When David Robertson turned down his $15.3 million dollar qualifying offer, it was a bit of a surprise. He was the favorite to be the first to accept the QO, but instead opted to test the market for length instead of taking the gaudy one-year deal. Rumors suggested the Yankees were still very much in on their incumbent closer even after they signed Andrew Miller away from Baltimore, but we learned after he signed his deal with the White Sox (4 years, $46 mil.) that they never even made an offer to him after the declination of the QO.
His move to the White Sox creates a substantial shakeup in the 2015 closer pool, though. Not only does it shore up one of the shakier situations from 2014, but it also thrusts a new guy into the upper tier and possibly the top spot. The White Sox never found a reliable closer in 2014 with a league-high four guys logging at least five saves and none of the four doing all that well with their chance. Sure, Jake Petricka (2.96) and Zach Putnam (1.98) had strong ERAs, but the supporting skills ranged from uninspiring to terrible for the pair.
Robertson enters just his second season as a closer, but he has always been a strikeout stud and recently curbed his walk rate enough to give him three straight seasons of at least a 4.2 K:BB ratio. He allowed just 22 earned runs in 2014, yet nearly half (10 of 'em) came in three outings including a pair against Baltimore in September, the second of which might be the greatest blown save in baseball history (I'm not even a Jeter superfan, but that was an amazing finish all around) because it led to this.
Look, the runs count the same against Robertson whenever they come, but I point out the cluster of poor outings to prevent anyone from looking at his Baseball-Reference page, seeing the 1.04 jump in ERA from 2013 and believing he was a markedly different pitcher. His FIP the last three seasons is 2.49, 2.61, and 2.68. Homers were a bit of an issue with a career-worst 1.0 HR/9 rate last year, but five of the seven were allowed at home and his new home is actually quite a bit more favorable to pitchers despite still being a hitter's park.
Once your remove the starters with RP-qualification, Robertson was a top 10 closer in 2014 according to ESPN's Player Rater despite the jump in ERA. The White Sox as a team only notched 36 saves, three fewer than Robertson did by himself (and the Yankees had 48 as a club), but the Sox are set to improve in 2015 after a busy offseason already that might not even be done yet.
They can be in that mid-80s win range that the Yankees were in last year and that would be enough to put Robertson in the mid-30s again. Of course, Steve Cishek notched 39 on a 77-win Marlins club, so the White Sox don't have to improve for Robertson to post another strong save total. Their bullpen as a whole should be markedly better which will yield more opportunities than the 57 they had as a team last year (21st in the league and below the league average of 61).
Robertson was going to remain a top closer target almost regardless of where he went so his landing on the White Sox isn't really the biggest part of the story from a fantasy standpoint. Instead it is Dellin Betances, his likely replacement in the Bronx, who draws the real attention here. Notice on that Player Rater link from earlier that Betances slotted 11th among non-SP relievers last year with all of one save. He did so with 90 dominant innings that included a 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 135 strikeouts. Oh, and of course that one sweet save.
The 27-year old former top prospect finally harnessed his elite stuff and turned into one of the most-feared relievers in baseball. He almost certainly won't repeat his 2014 performance because there is almost no way he gets another 90-inning workload. The Yankees impressively deployed Betances for more than an inning in exactly half of his 70 outings last year, but he would be extremely lucky to get even a quarter of that total (which would be nine after rounding up) in 2015.
Closers simply aren't used that way in today's game. Looking at the top 10 closers from 2014, we see that just two had more than five 1+ IP appearances and only two logged even 70 innings, well below Betances' totals in both categories.
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Of course, we are trading those 20 or so innings for no worse than 35 saves with the potential for upwards of 15 more. That tradeoff plus the upside potential is enough to move Betances into the top spot for me. Yes, even ahead of Kimbrel. This is more pro-Betances than it is anti-Kimbrel. Kimbrel was still all-world excellent last year, but the groundball and walk rates are both headed the wrong way after that monstrously elite 2012.
No one expected him to maintain that level (50% K rate, 6% BB rate, 8.3 K:BB ratio, AND a 49% GB rate), but there is enough fallback to move him out of that spot as the undisputed best fantasy closer. Some might campaign for Greg Holland to take the spot if it is in fact open, but I'll take Betances. Maybe I'm being a "size-ist" by opting for the 6'8 Betances over the 5'11 Kimbrel and 5'10 Holland.
Honestly, I think there is a strong case for any of the three or even the 6'5 Kenley Jansen (who I'd slot over Holland) to be the top rated closer coming into 2015, so I'm reticent to argue that Betances is the definitive choice. Either way, the Robertson move to Chicago has added another elite closer to the pool. Only four closers (totaling five instances) have logged 100+ strikeouts and 40+ saves in the last 10 years with Kimbrel notching a pair, Holland getting one, and Jansen being the only guy to do it in 2014 (Brad Lidge in 2005 was the other). Betances has a great shot at being the fifth closer and sixth instance. A quick top 10 for me at this point looks like this:
- Betances, NYY
- Kimbrel, ATL
- Jansen, LAD
- Doolittle, OAK
- Holland, KC
- Chapman, CIN
- Robertson, CHW
- Allen, CLE
- Melancon, PIT
- McGee, TB*
*not guaranteed the job over Brad Boxberger, but I love him if he does hold it.