Oak's Corner: Ranking 2018 Closers

Oak's Corner: Ranking 2018 Closers

This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.

The Week That Was


  • Andrew Benintendi was a draft darling this year coming off his 34-game cup of coffee with the Red Sox in 2016. His ADP moved up to 113 in March drafts, making him about an eight-round pick in the NFBC Main. It feels like people are disappointed with him overall this year, as he hasn't broken out in a huge way, but he has quietly filled up the stat sheet across the board, especially lately. He has had a huge August, hitting .320 to go with 18 runs and 18 RBI, while also providing speed and pop with nine stolen bases (good for second in all of MLB in August) and six homers. The recent surge has made his numbers look really nice on the season with 18 homers and 18 stolen bases to go with a .278 average and 73 RBI. He has dropped his strikeout down to 16.2 percent (it was 21.2 percent in his quick time in the majors in 2016), and his walk rate sits at a very solid 10.4 percent. His hard hit rate doesn't jump off the page at 34.8 percent, but it's solid and has room to run, as he's only 23.

    Benintendi has been streaky so far this year (which might explain some of the angst in fantasy leagues) with averages under .225 in two months of the season, but as a main cog in your lineup every week, the end of year numbers are going to work extremely

The Week That Was


  • Andrew Benintendi was a draft darling this year coming off his 34-game cup of coffee with the Red Sox in 2016. His ADP moved up to 113 in March drafts, making him about an eight-round pick in the NFBC Main. It feels like people are disappointed with him overall this year, as he hasn't broken out in a huge way, but he has quietly filled up the stat sheet across the board, especially lately. He has had a huge August, hitting .320 to go with 18 runs and 18 RBI, while also providing speed and pop with nine stolen bases (good for second in all of MLB in August) and six homers. The recent surge has made his numbers look really nice on the season with 18 homers and 18 stolen bases to go with a .278 average and 73 RBI. He has dropped his strikeout down to 16.2 percent (it was 21.2 percent in his quick time in the majors in 2016), and his walk rate sits at a very solid 10.4 percent. His hard hit rate doesn't jump off the page at 34.8 percent, but it's solid and has room to run, as he's only 23.

    Benintendi has been streaky so far this year (which might explain some of the angst in fantasy leagues) with averages under .225 in two months of the season, but as a main cog in your lineup every week, the end of year numbers are going to work extremely well for the price tag. It has been hard to find speed this season, and the 20-plus stolen bases he's going to provide make up for the lack of a monster home run total. The Red Sox lineup figures to stay solid next year (and they may even add a piece or two), and with him cemented in the top half of the lineup, the counting stats are going to be there. It isn't easy to find guys who contribute across all the categories these days, and if Benintendi's lack of monster power keeps his price down even a bit, I look forward to jumping on him again next season.

  • After an exceptional 1.65 ERA in April, Dylan Bundy struggled for the next three months with a massive 5.61 ERA in 86.2 innings between May and July. That stretch featured a slew of blowups, as he allowed five runs or more in five of those 15 starts while allowing 19 homers during that stretch. Well, Bundy has flipped the switch again and produced a fantastic August with a 2.00 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 36 innings. The strikeouts in particular jump out as a huge positive, as it stands at an 11.25 K/9 rate in August while no other month even tops 8.5 K/9. The overall drop in his walk rate is also a positive sign as he has moved from 3.45 BB/9 in 2016 to a 2.61 BB/9 mark this season.

    Bundy is obviously a huge pedigree guy as the fourth overall pick in 2011, and after missing all of 2013 due to Tommy John Surgery, he's finally completing his first full season in the majors. He has shown many flashes of greatness, but as is the case with many young pitchers, he cannot seem to avoid the blowups when he doesn't have his best stuff or things go sideways. I like him a lot as a 2018 target as I think there is a good chance he takes the next step, particularly after watching a few of his starts closely this month. My one reservation on Bundy stems from his home run issues, as he stands at 1.39 HR/9, which is not too surprising given his division and home park. If he can find a way to limit the homers in 2018, he could finally deliver that breakout season we have been waiting for.


