Closer in Waiting Power Rankings: May 14, 2019: Former Closers Pushing For Roles Again, Intriguing Option Emerging & More

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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 look at how things stand (all statistics are through Sunday, unless otherwise noted):

1) Jose Leclerc – Texas Rangers (3)
Current Closer – Chris Martin/Shawn Kelley

A recent bump (0.1 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 3 BB, 1 K) is going to have people assuming Leclerc is going to be further away from returning to ninth inning duties, but there’s been more good than bad.  In four May appearances (5.0 IP) he’s allowed 1 ER on 1 H and 4 BB, striking out 8, and if it wasn’t for that one performance when he struggled with his control there would already be chatter of him returning to closing duties.  It would certainly make sense considering the rather uninspiring options the team is rolling out, even with their strong statistics overall:

  • Chris Martin – 2.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 17 K, 3 BB over 15.1 IP
  • Shawn Kelley – 1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 12 K, 1 BB over 14.0 IP

Both have struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark (Martin has allowed 3 HR, Kelley 2 HR) and Martin is unlikely to maintain his solid K/9 (9.4% SwStr% entering yesterday).  They are short-term fill-ins until Leclerc is ready to re-assume the role, and that time is coming quickly.

2) Jake Diekman – Kansas City Royals (4)
Current Closer – Ian Kennedy/Wily Peralta

It’s easy to overlook Diekman, but there’s no obvious answer at closer (Kennedy appears to be “the man” currently, with 23 K vs. 2 BB over 18.1 IP) and Diekman is showing why he should be at least part of the discussion.  Over 17.0 IP he owns a 2.65 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, with 22 K vs. 7 BB as well as a history of groundball stuff (49.4%).

Injuries have generally been an issue, as has his control (4.83 BB/9).  The key question is if he can continue avoiding free passes, because strikeouts have never been an issue (11.06 K/9 over his career).  Even at his current rate there would be reason to believe in him thriving in the role, but he’s been getting even better lately (1 BB over his past nine performances, a stretch of 8.2 IP).  It’s no coincidence that he hasn’t allowed a run over this stretch and if it continues he could become a locked in closer before long.

3) Yoshihisa Hirano – Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
Current Closer – Greg Holland

Is Bradley truly the next up, or could it be someone like Yoan Lopez or Archie Bradley who takes the reigns if a change is made?  That does cloud the issue, but with Holland allowing runs in his past three outings there is a level of concern.  Bradley has had his own issues (4.67 ERA, 1.88 WHIP) and while Lopez has a 1.08 ERA and 0.90 WHIP he hasn’t generated many K (13 K over 16.2 IP) and has benefited from quite a bit of luck (.143 BABIP, 98.4% strand rate).

Enter Hirano, who has a 5.79 ERA but has struggled with poor luck (.429 BABIP, 57.5% strand rate despite a 32.6% Hard%).  He also has shown that he’s capable of generating both strikeouts (11.57 K/9) and strong control (2.57 BB/9).  Throw in a 23.1% popup rate, helping a 40.5% groundball rate, and there’s reason for optimism.  While no change is imminent, another stumble or two could change things quickly.

4) Jeremy Jeffress – Milwaukee Brewers (1)
Current Closer – Josh Hader/Junior Guerra

We know Hader is going to remain in the mix for saves, regardless of who the secondary option is, so the question here is if Jeffress can return to form and overtake Guerra for that role.  Considering Guerra’s performance thus far (1.99 ERA, 0.75 WHIP) that could be a hard sell.

Jeffress has posted solid numbers thus far (1.80 ERA), but his strikeouts are down (6.30 K/9), the groundballs have disappeared (37.5%, down from 56.4% in ’18) and he’s benefited from some significant luck (.130 BABIP, 92.1% strand rate), and all this came before a poor performance on Monday.  His velocity is down significantly (92.6 mph), though it’s fair to wonder if that is due to the injury and delayed start to the season.  There’s enough of an opportunity, given the general committee approach, to keep him on your radar but there’s also risk that can’t be ignored.

5) Carl Edwards Jr. – Chicago Cubs (5)
Current Closer – Steve Cishek

You can argue that this is a committee with Pedro Strop on the DL, but Cishek is the only one who has earned a save.  Enter Edwards, who has been dubbed a closer of the future before but has consistently battled control issues (5.06 BB/9 over 163.2 IP in the Majors).  Those struggles helped lead to a stint in the minors this season, but in three appearances since returning he’s tossed 3.0 perfect innings with 4 K.  Obviously it’s just a handful of innings, but it’s promising all the same given the upside that’s been seen in him.

That said is there reason to believe that Cishek is going to relinquish the role?  He entered Sunday with a 10.50 K/9, 4.00 BB/9 and 62.8% groundball rate, and he has just 1 BB over his past 5.0 IP.  Assuming he can continue avoiding the free passes (3.35 BB/9 over the course of his career) and knowing that he’s proven he can do the job before (he had 39 saves back in 2014) that may never happen.  Edwards still belongs on radars, just in case, but for now the opportunity may never present itself.

Graduated from Rankings
All of these appear to now have at least a hold of their current closers role

  • None

Dropped from Rankings:

  • Amir Garrett – Cincinnati Reds (2)

Current Committee/More Information Needed:

  • Baltimore Orioles – Mychal Givens/Paul Fry/Michael Wright
  • Los Angeles Angels – Ty Buttrey/Hansel Robles
  • Minnesota Twins – Blake Parker/Taylor Rogers
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Jose Alvarado/Diego Castillo/Emilio Pagan

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