Fantasy Baseball: 5 Potential Top 10 Closers for 2018
Last week we examined starting pitchers who had vaulted their names into the Top 40 discussion for 2018. This week, we have five relievers that have either pushed their values into the Top 10 closers discussion or regained that former value. As the 2017 season nears the end, it's time to look ahead to 2018 once again.
As always, we use SOBB (breakdown here) as the initial base when projecting a pitcher's future performance.
Range of starting pitcher SOBBs (K-BB%) and the values they hold.
Range of relief pitcher SOBBs (K-BB%) and the values they hold.
Cheers of Tears for 2018
Ken Giles, HOU – Giles disappointed last year with a 4.11 ERA and just 15 saves, but he's bounced back this year to the tune of a 2.86 ERA and 23 saves in 44 innings. Interestingly, Giles has a lower strikeout rate, yet more success. The reason behind the improvement is a drop in his BABIP by 86 points and cutting his home run rate nearly in half. Batters are making weaker contact against Giles this year with a lower Hard% and LD%. While Giles has improved compared to last year, it's the second half where he's shown the most improvement. Giles has a 1.54 ERA and terrific 32.6 SOBB since the break with barely anyone getting on base (0.77 WHIP). The Astros traded for Giles before the 2016 season believing that he could be a true shutdown closer, and his continued improvement has him in the Top 10 discussion for 2018.
[caption id="attachment_257200" align="alignright" width="370"] Giles has turned into the dominant closer the Astros hoped they were trading for in 2016. Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire[/caption]
Brad Hand, SD – The Padres discussed trading Hand but wanted a significant haul that teams weren't willing to pay. Maybe, they should have been willing because Hand went from one of the game's best setup men to one of the best closers. Hand has a 2.19 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 11.8 K/9. His SOBB for the season is 26.6, and each of those numbers is better in the second half: 1.84, 0.75 and 31.5, and he's 8-of-9 in save opportunities. Hand has a terrific SwStr% of 13.5 and induces soft contact nearly as much as batters make hard contact (20.3 Soft%, 25.4 Hard%). Hand is mainly a fastball-slider pitcher, and his slider is devastating to batters, which leads to his success. The Padres won't be a contender next year, but as we've seen in the past, the teams that eke out wins often have the most valuable closers, and Hand is a CL1 for 2018.
Corey Knebel, MIL – Count me as one of the many who rolled the dice on the other Brewers options to start the year. Knebel had, well, still has, control issues despite his terrific strikeout rate. That was a major factor in many of us assuming he wouldn't become the closer. Knebel's BB/9 was 4.4 last year and it's actually increased to 5.0 this season. Thankfully, Knebel has dramatically increased his K/9 as well, going from 10.5 to 15.6! That strikeout rate is part of the reason why Knebel has a 1.46, but there's a stat that leads to some concern. Knebel's LOB% is 94.2, when it was 64.7 last year. Now, a good part of that has to do with the strikeout rate (28.6 SOBB), but only three relievers had LOB% marks over 90.0 last year (Andrew Miller, Alex Colome, Vidal Nuno). Only Miller has repeated his success. Knebel has terrific strikeout ability just like Miller, but he'll have to keep it up next year to be a trusted closer. It's likely that he'll be overdrafted based on the strikeouts, so steer clear due to his risk unless Knebel makes it to the low-end CL1 range in drafts.
Trevor Rosenthal, STL – Interesting ride for Rosenthal. He was one of the most-coveted closers in Fantasy Baseball after the 2015 season, lost his job to Seung-Hwan Oh last year and then got it back this year as Oh struggled. Rosenthal had his own struggles in June with a 7.15 ERA, but he's given up just two earned runs since and is locked into his old role. On top of that, his second half SOBB is terrific at 34.5, as the walks are down (5.2 BB%). Rosenthal has also bumped his SwStr% to an elite level of 16.0. Meanwhile, Oh is carrying a 3.53 ERA and has seen his strikeout rate and SOBB both drop (11.6 to 8.8 and 27.2 to 17.0). Oh has pitched a bit better in the second half, but Rosenthal is back to his dominant self from 2014-15 seasons. Rosenthal is back in the CL1 discussion and could return to Top 5 glory next year if he keeps up the terrific strikeout numbers.
(Note: Pay attention to Rosenthal's potential injury. If he hits the DL, Oh has great value again.)
Felipe Rivero, PIT – Tony Watson seemed destined to lose the closer job in Pittsburgh this year, but the question remained over who would step in for him once that happened. Rivero always had the stuff, but being a lefty, there was uncertainty over his remaining in a setup role. Rivero got the job after a bit of shuffling, and he's been terrific, posting a 1.21 ERA with a 24.1 SOBB. Rivero only has one blown save since becoming the Pirates closer and has even ticked up his K% a tad in the second half. Like Rosenthal, Rivero has an elite SwStr% of 15.9 while also allowing a very low 23.6 Hard% and 16.5 LD%. Rivero has everything you want in a closer and should remain the Pirates' fireman for quite a while. He's firmly inside the Top 10 for 2018 Fantasy Baseball closers.
Streaming Pitchers to Target Next Week (Last 30 Days Stats)
Brewers: 19.9 SOBB, 28.1 K%, 80 wRC+
Mets: 18.6 SOBB, 24.7 K%, 86 wRC+
White Sox: 18.4 SOBB, 24.2, 87 wRC+
Rays: 17.6 SOBB, 26.6 K%, 70 wRC+
Astros: 10.4 SOBB, 17.6 K%, 122 wRC+
Indians: 9.3 SOBB, 19.9 K%, 105 wRC+