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) Kyle Barraclough – Miami Marlins (4)
Current Closer – Brad Ziegler
This doesn’t mean that we truly believe in Barraclough’s ability to run with the role, despite his impressive 1.66 ERA, as he’s benefited from a .128 BABIP and 88.5% strand rate. Luck metrics aside, he appears to have traded strikeouts for better control in May (9.0 IP):
- Strikeouts – 4.00 K/9
- Control – 3.00 BB/9
There’s a chance that the control goes south again, with a 24.3% O-Swing% in May and his extensive history of control issues. He’s been using his fourseam fastball more (66.14% in May) at the expense of his slider (25.00%), and he’s simply not getting the swings and misses on the latter that we’re accustomed to (9.84% overall, 3.23% in May).
That shows the risk, but with Ziegler imploding in epic fashion on Sunday (4 ER on 3 H and 1 BB over 0.2 IP) and sporting a 7.20 ERA it’s obvious that a change is coming. Barraclough will finally get his shot, but don’t assume he’s going to thrive in the role.
2) Josh Hader – Milwaukee Brewers (1)
Current Closer – Corey Knebel
Knebel has not yet earned a save since returning from the DL, but that’s been more due to game flow/situation as opposed to an indication of who “the man” is. Take Saturday, for example, where Hader entered in the seventh inning of a tie game and was simply pitching too well to be lifted after Milwaukee took a one run lead (2.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 6 K, W). The fact that he was used in a tie game, while Knebel has been reserved for the ninth inning (even in non-save situations) helps to show us where things currently stand. That said Hader has continued to put up video game like numbers (1.32 ERA, 0.51 WHIP, 56 K over 27.1 IP) and could step into the role at any time if the team decides, though they could value him more as the flexible multi-inning reliever they are currently deploying him as.
3) Dan Winkler – Atlanta Braves (3)
Current Closer – Arodys Vizcaino
It’s easy to continue viewing A.J. Minter as the next up, though he’s allowed runs in two of his past three appearances. Vizcaino has had his own issues (he recently had a blown save) and they’ve already talked this situation up as being a committee (though in reality they haven’t shown that course of action). Enter Winkler, who has arguably been the most impressive weapon the team has.
Over 19.1 IP he owns a 0.93 ERA and 0.62 WHIP, with 28 K vs. 5 BB. Winkler has quickly settled into the back of the bullpen (7 HLD), while flashing strikeouts (13.03 K/9) and control (2.33 BB/9). He’s been doing the job relying on his cut-fastball (43.35%) and slider (10.76%), which have both shown impressive swing and miss ability (Whiff% of 19.71% and 29.41%, respectively). With the way he’s going what exactly is there not to like?
4) Jace Fry – Chicago White Sox (NR)
Current Closer – Nate Jones
Don’t read too much into the save on Sunday, as Jones had worked three of four days and there were two tough left-handed hitters up (Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo). That said it’s clear that Fry is rising up the bullpen depth chart, as he owns a 0.00 ERA, 0.24 WHIP and 12 K over 8.1 IP in the Majors. He’s generating a 15.9% SwStr%, thanks to what’s been a lights out slider (35.71% Whiff%) and he’s yet to give up a hit, regardless of if he’s facing a right-handed hitter (12 batters faced) or left-handed hitter (15 batters faced). Right-handed hitters hit .229 against him at Double-A last season, so he’s proven that he can be much more than a specialist, and he’s also long shown an ability to generate groundballs (career 1.71 GO/AO). You put it all together and you have a potentially lights out closer rising, it’s just a matter of him forcing his way into the mix.
5) Chris Devenski – Houston Astros (2)
Current Closer – Ken Giles
Giles has been pitching well, with saves in five straight appearances, though does anyone truly believe that he’s “locked” into the role as of today? He seems safe, and that’s going to drag Devenski down these rankings, and it’s not impossible that the team ultimately decides Devenski is more valuable in a setup role if/when a change is needed.
Honorable Mention – Jordan Hicks – St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
Current Closer – Bud Norris
It’s finally time to move on from the dream of Greg Holland rediscovering himself and assuming the role, while Luke Gregerson is currently on the DL. That leaves Hicks as the most likely next up, which makes sense. If they didn’t view him in that type of role they likely would’ve sent him back down to the minors to get stretched out a few weeks ago, when the bullpen appeared to have ample depth. Instead Hicks is still here and he’s making waves with reports that he hit 105 mph over the weekend. Of course the velocity hasn’t translated to strikeouts (3.68 K/9) and he has had control issues (6.55 BB/9), though he’s still learning how to pitch out of the bullpen. Once he figures that out? Watch out!
Removed from Rankings:
- Greg Holland – St. Louis Cardinals (5)
Others We’re Watching:
- Jose Alvarado – Tampa Bay Rays
- Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks
- Buck Farmer – Detroit Tigers
- Jace Fry – Chicago White Sox
- Amir Garrett – Cincinnati Reds
- Addison Reed – Minnesota Twins
“Committees” Currently Excluded:
- Baltimore Orioles – Brad Brach/Mychal Givens
- Philadelphia Phillies – Entire Bullpen
- Toronto Blue Jays – Tyler Clippard/Seung Hwan Oh/Ryan Tepera
Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN, Brooks Baseball
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here.