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2023 Fantasy Baseball: Closers Who Could Go Bust

In the annual war of attrition that is finding closers to use for our fantasy teams, there is one bugaboo we do not often talk about and should: that of the dud closer.  That would be the guy you may have paid a premium for, only to watch him flail and fail, and leave you scurrying with your precious FAAB to find a suitable replacement. And it’s important to keep front and center in our minds that the closer job can be a rotating cast of characters on many teams.  Jeff Zimmerman reported this at the end of last season: there were 1156 team saves, only 599 of which were earned by that team’s Opening Day closer. That’s only 48.6% of the available saves that went to the anointed guy.  Our success rate on identifying closers who keep the job all year is pitifully low.

We have all been there.  Let’s look at two things today: who these flameouts could be this year, and how we avoid them.  What do we look for, hidden in the stats, to discern where there may be trouble before we sit down at the draft table and pick a potential dud?

The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

Potential Closer Busts for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

Kenley Jansen, Boston Red Sox

There are tea leaves to look at when it comes to Jansen. He’s departed from one of the best teams in baseball in the Atlanta Braves and landed with the Boston Red Sox, who have a less-than-stellar roster.  The move into the AL East is a concern with the high-powered offenses of New York, Toronto, and Baltimore (up-and-coming) and the always pesky Tampa Bay squad. The demise of Jansen has been expected for years now, and at 35 now, this could be the year he finally shows some cracks.  The string of 30 save seasons could easily end in 2023. The strikeouts are fading and his increasing reliance on the fading cutter (a whopping 64% usage in 2022) gives me pause.  And with possible in-house options like Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck, the guard could easily change in Boston. It’s important to recognize that both Whitlock and Houck could end up in the rotation this season. The ingredients are here for a rough season.  While Jensen has long been one of the best in the game with his career 391 saves, there may be safer, less risky options for your squad.

Paul Sewald, Seattle Mariners

This isn’t so much an indictment of Sewald as it is a coronation of Andres Munoz. For as good as Sewald was in 2022, he only banked you 20 saves with 72 strikeouts in 64 innings.  Munoz could be a serious threat to Sewald’s job in Seattle: a whopping 96 punchouts in 65 innings last year with a video game-like 38.7% strikeout rate.  This will be something to watch in Spring Training as the Mariners also boast Diego Castillo, Penn Murfee, and Matt Brash as well.  The best guess here is that Sewald starts the season as the closer but could easily be relegated to another role if he is either ineffective or the team simply chooses to go in another direction.

Kyle Finnegan, Washington Nationals

This job appears to belong to Finnegan going into the season.  And he earned it with his performance last year: six wins, 11 saves, a 3.51 ERA, and 1.14 WHIP.  But danger lurks in the form of perennial closer sleeper Hunter Harvey.  On a team that appears to be a cellar dweller, they can mix and match and experiment.  Finnegan struggled in September: 1-2, 6.17 ERA, while earning three saves, but also gave up eight earned runs in 11.2 innings. The Nationals have other options they could go to as well; the aforementioned Harvey, Carl Edwards, Jr., and the recently signed Alex Colome. Even if Finnegan does pitch well for the Nationals, he’s a good candidate to be moved at or before the trade deadline to bring back a prospect for a moribund Washington franchise. And it’ seems unlikely that a contending team acquiring Finnegan would use him as a closer. Buyer beware here, as there are several issues that could impact the value of rostering Finnegan in 2023.

Daniel Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers

This one may be a bit of a reach since we know the closer situation in Los Angeles might be a Spring Training competition between Hudson and holdover Evan Phillips (or others). Hudson had a 30.9 K% and a lower-than-average 5.2 BB% to go along with five saves and a 2.22 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP.  This may be more of an injury risk dud than a performance dud, as Hudson has been injured multiple times in his career and is entering his age-36 season.  Guys don’t get healthier as they get older, as I (a middle-aged man) can attest to.  Draft with caution and not as your number one closer, not that anyone would do that.  Phillips and Brusdar Graterol could get opportunities here, too, although Graterol, despite great velocity, seems to profile better as a setup guy than a closer.

Jose Leclerc Texas Rangers

I have been suggesting early on that Leclerc will be the closer for the potentially surging Texas Rangers.  The Rangers have spent over $800 million in free agency the last two winters but have added nary a bullpen arm.  Leclerc features his own invented pitch, the “slambio,” a type of “cut changeup” to go along with his fastball.  It’s more than a touch surprising that the Rangers have not shelled out a big contract to a closer.  Leclerc has shown in the past that he can do the job, but the club also has Jonathan Hernandez and Brock Burke, and added veteran reliever Ian Kennedy to the mix on Friday.  Interestingly, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that general manager Chris Young said that Burke could figure into the backend mix as the closer. Burke had seven wins, 90 strikeouts in 82.1 innings, and a 1.97 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Young likes his flexibility, which makes Burke a name to watch this spring.

Kennedy will compete for a “leverage spot” in the bullpen per Young.  Joe Barlow also has closing experience, but it appears the team would rather use him in a different bullpen role in 2023.

Other teams to watch as there is competition in Spring Training for a closer role: Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, and the Oakland Athletics.  We will keep an eye on those situations as pitchers and catchers report to camp in about two weeks.

Got a closer bust of your own? Let us know about it in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!

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