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Closing Time: Will Britton Be Great Again?

Welcome to this week’s Closer Report. Beginning this week, we will bring you the report a bit sooner in an effort to prep you for the upcoming week. As is the case each and every week, I will feature closer tiers which will illuminate my current rankings. Closers are a volatile breed, so rankings are constantly changing. Let’s take a look at where each closer stands as we head into Week 12.

MLB Closer Tiers and Rankings

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Two short weeks ago we were lamenting Aroldis Chapman’s lack of saves. He has already saved seven games in June and is now fifth in the majors with 19 saves on the year… Craig Kimbrel entered Tuesday’s game in a nightmare scenario for fantasy owners: A non-save situation. Sure enough, Kimbrel gave up two runs. He did bounce back on Thursday… Edwin Diaz leads all closers in saves (26) and strikeouts (59)… Sean Doolittle has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, giving up just four hits over ten innings in the process… Kenley Jansen has put early-season woes behind him, but still is not the dominant force we have become accustomed to. His K%, which has been at least 40 percent in three consecutive years, currently sits at 25 percent.

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Brad Hand has entered the game in the ninth inning in three consecutive appearances, a welcome sight for owners. He has also recorded saves in each… On one hand, Wade Davis has seven games this upcoming week against two of the three worst teams in the National League. On the other, those games are all taking place in Coors Field. Owning a Rockies’ pitcher is so much easier in Points leagues than Roto… Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in over a week, but his place is secure here as the closer for what should be a 90-plus win Chicago Cub team… Blake Treinen also has not pitched this week, but his season has been very impressive. As long as Oakland isn’t playing Houston (1-8 record versus Houston in 2018), Treinen should continue to rack up saves. Brad Boxberger has bounced back from a poor week with consecutive scoreless outings, including dominating the Mets on Thursday and Friday for easy saves… Same for Cody Allen, who struck out three in a save on Thursday against the White Sox.

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Corey Knebel looked like the Knebel from a year ago in two dominant efforts against the Cubs this week. Still, he has just one save in June. You have to figure a string of saves is on the horizon. Milwaukee has the National League’s best record… Last week I touted the fact that Kelvin Herrera had yet to walk a batter in 2018. So, of course, he walked two on Tuesday. He also blew the save in the loss. I have a gift… Shane Greene has 18 saves despite average numbers in virtually every other category. I am not a fan of his long-term outlook and I would sell where possible… Raisel Iglesias could be a top-10 closer on another team, but Cincinnati simply does not offer up many chances. Iglesias has not had a save opportunity in June…. Arodys Vizcaino has not allowed a run in a month, and the Braves continue to contend in the NL East.

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Keone Kela has been decent this year, but opportunities have been scarce for a Texas team going nowhere. On the bright side, Texas only has five games against teams with winning records between now and next month’s All-Star break. Perhaps Kela can go on a nice run in the next four weeks… Bud Norris finally pitched a clean inning on Monday, which is a good sign… Hunter Strickland blew a save in Thursday’s win in Miami, but he should continue to hold off Marc Melancon for now… Felipe Vazquez posted as bad a line (two hits, three walks, two earned runs) as you will probably ever see for a guy who still recorded a save. It looks like Hurdle will stick with Vazquez, but I have little faith despite Friday’s save.

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Kyle Barraclough continues to be a revelation. He finally allowed his first baserunner in June, but he has remained unhittable, holding hitters to a silly .089 batting average on the year… Blake Parker secured four straight saves last week, so naturally, he was brought into Wednesday’s game with no outs in the seventh inning. If Mike Scioscia continues to use Parker as a matchup play ala Andy Green and Mickey Callaway, Parker will likely fall in the rankings… Ryan Tepera has been called upon to record more than three outs with great frequency of late. He has pitched pretty well in the process, but such usage also decreases the likelihood of a three- or four-save week… Hector Rondon watched as Ken Giles picked up a save this week, but I think that was more a byproduct of Rondon’s heavy usage last week. Rondon came on to finish Thursday’s win, albeit in a non-save situation. I still think Rondon has the lead on Giles.

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Joakim Soria leads all of baseball with six saves over the past 10 days. Nate Jones has been placed on the Disabled List with arm trouble, so Soria’s job should be pretty secure through at least the rest of the month… Sergio Romo picked up a save on Wednesday. Even better, he hasn’t started a game in two weeks. It still feels weird to type those two sentences consecutively. Welcome to 2018… Brad Brach looked good this week, but the Zach Britton watch is officially in full effect… Robert Gsellman may not have a save in June, but at least he has more wins in 2018 than Jacob deGrom. Wait, what? Anthony Swarzak is not a high priority waiver or FAAB claim considering the impending return of Jeurys Familia.


Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

No, Brad Hand did not move up in tiers this week, but I was very encouraged with what I have seen in the last several days. Hand has not allowed a hit or walk in his last four appearances. That’s great, but perhaps even better for fantasy purposes is when those appearances have taken place. Hand has recorded three straight saves, and has a nice little “9-GF” notation beside each game. This means that Hand has been used strictly in the ninth inning in these games.

This is important because Hand had entered the game in the eighth inning in seven of his prior ten appearances. Yes, what manager Andy Green is doing probably makes sense in real-life, but do we really care about that? It’s not as if the Padres are going to contend for a playoff spot. We want closers to close!

