We mostly know the closers in the National 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 of the team bullpens in the National League (AL was last week
) to see who may be the guy 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:
is the safest statistical skillset of the bunch, but he's also very old and is coming back from a torn Achilles' tendon. He has also likely been Wally Pipp'd because Vizcaino looked good in the role once Grilli went down. That said, a low first-strike percentage and a HR/FB ratio that is bound to regress to a norm with just an average walk rate is concerning. There is no third option because Johnson is way too hittable these days to work in those situations and nobody else in the bullpen misses enough bats.
There are two clear choices in Milwaukee: Jeffress and Smith. In Jeffress, you have a pitcher who generates a ton of groundballs and misses bats while struggling with consistency within the strikezone. On the other side, you have Smith who misses even more bats, but puts more balls in play in the air. Back in the day, righties tended to get the job over lefties, but those days are over. Smith is the safest play, but with Milwaukee projecting to be rebuilding this season, the team could move one for future needs. Teams don't rebuild around bullpens.
The incumbent has nearly everything we want out of closers. He misses bats, has a good K-BB%, has a good swinging-strike rate, but falls behind early in counts and his walk rate is right at league average. If he slips, the Cardinals do have other options. Broxton has experience and it is unlikely he allows as many homers in 2016 and still misses bats at a good rate. Siegrist has shown some potential for high-leverage situations and misses more bats than fellow lefty Lyons does.
Rondon has a lock on this job. While the skills are not elite, they're good, especially his ability to throw strikes. There's a lot of swing-and-miss talent in this bullpen, so a few guys could step up if needed. The pitcher I want to have on my roster in NL leagues for swing/vulture value is Warren. Those skills are really nice, and he could end up producing some good value as a pitcher who could both relieve and spot start.
Ziegler is the closer, but the skills do not back it up. He does keep the ball on the ground, but batters make a lot of contact against him and he doesn't miss many bats. Groundballs become base hits at a higher rather than flyballs, but he limits the hard contact and has held batters to a sub-.240 batting average for four consecutive seasons. The guy that intrigues me in this pen is Hudson. The skills looked good coming off multiple surgeries, and the stuff looked better out of the pen than it did the rotation. He's a safer play than Burgos who has a lot of swing and miss, but also has a lot of missing the strike zone.
In my best Derek Zoolander voice, this is a really, really, really good bullpen. For seriously. Just imagine if they had landed Aroldis Chapman
! Jansen has the closer job on lock down with his stuff, but there are plenty of skills to go around this bullpen with both Garcia and Baez posting strong rates as well. Blanton is the shocker, as he was decent with Kansas City but then was blessed with the Searge Sauce in Pittsburgh and looked even better. A "$1 Joe Blanton
" bid in a NL league may draw chuckles in the auction, but it may also turn a profit by season's end as he stands to vulture some wins in middle relief or as a spot starter.
The best, or even second-best statistical option in this pen does not have the closer role. The role belongs to Casilla, but the Giants have two less-hittable options in Romo and Strickland who could do the job. Romo has done it before, and had a bounceback year last year where he dominated in the second half of the season after stinking for a lot of the first half. In fact, you can take those stats above, remove the name, and he's likely one of the most attractive relievers in the National League. For that reason, I'm throwing a buck or two on him at the end of an auction because Casilla is the type of skillset that loses the job in-season when management gets antsy.
There are two names to focus on here: Ramos and Capps. Ramos has everything you want in a closer and should not be in any danger of losing his job. That said, he has a dominating shadow looming over in the form of the dominating Capps, who misses bats like no other pitcher in baseball. The Marlins are anything but predictable and could decide to move Ramos at peak value for some art work and a picture to be named later to Loria's collection. Capps needs to be rostered because of his potential if an opportunity arises. Think of him as this year's Ken Giles
We all know about Familia, and Reed's name is familiar to us, but we should be worshiping Hansel Robles
, man. The HR/FB issue was there last year, but he misses bats with regularity and is tough to square up within the strike zone. If you're looking for a dirt-cheap option for value out of this pen, Robles is your model. The rest can be put on the clearance rack.
Papelbon has apparently survived the offseason as Drew Storen
was the one traded. That said, it is not as if Papelbon doesn't have to look over his shoulder. You can cross off Barrett as he will be rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, but Kelley's numbers at least deserve the first crack at the closer role should the Nationals do something with Papelbon. Even without saves, he has some value in deeper NL Only leagues.
This is not going to be a pretty situation this season. Rodney was acquired to be the closer, but he didn't last all 2015 and is unlikely to last all 2016 either as he is too charitable with baserunners. The issue is, he doesn't have a clear replacement. Quackenbush isn't without his own flaws and if anything, Pomeranz has the best case for the job based on skills. He's better against lefties, but he's still not bad against righties either. There's some potential hidden profit there as his K/9 has increased four consecutive seasons.
So, um, yeaaaa, this is going to be a tough one to figure out, mkay. If the Phillies could figure out one option and stick with it, that would be great. David Hernandez
would be the assumed favorite out of the gate, but the home-run risks are real and always have been with him. Good luck figuring this one out, but there's profit here because someone is going to get these saves even though it looks rather bleak on paper.
Focus on the top three names on the list. Note how very little differentiates their skills. While Melancon has been a save closer for nearly three seasons and is coming off a 51-save season, It's tough to overlook the numbers Waton and Caminero have put up, especially Watson. His fastball grades out one of the better ones in the league in terms of pitch values and Melancon is getting into that financial area where Pittsburgh tends to move a pitcher. Watson is a solid end-game investment who can turn a profit while Caminero is the reserve-round stash in deep NL leagues who could be the vulture.
Many have anointed Hoover as the new closer in Cincy, and I simply ask -- why? That skillset is not one of a good closer, but the big-man Diaz has the best skills on paper. He has a longball problem and issues against lefties, but does miss bats better than anyone else in that pen and throws strikes. This, like Philly, is going to be messy so steal saves where you can because they're highly unlikely to come from a single source.
is coming back around mid-year, so he could take back the job that was given to him just before he was shut down for the season. McGee likely has the job to start the season, but the Rockies would be wise to move him at peak value as Ottavino comes back and not fall into the trap the Reds did with Aroldis Chapman
last season. Trading a player the winter before their free-agent year is tough because the team loses a lot of leverage and there's not much chance the team signs him to a long-term deal even though Denver puts him closer to his home near Reno. In an ideal world, Ottavino is ready to come back prior to the trade deadline and the job. If he isn't, in a small sample size, Justin Miller
's numbers looked really good across the board and is the pitcher who intrigues me as the sleeper value in this bullpen over the more well-known Motte.