2020 Fantasy Baseball: American League Closer Reports

High-stakes fantasy baseball guru Shawn Childs runs through each team's closer and top relief pitcher options.
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AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles

Mychal Givens (ADP – 265) picked up 20 saves over the past two seasons for the Orioles. Last year he had more fade in his walk rate (3.7) with disaster risk in his HR/9 rate (1.9).

His best stretch came from June 4th to September 8th (2.70 ERA over 30 innings with 43 Ks and seven saves). Givens allowed 14 of his 32 runs over 3.1 innings in four games (5/20 – five runs, 8/11 – three runs, 9/17 – three runs, and 9/21 – three runs).

This spring Givens allowed one run over two innings with one strikeout.

The recent talk out of the Orioles camp is Hunter Harvey (ADP – 503), being a contention to close in 2020.

In 2019 over 11 starts at AA, he posted 5.19 ERA and 61 Ks over 59 innings. His risk came from 14 home runs allowed. Harvey pitched better in relief at AAA (4.32 ERA and 22 Ks over 16.2 innings) with success as well in the majors (one run allowed over 6.1 innings with 11 Ks).

Over six seasons in the minors, he posted a 3.67 ERA and 300 strikeouts over 252.1 innings. Harvey comes to the majors with a high 90s fastball and durability issues.

In March, over his first two appearances, Harvey tossed two shutout innings with three strikeouts.

Look for Givens to start the year as the closer for Baltimore with Harvey to emerge later in the year.

Boston Red Sox

This season Brandon Workman (ADP – 141) emerged as the top ninth-inning option for the Red Sox late in 2019.

Even with poor command (5.7 walks per nine), batters struggled to make contact against him (.123 BAA). He finished with a career-high in his strikeout rate (13.1), which was well above his career resume (9.4). Workman dominated both RH (.116 BAA) and LH ( .132 BAA) batters.

Over the second half of the year, he had a 2.01 ERA with 49 Ks over 31.1 innings. Workman gained momentum last year due to much higher usage of his curveball (47 percent – 36.7 in 2018 and 23.8 in 2017).

Workman allowed one run over 2.2 innings with four strikeouts in his first games in March.

Matt Barnes (ADP – 516) had a regression in his walk rate in 2018 (4.5) with more fade as well in 2019 (5.3). Even with fewer strikes thrown, Barnes had a career-high in his strikeout rate (15.4).

Over his first 23 games, he posted a 1.99 ERA with 41 Ks over 22.2 innings with batters hitting .160 against him. Boston gave him the first save chance of the year, but he blew three of his six opportunities over this span. Barnes lost his way over 14 games in June (10.50 ERA and 2.17 WHIP over 12 innings with 21 Ks). He dominated in July (no runs over eight innings with 15 Ks). Regression came again over his next 15 games (5.02 ERA and 22 Ks over 14.1 innings).

I can't pay the premium for Workman when considering his question command and high reliance on his curveball. On the same thought process, Barnes can't seize the ninth inning without throwing more strikes.

Barnes walked three batters over his 2.1 shutout innings in spring training with two strikeouts.

New York Yankees

Aroldis Chapman (ADP – 75) has a great arm, but he continues to come up short in innings pitched and saves. He's never had over 38 saves in any season in the majors while pitching fewer than 60 innings in each of the last four years.

Chapman had a rebound in his walk rate (3.9 – 5.3 in 2018) while also losing some momentum in his strikeout rate (13.4 – 16.3 in 2018). Over the last two seasons, New York won 203 games, but he picked up only 69 saves due to many games being blowouts.

Tampa Bay Rays

The door is open for Nick Anderson (ADP – 145) to have an impact year as closer thanks to his ability to deliver a high volume of strikeouts if he doesn't trip up when converting saves.

Anderson was a late-bloomer who worked his way through the minors as a semi-closer. His climb to the big leagues came in 2015 in the Independent League (0.65 ERA and 35 Ks over 27.2 innings).