Now, I just mentioned that San Diego does not figure to make a playoff run. Because of this, I have been hesitant to buy into Hand long-term. I figured that he would likely be dealt to a team that would use him as a setup man, and that may still very well happen.

However, I also think it’s possible he is dealt to a contender who needs a closer. There are a fair amount of teams who fancy themselves contenders who are lacking an elite stopper at the end of ballgames. There aren’t many better than Brad Hand.

Hand has already saved 21 games for a last-place San Diego squad and has struck out 36.6 percent of hitters. Hand does struggle with control at times and does have better numbers against left-handed hitters, but it’s not as if he is a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy.) This is a pitcher who has a track record in the ninth inning. I would not go out of my way to acquire Hand given the uncertainty surrounding him, but if a team like Atlanta, Philadelphia or the Angels were to acquire Hand, I would be all in.

Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves

Speaking of Atlanta, they are still leading the National League East and in contention for a playoff spot. Throughout his career, Braves’ closer Arodys Vizcaino has not been the dominant force we generally look for when we think of a pure stopper.

His strikeout and walk rates are hardly the stuff of legend. He has struck out 26.3 percent of hitters in his career, which isn’t terrible. However, he has also walked 11 percent of hitters, which is far from ideal in a closer. His 2018 rates are right in line with those numbers.

Despite numbers that don’t blow anyone away, he has been pretty good in 2018. Vizcaino enters the weekend with a 1.95 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. The biggest reason for his success has been his effectiveness against the first hitter he faces. Vizcaino has held first batters to a .125 batting average this season. Someone like Vizcaino who exhibits less than pinpoint control at times will benefit greatly from starting off an appearance on the right foot. Vizcaino is far from elite, but he is a fine option as a second closer in fantasy and continues to outperform expectations.

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Zach Britton finally made his long-awaited season debut on Tuesday, and owners who have waited patiently are likely to be rewarded in short order. Once Britton proves himself healthy, I would imagine he will take over Baltimore’s closer role from Brad Brach.

It is widely assumed that Baltimore will simply showcase Britton and then trade him to a contender. Zach Britton is less than two years removed from one of the most dominant runs we have seen a closer have in recent memory.

Britton’s 2014-2016 numbers were out of this world. During that span, he converted 120 of 128 save opportunities and posted a 1.38 ERA. Expecting that level of production may be a bit unrealistic, but Zach Britton has upside rarely found in a player still available in 20 percent of Fantrax leagues at this juncture in the year. I would certainly stash him in any league where he is still available and can certainly envision him as a potential top-10 closer over the season’s second half.


Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

It is clear that Brad Brach’s days as the closer for the Baltimore Orioles are numbered as Zach Britton comes back into the fold.

Even if Britton is in fact traded, I don’t know if Brach is necessarily the automatic choice to slide back into the role. Brach is currently sporting a hideous 1.71 WHIP and is a 32-year old impending free agent.

Brach has not pitched as well as Darren O’Day, who, like Britton, recently returned following a lengthy layoff.

Mychal Givens is yet another reliever who could vie for saves if and when Britton is sent packing.

Even in a dream scenario of a Britton trade and Brach regaining the closer role, we must not forget that Baltimore is arguably the worst team in baseball. It’s not as if this is a team we should be targeting for saves. Brach is still owned in 66 percent of Fantrax leagues, but owners should seek contingencies, whether it be via free agency or trade.

Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

Two weeks ago, Nate Jones was closing out games for the Chicago White Sox. Early last week, he blew a save opportunity in Minnesota, and it has been all downhill for Jones ever since.

Joakim Soria came on to close a game later that day and has since taken over the closer’s role from Jones.

To add injury to insult, Jones was placed on the 10-day Disabled List with a strain of his pronator muscle. I had to be honest – I had no idea what a pronator muscle was before this week. Dr. Mike Tanner, I am not, folks.

As it turns out, the pronator muscle has nothing to do with the Green party, but it is a muscle that helps to turn (or pronate, apparently) your forearm. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s an important muscle to have when you make a living throwing a baseball.

Nate Jones has a long and storied history of arm injuries and this is yet another that figures to set him back for a while. I don’t want to speculate on a timeframe, but given the injury and Soria’s recent performance, I consider it safe to drop Jones in all but the deepest of leagues. He is currently owned in 36 percent of Fantrax leagues.

Robert Gsellman, New York Mets

Gsellman was a popular add once Jeurys Familia was placed on the Disabled List but has yet to record a save since the end of May.

Gsellman pitched the seventh and eighth innings of New York’s victory on Sunday night, but it is difficult to draw much from that outing. Manager Mickey Callaway had already employed the strategy of using his closer (Familia at the time) earlier in ballgames. It is the same strategy being employed by managers like Andy Green.

Based on Gsellman’s most recent outing, we cannot tell whether Callaway fancies Gsellman a setup man, or if the manager believes Gsellman is, in fact, his best reliever, but opted to use him in a more difficult situation. Either way, it’s not a situation you want to have a stake in.

Gsellman is owned in 40 percent of Fantrax leagues, but that number should dip considerably moving forward. We have no way of knowing what his true role is, and Familia should be back within the next week or so. I would have no issue dropping Gsellman this weekend in weekly leagues.

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