We mostly know the closers in the American League
. We also know that closers lose their role 30-35 percent of the time year after year, so speculating on who might be next in line helps in-season, especially if you roster those guys in the end game or even the reserve rounds. Let's look at each American League bullpen (NL next week) to see who might next in line based on skills. We'll include the current closer in the numbers for context.
These were the league totals for relief pitchers in 2015 for the statistics below:
I did a blind study on Twitter using these numbers asking people to pick the pitcher they would want based only on numbers and the votes were overwhelmingly for Mike Morin, he of the 6.53 ERA last season. Morin struggled early last year, giving up 19 earned runs in 23 innings around an abdominal injury before he was sent down until rosters expanded. He came back in September to strike out 18 batters and walk two in 12 innings while holding batters to a .217 average. Salas was definitely the safer backup of the two last season, though he struggled to keep the ball in the yard as he allowed eight homers in 63 innings, which helped create his 4.24 ERA and low 65-percent LOB rate. The safe bet is Salas, but the best return on investment opportunity lies with Morin.
Not that any of us expect Giles to lose the job in-season, but if he did, there are enough qualified candidates to step up in his place. Gregerson did the job last season, but obviously not well enough to retain it for 2016. Josh Fields
flashes some of the skills necessary to sneak into saves if he could just display a little more command to go with that lively arm.
Given that Oakland signed Madson to a multi-year and large (for them) deal, the job is very likely his. Should he falter, Doolittle has done the job in the past, and even his numbers last year in a shortened season hold up well. Hendriks was a shrewd pickup for Oakland and is a sleeper candidate to have some good value (think Tyler Clippard
in his Nationals days) in this bullpen as he looks much better in relief than he did as a starter.
Osuna did the job last season, but the Jays have even more options heading into 2016. Storen has done the job elsewhere and has the skills to do it again in Toronto as does Cecil, who has done it in Toronto. The Jays could go multiple routes here and Cecil may be the most profitable play. Cecil got off to a rough start last year with shoulder woes during Spring Training and a rough Fathers' Day weekend say his ERA balloon to 5.96 with a 1-4 record and 5 blown saves. The 8 earned runs he allowed that week were the last ones he allowed all season as he closed the 2015 regular season without allowing an earned run in his final 31.2 innings while allowing 17 hits, 4 walks, and striking out 44. Don't write off the lefty just yet.
Allen is the cream of the crop in the Cleveland bullpen, and there frankly isn't a clear-cut backup statistically if he were to go down. McAllister's stuff plays up in the pen, but the best plan would be for Allen to hold the job all season because the other options are a big step down from the work Allen put up last season.
Seattle traded for Cishek and anointed him the closer, so he has that going for him. That said, Benoit is an older but reliable insurance policy who has the skills to do the job as well. If Scribner could somehow overcome the recent big-fly woes, the other numbers are rather strong, but no manager is going to hand the ball over to a reliever in the ninth inning who is that charitable with home runs.
Britton has the job locked up solid, but Baltimore paid a hefty price to keep O'Day around as the bridge to get the ball to him as well as Britton's insurance policy. Those guys will get rostered on draft day, but don't sleep on Givens. Those skills line up rather well with the more well-known relievers in the pen and are a big step forward from his wilder days in 2013 and 2014 in the system. Between Double-A and the majors last season, Givens struck out 117 batters and walked 22 in 87.1 innings.
Tolleson's numbers hold up rather well, which is why it is surprising the Rangers were rumored to be shopping for a closer a few times during the offseason. If he were to falter in the role, there is no clear-cut favorite to step in as the other candidates all have flaws. Kela would be the safest speculation of the bunch.
The recent trade of Jake McGee
leaves a rather large hole in this bullpen and makes it very inexperienced. The team is counting on a bounce-back year from Farquhar, but Colome is the guy to watch. His overall 2015 numbers are clouded by a lot of bad innings as a starter, but he looked much better working out of the pen where his stuff played up. There isn't anything in the minors coming up to help, but the Rays may also not be done with their roster as they're heavy in the outfield and could move someone like Brandon Guyer
or Desmond Jennings
to get some more help in the pen.
It would be rather surprising to see Kimbrel slip up as the closer with his stellar track record, but if he were to, Boston has other options. They could always go back to Uehara who has served them well in recent years or they could go to their new toy in Smith who dominated for Seattle in 2015 and gives Boston a diverse yet dominant 7-8-9 trio late in games.
It would be an exercise in futility to look at other options for saves in Kansas City outside of Davis because he's clearly so much better than everyone else in the pen and most of the major leagues. Should something happen to Davis, Soria and Herrera are options with different results. Herrera misses more bats but doesn't have the same command while Soria has better command but also is more hittable. There is no reason to roster either as speculation.
K-Rod has this job in spades, but the next option wouldn't be as clear-cut as it may seem. Lowe certainly had the skills in 2015 to get a crack at the closer role, but that straight fastball hasn't done very well in high-leverage situations in the past. Justin Wilson
's stuff looks more like a closer by the eye test and the numbers, even if he is a lefty.
Perkins gets the job as the incumbent, but hello Trevor May
. May's skills jump off the page, and he certainly looks closer-worthy with those numbers, but his ratios have been hit hard by a career .351 BABIP and a 68-percent LOB rate. Keep an eye on him as the speculative bid for Perkins insurance over the wily vet Jepsen.
Robertson's skills are indeed strong for the closer role except for the HR/FB rate, which is not helped by the friendliness of U.S. Cellular Field. There were times in the last six months where Robertson's name was included in trade rumors. If that were to happen, Nate Jones
is the best bet as the insurance policy as he is now fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. The numbers in limited time once he came back were quite strong, and Chicago just gave him a new deal to keep him around.
We don't exactly know who will be the closer, but Betances, Chapman and Miller are going to go for $5 or more in AL-Only auctions on draft day because of their overall production. That trio is going to dominate a lot of late innings, and all are head and shoulders above other options in this bullpen.