2020 Fantasy Baseball: National 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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NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

The best closing option for the Braves in 2020 should be Will Smith (ADP – 161) after his success and growth over the past two seasons (8-3 with a 2.66 ERA, 167 Ks, and 48 saves over 118.1 innings). Last year he did struggle with some home runs (10 over 65.1 innings).

Some sources predict Mark Melancon (ADP – 195) to get the majority of saves based on his rebound over his final 18 games of 2019 (converted all 11 of his saves chances with a 2.60 ERA and 19 strikeouts over 17.1 innings). His overall stats (3.61 ERA and 1.322 WHIP) from last year don't paint an upside picture for Melancon to close this season.

Smith wins the closing job out of spring training while Melancon still has a chance at a third of the saves for Atlanta.

Miami Marlins

Fantasy owners gravitated toward Brandon Kintzler (ADP – 285) for saves in Miami after signing late in January. Don Mattingly endorsed Kintzler as the possible favorite to earn saves for the Marlins in mid-February. He pitched better in 2019 (2.68 ERA) while setting his highest strikeout rate (7.6) for a season with over 50 innings pitched. Kintzler picked up 46 saves between 2016 and 2017, but he only had 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Wrong kind of gamble for saves long term even if he's named the closer by the start of the year.

Yimi Garcia (ADP – 601) pitched well for the Dodgers in 2015 (3.34 ERA and 68 Ks over 56.2 innings) and 2019 (3.61 ERA and 66 Ks over 62.1 innings). He missed all of 2017 with a right elbow injury that required TJ surgery while also battling right forearm tightness in 2018. His minor league resume has closing experience (3.25 ERA, 420 Ks, and 46 saves over 346.1 innings). Over his first five games in spring training, Garcia hasn't allowed a run, hit, or walk with eight strikeouts. I expect him to win the majority of saves for Miami in 2019 based on the current option on the roster.

Some fantasy owners have taken fliers on Ryne Stanek (ADP – 552) for saves in this bullpen. His AFB (97.9) has closing upside, but his walk rate (4.3) in his major league career remains a significant obstacle. Stanek gains his strikeout edge with an impressive split-finger fastball.

New York Mets

Last year the clock struck midnight for Edwin Diaz on June 13th. Over his final 38 appearances, he had a 7.79 ERA and 1.52 WHP over 32.1 innings while serving up ten home runs and converting only 12 of 17 saves. In 2018, Diaz was the king of closers after securing 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts over 73.1 innings. His ADP (109) is trending up with more and more fantasy owners willing to look the other way after his disastrous 2019 season. Diaz gave up two runs and four hits over two innings of work with one strikeout in his first two appearances this spring.

Seth Lugo (314) developed into an elite bullpen arm over the past two seasons (10-8 with a 2.68 ERA, 207 Ks, and nine saves over 181.1 innings). Last year he set career bests in both his walk rate (1.8) and strikeout rate (11.7). Batters only hit .192 against him with his best value coming against lefties (.167). Surprisingly, his ride wasn't as smooth as his final stats suggest. Lugo had an ERA over 4.00 in April (4.08), June (4.85), and August (4.05) while being dominated over the other three months combined (three runs over 36 innings with 44 Ks and three saves). My only fear with him is the high volume of relief innings pitched in 2017 (101.1) and 2018 (80.0).

Philadelphia Phillies

Hector Neris (ADP – 126) redeemed himself in 2018 by stealing back the closing job. Over his first 28 games, he looked electric (1.88 ERA, .168 BAA, and 40 Ks over 28.2 innings) while converting 14 of his 16 save chances. Over the next month or so, Neris didn't belong in the ninth inning (9.75 ERA, 1.750 WHIP, and five HRs over 12 innings). His arm rebounded to his early-season form over his final 27 innings (1.00 ERA, 34 Ks, and ten SVs). He has success against righties (.201 BAA) and lefties (.167 BAA), but he did issue 15 of his 24 walks over 108 at-bats to left-handed hitters. Neris still has a high walk rate (3.2) while allowing too many home runs (1.3 per nine – 1.4 in his career). He has the foundation skill set to close again in 2020, but Neris needs to clean up the damage in home runs allowed.

Last year Seranthony Dominguez (ADP – 576) looked to be the heir apparent for the future closing role in Philly. He pitched his way out of contention after three games (four runs and five baserunners over 2.1 innings with four Ks). His arm looked better over his last nine innings in April (2.00 ERA and ten Ks). Something looked awry in May (4.09 ERA). Dominguez saw his season end in early June with a right elbow injury that didn't require surgery. He made his spring debut on March 5th (one clean shutout inning with no Ks). Only a risk/reward type option until he removes his injury risk from the equation.

Washington Nationals

The coin flip for saves in Washington in 2020 could have many sides.

Sean Doolittle (ADP – 181) tends to rely on one pitch (fastball) with elite command for success. His velocity is fading toward the league average, which led to a spike in his home runs allowed (15 of 60 innings) and a demotion last year. Doolittle set a career-high in saves (29) in 2019, but he pitched his way out the 9th inning over the final three weeks in August (ten runs, 14 baserunners, and five home runs over four innings). His season started with a 2.81 ERA and 57 Ks over 48 innings and ended with success in September (2.25 ERA and seven Ks over eight innings) and the playoffs (1.74 ERA and eight Ks over 10.1 innings).

Doolittle struggled against right-handed batters (.279 with nine home runs over 165 at-bats). He doesn't have enough trust in his secondary offerings to push back once his skill set starts to decline. Doolittle lives at the top of the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 55.7 and 52.0 in his career).

Daniel Hudson saved the ninth inning for Washington in 2019, which paved the way to their first World Series title. His season started with growth in Toronto over 45 games (3.00 ERA, .215 BAA, and 48 Ks over 48 innings).

After a trade to the Nationals in late July, he pitched well in a setup role in August (2.51 ERA, .196 BAA, and 16 Ks over 14.1 innings). Washington moved him into the closing role on September 17th. Over his final seven games in the regular season, Hudson didn't allow a run over nine innings with eight strikeouts and five saves.

In the postseason, he earned a win and four saves over his first six games (no runs over 5.2 innings with five Ks), but his arm did lose value in the World Series (four runs and eight baserunners over four innings with five Ks). Hudson pitched the final inning in game seven to clinch the championship.

I can't see him opening up as the closer for Washington as the bad outweighs the good over his last five seasons. His ADP (286) puts him in the flier category in 2020. Viable for saves if he repeats his walk rate (1.4) with Washington, but the survey says, "no."

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

After holding out in 2019, Craig Kimbrel (ADP – 130) battled multiple injuries over the last four months. He finished with the worst season of his career (6.53 ERA and 1.597 WHIP) while struggling to keep the ball in the park (nine home runs allowed over 20.2 innings).

Kimbrel struggled in two of his first three games with the Cubs (five runs and seven baserunners over 2.2 innings) before settling down over his next 17 games (2.30 ERA, 22 Ks, and 12 SVs over 15.2 innings). He missed about two weeks in August with a right knee injury, which was followed up by a right elbow issue in September. Over his final three games, Kimbrel didn't look healthy (six runs, seven baserunners, and four home runs over 2.1 innings).

Over his last three full seasons with Boston, Kimbrel went 12-7 with a 2.44 ERA and 305 strikeouts over 184.1 innings while converting 108 of 119 saves. With an entire offseason to get healthy, he should come back in a big way in 2020. His downside of late comes from his high walk rate (5.1 in 2016, 1.8 in 2017, 4.5 in 2018, and 5.2 in 2019). Favoring his right leg due to an injury may have caused Kimbrel's right elbow issue.

In his only appearance in early March, Kimbrel gave up one run, one hit, and one walk over one inning of work.

The Craig Kimbrel sky is falling believers will do their best to paint a closing picture for Rowan Wick (ADP – 585) this season.

