Closer Rankings for 2020 Fantasy Baseball
It’s time to make the call to the pen and bring in the closers. Teams are getting more creative with how they use their relievers. Since 2016, the number of closers with at least 35 saves has decreased every season from 12 that year, to seven, to six, and down to only four in 2019. So, who can you trust to get you those needed saves? Hopefully, these rankings could help give you clarity and find you some value in drafts. I preview the closer position for each team and break them down into tiered rankings.
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2020 Closer Rankings and Tiers
1. Josh Hader – Milwaukee Brewers
Josh Hader takes the first spot in the closer rankings after finishing with 37 saves, a 2.62 ERA, and an MLB-leading 16.41 K/9. Hader induced a swinging strike rate of 22.9%, by far the best in baseball. With Milwaukee, Hader should be among the league leaders in saves and will provide some of the best strikeout numbers among all pitchers. If there’s any closer worth reaching for as the first off the board, Josh Hader is it.
2. Kirby Yates – San Diego Padres
Kirby Yates was outstanding in 2018 behind Brad Hand. Once Hand was traded, Yates stepped right in as a shutdown closer with 12 saves to finish the season. He then followed that up with a dominant 2019 posting 41 saves, a 14.98 K/9, and a 1.19 ERA supported by a 1.30 FIP. Yates has a great ability to keep the ball on the ground thanks to a splitter that induces a 67.2% ground ball rate. His swing and miss stuff combined with his home run suppression and low walk rate makes Kirby Yates one of the prime closers in the game.
3. Aroldis Chapman – New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman has been one of the best closers in the game for the last decade. Since 2010, only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen have accumulated more saves. Chapman is still going strong, ending 2019 with 37 saves, a 2.21 ERA, and a 13.42 K/9. On a team as good as the Yankees, Chapman should be in line for another stellar season.
4. Roberto Osuna – Houston Astros
Roberto Osuna has been a phenomenal closer since making his debut with the Blue Jays in 2015. Osuna has racked up 154 career saves before the age of 25! His 38 saves in 2019 led the American League while posting a 2.63 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Only Josh Hader and Emilio Pagan had lower WHIP numbers among closers. Not only did Osuna limit baserunners, his strikeout numbers improved from 2018 with a 10.11 K/9 that was helped by a career-best 16.9% swinging-strike rate. Osuna might just belong in his own tier. At this point, I trust him more than the closers that follow but he doesn’t quite have the strikeout numbers of the three that precede him.
5. Liam Hendriks – Oakland Athletics
Next in the closer rankings is 2019 breakout Liam Hendriks. Hendriks was invaluable to the Oakland Athletics after taking over as closer. A 1.80 ERA, 25 saves, and 13.13 K/9 led Hendriks to a 3.8 WAR, the highest for a reliever since Brad Lidge and Francisco Rodriguez put up a 3.7 WAR each in 2004. A velocity jump last season helped Hendriks achieve a career-high 17% swinging-strike rate that led to 124 strikeouts in 85 innings. Though he may have been fortunate to have only a 5.6% HR/FB rate after giving up more fly balls than he ever had at 49.5%.
6. Taylor Rogers – Minnesota Twins
Minnesota closer Taylor Rogers is one of my favorite targets this draft season. Despite sharing the ninth-inning duties for much of the first half, he totaled 30 saves on the year. Rogers has gotten better over the last three seasons with ERAs of 3.07, 2.63, and 2.61 from 2017-2019, along with improving K/9 rates of 7.92, 9.88, and 11.74, respectively. Much of these improving numbers are due to Rogers’ ability to suppress hard contact, keep the ball on the ground, and limit baserunners. These skills, along with improving strikeout numbers and good team context, give us the recipe for an elite closer.
7. Brad Hand – Cleveland Indians
For the first half of 2019, Brad Hand was looking like a top-four closer with a 2.17 ERA. Things then went south for Hand, who posted with a 5.40 ERA after the All-Star break. Arm fatigue caused him to be shut down for much of September. Despite the second-half struggles, Hand still finished the season with 34 saves, a 3.30 ERA, and a 13.19 K/9. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best closers in baseball. But the fatigue that set in is a cause for concern along with a couple of excellent arms in Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak waiting in the wings. Should Brad Hand be traded, Clase and Karinchak will be the primary names to watch for as the next closer for the Indians.
8. Kenley Jansen – Los Angeles Dodgers
Another closer of the decade, Jansen is second on the saves list over the last ten years. The difference between him and Chapman though is that we’ve seen a gradual decline for Jansen. It’s now three straights seasons of velocity decline for Jansen and his ERA with it. Even so, a 3.71 ERA in 2019 didn’t stop him from converting 33 saves on the year. The Dodgers will no doubt give Jansen plenty of save opportunities, which with his track record keeps him in the top ten of my closer rankings.
