):
1) Sam Dyson – Texas Rangers (2)
Current Closer – Shawn Tolleson
Shawn Tolleson appears to have settled down in the closer role, but it’s easy to argue that he’s still just one poor outing away from losing his job. While he’s shown control (1.29 BB/9) and groundballs (57.7%), the strikeouts (6.43 K/9) have surprisingly not been there (strikeouts in just 4 of 9 appearances). His SwStr% is down significantly (10.2% to 7.3%), so you have to wonder if he’s going to be able to rebound or if he’s an implosion waiting to happen.
On the flipside, Dyson’s skillset appears reminiscent to Zach Britton’s. One of the elite groundball artists (68.2% in ’15, 67.2% for his career), he also brings strikeout stuff (8.00 K/9 courtesy of a 9.5% SwStr%) and enough control.
The question is more when a change is going to happen, not if, so keep Dyson stashed away and wait to reap the benefits.
2) Sean Doolittle – Oakland A’s (NR)
Current Closer – Ryan Madson
The results haven’t been there for Doolittle, but he actually has been generating swings and misses (14.0% SwStr%) and it’s hard to imagine home run issues continuing in Oakland (3 HR allowed). His velocity has also jumped from last season (92.4 mph to 93.9) and there’s reason to believe that he is going to get on a good roll moving forward. Madson, meanwhile, has actually been hit hard (29.6% line drive rate) and his 63.1 innings last season were his first in the Majors since 2011. Is he really a guarantee to continue producing?
The upside of Doolittle is that of a Top 10 closer, and it’s hard to imagine the team not giving him another opportunity at some point. The real question is when it’s going to come.
3) Hector Neris – Philadelphia Phillies (4)
Current Closer – Jeanmar Gomez
The recall of Andrew Bailey is going to bring speculation that he could quickly emerge as a candidate, but how can we overlook Neris and the work he’s done? He actually worked the 8th inning yesterday and it’s easy to argue that he’s been the most impressive reliever the Phillies have (0.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 20 K, 4 BB over 12.0 IP through Tuesday). The big question was whether or not he would be able to keep the ball in the ballpark or not, which he has done thus far. As long as he continues to do that he is going to thrive and will assume the role before long.
4) Daniel Hudson – Arizona Diamondbacks (1)
Current Closer – Brad Ziegler
Ziegler’s strikeouts are up this season (10.2% SwStr% leading to an 8.10 K/9), and with his groundball stuff that gives him the upside of one of the elite. He has struggled with putting too many men on base, though a .379 BABIP is clearly the culprit. With a little bit better luck there likely wouldn’t be a discussion of him potentially being on the hot seat.
That said, don’t overlook Hudson as a potential closing candidate. Since ’15 he’s been on our radars, having made the transition from starter to reliever. While the strikeouts are down overall, his 11.9% SwStr% shows that the upside remains. He also has shown pinpoint control (1.86 BB/9) and has been working the eighth inning. If a change is needed he will likely take over, though nothing is imminent at the moment.
5) Hunter Strickland – San Francisco Giants (3)
Current Closer – Santiago Casilla
He owns a 5.40 ERA, but it’s been poor luck that has cost Strickland (.417 BABIP, 58.3% strand rate). Long considered a potential closer of the future, he continues to show strikeouts (11.88 K/9) and control (2.16 BB/9). With Sergio Romo on the DL we’d have to think that he’s going to be the next up, should Casilla struggle, though he’s going to need to string together a few straight strong outings himself. That said, the upside potential has to keep him on these rankings.
Dropped Off Rankings – Tony Cingrani – Cincinnati Reds (5)
Others We’re Watching:
- Ken Giles (Houston Astros) – He needs to remain on radars, but with the way he and Luke Gregerson have pitched in the early going there is no debate regarding the closers role.
- Brandon Maurer (San Diego Padres) – Fernando Rodney has done little to make us question his status as closer, but how long will it take before he does?
- Zach McAllister (Cleveland Indians) – We’ve seen Cody Allen struggle before, only to turn it around, and we know the Indians are going to give him plenty of rope. That’s what keeps McAllister short of making the Top 5, though he’s pitched well and could easily be the next up given the struggles of Bryan Shaw. Given yesterday’s issues consider McAllister #6 on this list and there’s a good chance he gets an opportunity if Allen blows a save soon.
- Andrew Bailey (Philadelphia Phillies) – He produced at Triple-A and was in the mix for the job prior to the season. It makes sense for him to be on radars, but the way Hector Neris has been throwing makes him more likely to take the role.
- Chad Qualls (Colorado Rockies) – The recent blowup from Jake McGee puts alternatives on the map, but would anyone really trust Qualls if he was given an opportunity?
- Tony Zych (Seattle Mariners) – He may not be next up even with Joaquin Benoit on the DL (Joel Peralta) and Steve Cisehek has done little to make us believe that he’s going to lose his job. That said, Zych has closer of the future written all over him and is worth keeping an eye on.
Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of Rotoprofessor’s Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists: