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2024 Fantasy Baseball: Four Closer Sleepers to Target

Every spring, fantasy players search for those guys flying under the radar.  This includes guys with uncertain roles but high levels of skill, and those with increased opportunities due to injuries or ineffectiveness, or the changing whims of their manager.  Many of us call this finding values, but I am uncertain how to clearly define this for anyone other than myself. Call it what you will, but we need to hit on some of these guys late in drafts to have championship seasons.

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Closer Sleepers for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Jordan Leasure, Chicago White Sox

Leasure was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Lance Lynn/Joe Kelly trade last summer. Leasure opened eyes in the Arizona Fall League, with eight appearances covering 8.1 innings, striking out 13, walking two, and surrendering only two hits. In his AAA season, he had 56 punchouts in 35 innings, a 3.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP,  and nine saves.  A larger point here is the context of the Chicago White Sox bullpen, which has no clear-cut option at the closer position.  Manager Pedro Grifol mentioned that he was not naming a closer right now.  Granted, Leasure has not pitched in the major leagues, and anointing him closer might be insane at this point. But the job seems to be wide open; Garrett Crochet looks like he will be in the rotation, and the name most often mentioned for the top job here is veteran righty John Brebbia.  Why not Leasure?

I keep saying this, but keep an eye on this bullpen, as it would not surprise me at all if Michael Kopech ends up as the closer.  He profiles far better in the bullpen and has largely failed in his role as a starter over the last two years.

Shelby Miller, Detroit Tigers

Sure, Miller seems to sit behind current closer Alex Lange and top setup man Jason Foley in Detroit.

At this point, it looks like incumbent Lange will get the first crack at it again. 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.

Miller looked resurgent in the bullpen for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2023, appearing in 36 games and posting a 1.71 ERA and .90 WHIP, averaging a strikeout per inning over his 42 innings.  So what intrigues here?  Miller has added a split-finger fastball to his mix this spring.  As the analysts say, any time a pitcher adds a new pitch AND can command it, it is worth watching. Miller is 33 now and the Tigers will not baby him, and with the concerns swirling around Lange, and Foley’s lack of strikeouts despite the outstanding velocity, Miller could sneak into the role.  Stranger things have happened.

Andrew Nardi, Miami Marlins

Yes, I feel your eye roll, But this is not outside the realm of possibility. It was revealed yesterday that lefty A.J. Puk, who began 2023 as the closer, will open the season in the Miami rotation. Tanner Scott took the job and ran away with it during an electric September that saw him earn three wins and nine saves.  However, Scott will need to repeat last year’s gains in walk rate; he cut it in half from a whopping 15.9% in 2022 to a more passable and career-best 7.8% last year. Any pullback from that and he could easily find himself back in a setup role.  Hoping it is not an indication of things to come, but Scott did not retire a batter in his last appearance while surrendering four walks and giving up three runs.  It’s too early to panic, but this bears watching.

This leads us to the next man up: Nardi.  The lefty also had a fine season, gaining eight wins, 17 holds and three saves with a 2.67 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Nardi was in the 99th percentile with an 84.6 average exit velocity and the 92nd percentile in K% at 30.8.  He should be a good candidate for holds setting up Scott and earning Ks, even if he is not closing. Nardi is worth a dart throw at the end of your drafts if you are looking for relievers with upside.

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

Count me among the people who see the cracks in Raisel Iglesias’ armor. He’s 34 now, and while his fastball is still very good, he’s using the changeup more: up to 35.3% last year compared to 24% in 2022. Iglesias is giving up more hard contact and the K rate dipped to 29.4% while the walk rate clipped up to a still manageable 6.4%.  Am I nitpicking?  Probably. But the signs are there if we want to read them.  That is the beauty of this game we love.

There seems to be little doubt that Minter could close in Atlanta if necessary. Minter had an 11.4 K/9, 21 holds, and 1o saves. The 31.5K% catches the eye. Minter was terrible in April but improved every month thereafter, with a 1.85 ERA after the All-Star Break. The chart below shows his pitch type, frequency, and velocity.

Minter led the Braves with 15 holds to go with three wins, 10 saves, and 82 strikeouts in 64.2 innings.  Not much help in the ratio categories at 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. While we can’t ignore the ratio stats, Minter was misused as the closer early on in place of the injured Iglesias and had a bloated ERA of 6.66 at the end of May.  He righted the ship (except for eight walks in September) and finished with a 1.85 ERA after the arbitrary All-Star Break and a 31.5 K%. Draft Minter for holds and strikeouts and hope that he works his way into at least 10-12 saves, and perhaps more should Iglesias start to fade at all.

These are just a few players to target and there will be more as we go through Spring Training.  Stay tuned!

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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