Over four seasons in the minors, he posted a 2.25 ERA and 232 Ks over 183.2 innings while converting 32 saves. After pitching well in April for Miami (2.08 ERA with two walks and 27 Ks over 13 innings), Anderson battled some confidence issues over his next 27 games (5.68 ERA).

Tampa saw enough in his arm to make a move for him at the trade deadline in late July. After the All-Star break, his stuff looked closer-worthy (1.69 ERA and 51 Ks over 26.2 innings). Anderson had more of an advantage against righties (.183 BAA) than lefties (.250 BAA). His AFB (96.4) plays well in velocity, but batters did hit .265 against it (.224 after the All-Star break).

Anderson had three shutout innings with no hits and three strikeouts this spring.

Last year Diego Castillo (ADP – 355) appeared to be the sexy closing arm late in drafts for the Rays.

His season started with no runs over ten innings with ten Ks and two saves. Over the next two months, he had too much disaster (5.55 ERA) to be trusted in the 9th innings due to walks (13) and home runs allowed (five) over 24.1 innings, despite converting five of his six saves.

After three weeks on the injured list with a right shoulder issue, Tampa changed his role. Castillo finished the year with a 2.88 ERA and 43 strikeouts over 34.1 innings while making six starts (opener) and finishing four games. He had risk vs. lefties (.271 BAA) while maintaining an electric fastball (98.7 MPH – .235 BAA). His sinker (.324 BAA) ended up being a liability, whereas his slider (.167 BAA) worked as his best pitch.

Castillo looked sharp in his five games of work this March (no runs over five innings with nine strikeouts).

Toronto Blue Jays

Ken Giles (ADP – 112) threw the ball great for most of 2019, but he had too many stretches with no innings pitched (15, 13, and 16 days between appearances) due to a battle with right elbow soreness.

Giles converted 23 of his 24 save chances with his best ERA (1.87) since 2015 (1.80). He also set a career-high in his strikeout rate (14.1) while his walk rate (2.9) came in just above his career average (2.7). Giles dominated both righties (.202 BAA) and lefties (.174 BAA) with his best value coming at home (0.87 ERA and 47 Ks over 31 innings). His AFB (97.2) remained elite, but it came in as a career-low. Giles gains his edge from a plus slider (.124 BAA), which accounted for 60 of his 83 strikeouts.

Over three innings this spring, Giles gave up one run with three strikeouts.

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox

Alex Colome (ADP – 143) ended up being a value reliever in 2019. Before the All-Star break, he posted a 2.02 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 20 saves over 35.2 innings.

Over the second half of the year, his arm (3.91 ERA, 28 Ks, and ten SVs over 25.1 innings) lost value. He had almost the same value vs. righties (.192) and lefties (.190). Colome had his highest walk rate (3.4) since 2014 (3.8) with a step back in his strikeout rate (8.1 – 9.5 in 2019).

Colome has plenty of closing experience with less than desirable peripheral stats, which pushes him lower in the closer rankings. The White Sox will win plenty of games, but he's not a lock to hold the job all year.

There has been plenty of disaster in Colome's arm this spring (seven runs, ten base runners, and three home runs over three innings).

Aaron Bummer (ADP – 552) pitched well over his five seasons in the minors (3.14 ERA and 136 Ks over 126 innings). He struggled in his two years in the majors (4.36 ERA) before making a step forward in 2019 (2.13 ERA and 60 Ks over 67.2 innings). His walk rate (3.2) still needs more work. Not quite closer-worthy due to his command issues, but he is tough to hit.

Cleveland Indians

Based on final stats (3.30 ERA and 34 saves), Brad Hand (ADP – 107) finished with a productive season while showing improved command (2.8 walks per nine). His strikeout rate (13.2) has been exceptional over the previous two years.

Hidden behind his numbers was a couple of bad months of pitching. From June 25th to August 21st, Hand had an 8.10 ERA, 2.160 WHIP, and four home runs allowed over 16.2 innings. Over this period, he blew five of 12 save tries.

His season started with an electric 34.1 innings (1.05 ERA, 50 Ks, and 22 saves), but ended with arm issue in September (only pitched 2.1 innings – 7.71 ERA).

