Collette Calls: National League Closers

Collette Calls: National League Closers

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

It has been a rough offseason for those who play in NL-only leagues, especially keeper leagues and have (well, had) good closer keepers. In the past month, NL owners have lost Craig Kimbrel, Ken Giles and now Aroldis Chapman to the American League. AL-only owners who had Andrew Miller on the cheap – and that is likely many folks because Dellin Betances was the favorite for most of camp last year – are casualties of this trade, with Chapman going into the end-game mix in New York. Lastly, Francisco Rodriguez was dealt over to Detroit. In all, 125 saves from 2015 went from the NL to the AL and nothing has yet come back in return.

As it stands, the closing situation in the National League is not in great shape. Here is how the tiers break out as situations currently exist, unless teams make adjustments via free agency or trade in the coming months (projections via Steamer/Fangraphs):

Tier 1 (in alphabetical order): Jeurys Familia, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon , Hector Rondon, Trevor Rosenthal

PITCHERTEAMIPERAWHIPK/9
Familia Mets 65 3.13 1.21 9.4
Jansen Dodgers 65 2.43 0.99 11.7
Melancon Pirates 65 2.82 1.16 8.0
Rondon Cubs 65 3.14 1.18 9.0
Rosenthal Cardinals 65 2.85 1.15 11.1

Projection systems like Steamer all give the projected full-time closer 28 saves, regardless of their team. Now that Chapman and Kimbrel have departed, Jansen becomes the closer to pay the big money for if you are
It has been a rough offseason for those who play in NL-only leagues, especially keeper leagues and have (well, had) good closer keepers. In the past month, NL owners have lost Craig Kimbrel, Ken Giles and now Aroldis Chapman to the American League. AL-only owners who had Andrew Miller on the cheap – and that is likely many folks because Dellin Betances was the favorite for most of camp last year – are casualties of this trade, with Chapman going into the end-game mix in New York. Lastly, Francisco Rodriguez was dealt over to Detroit. In all, 125 saves from 2015 went from the NL to the AL and nothing has yet come back in return.

As it stands, the closing situation in the National League is not in great shape. Here is how the tiers break out as situations currently exist, unless teams make adjustments via free agency or trade in the coming months (projections via Steamer/Fangraphs):

Tier 1 (in alphabetical order): Jeurys Familia, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon , Hector Rondon, Trevor Rosenthal

PITCHERTEAMIPERAWHIPK/9
Familia Mets 65 3.13 1.21 9.4
Jansen Dodgers 65 2.43 0.99 11.7
Melancon Pirates 65 2.82 1.16 8.0
Rondon Cubs 65 3.14 1.18 9.0
Rosenthal Cardinals 65 2.85 1.15 11.1

Projection systems like Steamer all give the projected full-time closer 28 saves, regardless of their team. Now that Chapman and Kimbrel have departed, Jansen becomes the closer to pay the big money for if you are chasing saves, ratios and the strikeouts. Jansen's K/9 has been at least 13.0 every year he has pitched in the majors, so it is unclear why his projected K/9 is two fewer strikeouts per nine innings than it was last season.

Rosenthal stopped giving away free passes in 2015 while not losing too many strikeouts. The issue for him heading into 2016 is that he stranded a career-best 86 percent of his baserunners, up from 77 percent and 78 percent in the past two seasons, respectively. Expect the ERA to come up from the 2.10 it was last year, but barring injury, he should be a lock for another big save season as Mike Matheny loves to use him in that role.

Rondon could be in for a huge season after back-to-back years of solid skills and ratios, as he has shown rather remarkable statistical stability in a very unstable role.

Familia got the job for the first time in 2015 and did even better than he had in a setup role the previous season. He gets the strikeouts, doesn't hurt himself with walks , but the 89 percent LOB% is going to regress and his projected 3.13 ERA is nearly 1.5 runs higher than where he finished this past season.

Melancon lacks the strikeouts of the others, but he's been successfully closing for nearly three seasons and is the best of the bunch in limiting free passes and home runs. He's also the most likely to be traded during the season, as he is a free agent next winter. Given the fact it is a final year for him, it would likely take a big offer to sway the Pirates if they fall out of contention, as they could give him a qualifying offer to get a pick assuming baseball doesn't change the punitive process next offseason.

Tier 2: Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Jeffress, A.J. Ramos

PITCHERTEAMIPERAWHIPK/9
Casilla Giants 65 3.31 1.26 8.6
Jeffress Brewers 65 3.50 1.30 8.6
Ramos Marlins 65 3.32 1.25 10.1

There's a drop-off with this group, but Rondon is likely to end up costing you about as much as Melancon, if not more. Casilla is the safest of the three as he gets results while not blowing you away with his overall stuff. He doesn't get a heavy workload, but he did surprise many by increasing his K/9 from 6.9 in 2014 to 9.6 in 2015. The long ball has been an issue from time to time, and last year was the first time his ground ball rate was below 50 percent since the 2008 season. In short, Casilla isn't sexy but he's low risk.

