My Favorite Closer Sleepers – AL Edition

When your leaguemates start paying too much for closers, there’s only one thing to do – queue up your closer sleepers. The following is quick analysis of my favorite closers-in-waiting. You can use these guys as elite sources for holds or handcuffs to unstable closers. Yesterday’s post covered the NL, today we move to the AL.

AL East

Andrew Miller will start the season as the Yankees closer. Some fantasy enthusiasts are speculating he could run with the job even after Aroldis Chapman returns. Dellin Betances is third in line, but he’s hardly a sleeper. The “sleeper” for saves in Toronto is Roberto Osuna – again, he square in the middle of the fantasy radar. I’ve seen him drafted ahead of Jays closer Drew Storen. The same things can be said of Koji Uehara and Carson Smith in Boston.

Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens

O’Day also falls into the “not sleeper” non-closer category. If you’re in a league of FanGraphs readers, they’ll also be very aware of Givens. O’Day may be the most consistly excellent non-closer over the last four seasons. He was similarly good in 2009 and 2010. The point is that the sidewinding righty is about as reliable as relievers come. Count on a strikeout per inning and a low walk rate.

After a couple inconsistent seasons in the minors, Givens’ command clicked in 2015. There’s no question he excelled in his major league debut – 30 innings, 11.40 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, and a 1.80 ERA. A 2.38 xFIP hints at possible regression in BABIP and HR/FB rate.

My concern for Givens relates to his repertoire. Based on PITCHf/x, his 95 mph fastball is above average. His slider is maybe above average. A rarely thrown changeup might be above average too. So, it’s possible he has three above average offerings. It’s rare to see a reliever dominate without at least one plus-plus pitch (i.e. 70 grade on the 20-80 scale). We can chalk it up to command, but that usually manifests in a pitcher’s whiff rates. To be clear, I’m still buying Givens in bulk. I’m merely highlighting what might go wrong.

Alex Colome

Colome may not start the season as the Rays setup man, but I’ll take him over Danny Farquhar or Ryan Webb any day. As a reliever last season, Colome posted 9.74 K/9, 1.55 BB/9, and a 2.66 ERA in 40.2 innings. He didn’t allow any home runs in relief, but a high BABIP balanced out that “luck.” Colome has four quality offerings headlined by a 95 mph fastball and an 88 mph slutter. He also throws an above average curve.

While I consider Colome the safe backup to Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno is interesting too. The southpaw throws a cutter and a curve, both of which are plus pitches. Big platoon splits limit him to lefty specialist duties.

Edit: Boxberger is set to miss eight weeks after core muscle surgery.

AL Central

As with the Yankees, nobody is sleeping on the Royals bullpen. Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera are probably over-drafted. Luke Hochevar is the closest thing to a sleeper in KC. The Tigers really need Francisco Rodriguez to work. Mark Lowe may be a passable alternative. It doesn’t look like Bruce Rondon can get the job done.

Nate Jones

Jones hucks a 98 mph fastball with a plus-plus slider. Prior to Tommy John surgery, he was the heir apparent to the White Sox closing gig. Now he’s behind highly compensated David Robertson. U.S. Cellular Field isn’t a good fit for Robertson. If Jones can continue to run elite strikeout rates, there’s a chance he’ll snatch the job. Barring injury, don’t expect any turnover before July. I anticipate Jones being ownable in most leagues – even without the saves.

Trevor May

The Twins have made the call. May will open 2016 in the bullpen. It was an obvious move given the club’s rotation depth and lack of any bullpen help. In 31.1 relief innings, May tallied 10.63 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, and a 2.87 ERA. Those numbers compare favorably to Glen Perkins at his best. Perkins has collapsed down the stretch due to a neck injury in each of the last two seasons. May isn’t the best non-closer to grace these lists, but he’s one of the most likely to find his way to saves.

Zach McAllister

McAllister is firmly behind Cody Allen in the Indians bullpen. While there are flaws with Robertson and Perkins that could open up opportunity, McAllister owners will have to hope for an injury to Allen. His 96 mph fastball is a plus offering. Unfortunately, his curve and cutter are considerably easier to tee up. Some relievers succeed for years with only a fastball. McAllister has a chance to be one of them.

AL West

If anything goes wrong with Huston Street, the Angels will turn to boring veteran Joe Smith. Similarly, the Astros are sitting on Luke Gregerson in the second seat. Everybody can see that coming if Giles flops.

Sam Dyson and Keone Kela

The Rangers may have my favorite bullpen in the league. It’s stacked. Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen may be the worst of the late innings crew. Actual closer Shawn Tolleson could be second worst – and that’s not meant as a knock to him. Jake Diekman is also interesting as a lefty who can touch 100 mph.

Dyson is fun to watch. He’s the poor man’s Zach Britton with a 69 percent ground ball rate, 8.48 K/9, and 2.51 BB/9. While Britton turns to an elite curve to rack up the strikeouts, Dyson doesn’t have a weapon of that caliber. Instead, he’ll use a plus change and the occasional surprise slider or cutter. He’s unlikely to reach Britton’s strikeout rate, but he could earn saves as a better version of Santiago Casilla.

Dyson is steady. Kela is flashy. A 96 mph fastball coupled with a good change and borderline elite curve prevent hitters from ever feeling comfortable. He posted 10.14 K/9, 2.69 BB/9, and a 2.39 ERA last season. Expect more of the same. If there’s any drawback to Kela, it’s that his fastball isn’t a high whiff pitch. When opponents work their way into hitters counts, they’ll have a chance to jump on the fastball. You don’t want your closer to be exploitable based on the count.

Ryan Madson and Liam Hendriks

With Sean Doolittle missing most of 2015 with a shoulder injury, it’s reasonable to eyeball handcuffs. Not only could Doolittle re-injure himself, the shoulder issue could manifest in lesser stuff. He was already an aberration with his high fastball dependent approach.

Madson uses four good pitches – a 95 mph fastball, 94 mph sinker, plus-plus changeup, and 90 mph cutter. The four seamer and change are his best offerings. The others are either average or worse, but they do serve to keep hitters honest. In his return from a three season hiatus, Madson posted a 2.13 ERA with 8.24 K/9 and 1.99 BB/9. He’s a fine alternative if Doolittle falters.

Hendriks is a little harder to read if only because his 2015 season was a breakout campaign. He pitched to a 2.92 ERA with 9.88 K/9 and 1.53 BB/9. The command isn’t surprising, and the strikeouts make more sense in lieu of a four mph increase in fastball velocity. As long as the velocity sticks around, I see no reason why he can’t remain a sub-3.00 ERA reliever. For all this talk of heat, it’s his above average slider that earns him punch outs.

Joaquin Benoit and Tony Zych

You know the deal with Benoit, he throws a bunch of splitters while maintaining a very low BABIP. If and when Steve Cishek flops, Benoit will be ready to take up the closer mantle. Not very sleepy, huh?

Zych is the more interesting setup man. Like Givens, he had a breakout season with regards to command. Unlike Givens, Zych always had decent control. Now he’s hitting spots with a 96 mph fastball followed by a plus slider. I’m not entirely confident he can maintain his 11.78 K/9 and 15 percent swinging strike rate. Both rates should remain well above league average. With only 18 innings of major league experience, there’s a chance hitters will adjust to his two pitch repertoire.





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Big Matty 24
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Big Matty 24

no way David Roberts closes