Over five seasons in the minors, he went 9-6 with a 2.63 ERA, 208 strikeouts, and 32 saves. His downside as a lockdown closer has been his walk rate (4.1), which made a step forward in 2019 at AAA (2.3). With the Cubs, Wick walked 4.3 batters per nine innings with a strength in his strikeout rate (9.5). After the All-Star break, he had a 2.05 ERA, .151 BAA, and 29 strikeouts over 26.1 innings while converting both of his save chances. Wick didn't allow a home run in the majors over 31 innings. Last year he became more of a ground ball pitcher (54.1 percent). Wick makes sense as a handcuff for Kimbrel in deep leagues.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds' bullpen has enough talent to rank in the top third of the National League, and it could be their key to winning the NL Central in 2020.

Raisel Iglesias (ADP – 133) gave fantasy owners plenty of frustration in 2019. The Reds tried to extend his arm more earlier in the year with the idea of creating a Josh Hader impact in innings.

Over his first 16.2 innings, Iglesias posted a 4.86 ERA and 1.440 WHIP over 16.2 innings while serving up four home runs. He settled down over the next month (no runs over 12.1 innings with 14 Ks and seven successful saves).

From June 11th to August 31st, Iglesias converted 14 of 17 save chances with a ton of bad innings (6.59 ERA, 1.463 WHIP, and seven HRs over 27.1 innings). His season ended with a 1.69 ERA, one walk, 15 strikeouts, and seven saves over his final 10.2 innings. He struggled on the road (1-10 with a 5.79 ERA and 48 Ks over 32.2 innings).

Most of his failure came home runs (1.6 per nine innings), which was the same problem in 2018 (1.5). He did have growth in his walk rate (2.8) and strikeout rate (12.0).

Look for a bounce-back in 2020 with a push toward a 2.50 ERA, a run at 40 saves, and an edge in strikeouts.

Robert Stephenson (ADP – 593) failed as a starter for the Reds over his first three seasons in the majors (7-11 with a 5.47 ERA and 128 Ks over 133.1 innings). Over eight seasons in the minors, he went 45-50 with a 3.77 ERA and 791 strikeouts over 742 innings.

Cinci moved to him to the bullpen in 2019, which led to growth in his game. He finished with a 3.76 ERA and 81 strikeouts over 64.2 innings. His strikeout rate (11.3) was a career-best with improvement in his walk rate (3.3).

Over his final 20 innings, Stephenson posted a 1.35 ERA, .130 BAA, and 22 strikeouts. To make a further step forward, he needs better control of his four-seamer (.293 BAA) while doing a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark (1.3 HR/9 in 2019 and 1.5 in his career).

Milwaukee Brewers

Josh Hader (ADP – 56) has been electric over his two seasons in the majors as a relieving arm (9-6 with a 2.52 ERA, 281 Ks, and 49 saves).

Last year he remained hard to hit (.155) with growth in his walk rate (2.4 – 3.3 in 2018). His biggest issue came from his massive HR/9 rate (1.8).

After nine great innings (no runs, 15 Ks, and five SVs) to start the year, Hader served up four runs in four of his next five outings (six runs, six baserunners, and four home runs over 5.2 innings with 16 Ks). He rebounded over the next two months (0.69 ERA over 26 innings with six hits, 46 Ks, and 13 SVs). His arm fell off the cliff over his next 15 games (6.19 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, and seven home runs over 16 innings).

Hader righted the ship over the final five weeks (1.42 ERA, 32 Ks, and 12 SVs over 19 innings). His season ended with a poor showing in the playoffs (two runs and three baserunners over one inning), costing Milwaukee a victory in the wild card game.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates will turn to Keone Kela (ADP – 189) in 2020 after Felipe Vazquez removed himself of the equation due to his poor decision making off the field.

Kela pitched well over the first four months of the season as the closer for Texas in 2018. He posted a 3.44 ERA and 44 strikeouts over 36.2 innings while converting 24 of 25 saves. Over his first 14 games with Pittsburgh, Keone allowed one run over 14 innings with 21 strikeouts. The Pirates decided to shut him down in early September with arm fatigue.

Last year he struggled over his first 14 games (4.63 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, and three HRs over 11.2 innings), which led to two and half months on the injured list with a right shoulder injury. Other than seven walks over his final 18 innings, Kela looked sharp over the last three months (0.50 ERA, .131 BAA, and 22 Ks).