FAAB Feelings

    Rafael Montero: Montero has struggled for most of the season with a 5.12 ERA and an unsightly 4.64 BB/9 walk rate. A rough stretch of three starts in late July and early August put Montero's ERA at 6.06, but since then Montero has ripped off four consecutive solid starts. In that stretch (not counting the one random relief appearance he made in there), Montero has allowed only a total of six runs over 25.2 innings while striking out 24 batters. His most recent outing was his most impressive of the season, throwing 8.1 shutout innings while strikeout out eight in Cincinnati. He is still walking too many guys with 11 walks in his strong stretch, but it's tough to find two-start pitchers we like in September so there will always be some warts. Montero's schedule is nice, as he gets two home starts next week, against the Phillies and the Reds. The Phillies rank in the bottom five in baseball in runs scored and OPS, but the Reds definitely will be a tougher test, as they are quietly a top 10 team in OPS. This free agent add doesn't come without some risk, as Montero's walks always put him in the mix for some serious ratio damage, but at this point of the season, I am grabbing the starts where I need pitching help next week and holding my breath.

    Edwin Jackson: I didn't think I would be writing about Edwin Jackson as a possible pickup in 2017, but it's September and here we are. Since joining the Nationals rotation on July 18th, E Jax has actually been really solid, allowing more than three runs in only one of his eight starts. He has even turned it on a little bit more recently, going at least six innings in his last four starts while only allowing a total of six runs. Jackson is scheduled for two starts this week, a road outing against the Marlins on Monday and then a home assignment against the Phillies. We discussed the Phillies offense above with Montero, and while Miami is roughly in the middle of the pack on offense for the season, they have come on in August thanks to Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins were top 10 in MLB in OPS in August and 11th in runs, but that still isn't enough to get me away from E Jax, especially with the home Phillies start on the weekend.

    The Nationals can still score runs even without Bryce Harper, especially with Trea Turner back in the lineup, so if you need wins, this is a two-step I recommend taking a risk on it. And don't get me wrong, it is a risk, mostly from the fact that Jackson has a significant issue with homers as he has allowed 1.83 HR/9 so far this season…and he's still Edwin Jackson. I will be bidding on Jackson in 15-teamers where I need an arm and also in 12-teamers if I'm win deficient as we head into the final month. It's September, you're going to have to get risky somewhere, but sometimes that's what it takes to gain ground in categories.


A Closer Look

    As we head into the final month of the season and without an interesting closer situation to get into this week (I just can't stomach breaking down the Angels or Cardinals again!), I figured it would be a fun and interesting idea to take a look at the top 10 closers heading into 2018 drafts. The top two are locked in between Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen, but then it opens way, way up after that with a big tier of possible guys who could end up in the top five, but they each have some issues to overcome to get there.

    1. Kenley Jansen His year-to-year consistency puts him at the top spot for me over Kimbrel, as he has now posted an ERA under 3.00 in all seven of his seasons to go along with his massive strikeout numbers. His strikeout rate has even bumped a little more this year as it sits at 14.35 K/9. Pitching for the best team in baseball doesn't hurt either. Lock in him as the #1 closer and I will be willing to jump into the 4rd round in 15-teamers to grab him.

    2. Craig Kimbrel After a rough (well, for him) and injury riddled 2016 where his walk rate spiked to 5.09 BB.9, Kimbrel has returned to his elite form in 2017, sporting a 1.58 ERA and an absurd 16.58 K/9. He has not only dropped his walks dramatically from 2016, but he is now at the lowest walk rate of his career at 1.74 BB/9.

    Now it gets really, really tough.

    3. Roberto Osuna I am a big Osuna fan, and after three great years (and he is still 22!), he is the guy I trust most after the Big Two. Osuna's ERA is a touch elevated this year at 3.40, but his WHIP is an elite 0.88, and his FIP at a very nice 1.55. Further, he has upped his strikeout rate to a career high 11.6 K/9 while cutting his walk rate to a nasty 1.13 BB/9. His velocity is a bit down at 94.5 mph and his early season injury issues are a bit of a concern, but if he looks fine in the spring, I will be willing to jump on Osuna at the top of this tier.

