Generally, when it comes to closers I’m not interested in blowing too much draft capital. There are two reasons why. First, closers lose their jobs so frequently—by virtue of injury, poor high-leverage performance in small samples, or trade deadline deals—that it’s not worth investing too much draft capital in them. Second, because so many lose their jobs, others will always be available on the waiver wire at various times throughout the season. Look no further than 2019’s top two closers who both lost their jobs: Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. They not only lost the closer role, but they also wasted top-75 picks for their fantasy owners.
Recently, I took part in a mock draft where I selected three closers: Brad Hand, Taylor Rogers, and Ian Kennedy. I got them at picks 113, 176, and 224, respectively. After the draft, I wrote about my picks, which required me to research them in greater detail. And diving deeper into Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy only strengthened my resolve not to draft closers early.
In retrospect, Hand was a mea culpa, of sorts. That’s because there’s really not much that separates these three guys.
|Name||NFBC ADP||Saves||Blown Saves||Team Save Opportunities|
Despite the divergence in these three closers’ ADPs, they actually had similar 2019 save totals. Hand led the way with 34, but Rogers and Kennedy weren’t far behind, each racking up 30 saves. To be frank, when paying for saves, if these guys could (and have) produced basically the same results, then why pay so much more for one over another?
Hand, the most expensive of the three, earned only four more saves than Kennedy, who is getting drafted 85 picks later. Hand wasn’t particularly more effective than the other two closers. His 87.2% save conversion rate was only slightly better than Rogers’s (83.3%) and actually worse than Kennedy’s (88.2%).
Rogers, however, had by far the best team save opportunity rate. You may be wondering why he only had 36 saves of his team’s 72 total save opportunities. He didn’t begin the season as the team’s closer and shared opportunities with ageless-wonder Sergio Romo down the stretch. Yet, the Twins should remain competitive in 2020, offering Rogers plenty of save opportunities, and the team hasn’t brought Romo back. While teams are often reluctant to name lefty closers, to the extent he retains the role, he could have the most save opportunities of the group.
Likely because the Indians were less competitive than before, they had 12 fewer opportunities for Hand than the Twins. To be sure, they’ll be more competitive than the Royals. But are you positive Hand will get more save opportunities than Kennedy again? In fact, the Royals had more opportunities as a team (60) than the Indians (58) last season. And Kennedy wasn’t utilized as much in the ninth inning early on in 2019, appearing more frequently as a closer first in June. He has far more of a stranglehold on the job now and should get a greater percentage of those opportunities.
From a performance perspective, Rogers was the most dominant of the three closers last year. His 28.4 K-BB% was elite, bolstered by 90 strikeouts in just 69 innings. Kennedy wasn’t far behind. His fourseam fastball played up in the pen from 92.4 mph in 2018 to 94.8 mph, boosting his strikeout rate to an excellent 27.4% mark and enabling him to secure 30 of 34 save opportunities.
Though Kennedy’s bottom line looks pretty similar to Hand’s, I won’t piss on your back and tell you it’s rain. Kennedy’s peripherals couldn’t keep up with Hand’s, even though the latter’s bottom line was weighed down by an uncharacteristic rough stretch precipitated by injury. I expect a bounceback for Hand, who, in each of the last three seasons posted a sub-3.00 ERA and at least an 11 K/9. Kennedy is simply not that pitcher.
Still, I’m of the mind that closer dominance isn’t all that important so long as your closers provide saves. In reality, the impact Rogers–who performed the best of the three–had on his fantasy team’s ratios and strikeouts were minimal considering he only pitched 69 innings. Starting pitchers should throw, barring injury, around 180 innings. That’s basically three times the amount that Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy pitched, and therefore three times the impact on ratios and strikeouts. If you’re regularly using seven or eight starting pitchers, each of which has three times the impact of your three closers on everything but saves, then selecting those closers based on their performance is a folly exercise.
I acknowledge that, perhaps, a closer who performed at an elite level last year is less likely to lose his job this year. But then again consider Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. In the end, closers pitch in such small samples that I’d rather bet on team and opportunity than skill.
And that brings me back to ADP review. There’s a good chance Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy again provide similar save totals. Each should enter 2020 as their team’s primary closer. In my view, that is the most important aspect of selecting a closer. The rest of their contributions matter very little. With similar save opportunities for each of them, why not pass over Hand and Rogers to load up on starting pitchers and hitters, then grab Kennedy at the end of the draft?