Ramos has been a closer all of one season, but he has been a good reliever for three seasons. His risks can be found on multiple fronts: he's a fly-ball pitcher with control issues and he's arbitration eligible for the first time after this season. The more saves Ramos gets, the more expensive he becomes in arbitration and the more likely he is to be traded, per the Marlins' track record. There's also the issue of Carter Capps. Capps and the crow-hop delivery dominated batters last season and he could be this year's Ken Giles in that you draft him and wait for the opportunity to present itself. Capps was shut down with an elbow issue near the end of the 2015 season, but if he's healthy in camp and baseball doesn't change the rules that allow his delivery, it makes owning Ramos a bit risky.

Lastly, we have Jeffress, who has one career save in the majors. The path to the closer role was cleared when Milwaukee traded Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit. Jeffress was solid in high leverage situations last year, striking out nearly a batter per inning with good ratios and generating plenty of ground balls. Jeffress has found more command of his fastball, throwing more two-seamers than four-seamers along with his breaking ball. While he lacks the swing-and-miss off-speed pitch, both his fastball and breaking ball had above-average pitch values in 2015. Will Smith and his solid skills lurk in the shadows as well, and both pitchers will likely have a fair shot at the role in March.

Tier 3: David Hernandez, J.J. Hoover, Brandon Maurer, Jason Motte, Jonathan Papelbon, Arodys Vizcaino, Brad Ziegler

PITCHERTEAMIPERAWHIPK/9
Hernandez Phillies 65 3.59 1.24 9.3
Hoover Reds 65 3.81 1.32 8.8
Maurer Padres 65 3.54 1.24 8.4
Motte Rockies 65 4.43 1.37 7.3
Papelbon Nationals 65 3.60 1.22 7.9
Vizcaino Braves 65 3.18 1.21 10.4
Ziegler Diamondbacks 65 3.42 1.35 6.1

Hernandez missed all of the 2014 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and it showed this past season. His strikeouts were down from where he left off in 2013, but the fly-ball pitcher still gave up homers with the same pre-injury frequency. The change from Arizona to Philadelphia isn't a great move to fix that issue, so he remains a risk, though one a terrible team like the Phillies can afford to make.

Hoover has pitched in the shadows of Chapman, with good reason. He has had swing-and-miss stuff in the past, but his strikeout rate dropped three full strikeouts per nine last season while the long ball is still a problem. The Reds should be terrible in 2016 and Hoover could have the first crack at the job, though he will have to pitch better than he did in 2015 to keep it all season. Maurer has zero career saves and only 210 innings of major league experience, but that's still more experience than Kevin Quackenbush. Maurer is weird in that he has reverse splits in terms of batting average, as lefties have hit 26 points lower against him (.257) than righties (.283). This could very well be a committee, as Quackenbush is the better of the two against righties by a large margin.

Motte's delivery (and beard) still isn't pretty, but at least he's back on the mound. The strikeouts are well off where he once was, but the move to Coors Field makes him an extremely risky play as a closer, as he's a heavy fly-ball pitcher these days. Conversely, Chad Qualls is mostly a ground-ball pitcher and the Rockies may go that route after inking him to a two-year deal a few weeks back.

Papelbon really should be a Tier 2 pitcher, but we just don't know if he is going to stay with the Nationals. The team has taken down his jerseys from the pro shop and after the episode with Bryce Harper and suspension late last season, it's unlikely he can come back to the clubhouse. His strikeout rate has fallen each of the last five seasons, but he doesn't hurt himself with walks, which make the homers he tends to allow a bit less painful. He has stranded 80 percent of his runners in three of the past four seasons, and he's making $11 million in 2016. If all fences are mended in Washington, bump him up because he's clearly the best of the bunch down here.

Vizcaino picked up nine saves for Atlanta last season, but he still hasn't pitched a full season in the majors yet. He gets the strikeouts, and while his command is inconsistent, he only allowed one home run in 34 innings. Atlanta will be a terrible team in 2016, but terrible teams play in close games and the save opportunities will be there for him as long as he can stay healthy.

Lastly, Ziegler is someone you roster purely for saves because the ratios are not good for a closer and his strikeout rate is downright abysmal. If you roster the sidearmer for your closer, you need to make certain you have enough strikeouts from your starting pitchers because it is tough to punt four categories with any pitcher and be successful.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls. Jason manages his social media presence at https://linktr.ee/jasoncollette
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