    4. Ken Giles Giles hasn't had huge save numbers this season with only 26 on the season but most of that comes from the fact that the Astros blew out opponents a lot this year. Giles has pitched very well with a 2.54 ERA and an excellent 1.01 WHIP, and while the strikeouts dropped a bit from 13.98 K/9 in 2016, they are still excellent at 11.96 K/9. He has also cut his home run rate in half, which was his biggest issue with his 4.11 ERA last season. Giles is locked into the job on a good team and is a good pitcher with a great K Rate and feels like a safe (well, as much as a closer can be) option heading into 2018.

    5. Wade Davis I was a bit hesitant on Davis entering this season off the 2016 injury, but he has been fantastic this season with a 2.17 ERA and 1.16 WHIP even while managing only 27 saves. The Cubs seem to roll to a lot of big wins when they are playing well, leaving Davis with a few less save opportunities than we would like. Davis has ramped his strikeouts back up to the 2015 level with a K Rate at 11.43 K/9; a good sign after his 2016 rate was only 9.76 K/9. The one concern with Davis is the walk rate has ramped way up to 4.73 BB/9, a number that has to come down if he is going to remain an elite reliever.

    6. Alex Colome I don't feel especially great about Colome this high, but off his second really good year as the Rays closer and currently leading the majors with 40 saves, this is where he fits. My concern at the moment with Colome is the large drop off in K Rate from 11.28 K/9 in 2016 to 8.15 K/9 this season. His swinging strike rate has also dropped off at the same time from 15.1 percent in 2016 to 12.3 percent in 2017. I don't love the strikeout trends, but Colome has a locked in job and back-to-back great seasons.

    7. Felipe RiveroRivero's only issue heading into 2018 is that he has only closed for one season, and the question is, can he do it again? Rivero has been exceptional all season for the Pirates and wrested the job away from Tony Watson and has 16 saves since. Rivero has a sparkling 1.52 ERA to go with a strong 77:17 K:BB ratio. The dude throws gas (average fastball 98.4 MPH), and I love watching him pitch. I might be higher than most on Rivero off only one partial year of closing, but that 15.5 percent swinging strike rate plus a strong grip on the job headed into 2018 has me as a full buyer on Rivero.

    8. Edwin Diaz Diaz has been up and down in 2017 as he has struggled to match his electric 2016 debut when he struck out 15.33 batters per nine. His K rate has still been really good at 12.14 K/9, but his walks, solid last year, have been a major issue at 4.79 BB/9. Those walks even cost him the role for about a week earlier this season, which is scary to think about when drafting a top 10 closer. Further, he has struggled with homers with a 1.44 HR/9 rate in his 56.1 innings. I still like what I see from Diaz when he takes the mound, as he is utterly dominant when he's on and I think he will find that consistency heading in 2018, and a nice run of saves in the second half has given him a long leash on the job.

    9. Corey Knebel I discussed Knebel last week, and while he has been a revelation this season with a 1.29 ERA to go with a 15.22 K.9, I have concern about the 4.88 BB/9. Knebel's walks were over 4.000BB/9 last year, too, so it might just be an issue for Knebel, and while I love watching him pitch and love the K's, he stays ranked here until he can prove he can bring down those walks. By the way, that Keon Broxton catch to end the game and save Knebel from a blown save this week sure was sweet.

    10. Aroldis Chapman – Chapman is just about impossible to rank at the moment, as he has been taking out of his job after a run of rough outings earlier this month. The Yankees still owe Chapman a lot of money, and I would think that contract puts Chap back in his closer role to begin 2018. He was a consensus top three closer in 2017 drafts, but he has seen his K rate drop for the fourth consecutive year (still 12.21 K/9), and his walks have jumped up to 4.23 BB/9. He still throws insanely hard (averaging 99.9 mph), but after never allowing a batting average against above .200, that number stands at .230 this year. Betting on Chapman next year is a bet on his control returning to 2016 levels and the immense talent winning out.

