Update On Initial Closer Chances

Two seasons ago, I examined the chances the season’s initial closer made it the entire season without being replaced for any reason including injury. I went back and revisited the study and updated it with 2017 and 2018 results. While the initially calculated chances were low, the odds are getting even worse.

I posted to Twitter account my initial results for the last two seasons to make sure nothing was too far off. Thanks to everyone for the responses and here are the end results:

2017 Initial Closers & Results
Team Going into season Initial Top Guy Projected Steamer ERA Lasted Until Reason if Replaced
Angels Competition Cam Bedrosian 3.26 04/22/17 Injury
Astros One Guy Ken Giles 2.98 EOS None
Athletics Competition Santiago Casilla 4.05 07/31/17 Trade For
Blue Jays Replacement coming Jason Grilli 3.94 04/11/17 Replacement Returned
Braves One Guy Jim Johnson 3.53 7/32/17 Poor Performance
Brewers One Guy Neftali Feliz 3.83 05/12/17 Poor Performance
Cardinals Competition Seung Hwan Oh 3.20 07/29/17 Poor Performance
Cubs One Guy Wade Davis 2.89 EOS None
D-backs One Guy Fernando Rodney 3.80 EOS None
Dodgers One Guy Kenley Jansen 2.59 EOS None
Giants One Guy Mark Melancon 2.92 05/09/17 Injury
Indians One Guy Cody Allen 3.26 EOS None
Mariners One Guy Edwin Diaz 2.82 EOS None
Marlins One Guy A.J. Ramos 3.65 07/28/17 Traded away
Mets Replacement coming Addison Reed 3.61 07/31/17 Traded away
Nationals One Guy Blake Treinen 3.35 04/19/17 Poor Performance
Orioles One Guy Zach Britton 2.51 04/16/17 Injury
Padres One Guy Brandon Maurer 3.65 07/24/17 Traded away
Phillies One Guy Jeanmar Gomez 4.26 04/10/17 Poor Performance
Pirates One Guy Tony Watson 3.67 06/09/17 Poor Performance
Rangers One Guy Sam Dyson 3.63 04/17/17 Injury
Rays One Guy Alex Colome 3.33 EOS None
Red Sox One Guy Craig Kimbrel 3.06 EOS None
Reds Competition Raisel Iglesias 3.43 EOS None
Rockies Competition Greg Holland 3.52 EOS None
Royals One Guy Kelvin Herrera 3.19 08/22/17 Injury
Tigers One Guy Francisco Rodriguez 4.07 05/09/17 Poor Performance
Twins One Guy Brandon Kintzler 4.03 07/31/17 Traded away
White Sox One Guy David Robertson 3.57 07/18/17 Traded away
Yankees One Guy Aroldis Chapman 2.33 05/14/17 Injury
2018 Initial Closers & Results
Team Going into season Initial Top Guy Projected Steamer ERA Lasted Until Reason if Replaced
Angels Competition Kenyon Middleton 4.07 04/28/18 Injury
Astros One Guy Ken Giles 3.15 06/12/18 Poor Performance
Athletics One Guy Blake Treinen 3.67 EOS None
Blue Jays One Guy Roberto Osuna 3.51 05/08/18 Suspension
Braves One Guy Arodys Vizcaino 3.79 06/23/18 Injury
Brewers One Guy Corey Knebel 3.14 08/09/18 Poor Performance
Cardinals Competition Bud Norris 3.75 09/10/18 Poor Performance
Cubs One Guy Brandon Morrow 3.58 07/19/18 Injury
D-backs Competition Brad Boxberger 4.05 09/10/18 Poor Performance
Dodgers One Guy Kenley Jansen 2.74 08/09/18 Injury
Giants Competition Hunter Strickland 3.85 06/19/18 Injury
Indians One Guy Cody Allen 3.70 09/15/18 Poor Performance
Mariners One Guy Edwin Diaz 3.19 EOS None
Marlins One Guy Brad Ziegler 3.92 05/31/18 Poor Performance
Mets One Guy Jeurys Familia 3.57 06/08/18 Injury
Nationals One Guy Sean Doolittle 3.34 07/07/18 Injury
Orioles Competition Brad Brach 4.12 07/29/18 Traded away
Padres One Guy Brad Hand 3.31 07/19/18 Traded away
Phillies One Guy Hector Neris 4.13 06/18/18 Poor Performance
Pirates One Guy Felipe Rivero 2.99 EOS None
Rangers Competition Keone Kela 3.65 07/30/18 Traded away
Rays One Guy Alex Colome 3.73 05/25/18 Traded away
Red Sox One Guy Craig Kimbrel 2.58 EOS None
Reds One Guy Raisel Iglesias 3.43 05/23/18 Injury
Rockies One Guy Wade Davis 3.80 EOS None
Royals One Guy Kelvin Herrera 3.78 06/18/18 Traded away
Tigers One Guy Shane Greene 4.04 07/02/18 Injury
Twins One Guy Fernando Rodney 4.23 08/09/18 Traded away
White Sox Competition Joakim Soria 3.84 09/26/18 Traded away
Yankees One Guy Aroldis Chapman 3.87 08/21/18 Injury

