The closer position is one of the few positions that has many different strategy routes. Is it worth investing a premium draft pick in a top-tier guy? Would you rather take risks on lower-tier options? Or do you just punt the position altogether? Most of that depends on your league type and league settings. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your league settings. From there, you need to figure out the route you want to take and who is worth targeting. Let’s dive in!
Why Draft Them?
Elite closers can make a huge difference on your strikeouts, K/9, ERA, WHIP, and more depending on the categories offered in your league. The difference between an early round selection of Aroldis Chapman and an end of draft selection of Alex Colomé equated to seven extra saves. There were also some huge differences in their values in other areas; Chapman had 30 more strikeouts, a 13.4 K/9 (compared to an 8.1 K/9 for Colome), and a 2.21 ERA (compared to 2.80 for Colome). Those numbers may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a season they can make a big difference. It is also important to note that Colome was one of the best late closers in the draft last year. Many of the other late picks (Cody Allen , Corey Knebel , and Archie Bradley , just to name a few) were not even worth a roster spot for the majority of the season last year. A huge bonus with elite closers is having them plugged into your lineup each and every day and not having to worry about if you need to chase saves or risk hurting your ratios using a low-end closer.
Better ratios/numbers being produced by elite closer is half of the equation. A big reason to draft a top-notch closer is the strength of their job security. If you choose to get low-end closers at the end of the draft you are banking on guys with low job security to provide you with saves without killing your ratios. Low job security closers can be tough to own, as a few slip-ups can result in them no longer being the teams closer. Once that happens, you are fighting with your other league members for that teams new closer, and if you are unable to land him, you are now looking at a gaping hole in your roster. This is the exact position that you do not want to be in. In roto leagues, falling too far behind in categories can prove to be enough of a difference between taking home the champion trophy and finishing in second or third.
Why Not Draft Them?
We will start with this: Last season the top-5 closers drafted (based on ADP) were Edwin Díaz , Blake Treinen , Aroldis Chapman , Kenley Jansen , and Roberto Osuna . If you played fantasy baseball last season, or kept up with the MLB season at all, you will quickly notice how poorly that group turned out. Diaz had a fantastic strikeout ratio but pitched to a 5.59 ERA and lost his job down the stretch. Treinen was awful in all areas and eventually lost his job as well. Jansen had the worst year of his career, pitching to a 3.71 ERA and his worst WHIP since 2014. Meanwhile, some of the best save value came from guys that you could have taken at the end of the draft or picked up off the waivers. Will Smith , Taylor Rogers , Liam Hendriks , and Hansel Robles all fit into that statement. If you play fantasy baseball each year this is something you will notice happens quite often. There is a lot of stress on a closers arm and that can lead to frequent DL trips. This opens the door for new closers regularly. New closers lead to new fantasy assets, and it’s a position with constant change.
The second portion of why you don’t want to draft an elite closer is what you are losing by doing so. When you use an early round selection on a closer, you are missing out on a more high-end position player or starting pitcher. This can really be detrimental to your team if you don’t hit on your late round upside selections of position players or starting pitchers. Do you think anyone last year was happy they drafted Diaz over Eugenio Suárez , Gleyber Torres , and/or plenty more? Even if you successfully drafted a guy like Chapman, it probably didn’t help you all that much unless you also hit on someone like Pete Alonso or Austin Meadows later on in the draft.
Chase Saves or Chase Strikeouts?
When using an early round selection on a closer do you go for someone who had a high save total last season or do you go for a guy who was a strikeout machine last season? The quick answer may bring you to thinking that the guy with the high save total is the better selection. Yes, saves are a big portion of what you want out of a closer. The problem with this idea is that save totals vary from year-to-year in great amounts. If you went into your 2019 draft targeting the top-seven save leaders of 2018, you would have missed on every single one of them. That’s right, not a single closer in the top-seven of saves in 2018 finished in the top-seven in 2019. This is where the argument for targeting high strikeout closers comes into play. While save totals are very volatile, high strikeout totals aren’t. For the most part, if a guy is good at striking out opposing hitters in one year, he is going to be good at it again the next. Edwin Díaz , Josh Hader , Kirby Yates , Aroldis Chapman , Brad Hand , José Leclerc , and a few others are all guys that put up strong strikeout numbers consistently year in and year out. Again, there is much more consistency in strikeouts than there is in save totals. Chasing strikeouts usually means having to draft some of the earlier round closers, but not always, and the guys that fall into this sweet spot are perfect guys to target (like Yates last season).
