MLB Managerial Tendencies: Closing Situations
Each week, Chris Bouvier provides analysis on the managers around the league. More specifically, he breaks down who they are, how they manage their bullpens, how they make their lineups, and how they handle the run game.
We’re just over two months into the baseball season and many changes are taking place within each organization. Analyzing these changes, or possible changes, gives us all a distinct advantage in terms of roster moves by being one step ahead of our league mates. Grabbing a player before he lands a big role on his team is ideal as his price will be much cheaper and there will be less competition landing him whether it be FAAB money or waiver claims.
This week we’re dissecting a few closer situations that have recently become question marks with managers inserting new blood into the role. What we want to know is if it’s going to be a permanent change or if it has the looks of a committee moving forward.
St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Matheny
At first glance, the Cardinals closer situation doesn’t look like it has a need for change with Bud Norris leading the way with 12 saves and a 3.49 ERA. What gives us a reason for some concern is that in June he has a .424 wOBA compared to his .222 wOBA in May, a trajectory similar to last season. This, coupled with flame throwing 21 year old Jordan Hicks receiving an opportunity to close out Saturday’s game against the Reds for his first career save and we may have ourselves a situation.
Hicks throws 100+ mph consistently and is working diligently with pitching coach Mike Maddox to improve his slider. Improving his strikeout rate and command of both his slider and fastball will ultimately decide his immediate future as both his K% and BB% are not where they need to be on the season. The potential upside is immense however. We could go on and on about the screaming potential of Hicks but none of that would matter if it wasn’t for manager Mike Matheny’s track record of removing someone from the role. Since 2012 when Matheny took over as manager of the Cardinals, 24 pitchers have recorded a save and eight of them have more than four. This year alone, at one point or another, it was expected that Dominic Leone , Luke Gregerson , Greg Holland and Bud Norris would take the role so Matheny is open to change.
While many of these guys can certainly handle the role, none of them have the long term potential of Jordan Hicks . If you’re in need of saves, He’s only owned in 8.3% of ESPN leagues and based on what we’ve seen from Matheny, Hicks certainly has a strong chance to receive more opportunities in 2018.
Houston Astros, A.J. Hinch
The Astros have a deadly lineup and one of the best pitching staffs any of us have ever seen. If there’s one area that Hinch wants to secure as the season moves on is the back end of the bullpen. They’ve blown eight saves and have ten losses from relievers this season. The closer label belongs to Ken Giles who has an ERA over 5.00 despite his 19.00 K/BB rate. Giles was Hinch’s closer last year and was excellent at home while struggling on the road. With Giles giving up a lot of runs so far in 2018, Hinch made a move to Héctor Rondón on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Giles healthy and rested.
Hinch doesn’t have a history of using multiple closers or even removing guys from the role in his brief management career. With the Astros in a win now mode, Hinch is riding the hot hand with Rondon who has been excellent in his save opportunities. After three consecutive saves and in dominant fashion, the possibility of Rondon keeping this job becomes less crazy. Rondon is available in 97% of ESPN leagues and on a team this good he’s well worth a pickup while he’s pitching at this level with this type of role. Even if he fails to maintain the job it’s likely he remains valuable in fantasy leagues with a high leverage role and accumulating holds. Hinch may have had it with his closer Ken Giles and if that’s the case, can any of us really afford to not pick up the new closer for the reigning MLB champions?
San Diego Padres, Andy Green
This one isn’t as difficult to figure out. There’s no struggling closer on the brink of losing his role and an up and coming reliever waiting to take the reigns. Here we have a manager making a decision that he believes gives his team the best chance to win each game. While he has mainly used one closer each year with Brad Hand , Fernando Rodney and Brandon Maurer getting 90 of the 100 saves since he’s been manager, Green is doing something different as of late.
“Closer”, Brad Hand has been dominant this season versus lefties with a .151 wOBA and striking out 21 of the 41 lefties he’s faced. His .301 wOBA, ten walks and six earned runs versus righties has forced Green to make an adjustment. Based on that, the game plan has been to implement Hand when the most dangerous lefties are coming to the plate at the end of games. It doesn’t matter if its the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. When Green has his Hand forced (see what I did there?) earlier in games he’s been utilizing Kirby Yates to shut it down.
Same as Hand with lefties, Yates has been dominant versus right handed hitters to a tune of a .150 wOBA while striking out 18 of the 54 righties faced and only two walks. Andy Green and his track record of sticking to one closer makes this situation interesting to watch. Hand and Yates will both get saves and will both strikeout a lot of hitters since they’ll only be deployed when their talents best fit the situation. This provides cheap saves if you can land Yates (available in 95.5% of ESPN leagues) and keeps both players out of unfavorable circumstances. While this hurts Hand and his save numbers, it is immensely helpful in maintaining elite ratios for both players moving forward. A twist on this scenario could also be that the Padres trade Hand if they get an offer to benefit the future of the team, resulting in Yates receiving the closing duties.