Kyle Crick (ADP – 566) looked closer to the 9th inning in 2018 (2.39 ERA and 65 Ks over 60.1 innings), but he walked the building last year (6.4 walks per nine innings) while serving up ten home runs over 49 innings. More of a follow than a target heading into 2020.

St. Louis Cardinals

Fantasy owners don't know if the 2020 closer for the Cardinals is behind door number one (Giovanny Gallegos) or door number two (Carlos Martinez). I'm confident that Martinez will end up in the starting rotation while Gallegos stands on the mound in late March with the first save chance for St. Louis.

Giovanny Gallegos (ADP – 188) pitched his way to the bullpen early in his minor league career. Over eight seasons in the minors, he went 23-20 with a 2.78 ERA, 453 strikeouts, and 18 saves. His command was exceptional (1.9 walks per nine) with more growth in his strikeout rate (12.1) in his five seasons at AAA.

His major league career started with a 4.55 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 31.2 innings in 2017 and 2018. Last year his arm made a significant step forward with the Cardinals (2.31 ERA and 93 Ks over 74 innings). Batters hit .226 against him with repeated success in his command (strikeout rate – 11.3 and walk rate – 1.9). His AFB (93.9) is just above the league average.

Ryan Helsley (ADP – 410) has been mentioned multiple times as a dark horse closing option.

After going 21-5 in 2016 and 2017 with a 2.25 ERA and 246 strikeouts over 227.1 innings, Helsley lost value at AAA over parts of three seasons (4.17 ERA and 80 Ks over 69 innings).

Last year he split time between starting and relieving in the minors. St. Louis called him up for good in late July. Over his final 17 games out of the bullpen, Helsley posted a 2.73 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 26.1 innings, but batters hit .279 against him.

Over three games this spring, Helsley tossed six shutout innings with two hits and two strikeouts. Gallegos picked up a pair of saves in Match, but he did allow three runs and six baserunners over 2.1 innings.

If I decide to invest in Gallegos, I will make sure to sure Helsley as a handcuff.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Archie Bradley (ADP – 157) blew a save a week into 2019, which led to him not securing the closing job as expected. His stats looked on an upward path after 13 games (1.93 ERA and 17 Ks over 14 innings), but disaster games haunted him over his next 19 outings (8.14 ER and 2.000 WHIP) due to regression in his walk rate (6.0).

After 12.1 shutout innings with 19 strikeouts, Bradley regained the 9th inning. Over his final 36.2 innings, he posted a 1.47 ERA and 42 strikeouts while converting 18 of 19 saves chances.

His one big negative was his walk rate (4.5), which was much better in 2017 (2.6) and 2018 (2.5).

Bradley has two shutout innings under his belt in early March with one strikeout.

One of the better closer in waiting this year is Kevin Ginkel (ADP – 558). He posted a 1.82 ERA at AA and 1.62 ERA at AAA last year, which fell in line with his success in the majors (1.48 ERA). Ginkel didn't have a problem with either right-handed (.152) or left-handed (.200) batters with Arizona. His strikeout rate (12.9) ranked highly in the minors with a respectable walk rate. In the mix for saves if Archie Bradley trips up.

Over four seasons in the minors, Ginkel went 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 239 strikeouts over 166.1 innings while picking up 22 saves.

Over his first two appearances in spring training, he allowed two runs and five baserunners over 1.2 innings with four strikeouts.

Colorado Rockies

There isn't a lot of excitement for saves in Colorado, which points to a revolving door for a good portion of 2020.

Wade Davis (ADP – 271) has a scoundrel feel after his disaster 2019 season (8.65 ERA and 1.875 WHIP). He forgot how to throw strikes in 2019, leading to a massive walk rate (6.1).

Over his first 17 games, Davis had a 2.45 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 14.2 innings while converting all of seven of his saves. After three weeks on the injured list with an oblique issue, he pitched his way out of the closer role over the next two months (10.59 ERA, 1.941 WHIP, .319 BAA, and five HRs over 17 innings). Davis ended the year with more failure over his final 11 innings (13.91 ERA).

Only a flier with no real fight for him on draft day, but he did pitch two clean innings in March with two strikeouts.

