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Collette Calls: AL Closers in Waiting

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

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:

K-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%Swinging-Strike%First-Pitch Strike%
142293411851160

ANGELS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Jose Alvarez28313218309871169
Joe Smith2711421725988863
Al Alburquerque27192112288861157
Fernando Salas269232854311821366
Huston Street25515228459821356
Cam Bedrosian15610221234990756
Mike Morin15121276437771664
Rob Rasmussen791122103611881057
Cory Rasmus761732155410701453
Deolis Guerra74192343528881053

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.

ASTROS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Ken Giles29821298333811560
Will Harris27617258301590860
Luke Gregerson239212542313861567
Pat Neshek223182354611891069
Tony Sipp21622297449821465
Josh Fields20923329484821361

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.

ATHLETICS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Liam Hendriks26123274316851169
John Axford2501225132710841052
Ryan Madson24818236329801367
Fernando Rodriguez242172710436811360
Marc Rzepczynski158172691225851461
R.J. Alvarez1001023135421841257
Ryan Dull66152494620861150
Sean Doolittle5718269496821065
Felix Doubront5511132346811153

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.

BLUE JAYS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Roberto Osuna27122286469771563
Drew Storen22822297388831262
Brett Cecil214273362911831560
Aaron Loup186212542321871066
Bo Schultz173101883416861162
Steve Delabar1291223114214821365
Ryan Tepera128131753822881064
Pat Venditte1199191051791962
Arnold Leon1159178341087953
Aaron Sanchez991219718891754

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.

INDIANS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Cody Allen28626359413841360
Zach McAllister274212983610831058
Bryan Shaw265132073114831162
Dan Otero20411143281593773
Austin Adams1497159365861271
Jeff Manship14416237284871162
Kyle Crockett7411201022989766

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.

MARINERS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Justin De Fratus362101993610861055
Joaquin Benoit254162593612801754
Steve Cishek2439201132887965
Evan Scribner238252723823771371
Vidal Nuno15120266447871269
Mayckol Guaipe121718113021881166
David Rollins118111873112831159
Cody Martin10616248441687858
Charlie Furbush82152163610871062
Tony Zych6526315397801475
Ryan Cook54-21113323194750

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.

ORIOLES

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Brad Brach3241628123610801458
Darren O'Day25727326457791566
Zach Britton253263161020861664
Brian Matusz206182710459801361
T.J. McFarland18841410171790761
Chaz Roe177122210281286962
Jason Garcia1324171335986955
Mychal Givens11727335315791263
Vance Worley11514195371093662
Oliver Drake72112413376841357
CJ Riefenhauser6201111491388973
Kevin Gausman521525105012951150

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.

RANGERS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Sam Dyson309162371413871260
Shawn Tolleson298202663712821066
Tom Wilhelmsen267122311375841153
Jake Diekman2601527122811851259
Keone Kela24321287299881458
Tanner Scheppers17651813401391855
Sam Freeman171923153013891050
Alex Claudio66112093327821165

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.

RAYS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Brad Boxberger2711627124313791256
Steve Geltz254132310529861061
Danny Farquhar219142284015841059
Xavier Cedeno189182572613821454
Alex Colome16323274360831559
Enny Romero14013229323811151
Matt Andriese13313207331391861
Andrew Bellatti95819114414821261
Erasmo Ramirez50142062014771464

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.

RED SOX

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Carson Smith28425328187871359
Robbie Ross25913218261587961
Junichi Tazawa24717235407841264
Craig Kimbrel239273693414751661
Tom Layne20792213231089954
Koji Uehara16024296565731973
Matt Barnes150132074116871159
Heath Hembree1066149481386963
Steven Wright8921411371281854
Noe Ramirez611021124119871366

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.

ROYALS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Kelvin Herrera28613229338811361
Joakim Soria272172473513861061
Wade Davis25123318415831261
Luke Hochevar214152384610881064
Chris Young9571811706831156
Kris Medlen551626935890866

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.

TIGERS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Blaine Hardy26513218373831168
Alex Wilson2641014434793762
Justin Wilson24419278297811260
Francisco Rodriguez216242953014861463
Mark Lowe21523286329801467
Bruce Rondon1451225133410891254
Kyle Ryan112513828490859
Drew VerHagen106-1121391493658
Angel Nesbitt986148311087952
Buck Farmer7331411401488763
Jeff Ferrell504128401986958

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.

TWINS

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Kevin Jepsen285112110357851058
J.R. Graham267111983115841157
Casey Fien2571316343787968
Glen Perkins238192344512871164
Trevor May13222286399801471
Ryan Pressly1198191033093959
Michael Tonkin9910199311893766
Ryan O'Rourke97925164612811356

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.

WHITE SOX

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Zach Duke2551326132524861155
David Robertson250293453414821468
Dan Jennings2449191019991957
Jake Petricka220715817787965
Zach Putnam2121930113518831758
Scott Carroll162917825789964
Tommy Kahnle155725182117771451
Daniel Webb150015152810911157
Matt Albers14913196281092759
Nate Jones72293884133811560

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.

YANKEES

PLAYERTBFK-BB%K%BB%FB%HR/FB%Z-Contact%SwStr%F-Strike%
Dellin Betances3322740123212791559
Aroldis Chapman278304212416661956
Chasen Shreve2511226134116881153
Andrew Miller246334183313761866
Branden Pinder122921123713841158
Bryan Mitchell11471912241790859
Kirby Yates92152385230841065
Nick Rumbelow6815227381181952
Tyler Olson65-31215351386768

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.