One of the most fun parts of trade season is the trickle-down effect of the departed players and because relievers are the most easily moved assets, that generally leads to closers having the most turnover once the trade dust settles. We’re still a day away from the deadline, but this week’s flurry of action has already changed four situations in the ninth inning. Let’s assess the candidates to assume those newly opened closer’s roles in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Oakland, and Detroit.
Departed Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Top Candidate(s): Ken Giles
This one is easy because it’s Giles without question. I think we all knew this coming into the season and we were just waiting for Papelbon to be dealt away from Philly. Jake Diekman might have been a potential candidate if Giles faltered (though Diekman has a 5.15 ERA), but he was just dealt in the Cole Hamels deal so it’s really Giles’ role with some leash.
Giles has all the makings of a frontline closer with a 28% strikeout rate, a 96 MPH fastball, and a devastating mid-80s slider. He has been performing well, too, with a 1.88 ERA in his 44.7 innings of work this year. His 20 shutdowns are tied for the 10th-highest total, too, though with ties there are 31 different relievers with at least 20. I think because we all knew Papelbon would eventually be dealt, Giles is unlikely to be available in many leagues as every league seems to have a couple save hunters who always have the best next-in-line guys.
I only had Giles 28th on my recent RP ranks because while it seemed certain that Papelbon would be dealt, we still didn’t know when as he could’ve easily been a waiver deal in August. I haven’t done a full re-rank, but eyeballing it gets Giles to at least 20th for me now.
Departed Closer: Jim Johnson
Is the 900-player deal between LAD-ATL-MIA finally done? I feel like they are adding pieces to it every hour, but I don’t think we’ll have a Carlos Gomez situation where it falls through which means Jim Johnson is gone and the closer’s role is once again open in Atlanta. Obviously Craig Kimbrel was the guy coming in the year and then he was dealt. Jason Grilli filled in brilliantly before suffering a catastrophic injury and Johnson was solid in his stead. Now it’s between an up-and-coming youngster and a rejuvenated vet who threw 41 MLB innings from 2011-14.
Vizcaino is the clear favorite for me, but I’m not actually the manager of the Braves so I have very little (actually zero) say in the matter. Vizcaino is a name you may be familiar with as he’s been around seemingly forever yet is still just 24 years old. Injuries have plagued him, but he’s finally healthy and now back in the majors. He has just nine innings of work so far this year making it tough to get to into the numbers one way or the other, but the raw stuff is very much closer-capable.
Vizcaino averages 98 MPH on the fastball with some movement and backs it up with a swing-and-miss curveball that aided him to a 25% strikeout rate in 318.3 minor league innings and a 22% in his 31.3 major league innings. He definitely has the stuff to bring his MLB rate up to that minor league level. His 22% SwStr rate with the curveball is 10th-best among relievers who have thrown at least 40 (an admittedly low threshold, but that’s all we’ve got on Vizcaino this year).
There is some discrepancy about whether he throws a curveball or slider, but let’s just lump it together as his “breaking ball” and if we look at his entire career, he’s got a 21% SwStr with the pitch on 166 pitches, well above the league average marks whether you want to call it a curve or slider.
Aardsma can tell Vizcaino something about being injured. He missed all of 2011, threw one inning in 2012, had a full-ish 2013 with 39.7 innings in New York, and then missed all of 2014 before returning this year. The 33-year old righty doesn’t throw anywhere near as hard as he used to these days. Back in his heyday he could pump in at the mid-90s, but this year he’s averaging 92 MPH on his fastball. The lowered velocity hasn’t limited his effectiveness, though.
In 20 innings with the Braves, he has a 27% strikeout rate and 16% SwStr rate yielding a 1.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. His .196 BABIP and 93% LOB figures seem ripe for some regression, but even with an 11% walk rate he can be good. His previous experience as a closer with Seattle – 69 saves in 2009-10 – could give him the edge for the role over the young Vizcaino. With Vizcaino looking like someone who could be the closer of the future, I’d still lean toward him for pickups, but if you miss out and you’re still desperate for saves, Aardsma isn’t a bad spec play.
Departed Closer: Tyler Clippard
I think we kind of knew Clippard would be dealt away from Oakland, but it was hard to speculate ahead of time because the options are so underwhelming. Guys not listed like Evan Scribner and Fernando Abad have solid K and BB rates, but each is sporting a 2.0 HR/9 which is just death for closers. It’s not like Mujica’s 1.8 HR/9 with Oakland (1.9 on the season) is much better, but he does have a 37-save season on his ledger which likely gives him the edge as they wait for Doolittle to return.
They could also be looking to pump Mujica’s value a bit for an August deal as I’m sure the 31-year old righty would pass through waivers without incident. Rodriguez is an interesting darkhorse candidate here. He brings at 95 MPH and has a killer 31% strikeout rate, but just a 53% LOB rate has left him with a 4.11 ERA despite a high-quality 1.08 WHIP. At 31, Rodriguez isn’t some young arm the A’s need to protect from high arbitration prices by limiting his saves so they really should insert him into the role, but it seems like Mujica is definitely getting the first shot.
Departed Closer: Joakim Soria
This is another tough situation to figure out and it’s even more jumbled than Oakland to be honest. Soria was just dealt today so it’s wide open, but the Tigers are in the process of blowing a 7-2 lead and creating a save chance so maybe we’ll get some clarity by night’s end. Wilson doesn’t scream closer when you look at his profile, especially with a 16% K rate and while his 49% GB rate helps him to a 1.4 GB/FB rate, it’s not like he’s inducing grounders at a Jim Johnson-level which can help alleviate the need for a huge strikeout rate.
Wilson’s 53.7 innings are the most in the Tigers bullpen and his results have been fantastic with a 1.84 ERA and 0.97 WHIP so he should probably get a shot over the other options in the pen. He averages about 94 MPH with four-seamer and 93 MPH with his sinker which is passable, but certainly not lights-out closer kind of stuff. Rondon has the stuff with a triple-digit fastball and a put-away slider. The fastball is good at lighting up the radar, but it’s extremely hittable, especially given the speed.
His 1.302 OPS on the heater is baseball’s worst among relievers who have thrown at least 125 fastballs. His 6% SwStr with it is well below the 9% league mark for relievers this year. It’s easy to fall in love with the 31% K rate, but there isn’t enough here to entrust him with the closer’s role, even with the Tigers semi-packing it in for the year and retooling for 2016 and beyond.
I guess there is a chance it could be Neftali Feliz, too, but I wouldn’t pick him up if I needed saves in a 10-team AL Central-only league.
We’ll see if tomorrow’s deadline brings any other closer switches and if so, I’ll write those up as well.