This week’s fantasy baseball installment of 5 Players Who will look at some under-the-radar candidates who saved less than 10 games in 2021 that will save more than 20 as a closer in 2022.
Saves are notoriously the most difficult fantasy stat to predict and secure. Often a closer’s job can be in jeopardy after a couple bad outings, or at the whim of a manager, or via a trade to a team with an already established closer. It’s the most volatile of all that categories, but also a necessary part of our fantasy squads.
Every year there seems to only be about 10 safe options for saves in fantasy leagues, so don’t go overboard on drafting these pitchers, but rather use it is a guide for pitchers who have the skills to get the saves; they just need the opportunity.
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5 Closing Sleepers Who Will Get 20+ Saves in 2022
Lucas Sims (Cincinnati Reds)
A career 4.81 ERA and 4.40 ERA in 2021 doesn’t scream “future closer” normally, but that superficial number masks the incredible advanced metrics Lucas Sims displayed last season. His season was interrupted by a six-week stint on the IL, but assuming he is healthy in 2022, this is Sims’ closer job to lose.
Sims ranked sixth among all relievers with at least 40 innings last year with a 39% strikeout rate and was fourth in K/9 (15.65). And despite that 4.40 ERA, his SIERA was just 2.50, eighth among relievers. Sims is a three-pitch pitcher who is 98th percentile in both fastball spin and curveball spin and has the overpowering stuff of a prototypical closer.
The 27-year-old Sims is in his first year of arbitration and under the Reds’ control for at least a couple more seasons. After the failed Amir Garrett experience (6.04 ERA) and five players saving between five and eight games for Cincinnati in 2021, look for Sims to take over the closer role and provide some stability in the ninth inning.
Blake Treinen (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Considering some of the massive free-agent position players and starting pitchers the Dodgers are reportedly after, it seems likely that they will not invest a huge sum of money in bringing back Kenley Jansen who is an unrestricted free agent at age 34. This swings the door wide open for Blake Treinen to earn massive saves next year in one of the best pitching spots imaginable.
Under contract for just $6 million per year, Treinen can now take his elite 30% K-rate and microscopic 0.62 HR/9 ratio into the ninth inning for a team that is likely to win 95+ games again in 2022.
The one knock on Treinen is he needs to push down his walk rate from 2021, which sat at 8.7%. He was in the same area as a pitcher like Edwin Diaz (8.9%) which is not great company to keep for command. But three of Treinen’s last four seasons have finished with a walk rate of 7.5% or less, so there shouldn’t be too much to worry about.
Camilo Doval (San Francisco Giants)
Imagine being a 23-year-old rookie and being called up on September 5 for just your second major league stint. You are soon told you are the new closer for the best team in the National League that is, by the way, fighting tooth and nail to keep their lead in the NL West against the mighty LA Dodgers. Good luck, kid!
Even in Doval’s wildest dreams, I doubt he believed he could do what he accomplished in the last month of 2021. Over a 14-game stretch, Doval pitched 18 innings with a perfect 0.00 ERA and a .178 slugging percentage allowed. He had an 18/2 strikeout to walk ratio in that time and saved three consecutive games on September 28, 29, and October 1 to lock up the division for the Giants.
In the playoffs, he gave up just one run to the Dodgers in 3.2 innings pitched and tacked on one more save.
Jake McGee is still under the Giants’ control for two more seasons, but he will turn 36 next season and his 59 innings pitched in 2021 were the most for him since 2014. No moment seemed too big for Doval and his overpowering 33.9% K rate last season. If Gabe Kapler gives him the keys to the ninth next year, this is an easy 20+ saves.
Andrew Kittredge (Tampa Bay Rays)
Kittredge might have missed this list if he did not go one the IL on September 18 with a neck issue, forcing him to miss the balance of the season. Late in the year, he emerged as a leading candidate for saves after the Rays had just been throwing everything against the wall to see if any of it would stick.
Kittredge finished 2021 with just eight saves, but six of those came between August 20 and the end of the season. He also had a loss, a blown save, a hold, and a win in that span, so the opportunity for late innings was certainly there.
The 31-year-old learned to master his pitches in 2021, and finished with the 10th-best walk rate among relievers (5.1%), leading to a top-25 K/BB rate (22.3%). His strikeout rate was just middle of the pack (27.3%), but he made up for it with a 54.8% ground ball rate, which ranked top 20 among all relievers.
Kittredge enters 2022 as a second-year arbitration player, so he remains under team control for two more years. If the Rays finally settle on an official closer, Kittredge could easily be in line for 25 saves in 2022.
Dark Horse: Garrett Whitlock (Boston Red Sox)
In what was potentially an audition for the closer role in 2022, Whitlock had an astounding stretch of games to close out the 2021 season while Matt Barnes was on the IL.
During a span of 12 games from August 15th to September 19th, Whitlock compiled a save, five holds, four wins, and two losses (both times entering in the ninth inning). In that stretch of games, Whitlock posted a 3.57 ERA, a .197 batting average against, and just a .348 slugging percentage.
Then the playoffs came around and Whitlock got even better on a tougher stage. Across 8.1 innings in the postseason, he put up a 2.16 ERA and just six hits + walks in those high-leverage innings.
Whitlock, who had never pitched in relief before 2021, has made his intentions clear that he wants to start in the majors. But he had Tommy John in 2019 and jumped straight from Double-A to the majors last season, so that change in role may not happen in 2022. If it doesn’t, Whitlock is a strong candidate to be named closer since Barnes is a free agent.
Also check out 5 Under-the-Radar Hitters Who Will Hit 30 HRs in 2022.
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