With this information, several pieces of information can be concluded. Thanks to “smada plays fantasy” since the work I planned on doing was done and then some.

Two pieces of information are key to me in the table.

First, just over 60% of all Saves are from initial closers. While some of the other Saves came from closers who started the season on the DL, many continue to be found on the waiver wire.

Second, the odds of a closer having a job from the start to the end of a season has dropped from 46% to 17%. Teams are cycling through closers at a faster rate. The biggest change has been teams trading away their closer. In 2013 just one closer was traded with seven being traded last year.

Closers Being Traded
Year # Traded Away # Traded For
2013 1 0
2014 2 0
2015 4 2
2016 2 1
2017 5 1
2018 7 0
Total 21 4

Only four of the 21 being traded went into a new closer’s role. Most became setup men. If there continues to be an increasing gap between the haves anhave-notsts in the league, I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon.

In the previous article calculated a couple of formulas to calculate the chances of the closer keeping his job based on their ERA. I did a small update with the two new seasons and decided to lop off 2013 (and could have cut more).

With my goal to be simple and accurate, I grouped the pitchers in 0.50 ERA increments and found their chances of keeping the job an entire season.

Chances of Losing Closer’s Role Based on ERA
ERA Range Avg ERA Full Season Chances
Less than 2.50 2.14 62.5%
2.50 to 3.00 2.75 52.2%
3.00 to 3.50 3.24 26.0%
3.50 to 4.00 3.72 21.2%
More than 4.00 4.10 11.8%

Just a simple linear regression of these values comes up with an r-squared of .95. Perfect and I will just use this equation going forward:

Chance to keep closer’s role = -0.272 * ERA + 1.213

One final note. I observed while doing some of my in-season FAAB analysis that owners spent heavy early on to get closers. After going over the 2017 data, 10 closers lost their job by May 15th. The number dropped to two this past season. Owners may have been desperate for Saves in 2018 and once a player came up they jumped.

I’m wondering if owners will shy away from spending big in 2019 since recency bias says that Saves will be available and cheaper a bit later. As smada’s research has shown, about the same 40% of Saves is out there for the taking. The key is just trying to figure out how to get those Saves with the fewest resources.

I have another study to run about the conversion of draft picks/auction dollars to FAAB but that study will have to wait until another day. For, it’s just more and more digging into offseason topics with hitters who had Tommy John surgery and do second half velocity drops changes coming next.

We hoped you liked reading Update On Initial Closer Chances by Jeff Zimmerman!

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

Great data, Jeff. Seems like one (maybe me if I find time) can do more with it still. Seems like projected ERA plus avoiding teams projected to not be in playoff contention still might point us too next year’s Diaz, not that it’ll work out so well every time.

If you’ve got an edit function, Soria was traded in July, not September.