On the year, Hand had regression against right-handed batters (.258 – .226 in 2018). His AFB (92.9) was down about 1.3 MPH with more erosion for his sinker (about two MPH). His best pitch remains to be his slider (.200 BAA).

I'd like to know why his arm lost value in 2019. Without a corrected injury, he may still have an underlying issue.

Hand gave one run over four innings this March with five strikeouts.

James Karinchak (ADP – 467) posted a massive walk rate (5.5) in the minors, but batters have struggled to hit him over the previous two years (.177 and .150). In 2019 between AA and AAA, he struck out 22 batters per nine innings.

The Indians gave him a September call up, and he responded to the challenge (1.69 ERA and eight Ks over 5.1 innings). His AFB (97.1) graded well in velocity and success (.214 BAA). Karinchak threw a curveball (.143 BAA) as his second-best pitch.

Future closing option if/when Karinchak improves his control. He picked eight strikeouts over 4.2 innings of work in spring training with two runs, two hits, and four walks.

Detroit Tigers

The first thing that bothers me about Joe Jimenez (ADP – 188) is his weight issue (270 lbs.) at the age of 24. The second is his issue with home runs allowed (2.0 per nine) in 2019.

Over the three seasons in the majors, he has a 5.41 ERA and 177 strikeouts over 141.1 innings. His walk rate (3.5) remains too high, but he did add more value to his strikeout rate (12.4).

In his first opportunity to close over the final two months, Jimenez did pitch better (3.06 ERA and 23 Ks over 17.2 innings) while converting nine of ten save chances. He did struggle with lefties (.262 with five HRs over 103 at-bats).

In the minors, his arm did offer more value (15-7 with a 1.56 ERA, 241 Ks, and 56 saves over 167.1 innings).

Not a layup, but not dead in the water either. Jimenez has a live arm with more upside in strikeouts if he gets in better shape and throws more strikes.

Kansas City Royals

Ian Kennedy (ADP – 177) pitched poorly in 2017 and 2018 (8-22 with a 5.06 ERA and 236 Ks over 273.2 innings) while struggling with HRs (54).

After failing to make the Royals' starting rotation out of spring training, he had an up and down first 21 games (4.37 ERA) in the bullpen while having sporadic save chances (2-for-4).

Kansas City handed him the closing role for good on May 30th. Over the next two months, Kennedy posted a 2.08 ERA, 27 strikeouts, and 18 saves over 21.2 innings.

Other than two bad outings (six runs and seven baserunners over two innings), he ended the season with a 3.79 ERA over 19 innings while converting ten of his last 11 save chances.

Even with success, Kennedy did have risk against right-handed batters (.298).

He struggled over his first three games in March (five runs, seven baserunners, and two home runs over 3.1 innings).

Flying under the radar this spring is the right arm of Trevor Rosenthal (ADP – 591). After having TJ surgery in August of 2017, he struggled to find his way in his limited innings last year in the majors (23 runs, 11 hits, and 26 walks over 15.1 innings). His fastball ranked high in velocity (98.1).

With a winter to clear his head and work on his mechanics, Rosenthal looked elite so far this spring (no runs over four innings with no walks and eight strikeouts). Great gamble with a free price in deep leagues.

Minnesota Twins

I know I don't talk enough about the first-pitch strike rate, but there are times when a fantasy owner can see the impact of getting ahead in the count.

Taylor Rogers (ADP – 98) started his major league career in 2016 with only a 56.4 percent first-pitch strike rate. That season he allowed a 3.96 ERA and more hits (63) than innings pitched (61.1). If we fast forward to 2019, his first-pitch strike rate improved to 68 percent, which led to a career-low walk rate (1.4) and a career-high in his strikeout rate (11.7). His growth in his foundation skill set led to a closing arm.

Over the first two months of the year, Rogers had a 2.16 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 25 innings while converting four of his six save tries.