    Honorable Mention:

    Zach Britton If Britton is healthy, he jumps into the top 10 for sure heading into 2018 drafts. This has been a lost year for Britton, but if he shows health in spring, I'm willing to trust the 2014 to 2016 numbers.

    Raisel Iglesias I absolutely love Iglesias as a pitcher. He has bumped up his strikeout rate to 11.16 K/9 in his first year as the Reds' primary closer and has posted a 2.07 ERA. His low save total on the Reds may keep people from pushing Iglesias too far up their draft board, and I would love to jump in and grab him at a nice price.

    Greg Holland – He had an incredible start to the year and racked up a ton of saves as a great draft value, but the last six weeks plus Coors Field drops him out of the top 10 for me.

    Kelvin Herrera – He throws hard and I really liked him entering this season, but he is a free agent so where he ends up will affect his ranking. His 3.81 ERA and 4.18 FIP concern me as does the 1.48 HR/9.

    Sneaky Honorable Mentions:

    Sean Doolittle Doolittle has finally gotten healthy the last three months and has maintained his usually elite K:BB Ratio with 48 strikeouts and only seven walks in 2017. Innings. The issue with Doolittle is clearly the health, but he can clearly succeed in the role as he has shown by converting 13 saves for the Nats since the trade. If he is locked in as the closer for them in 2018, he will move up my list rapidly, but the injury concerns will always linger in the back of my head even though I love the guy.

    Super sneaky:

    Blake TreinenTreinen has stepped up in a huge way since being acquired by the A's with a 1.88 ERA over 24 innings with a nice 25:6 K:BB ratio. The A's wanted to see him in the role to close 2017 and with how well he has pitched, I would consider him a lock to open the 2018 season as their closer.


Series of the Weekend

Diamondbacks at Rockies. The two wild card teams in the National League battle this weekend in a series that is especially huge for the Rockies. After their sweep of the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks have now won seven in a row and have pulled away a bit in the wild card race and lead the Rockies by 3.5 games and are a full six games ahead of the Brewers. On the other hand, the Rockies find themselves only 2.5 games clear of the Brewers and are officially in a dogfight to get into the playoffs.

The Rockies offense surprisingly sputtered a bit in August as they ranked only 19th in MLB in runs scored even though they were still the eighth best team in team OPS. As usual, Charlie Blackmon has been raking (what a season he is having!) as he finished the month with a .382 batting average to go with 27 runs scored and a 1.185 OPS. The Rockies pitching has surprisingly hung in there, as they compiled a 4.27 team ERA in August, even with all the Greg Holland blowups, not bad considering where their home games are played. The staff was led by Jon Gray who had a strong 2.30 ERA across his five August starts. Gray is the highest upside starter in the Rockies rotation, and they will need him to stay hot if they are going to hold off the Brewers in September. If they can find a way to not need Gray on the last weekend of the season, he would also make for an excellent choice to start the one-game playoff for the right to advance to the NLDS.

The D'Backs were struggling through most of August and entered the last week with an 8-13 mark before ripping off seven straight to salvage a winning month at 15-13. Paul Goldschmidt continues his MVP level campaign with a 1.117 OPS in August while going deep 11 times and driving in 29 runs. As they enter September, Arizona really needs to get Jake Lamb going before the playoffs start. After an exceptional first three months where he drove in 65 runs, Lamb has struggled the last two months with an ugly .209 batting average and an OPS just under .800. Patrick Corbin was the star of the Arizona rotation in August with a 2.52 in 39.1 innings, and if the D'Backs can get by that wild card game, they suddenly have an imposing playoff rotation with Corbin, Zack Greinke, Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker.

Every series in Coors is fun, but with these two offenses and everything that is at stake, especially for Colorado, this is a series I will be keeping an eye on all weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Jenstad
Scott Jenstad is a veteran of both NFBC and CDM fantasy games. He has won five NFBC Main Event league titles and finished twice in the Top 10 Overall. Scott is a hardcore fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenstad.
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