The Most Obvious Closer Sleepers

Paying full price for saves can make it challenging to build a dominant roster. Closers are among the most inconsistent of baseball assets. Not only do they have the injury and performance risks typically associated with pitchers, but they also have to remain the best reliever on their particular team. A guy like Hector Neris could stay exactly the same – i.e. acceptable but not exceptional – and lose his job.

Last season, 23 relievers had the closer role and then lost it. That’s excluding the handful of players who had the job, lost the job, and later recovered the job. In 2016, 25 closers were booted from the ninth. Only 21 got the ax in 2015. The good news is that many of those guys – like Tyler Clippard – were always meant to be temporary solutions. A handful of struggling teams often account for over half of the demoted closers.

Entering 2018, most of the league looks pretty set in the ninth inning. Even so, we’ll still almost certainly see the usual turnover at the position. Over the next couple days, I’ll cover some of my preferred closer sleepers, starting with the most obvious.

The ‘Better Than The Current Guy’ Guys

Every season, a couple rogue teams tab their best reliever for a setup role. It’s one thing when we’re talking about Cody Allen and Andrew Miller. Sure, Miller is better than Allen, but they’re still both top 10 relievers. Can’t really go wrong. However, three teams appear to have a much larger gap in talent between their so-called closer and primary setup man.

Take a gander at Arizona. Brad Boxberger is purported to be the closer even though Archie Bradley is probably multiple standard deviations better than him. Using Bradley in a flexible multi-inning role does have its merits, but that’s only true if the ninth inning guy doesn’t flop. Expect Bradley to be the most popular “sleeper.” In this case, it’s probably more accurate to call Boxberger the sleeper. Bradley’s NFBC ADP is 190. Boxberger is sitting at 321.

As a reliever, Bradley’s fastball jumped to 96.4 mph. He’s basically always going to come after you with that heater. His curve ball is only used about a fifth of the time. I’m always a tad wary about fastball-only relievers until they post multiple successful seasons. As for the Box, he hasn’t been fully healthy since 2015. Last year, his three pitch blend produced 12.27 K/9 albeit with a dreadful 36 percent hard hit rate. I project volatility. He could be a useful closer, a complete nightmare, or anything in between.

The Twins claim they’re sticking with Fernando Rodney (248 ADP) as their closer – likely because they promised him the role when he signed. Who could have guessed that Addison Reed (269 ADP) would be available so cheaply? Rodney thwarted Bradley’s rise to the ninth last season. It’s possible he’ll thwart Reed too. I’m still buying shares of the superior Twin.

Over the last two seasons, Rodney has mixed periods of unmatched dominance with some dreadful slumps. Best I can tell, the lead indicator for his success is command of his changeup. When he loses the zone, it all goes sideways. When he’s hitting spots, he can be a filthmonster. Reed doesn’t have any issues with command. Since his breakout, he’s posted low walk rates with over a strikeout per inning. He’s particularly tough with runners on base.

Nate Bumpin’ Jones (412 ADP) is healthy again. Supposedly. He’s actually going a couple picks ahead of expected closer Joakim Soria (416 ADP). Both of these guys are MASSIVE bargains. The NFBC crowd actually thinks Juan Minaya (332 ADP) is the better asset. Ha ha ha. Fools.

Minaya is a middle reliever. He induces a solid whiff rate with over a strikeout per inning. Unfortunately, middling command, too many fly balls, and a lack of standout offerings reveal him as a poor closer candidate. We know Soria can do the job in a boring sort of way. He has the strikeouts, ground balls, and tolerable walk rate of a closer. He also has just below a 4.00 ERA over the last two seasons – albeit with a much better xFIP. When Jones is right, his premium velocity and frequently used wipeout slider add up to top 10 closer potential.

I know I said “three teams,” but let’s just acknowledge that Mike Scioscia is damn-near inscrutable. Blake Parker (213 ADP) is the presumed closer, but Scioscia spent nearly all of 2017 pointedly ignoring his success. He’s been doing that with Cam Bedrosian (333 ADP) for years. Bud Norris was the primary closer for much of last season. Don’t be surprised if some clown like Jim Johnson (575 ADP) pulls a Norris.

Parker’s breakout 2017 was built upon improved command and an exceptional splitter. Beware, splitter specialists are notorious for their inconsistency. Parker has a long history of wandering walk rates, ranging from 1.71 BB/9 to 4.67 BB/9. I’m a hesitant believer. Just make sure you have a backup plan. Bedrock Jr. lost a couple tics on the radar gun last year to go with a disappointing 4.43 ERA. He’s still only a strong Spring Training away from claiming the role.

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“Ha ha ha. fools.” Cracked me up. I needed that.