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 statistics are through Sunday, unless otherwise noted):
1) Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
Current Closer – Brad Boxberger
We’ve been waiting… And waiting… And waiting for the Diamondbacks to turn the role over to Bradley. Thus far they’ve been stubborn in their attempt to keep him in a flexible setup role, but they may finally be changing their stance. It makes sense, with Boxberger struggling of late. Granted it was a stretch where he worked three straight days, but his performance from 4/18-4/20 was downright ugly:
2.0 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 0 BB, 2 K
Boxberger suffered two losses during that stretch, and while he may have a little bit longer of a leash it’s getting shorter by the day. Maybe that’s because Bradley continues to flourish, with a 2.03 ERA over 13.1 IP (12 appearances) and he’s also picked up two saves along the way (including one on Sunday). Perhaps the team again bypasses Bradley, instead giving Yoshihisa Hirano a run just to display their stubbornness, but the Diamondbacks are primed to win now and they can’t afford the risk of giving games away.
2) Kyle Barraclough – Miami Marlins (1)
Current Closer – Brad Ziegler
Barraclough had a little bit of a hiccup recently, but bounced back strong and should remain ahead of Drew Steckenrider as the next man up to replace Ziegler. The question is how much longer does Ziegler have in the role? Obviously the groundball specialist shouldn’t be having home run issues (1.04 HR/9) and he’s also suffered from some poor luck (.375 BABIP, 54.8% strand rate), but he lacks the traditional closer skill set and has allowed runs in four of his eight appearances.
As for Barraclough, as long as he is throwing strikes there is little reason to be concerned. He brings big-time strikeout stuff and has seen his groundball rate jump to 50.0% (43.0% in ’17). All he needs to do is keep his walk rate at it’s current 4.15 BB/9 and he could instantly become a Corey Knebel-esque closer.
3) Greg Holland – St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
Current Closer – Bud Norris
He’s been bad, though you have to wonder if this is simply a case of signing late and not getting the benefit of a traditional Spring Training. We all know the Cardinals didn’t bring him in to pitch mop up duty, and as we’ve discussed (click here to view) it’s hard to bank on Norris being successful in the role long-term. It’s possible that Luke Gregerson gets a look as an intermediary option, but long-term this is going to be Holland’s role. Chances are that comes sooner rather than later, so don’t make the mistake of losing hope too early.
4) Kevin Jepsen – Texas Rangers (NR)
Current Closer – Keone Kela
Kela continues to struggle with his control (5.40 BB/9 over 6.2 IP) and while he hasn’t allowed a home run yet it seems like only a matter of time before it begins to plague him (22.2% groundball rate). That combination is never a good thing, and with 3 ER on 6 H and 1 BB over his past 2.1 IP (three appearances) it may not be long before the Rangers are forced to make a move.
Jepsen may not be a strong replacement, but he does appear to be the next up (and was discussed as such by the team prior to the season). While he does own a 1.69 ERA thus far, he hasn’t shown much in either strikeouts (5.06 K/9) or control (3.38 BB/9). Even if he does take over, we may be having this conversation again before long.
5) Joe Jimenez – Detroit Tigers (NR)
Current Closer – Shane Greene
It’s interesting, because Greene has actually displayed the skills that we look for from any pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 11.42 K/9
- Control – 3.12 BB/9
- Groundballs – 50.0%
So why would we be speculating on his removal? He’s blown 2 of his 5 save opportunities, and while it may be luck related (60.3% strand rate, .348 BABIP) it would be easy to speculate that he simply can’t handle the end of the game.
Jimenez has long been discussed as a potential closer of the future and he’s been delivering on that promise thus far (0.00 ERA). There are a few warning signs, whether it’s a 25.0% groundball rate, beneficial luck metrics (87.5% strand rate, .240 BABIP) or a pedestrian strikeout rate (8.31 K/9). Right now he’s the best reliever the team has, though, and it may not take much for them to make a change.
Honarable Mention – Addison Reed – Minnesota Twins (4)
Current Closer – Fernando Rodney
For more than a year we’ve been waiting for Rodney’s struggles to cause him to be removed from the closer’s role. Having blown 2 of his 4 save opportunities this season, could the time finally be growing near? For some reason teams appear reluctant to pull the plug, but the Twins have a capable option ready to step in.
In fact Reed was originally expected to fill the role, before Minnesota tried to double-down and added another veteran presence in an attempt to solidify the back of their bullpen. “Attempt” is the key word, but while Rodney has had his issues Reed had been virtually untouchable (0.90 ERA, 0.80 WHIP) until he got touched up on Sunday and saddled with a loss. We can talk about luck and a lack of groundballs, but he’s been getting the job done year after year.
Removed from Rankings:
- Luis Garcia – Philadelphia Phillies (2)– Hector Neris appears to have re-established himself in the role
- Sergio Romo – Tampa Bay Rays (3) – He may get a short-term look, but there’s a good chance that if a change is made Jose Alvarado ultimately gets an opportunity
- J. Minter – Atlanta Braves (5) – He has the upside, but will the Braves keep him out of a saves role in order to suppress his long-term cost?
Others We’re Watching:
- Jose Alvarado – Tampa Bay Rays
- Carl Edwards Jr. – Chicago Cubs
- Adam Ottavino – Colorado Rockies
- Bruce Rondon – Chicago White Sox
“Committees” Currently Excluded:
- Baltimore Orioles – Brad Brach/Darren O’Day
- Houston Astros – Ken Giles/Chris Devenski
- Milwaukee Brewers – Josh Hader/Jacob Barnes/Matt Albers
Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN, Brooks Baseball
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here.