Late Round Closers To Watch Part II

Acquiring saves in fantasy baseball is becoming more and more of a headache. The Tampa Bay Rays had 12 different pitchers notch a save in 2020. Imagine if it was a season of normal length? With the league trending towards using their best pitchers in high leverage positions instead of the conventional only ninth-inning role, it seems like grabbing saves are only going to get more complicated. Below you will see some closers that likely won’t be too popular but could help you in the long run. A quick side note, there are a lot of free-agent relief pitchers (ie. Brad Hand) so things can definitely change. If you would like to read part one you can check it out here.

Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman actually has an interesting story. The 29-year-old’s $3.5 million club option was declined by the Seattle Mariners, but they did quickly sign him to a cheaper contract. In which Graveman couldn’t be happier to stay with the same team, “it feels like home,” he said. “It feels like family — teammates and coaching staff and front office alike. I’m super excited to be back and ready to go to work.”

It might feel like home for Graveman because Seattle is where he discovered some life-changing news. What was thought to be a neck issue doctors discovered that he had a benign tumor in his spine. Without surgery being an option it caused him to move to the bullpen because pitching multiple innings became too painful.

So the Mariners moved him to the bullpen and he was able to become an asset for them as he pitched 10 innings of relief work with a 3.60 ERA and 3.09 FIP. Graveman has a great sinker and changeup combination that he utilizes well. As a reliever, he threw his sinker over 70% of the time while also raising its velocity from 93.4 MPH to 96.2 MPH. What was most impressive was when he pitched from the bullpen both of his sinker and changeup didn’t allow a single barrel. Overall as a relief pitcher, he had a .218 wOBAcon leading to a 1.77 deserved ERA – an Alex Chamberlain metric based on contact.

The Seattle Mariners do have other options in the bullpen but with how Graveman pitched at the end of the year don’t be shocked if he takes the closer role at the start of the season.

Andres Munoz

Let’s say Graveman does take the closer job and doesn’t perform as well as we expect. The closer role could certainly go to a young prospect named Andres Munoz. Munoz has had minimal exposure at the major league level. In 2019 he appeared in 22 games for the San Diego Padres and posted an impressive 3.91 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and 30.9 K%. Munoz didn’t make a 2020 appearance because he underwent Tommy John surgery back in March of this year. In the middle of the season, he was eventually traded to the Seattle Mariners for Austin Nola and several other players.

Munoz should be back sometime in the middle of the season. If healthy and performing well he could certainly step into a closer role. He features a four-seam fastball that has an average velocity of 100 MPH. While it did get hit hard at times in 2019, with some command it can become easily become an elite pitch. He pairs it with a filthy slider that in 2019 had a 28.2 SwStr%, 48.1 O-Swing%, and a .161 wOBAcon.

He has the makings to become an elite closer with high velocity and a superior breaking pitch, it’s just a matter of health and opportunity. Now you definitely shouldn’t draft Munoz but he is someone to keep an eye on. Watch his recovery and put him in an IL spot as he nears recovery.

Mike Mayers

Mike Mayers came out of nowhere in 2020. Before last season he had a career ERA of 7.03 with a career strikeout rate of 18.7%. Busting through mediocrity Mayers was able to improve in 2020 and sported a 2.10 ERA and 35.5 K%.

His big success was a result of not only a pitch mix change but a new pitch as well.

Mike Mayer’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 Usage 2020 Usage Difference
Four-Seam 49% 34% -15%
Slider 36% 45% 9%
Curve 8% 2% -6%
Changeup 2% 0% -2%
Cutter 0% 19% 19%

Not only did Mayers go to his slider more but he also added a cutter. As found in the LA Times he talks about adding this new pitch “it was a pretty simple grip,” he said. “And I felt like it really just kind of went with my mentality of just throw it and let the grip do the work.” The cutter worked wonders for him and became his biggest swing and miss pitch. It also gave him three solid pitches to work with.

Mayers finished the year as the Angels closer notching two saves in September. The .242 BABIP calls for some regression but the new strikeout rate and better command should stay. Overall he set career bests in SwStr%, Barrel%, K%, K-BB%, batting average against, and WHIP making him a great option at pick 238.

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Joe Wilkeymember
3 years ago

I’m a little hesitant on Mayers. A 62% F-Strike% paired with a 44.9% Swing% says to me that there were a lot of guys going up there taking first pitch. I would expect hitters to be a little more aggressive with him next year early in the count next year. I still think he’ll be valuable, but maybe not 35.5% K%/7.5% BB% valuable.

Joe Wilkeymember
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Wilkey

Also, as you alluded to, .400 BABIP on 20 line drives is not likely to last.

3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Wilkey

To be fair, his .364 BABIP on 22 ground balls isn’t likely either. Also, looking at his LD and GB BABIP together it isn’t too dissimilar to the previous two seasons, so it would be surprising if any regression was beyond and above .450. His FB profile suggests some regression to the norm from .067.

Areas likely to hurt his growth is in worsening of Contact% and HR/9. Yes, we won’t have a sterling .162 BA but it shouldn’t be above .220 if contact% remains together with the strong K%