A Pair of Closers to Target
Edwin Díaz , NYM (122.8 ADP) – I absolutely love this pick and I hope this current ADP holds. Did he have a terrible ERA last year and lose his job down the stretch? Yes, but it was one of the weirdest seasons in the history of baseball. He still had a ridiculous 15.4 K/9 (third highest among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched) and he also had a very unlucky .377 BABIP against, which is even worse when you consider that home runs don’t count against BABIP and he had one of the highest HR/9 rates against in the entire league (2.33 HR/9). Nothing makes any sense about the season he had and he was the first pitcher in MLB history with an ERA over 5.00 and a K/9 over 15.0 with at least 50 innings pitched. It was just a completely bizarre season. I will take my chances here, as the strikeouts are what I want to invest in and he is the Mets closer. The Mets have the look of a playoff bubble team and there should be plenty of save chances. People quickly forget that this guy was the best closer on the planet in 2018.
José Leclerc , TEX (172.0 ADP) – Another great example of the type of closer I want to target. He is elite in the strikeout department (13.1 K/9) and will not cost you a prime draft pick. He is nearly unhittable and if he can fix his control issues, he will a top-five closer in the entire league. I can’t say with confidence that he will be able to do that, but I will take my chances on him and the upside he has. He is the Rangers closer and he just turned 26-years old. He is primed for a breakout season and he had a 3.68 ERA over his last 38 appearances last season. And really, his 4.33 ERA wasn’t that bad, considering he had a 5.11 BB/9 and .306 BABIP against. The Rangers have made a lot of the improvements in the offseason and there should be an increase in save chances this season. There isn’t that much risk considering how late he is going, and the upside far outweighs the downside of this selection.
A Pair of Closers to Avoid
Liam Hendriks , OAK (104.8 ADP) – I get it, this guy was good last season, but this ADP is just simply crazy to me. We are talking about a 30-year old who had an ERA north of four in back-to-back seasons prior to last season. His career WHIP is 1.31 and his 13.1 K/9 was well above his career average of 9.0. A few things to keep in mind; he had a very high LOB% of 85.7-percent (fifth best in baseball of all pitchers with at least 70.0 innings pitched) and his 5.6-percent HR/FB rate was the second lowest of all pitchers with at least 70.0 innings pitched. This feels very similar to Blake Trienen last season (who I also had in this section in last year’s draft guide). Has he made some adjustments that will help him going forward? Sure. However, I would be very surprised if he comes anywhere close to repeating last season’s numbers and he just simply isn’t going to be worth this high of a pick.
Will Smith , ATL (136.8 ADP) – I don’t really understand Smith having a far lower ADP than Hendricks. If I had to choose between the two, I would rather have Smith, regardless of ADP. That being said, this is another guy I would look to avoid. Smith has a track record of success, but there’s very little chance that he will be able to duplicate the success he had with the Giants. For starters, he gets a major downgrade in his home ballpark. San Francisco was easily the best pitcher’s park in the entire league last season, ranking 30th in both runs factor and home run factor (for hitters), while the Braves field ranked 15th in both categories. Furthermore, his 88.7-percent LOB% rate was the fourth best rate of all pitchers with at least 60.0 innings pitched last season. He posted career best in K/9 (13.2) and H/9 (6.3), yet his 3.23 FIP was right in line with his career average of 3.29. Again, I don’t dislike Smith at this pick as much as I do Hendricks at his, but he isn’t likely to pay off this pick and you can expect regression from his previous two seasons with the Giants.