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2024 Fantasy Baseball: 5 Closers on the Hot Seat

We are in full speculation season here for closers and high-leverage relief pitchers. Let’s take a look at five closers who are starting the season on the proverbial hot seat, and explore why they are in that unenviable position.  We can also look at the options gaining ground in their rearview mirrors.

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5 Closers on the Hot Seat

Carlos Estevez, Los Angeles Angels

Estevez had an interesting season, earning 31 saves to go with 78 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. But it was a tale of two halves for him: 2-1, 1.80 ERA, 21 saves, and a passable 1.29 WHIP before the All-Star Break.  After: 3-4, 6.59 ERA, 10 saves, and a bloated 1.76 WHIP. My best hunch is that he doesn’t hold the job for long unless he gets off to a hot start, not with Robert Stephenson waiting in the wings.

Stephenson had three wins, one save, nine holds, and a 3.10 ERA with a .98 WHIP.  Stephenson also had 77 punchouts in 52.1 innings. But those numbers do not tell the whole story. Stephenson was pitching badly in Pittsburgh when the Rays acquired him in early summer, and when the Rays get a pitcher, as a fantasy player, pay attention. Stephenson was second in MLB with a 30.4 K-BB%, behind only Felix Bautista. His 38.3 K% was third in MLB, behind only Felix Bautista and Aroldis Chapman. He could easily close in Los Angeles.

New manager Ron Washington has a choice to make here. The best guess is that Estevez starts with the job. Stephenson waits in the wings, as does veteran lefty Matt Moore and younger options Jose Soriano and Ben Joyce, both of whom ooze potential.

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Jose Leclerc is in a position to close after a successful postseason in which he earned four saves despite being a highwire act at times. Leclerc had a 28.8 K% last year but has never had a walk ratio better than 10.6%.  Last year he was at 12%.  That is a dangerous place for a successful closer to live.

The Rangers added veteran closer David Robertson and he provides extra security should Leclerc falter; we still expect that Leclerc will be the closer to start the season. Robertson is 39 but is still effective in the right role.  Kirby Yates could easily get save opportunities here. The pressure is on Leclerc to get off to a good start in Texas.

Alex Lange, Detroit Tigers

Lange is the de facto closer in Detroit but this feels shaky at best. There were several times last season where poor performance bumped Lange out of the job, but he did finish 2023 as the closer in Detroit. Lange features a terrific curveball that he throws about 59% of the time and has a high whiff percentage at almost 49%. He throws a sinker to right-handed batters and a change-up to get left-handed hitters too and has a 51% groundball rate.  Sounds good, but the problem is the 15.6 BB%, which was in the bottom 1% of all major league pitchers.  If he could cut that in half, you’d be looking at an excellent closer. Something to watch this spring.

Jason Foley has also proven to be valuable in the Motor City. Foley had 28 holds and added seven saves when Lange was out of the job. Foley has a high groundball rate due to a heavy sinker he throws 69% of the time. Because of that, he only had a 19.9 K%.  He’s a good source of holds and should help with ratio controls despite the lower strikeout totals.

Do not sleep on Shelby Miller.

Jose Alvarado, Philadelphia Phillies

Alvarado appears to sit atop the hierarchy in Philadelphia. But the Phillies have several guys who could be used to get saves. Alvarado earned ten saves last year with 64 strikeouts in 41.1 innings to go with a 1.74 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  Alvarado also threw in 11 holds

However, the Phillies have a bevy of options in the bullpen who are useful arms as well, including Seranthony Dominguez, Gregory Soto, Jeff Hoffman, Matt Strahm, and Orion Kerkering.

Look for Alvarado to get the first crack at it; Alvarado earned ten saves last year with 64 strikeouts in 41.1 innings to go with a 1.74 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  Alvarado also threw in 11 holds.

Dominguez has experience closing as does Soto. Soto had 14 holds last year but struggles with command at times and seems best suited to a leverage role out of the bullpen and not the closer. Dominguez had 11 holds last year and would seem to be the next-up guy with his experience, but he neither strikes out many guys nor has the ratios you would look for in a closer.

Hoffman was a revelation last year with 11 holds, a 2.41 ERA, and a .92 WHIP with 69 punchouts in 52.1 innings.  His 33.2 K% is the 97th percentile in MLB.  This was by far his best season, so the fair question is, can he keep those gains? He doubled his slider usage from 23.7% to 47.9% and added an astounding 6.6 average MPH to it as well. Strahm is a Swiss army knife that provides value as a spot starter and a situational lefty out of the pen.

Kerkering was impressive down the stretch for the Phillies and was the pitcher of the year in the organization in 2o23.  Kerkering should be a big weapon in the Philadelphia bullpen in 2024. He’s definitely on the must-watch list and could be a late-round saves target depending on your league.

What we do know is that manager Rob Thomson is not afraid to use any of his pieces at any time, effectively using a bullpen by committee. My best guess right now that is Alvarado gets maybe 60% of the saves, while the others mentioned here get somewhere between 5-10 depending on how the bullpen usage shakes out this year. Either way, unless Alvarado runs away with the job (which he could), he might not get more than 20 saves. Caveat emptor here: the stuff is tantalizing, but lack of role clarity means proceed with caution and have a backup plan.

Kyle Finnegan, Washington Nationals

Finnegan enters the season as the de facto closer in Washington. Yet the perenially underappreciated earned seven wins and 28 saves in 2023.  Perhaps those looking for strikeouts and ratio help discredit him, but if you’re chasing saves late, there are worse candidates. However, my feeling is that Hunter Harvey is a better pitcher. The Nationals do not look like they will be in contention in a very tough NL East, so Finnegan could become an early trade candidate.  If so, the chances are very high (more than 75% ) that he would not be the closer on his new team.  Again, caveat emptor here: chasing him late is fine, but you might want to have a backup plan here.

Hunter Harvey is a post-hype reliable reliever when healthy. Harvey was finally healthy in 2023, and put up four wins, 19 holds, and 10 saves to go with a 2.82 ERA and .94 WHIP.  Should Finnegan be ineffective or be traded, Harvey would seem to be the heir apparent. At the very least he should be primed for a bevy of holds again. Harvey has the pedigree to close if he is healthy.

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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