In this series, I have focused on pitchers who are likely to close for teams that project to be sellers at the deadline, as well as the potential replacement closers for when said pitchers get traded. For most teams, that has meant taking a look at a total of four or five relievers. In the case of the Tigers, there are really only two relievers who matter: Shane Greene and Joe Jimenez. Ron Gardenhire has named Greene as his closer, With Alex Wilson gone, Jimenez remains as the only viable closer-in-waiting, and it’s no secret that he is being groomed to be the Tigers’ next closer.
Even though Greene has already been designated as the opening day closer, he lags in NFBC ADP behind several setup relievers (e.g., Adam Ottavino, Dellin Betances) and pitchers who will compete for a closer’s job (e.g. Drew Steckenrider, Trevor May). There is no disputing that Greene had a miserable 2018 season (5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP), but could he represent a great value, going dozens of rounds behind the likes of Will Smith and Cody Allen?
Owners who stashed Jimenez last season while waiting for Greene to get demoted from the closer’s role or traded were rewarded with a grand total of three saves. Is there a lesson to learned from this experience?
Both relievers are going undrafted in a typical 12-team mixed league, and Jimenez is getting passed over even in deeper leagues. To see what might be gained by taking a chance on these relievers, let’s take a closer look at what happened for each last season.
For most of us, the first thing we want to see from a closer is a high SwStr%. In 2018, the best closers typically had rates of 14 percent or higher. Greene failed to cross the 9 percent threshold in either of the last two seasons. In spite of that, he was effective when he served as the Tigers’ closer for the latter two months of 2017, converting 9 of 10 save chances and compiling a 2.49 ERA. He even struck out 23 batters in 21.2 innings, which he achieved by way of a sterling 23.9 percent called strike rate.
Last season, Greene was still above-average at freezing batters, but his called strike rate dropped to 20.1 percent. As a result, his strikeout rate fell from 26.1 percent from the last two months of 2017 to 23.3 percent for all of 2018. What really hurt Greene were the 12 home runs he allowed over 63.1 innings. Three of those (along with four doubles and a triple) came against his cutter — a pitch that had been superb at preventing extra-base hits (.103 ISO) the year before. Greene lost nearly two inches of vertical movement on the pitch, and his cutter ground ball rate fell from 60.0 percent to 35.4 percent.
Because Greene doesn’t strike batters out as frequently as a typical closer does, he needs to be consistent in avoiding extra-base hits. He also can’t afford to strand runners at a below-average rate, but his career 68.1 percent LOB% is just that. His 2017 season, which featured a 2.66 ERA and 84.2 percent strand rate, was the outlier in his five-year career. The bulk of Greene’s track record suggests that he is not only vulnerable to losing his job, but that he could offer little to fantasy owners (besides saves) as long as he is a closer. It’s better to pay up for what could be a partial season of closing for Smith or Mychal Givens than to wait it out and draft Greene.
As Jimenez embarks on his third season in the majors, the closer’s job appears to be ripe for him to pluck from Greene — unless everything breaks right for the incumbent, as it did in late 2017. The 24-year-old is not far from having a closer-like strikeout rate, having finished with a 29.2 percent mark last year. Jimenez’s profile is the opposite of Greene’s; he gets his swings-and-misses (13.4 percent SwStr% in 2018), but his strikeout rate will be somewhat suppressed unless he gets more called strikes.
Fantasy owners may be put off by Jimenez’s 4.31 ERA from 2018, but much of the damage was done during a period spanning from late June to late August. Though he did experience some erosion in his SwStr% and O-Swing% rates, he was also victimized by a 52.6 percent strand rate. As Rob Rogacki pointed out in a piece for Bless You Boys, Jimenez’s velocity fell throughout the second half as he was approaching a career-high innings total.
Owners should keep tabs on any reports regarding Jimenez’s velocity during spring training, but as long as he has recovered from whatever beset him in the latter part of 2018, he should be a superior option to Greene. Owners in all but the deepest of leagues can bypass Greene on draft day. Jimenez, on the other hand, is a worthy stash in mixed leagues with at least 15 teams. It’s hard to imagine a scenario worse for Jimenez than him having to wait until the July 31 trade deadline to get promoted to the closer’s role, and less difficult to imagine a path that leads him to saves well before that.
Am I giving short shrift to certain Tigers relievers? Let me know in the comments section…
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.