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:
1) Kyle Barraclough – Miami Marlins
Current Closer – Brad Ziegler
Brad Ziegler imploded on Saturday and while you can argue that Drew Steckenrider could be the better replacement, Barraclough is likely going to get the first opportunity to step into the role (it was telling that Steckenrider worked the 7th and Barraclough the ninth on Sunday). While we aren’t there yet, even though we should be, it may not be long until Miami looks for a more “traditional” closer.
If Barraclough can consistently throw strikes he clearly has that look. Over 164.0 innings in the Majors he owns a 12.13 K/9 (courtesy of a 13.3% SwStr%), but has struggled to a 5.54 BB/9. If he can cut that down, even into the 4.00-4.25 range, we are talking about a Corey Knebel type impact. If he can’t? We’ll quickly be talking about Steckenrider as the next up.
2) Keynan Middleton – Los Angeles Angels
Current Closer – Blake Parker
It wasn’t a complete surprise that Parker was given the first shot to close, even with his spring struggles. It was surprising that Middleton was the man called on when Parker was in trouble, though. Cam Bedrosian has had his issues and is currently being utilized early in games, while Jim Johnson picked up a HLD on Saturday working the eighth inning (there was no save opportunity, as the team tacked on runs). While Johnson could be a short-term stop gap, all signs are starting to point towards Middleton (who picked up the save on Sunday, though Johnson was likely unavailable after throwing 29 pitches on Saturday) being the long-term solution.
The stuff is clearly there, with the potential to generate a significant number of strikeouts while also avoiding walks. The problem in his rookie year was a bloated 1.70 HR/9, though it’s easy to envision that number shrinking as opponents need to make contact consistently in order to hit the ball out of the ballpark.
The Angels are looking to win a World Series, and they aren’t going to let future cost influence their decision. Middleton is the best solution they have, and if they aren’t prepared to give him the job today it won’t be long before they do. We could easily argue him for the top spot, though the uncertainty of if he is truly the next up has to suppress him for now.
3) Addison Reed – Minnesota Twins
Current Closer – Fernando Rodney
Rodney struggled in his first appearance for the Twins and while that one outing isn’t going to lead to a change, it’s easy to say that it’s inevitable. You could easily argue that Rodney never should’ve kept his job all year in Arizona in ’17, having posted a 4.23 ERA, but the team was stubborn and didn’t want to take Archie Bradley out of his setup role (which they are again doing this year, instead handing the job to Brad Boxberger).
While Trevor Hildenberger is there long-term, when the team signed Reed it was initially thought that he’d close. When Rodney struggles (and he will), Reed is going to get an opportunity.
4) Kirby Yates – San Diego Padres
Current Closer – Brad Hand
This isn’t about Hand struggling in his first appearance, it’s about the team already stating that they want to be flexible with him and utilize him in high leverage situations. That alone can open the door for Yates, who has the stuff to thrive in the role (13.98 K/9, 2.03 BB/9 in 56.2 IP in ’17). Another hiccup from Hand could push Yates even further up this list, as you can argue that he has the highest upside of any “next up” option. Once thought of as needing a trade to get an opportunity, the door is slowly opening for Yates regardless.
5) Nate Jones – Chicago White Sox
Current Closer – Joakim Soria
Soria got the first save opportunity and did the job, but that doesn’t mean that he’s actually the best reliever the team has. Jones has a greater upside, but his injury history could keep the team from pushing him too hard too fast (and that means no back-to-back days, which is key for any closer). That’s going to keep Jones’ potential value suppressed, for now, but his ranking could be pushed up significantly in short order.
Others We’re Watching:
- Carl Edwards Jr. – Chicago Cubs
- Yoshihisa Hirano – Arizona Diamondbacks
- Kevin Jepsen – Texas Rangers
- Joe Jimenez – Detroit Tigers
- J. Minter – Atlanta Braves
“Committees” Currently Excluded:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Philadelphia Phillies
Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Rankings:
|Starting Pitchers||1-20: 03/24/18|