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) Jordan Hicks – St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
Current Closer – Bud Norris
Norris has been in a tailspin of late, though that’s something we’ve been expecting to come. He’s allowed runs in three of his past four outings (including 2 blown saves), and if you go back to May 23 he’s now allowed 6 ER on 9 H and 0 BB over 6.0 IP. Maybe he has a little bit more rope, but one more hiccup could lead him to being yanked from the role.
Whether Hicks represents the “next up” when the team gets healthy remains to be seen, but that’s his role as of today and he appears to be growing into it. A lack of strikeouts has been the biggest question this season, despite the obvious potential, but he’s overcome that of late. Including striking out the side in a recent save he now has 8 K over his past 4.0 IP (and 12 K in his past 7.1 IP). He has electric stuff (average fastball of 99.8 mph), generates groundballs (59.6%) and has solved his control issues (3.68 BB/9 in May, 2.25 in June). He could easily become a fixture in the role for the foreseeable future, and the future may already be arriving.
2) Chris Devenski – Houston Astros (1)
Current Closer – Hector Rondon
It appears that the Astros have removed Ken Giles from the closers role, though instead of promoting Devenski they’ve opted to keep him as the primary setup man. It was Rondon who was pushed into ninth inning duties, and has earned saves in three straight appearances. Does anyone truly believe that he’s going to run with the role? Sure he’s proven to have strikeout stuff (10.17 K/9 entering Sunday, before he struck out the side) and has consistently displayed above average control (2.48 BB/9 for his career). He’s also proven capable of holding the job before, with 59 saves between 2014 and 2015, so it’s not impossible.
That said, you can also argue that Devenski has the higher upside. He entered Sunday showing similar strikeout stuff (10.87 K/9) and solid control (2.81 BB/9), as he cements his spot as one of the better setup men in baseball. It’s more a matter of how the Astros want to deploy their new 1-2 punch, and how long of a leash the team gives Rondon remains to be seen. It’s hard to imagine that he’s “locked in”, and it may not take more than one or two stumbles for a change to be made.
3) Joe Jimenez – Detroit Tigers (2)
Current Closer – Shane Greene
Greene took his third loss of the season on Friday, and he also has blown 3 saves (in 18 chances). It’s hard to say that he’s particularly in danger, despite a 4.02 ERA, though he remains a trade candidate and his continued home run issues (1.72 HR/9) could cost him.
Jimenez has been mentioned as a potential closer of the future for some time, and he’s shown why thus far with a 2.30 ERA and 1.09 WHIP courtesy of a 9.77 K/9 and 2.30 BB/9. There is the risk of home runs looming large (37.2% groundball rate, 0.29 HR/9), but if opponents can’t make contact (14.6% SwStr%) how big of an issue will that be? There’s a few different avenues for Jimenez to rise into the role, so keep a close watch and see how things develop.
4) Josh Hader – Milwaukee Brewers (3)
Current Closer – Corey Knebel
The video game-like numbers continue, with 70 K over 35.1 innings of work, and he proved that he could handle the role when given an opportunity while Knebel was sidelined (he’s 6-for-7 in save opportunities on the season). That’s going to keep Knebel on his toes and any stumble is going to lead to speculation of a change. Of course the Brewers value Hader’s multi-inning ability, and they need his flexibility. That said they also aren’t going to allow pigeon holing him into that role to cost them their season.
5) Jake Diekman – Texas Rangers (NR)
Current Closer – Keone Kela
No one is about to say that Kela is quite on the hot seat today, but he really struggled with his control on Sunday (2 BB and a wild pitch allowed him to give up a run and take a loss, despite not allowing a hit) and owns a 4.24 ERA on the season. Most of his struggles have come in non-save situations (he’s yet to blow a save), but he’s also lacked control (3.47 BB/9) and groundballs (29.8%) and that could ultimately result in disaster.
Enter Diekman, who could be held out of the role due to being left-handed (Jose Leclerc perhaps?) as well as his own control issues (6.17 BB/9). However things have been trending in the right direction in that regard:
- April – 8.68 BB/9
- May – 5.40 BB/9
- June – 2.25 BB/9
If he can maintain that, when paired with his strikeouts (11.19 K/9) and groundballs (50.8%) he could develop into one of the elite.
Removed from Rankings:
- Robert Gsellman – New York Mets (4) – With Familia on the DL, now part of a committee
- Kyle Crick – Pittsburgh Pirates (5)
Others We’re Watching:
- Justin Anderson – Los Angeles Angels
- Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks
- Mark Melancon – San Francisco Giants
- Bruce Rondon – Chicago White Sox
- Dan Winkler – Atlanta Braves
“Committees” Currently Excluded:
- New York Mets – Robert Gsellman/Anthony Swarzak/Joey Blevins
- 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.