Scott Oberg (ADP – 264) went 14-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 115 strikeouts over 114.2 innings in 2018 and 2019 while picking up five saves last year. His walk rate (1.8) drove his success in 2018, but he walked 3.7 batters per nine innings last year.

Over his first 45.2 innings in 2019, Oberg posted a 1.18 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts. He landed on the injured list in mid-August with blood clots in his right arm, which came after fading over 10.1 innings (6.97 ERA and .333 BAA).

Oberg hasn't allowed a run over 1.2 innings in spring training with no walks and three strikeouts.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Just when the Dodgers are ready to make a long extended World Series run, their elite closer is starting to run on fumes. In 2019, Jansen blew eight of his 41 saves chances with regression in his ERA (3.71) and more risk in his HR/9 rate (1.3). His walk rate (2.3) remains low while trending higher.

He struggled in six of his first 17 games, which led to a 4.67 ERA, and four home runs over 17.1 innings. After a correction over his next 21 innings (3.05 ERA, 27 Ks, and 11 SVs), Jansen looked shaky down the stretch (4.74 ERA) while blowing five of 15 save tries.

With 301 career saves under his belt with a 2.35 ERA and 903 strikeouts over 611.2 innings, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt based on his falling ADP (103).

Jansen looked sharp over his first four appearances in March (no runs over four innings with one hit and seven Ks).

Blake Treinen (ADP – 338) underachieved his expected value in his early major league career. He delivered an impressive nine wins plus 38 saves and 100 strikeouts over 80.1 innings with the A's in 2018.

In 2019, Treinen lost his control (5.7 walks per nine) while struggling with home runs (1.4 per nine).

Other than walks (nine over 13.1 innings), his arm had success in his first 11 games (0.68 ERA, 17 Ks, and six SVs). By the All-Star break, he pitched himself out of the ninth inning with a poor 25.1 innings (6.75 ERA and 1.776 WHIP). Treinen limped home with a 5.40 ERA over his final 20 innings

Treinen ended the year with a back injury while spending time on the injured list in June with a right shoulder issue.

San Diego Padres

Kirby Yates (ADP – 78) moved to the second-best closing option for fantasy owners in 2020.

He proved to be the real deal at closer last year after part-time success in the 9th inning in 2018 (12 saves). Yates led the National League in saves (41) in a season when saves were tough to come by. Yates rode his elite, developing split-finger fastball to an exceptional season In ERA (1.19) and a big step forward in his command (walk rate – 1.9 and strikeout rate – 15.0).

Yates struck out the side in his first appearance in spring training with no runs or hits allowed.

Tampa turned to Emilio Pagan (ADP – 326) as their closer over the second half of 2019.

Over the first four months, he blew seven of his 15 chances while working much of the time as a setup man. He ended the year 12 saves in 14 chances with a 2.77 ERA and 36 strikeouts over 26 innings while only walking only one batter. Pagan finished with a 2.31 ERA with a career-high in his strikeout rate (12.3) and strength in his walk rate (1.7).

Most of his failure came from 12 home runs allowed (1.5 per nine and HR/FB rate – 16.4), which comes from pitching up in the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 46.8).

San Francisco Giants

Tyler Rogers (no ADP) is only a journeyman arm for the Giants, but he looks to be in the mix for saves in 2020. His arm held up over 17.2 innings with San Fran last year (1.02 ERA with three walks and 16 Ks).

Over seven season in the minors, Rogers posted a 2.52 ERA and 419 strikeouts over 478.2 innings while converting 29 saves over the past four years.

He started well in spring training in 2020 (no runs over three innings with no walks and four Ks).

Tony Watson (ADP – 368) continues to battle a left shoulder issue this spring.

Watson was a top left-handed reliever for the Pirates for seven seasons (31-16 with 2.68 ERA and 380 Ks over 433 innings). He picked up 25 saves between 2016 and 2017 before a midseason trade to the Dodgers.

Last year his strikeout rate (6.8) was 3.0 lower than in 2018 (9.8) while struggling with home runs (1.5 per nine). His ERA (4.17) and WHIP (1.259) are no longer assets.

Watson lost his way over the final three weeks in August (11 runs, 18 baserunners, and three home runs over 7.1 innings) before going on the injured list with a broken left wrist.

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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