9. Ken Giles – Toronto Blue Jays
Blue Jays closer Ken Giles was one of the best relievers in 2019 despite converting only 23 saves after posting a 1.87 ERA, 14.09 K/9, and 1.00 WHIP. A swinging-strike rate of 18.8% was good for fourth in baseball among qualifying relievers. Lingering elbow issues limited his usage down the stretch, but when he was elite when on the mound. Toronto is a team on the rise and could give him more save opportunities. If he can stay healthy, Giles would be one to shoot up the closer rankings in short order.
10. Edwin Diaz – New York Mets
It was a headache owning Diaz in 2019, to say the least. Even with a 5.59 ERA, Diaz posted elite strikeout numbers with a 15.36 K/9. That strikeout rate trailed only Josh Hader among closers. The .377 BABIP against and a 26.8% HR/FB rate are sure to regress. A bounce-back season should be on the horizon for the young closer. Diaz will get the first opportunity to redeem himself given the cost the Mets paid to acquire him.
11. Brandon Workman – Boston Red Sox
Brandon Workman flew under the radar for much of the 2019 season and still is. Workman is being drafted as the 17th reliever off the board according to Fantrax ADP, yet he’s here at 11 in my closer rankings. Workman provided much-needed stability to Boston’s bullpen with a 1.88 ERA, 13.06 K/9, and 16 saves. He goes into this season as the clear option to close. So draft him where he’s going now and profit.
12. Hector Neris – Philadelphia Phillies
Hector Neris rebounded nicely from a terrible 2018 season with a 2.93 ERA, 11.84 K/9, and 28 saves. The season from Neris was much needed for the Phillies after a rash of injuries decimated their bullpen. Expect Neris to go into 2020 as the closer despite the return of Seranthony Dominguez. Though if Dominguez returns to form and is healthy, he’ll be waiting in the wings should Neris struggle.
13. Craig Kimbrel – Chicago Cubs
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The 2010’s leader in saves, Kimbrel struggled big time with the Cubs in 2019. It’s hard to blame him for a 6.53 ERA after he got off to such a late start to the season. Kimbrel didn’t sign with the club until June and had no spring training to work with. I won’t completely throw the season out, because he did struggle to stay healthy and had previously been showing signs of decline. But the Cubs did invest $43 million in Kimbrel and he’ll have every opportunity to return to form for a good club.
14. Raisel Iglesias – Cincinnati Reds
It was a mixed bag of a season for Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. At the end of the day we want saves, and Iglesias recorded 34 of them. The 11.96 K/9 was a career-best for Iglesias while he also improved his walk rate. A K-BB% of 24.4% was by far his best. Despite this, he put up a 4.16 ERA and the 3.92 FIP wasn’t very encouraging. This could be due to a significant drop in his ground-ball rate down to 29.9%. That’s not something you want to see at Great American Ball Park as evidenced by his 1.61 HR/9.
15. Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks
This might have gone unnoticed by many, but Diamondbacks closer Archie Bradley was one of the best relievers in baseball after the All-Star break. In 31.2 second-half innings, Bradley posted a 1.71 ERA while recording all 18 of his saves. The fingernail issues are behind Bradley and he’s going into the season as a nice late-round target for saves on an improving Diamondbacks team.
16. Nick Anderson – Tampa Bay Rays
By trading Emilio Pagan to the Padres, the Rays have opened the door for Nick Anderson to take over the closer role. At the same time, it is the Rays, and they can very well make this a committee. But I liked Anderson a ton before the trade, and it’s hard for me to think that losing 20 saves from Pagan doesn’t improve his stock. Anderson was lights out in his first full season in the majors with a 3.32 ERA and a 2.35 FIP that ranked sixth in MLB. After he was acquired from Miami at the trade deadline, there was perhaps no reliever better than Anderson as he posted the best K-BB rate in the majors at 50% during that stretch. It wasn’t too long ago that the Rays committed to a ninth-inning guy with Sergio Romo picking up 25 saves for the team in 2018, and Alex Colome before that. If Anderson is given the full-time closing gig, he’s right up in the closer rankings among the top five. Other names that gain some value after the Pagan trade include Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado.
17. Alex Colome – Chicago White Sox
Colome was an afterthought in many drafts last season. All he did was get the job done for the White Sox and provide excellent value with 30 saves and a 2.80 ERA. Colome never was and never will be a flashy closer with elite stuff, but he’s pretty much done what he’s supposed to do for the last four seasons. Colome seems to outperform his metrics every season, and I don’t expect differently this year. The White Sox are showing that they want to compete now in a relatively weak division that is up for grabs. More saves could be in store for Alex Colome.
18. Hansel Robles – Anaheim Angels
Hansel Robles, like Liam Hendriks before, saw an uptick in velocity that lead to a breakout season. With 23 saves and a 2.48 ERA, Robles helped the Angels and fantasy players sharp enough to pick him up. The other change for Robles came in the form of his control. His 5.7% walk rate was by far a vast improvement over the 10.3% he showed in 2018. If Robles can show the improvements weren’t just a flash in the pan, he could take a step up the closer rankings shortly into the season.