He took over the ninth inning officially on June 2nd. Over the final four months of the year, he went 26-for-30 in save conversions with a 2.86 ERA and 59 strikeouts over 44 innings. Surprisingly, Rogers had more risk vs. lefties (.273) than right-handed batters (.208).

Rogers allowed one run over five innings of work in spring training with one walk and seven strikeouts.

AL WEST

Houston Astros

It's hard to believe that Roberto Osuna (ADP – 81) led the American League with only 38 saves. He finished with strength in both his strikeout rate (10.1) and walk rate (1.7).

Over the first seven weeks of the year, his arm looked special (12-for-12 in save conversions with one run allowed 21.1 innings with 19 Ks). Osuna lost his way over his next 27 games (5.19 ERA and 30 Ks over 26 innings) due to six home runs allowed. His bad days led to five blown saves in 19 chances. He pitched well over the final quarter of the season (1.53 ERA and 24 Ks over 17.2 innings).

Osuna allowed four runs and 12 baserunners over ten innings in the postseason in 2019 with nine strikeouts and two saves. His AFB (96.9) was the best of his career. Batters struggled to hit his cutter (.140 BAA), slider (.163 BAA), and changeup (0.98 BAA).

One of the better young closers in the game with 154 career saves at the age of 24. Osuna has three shutout innings under his belt this March with three strikeouts.

Los Angeles Angels

After an up and down career with the Mets (4.07 ERA and 229 Ks over 208 innings), Hansel Robles (ADP – 148) found the fountain of command in 2019. He posted a 2.0 walk rate, which was much better than his first four years in the majors (4.0). His strikeout rate (9.3) drifted downward slightly.

Robles wandered through his first 22 games (4.26 ERA and 25 Ks over 25.1 innings). Over the final four months, he converted 17 of his 19 save chances with a 1.52 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 47.1 innings. His arm had almost the same value against right-handed (.217) and left-handed (.226) batters.

Robles had the best fastball (97.5 MPH) of his career while gaining confidence in his changeup (.169 BAA).

I'm torn between his career resume and short term success. Robles will open the 2020 season as the full time closer for the Angels. If he checks the boxes in command and velocity in spring training, a fantasy owner should expect a run at 40-plus saves with more growth strikeouts.

Over three games this March, Robles gave up three runs and eight runs over three innings with four strikeouts.

Over his first 27 games, Ty Buttrey (ADP – 573) was the best arm in the Angels' bullpen (1.23 ERA and 36 Ks over 29.1 innings). Unfortunately, they only gave him three save chances (converted two).

His arm had a considerable step back in value over the final four months (5.86 ERA and 1.442 WHIP) thanks to nine appearances with two runs or more allowed. More of his failure came against righties (.263), while both his walk rate (2.9) and strikeout rate (10.5) had strength.

His AFB (97.4) has closer upside. This spring, Buttrey has yet to pitch in a game due to a back issue.

Oakland A's

In a way, Liam Hendriks (ADP – 90) was the 2.0 version of Blake Treinen in 2019.

After an excellent start to the year in April (2.08 ERA and 18 Ks over 17.1 innings), his arm made a push for the 9th inning over the next six weeks (1.08 ERA and 32 Ks over 25 innings).

The A's handed the closing job on June 22nd, and Hendriks shifted into overdrive. Over his final 42.2 innings, he walked only four batters with 74 strikeouts, which led to a 2.11 ERA and 25 saves in 31 chances. Hendriks did look to have risk over a four-game stretch late in July (four runs and nine baserunners over 3.2 innings) when he blew three saves.

Hendriks has a 3.22 ERA and 295 strikeouts over his 237.2 innings with Oakland.

A fantasy owner only needs to look back at Treinen's season in 2018 (9-2 with 0.78 ERA, 100 Ks, and 38 SVs over 80.1 innings) to see the variance of a high leverage arm without a long history of closing.

Tread carefully while keeping an open mind with his insurance. Hendriks pitched great last year (1.80 ERA, 124 Ks, and 25 SVs), but I can't get away from staring at his ERA in 2016 (3.76), 2017 (4.22) and 2018 (4.13) while pitching a career-high 85 innings last year. I'll sit this dance out.

