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) Chris Devenski – Houston Astros (1)
Current Closer – Ken Giles
It looked like he may get the opportunity to supplant Giles, though he blew his opportunity against the Yankees (1.0 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 K). Of course Giles has had his own issues, and he’s been particularly bad in his past four outings (3.0 IP,5 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 5 K). With a 5.21 ERA and seemingly losing the trust of his manager it’s possible the team looks again at making a change (despite Giles being a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities).
Despite that recent stumble, the upside of Devenski is obvious. While he’s not a groundball machine, he’s showing enough in all three of the skills that we look for from a pitcher with an 11.51 K/9, 2.78 BB/9 and 45.1% groundball rate (and with it, just a 0.79 HR/9). He’s now posted back-to-back years with gaudy SwStr% (16.9% and 16.3%), so it’s hard to not buy in. Couple that with a career 2.17 BB/9 as a reliever, Giles’ issues and the improving groundball rate he’s one of the elite relievers in the game. It’s only a matter of time before a change is made.
2) Joe Jimenez – Detroit Tigers (5)
Current Closer – Shane Greene
Greene remains a trade candidate, but even if he stays it’s not impossible that he’s replaced (3 blown saves, 1.28 WHIP). Jimenez, long considered a potential closer of the future, grabbed a save when Greene was unavailable on Saturday, and has been great with a 2.54 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 28.1 IP on the season. He’s getting ample swings and misses (14.6% SwStr%), showing even more strikeout upside (8.89 K/9) and has taken the important significant step forward in his control (2.22 BB/9). If he can maintain the latter, with his 95.0 mph fastball and a changeup that has been lights out (22.73% Whiff%), he could easily continue to thrive.
3) Josh Hader – Milwaukee Brewers (3)
Current Closer – Corey Knebel
It would be easy to call this a “committee”, but the way Hader is typically deployed makes that not really the case. Sure Hader may get a few multi-inning saves, but he also will be unavailable in some cases and could run up too big of a pitch count to finish things off. That said, considering the video game like numbers he’s posted is it really crazy to think that he could overtake Knebel at some point? Just look at the numbers:
- Strikeout Rate – 18.09 K/9
- Control – 3.41 BB/9
- SwStr% – 22.6%
You can get picky, like pointing to the risk of home runs (22.5% groundball rate) or that he’s being hit relatively hard (25.0% line drive rate) yet carrying a minuscule BABIP (.205). That said opponents need to make contact in order for either of those to become issues. For now that’s simply not happening.
4) Robert Gsellman – New York Mets (NR)
Current Closer – Jeurys Familia
The Mets used Familia in the eighth inning recently, with Gsellman picking up the save. Manager Mickey Callaway quickly cited that it was due to the middle of the order coming up, and signs since have pointed towards Familia still holding the role. That said it’s easy to envision it as a sign of things to come, either with the Mets trading away the soon to be free agent or him simply pitching his way out of the role (4 blown saves).
As for Gsellman he’s clearly taken to his new role in the bullpen. His strikeouts are up (8.58 K/9) and he continues to generate ample groundballs (56.3%). The “issue” has been a 4.04 BB/9, which is not something he had shown in April (3.60 BB/9). If he can get back to that number the sky could be the limit, and it feels inevitable that he gets a shot to run with the role. The question simply is when.
5) Kyle Crick – Pittsburgh Pirates (NR)
Current Closer – Felipe Vazquez
Crick has suddenly settled into the eighth inning for the Pirates, and Vazquez is struggling with both injury scares and abysmal performances (including his last time out, where he was charged with 5 R on 3 H and 1 BB while not recording an out). That puts Crick on the map as the likely next up.
The former starting pitcher has struggled with his control overall (4.12 BB/9), though it’s been worse recently (9 BB over 13.1 IP in May/June). His SwStr% of 9.4% also doesn’t support his 9.15 K/9, so there are ample questions. That said he’s keeping opponents off balance (26.3% popup rate) and while there’s been some favorable luck (80.5% strand rate, .268 BABIP) it isn’t egregious. Given the circumstances he needs to be on maps, but you can easily argue that he doesn’t have the highest upside of pitchers on this list.
Removed from Rankings:
- Kyle Barraclough – Miami Marlins (2) – Graduated
- Edgar Santana – Pittsburgh Pirates (4)
Others We’re Watching:
- Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks
- Amir Garrett – Cincinnati Reds
- Jordan Hicks – St. Louis Cardinals
- Mark Melancon – San Francisco Giants (he could push for the role at some point, but Hunter Strickland is locked in for now and Melancon just came off the DL and needs time to work his way back into the late innings)
- Dan Winkler – Atlanta Braves
“Committees” Currently Excluded:
- Baltimore Orioles – Brad Brach/Mychal Givens
- Philadelphia Phillies – Entire Bullpen
- Tampa Bay Rays – Chaz Roe/Jose Alvarado/Jonny Venters/Sergio Romo
- 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.