19. Ian Kennedy – Kansas City Royals
Converting to a reliever was the best move Ian Kennedy could have made, and perhaps saved his career. The Royals’ situation in the ninth inning was a mess before Kennedy came in to lock things down. Kennedy converted 30 saves for Kansas City and posted a 3.41 ERA and 2.99 FIP with a 10.37 K/9.
20. Sean Doolittle – Washington Nationals
Through the first half of the season, Doolittle was solid with a 3.13 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. Injury got in the way of Doolittle finishing the season strong as he posted a 5.56 ERA after the All-Star break. He ultimately ended with 29 saves but shared the closing job with Daniel Hudson down the stretch. When healthy, Doolittle is awesome. But that health will always be in question and a big risk for those drafting him.
21. Jose Leclerc – Texas Rangers
Much like Edwin Diaz, owning Jose Leclerc was a heck of a roller coaster ride in 2019. Leclerc lost the closer role for a good portion of the season. What did him in was a complete lack of control with a 13% walk rate. The Rangers finally let him work things out in the ninth inning to finish the year after Shawn Kelley went down with an injury and Leclerc managed to accumulate 14 saves. Not exactly what fantasy owners were expecting. A 3.59 FIP and strong 13.11 K/9 give hope for Leclerc in 2020. The young closer could move far up the rankings if he manages to keep the walks under control.
22. Mark Melancon – Atlanta Braves
The Braves took on Melancon at the trade deadline. Despite the move being questioned at the time, it worked out for the team as Melancon was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities. Melancon was outstanding at keeping the ball in the park with a 62.1% ground ball rate that led to a 0.53 HR/9. Melancon’s 3.61 ERA came with a 2.86 FIP and he actually performed better with Atlanta than in San Francisco with a 2.93 second-half ERA. The acquisition of Will Smith may cut into Melancon’s save chances but he could provide good value for where he’s being drafted.
23. Joe Jimenez – Detroit Tigers
It took Joe Jimenez long enough to finally land the closer job after Shane Greene was traded to Atlanta. Jimenez managed to record nine saves for Detroit after the trade deadline. Like many of these young closers, lack of control can turn promise into disappointment. A 1.96 HR/9 won’t help his cause or his 4.37 ERA.
24. Keone Kela – Pittsburgh Pirates
Keone Kela was limited to only 29.2 innings in 2019 due to injury. In his short time, he performed relatively well with a 2.12 ERA. That did come with a 3.52 FIP. Nonetheless, Kela could be a sneaky value for some saves this year as the closer.
25. Brandon Kintzler – Miami Marlins
Brandon Kintzler signed a one-year deal with the Marlins and manager Don Mattingly was quick to confirm him as the team’s primary closer. Kintzler pitched 57 innings for the Cubs last season and posted a 2.68 ERA. He doesn’t have the same swing-and-miss stuff that Ryne Stanek has, but he induces an extreme amount of ground balls at 54.7%. Kintzler can be a good, cheap source of saves, at least early on. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him being traded at some point and Ryne Stanek taking over the closing job.
26. Matt Magill – Seattle Mariners
Matt Magill enters the season with the best chance of closing for the Mariners. He actually finished the season on a strong note after struggling with a 4.67 ERA in the first half. Magill had a strong September with a 1.35 ERA and will look to build on that going into the season. Though, the team may not provide him many opportunities.
27. Wade Davis – Colorado Rockies
Well, we all wanted to see Scott Oberg named the closer going into the season. But alas, it is once again Wade Davis. Davis managed to record 15 saves last season, which is actually impressive given his 8.65 ERA. Draft him as a late-round flier for a few saves but be ready to cut bait when things get ugly. And keep Oberg and Jairo Diaz on your radar.
28. Mychal Givens – Baltimore Orioles
I’m not so sure which is the higher number this year, innings for Mychal Givens, or wins for the Orioles. If you need to roster Givens, you might as well punt saves altogether.
Spring Training Closer Competitions
San Francisco Giants
Shaun Anderson spent most of the season as a starter before moving to the bullpen where he managed to save two games. He wasn’t particularly effective in either role with a 5.44 ERA. With the departure of Will Smith, Anderson is the speculative closer for the time being. Though San Francisco has a few other options that will compete for the job such as Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave, and dark horse candidate out of the minors Melvin Adon.
St. Louis Cardinals
After Jordan Hicks went down with Tommy John surgery, Carlos Martinez proved to be an effective closer for the Cardinals. Martinez converted 24 of 27 save chances for St. Louis to go with a 3.17 ERA. A swinging-strike rate of 12.6% was the best he’s shown since 2014, perhaps a result of shorter outings. Regardless, Carlos Martinez looks to be on track to start the season in the rotation. The competition for the closer role starts with the Cardinals’ best reliever of 2019 in Giovanny Gallegos. Andrew Miller, John Gant, John Brebbia, Alex Reyes, and Ryan Helsley are also in the mix. Reyes is a popular name due to his pedigree, and he’s also in the running for a spot in the rotation. Helsley is similar to Jordan Hicks in that he throws heat with a 100mph fastball and is someone worth taking a shot on with a Fantrax ADP of 852.73.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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