Hendriks picked one save in spring training with a 4.50 ERA, no walks, and eight strikeouts over four innings.

Seattle Mariners

With the Mariners' bullpen lacking structure and strength in 2019, Matt Magill (ADP – 417) worked his way to saves late in the year. Over his final 18 games, he converted five of seven saves with a 2.65 ERA and 23 Ks over 17 innings.

Magill finished with a much-improved walk rate (2.0) with Seattle and his highest strikeout rate (11.4) of his career in 2019.

Over his last 90 games in the majors, he had a 3.94 ERA and 120 strikeouts over 107.1 innings. Magill did have issues with lefties (.280 with 11 walks and 20 Ks over 82 at-bats).

His AFB (95.7) was the highest of his career. Batters struggled to hit his slider (.194 BAA) and four-seam (.223 BAA) while his curveball (.383 BAA) showed risk.

I can't trust him as the top closing arm for the Mariners in 2020, but he did improve late in the year. Magill has no chance at success if he doesn't repeat his last season command.

He's yet to pitch this spring due to a lingering right shoulder issue.

Yoshihisa Hirano (ADP – 442) pitched great in 2018 (2.44 ERA) while owning 56 saves over 549 games in Japan.

Last year his arm had a significant drop in value (4.75 ERA), but he did have growth in his strikeout rate (10.4). Hirano had a regression in his walk rate (3.7) and HR/9 rate (1.2).

A lot to prove in 2020, but Hirano has closer experience on his resume. Over five innings in spring training, he allowed three runs and seven baserunners with three strikeouts.

Texas Rangers

In 2018, Jose Leclerc (ADP – 153) moved into an electric range after shaving off 4.0 walks per nine. He held batters to a .126 BAA with a bump in Ks (13.3) while converting all 12 saves once taking over the closing job for the Rangers in early August. Over his last 21 games, Leclerc didn't allow a run over 21 innings with five hits, six walks, and 32 Ks.

Last year his arm crushed fantasy owner over the final three weeks of April (14.21 ERA and 3.316 WHIP over 6.1 innings). Leclerc regained his form over his last 58.0 innings (3.57 ERA, 1.172 WHIP, and .185 BAA with 86 Ks) while converting nine of his 11 saves.

Over this span, he walked 4.7 batters per nine with strength in his strikeout rate (13.4). His struggles came against lefties (.267). Leclerc had the best fastball (97.0 MPH) of his career. His four-seamer (.210 BAA), slight-finger (.175 BAA), and changeup (.200 BAA) all played well. He pitches up in the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 45.0) with a big step back in his HR/FB rate (10.4).

Leclerc pitched two shutout innings with two walks and four strikeouts in March.

Rafael Montero (ADP – 590) came through the Mets' system as an upside prospect. Over eight years in the minors, he went 44-31 with a 3.26 ERA and 603 strikeouts over 629.1 innings highlighted by success in 2012 (11-5 with a 2.36 ERA) and 2013 (12-7 with a 2.78 ERA).

He struggled over four seasons in New York (6-16 with a 5.38 ERA and 189 Ks over 192.1 innings). He missed 2018 due to TJ surgery.

After flashing over 11 games in the minors in 2019 (3.44 ERA and 31 Ks over 18.1 innings), Texas called him up to the majors. Over 22 games, Montero pitched at a high-level (2.48 ERA, .217 ERA, and 34 Ks over 29 innings), which fell in line with his success in the minors.

Despite strong numbers in 2019, he did have some risk against right-handed batters (.327) while dominating lefties (.111).

His AFB (96.0) was the best of his career. Montero offered an edge with his changeup (.152 BAA), sinker (.200 BBA), and four-seamer (.229). His walk rate (1.6) and strikeout rate (10.6) look closer-worthy. Don't dismiss as a ninth-inning option while working a handcuff for Jose Leclerc.

For more game-breaking advice from Shawn Childs, a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ, subscribe to FullTime Fantasy. Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription & gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

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