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September 6, 2013

Five to Watch

Would-Be, Could-Be Closers

by Craig Goldstein


Joe Borowski, Brandon League, Todd Jones, Kevin Gregg, Frank Francisco, Billy Koch. No, I’m not working on a baseball version of We Didn’t Start The Fire (that you know of). These are all relievers who have ascended to the closer role, whether they deserved it or not. They acquired the closer mystique that allowed them to beef up their earnings and hold on or land jobs long past when they should have. To be clear, I’m of the mind that it’s often helpful to have a Gregg or a Koch at the back of the bullpen—someone who is competent enough to finish most games and allows the use of a more efficient or dominant reliever, a fireman, to enter into the higher-leverage situations.

That opinion belongs to the baseball analyst in me, though, not the fantasy analyst. As a fantasy owner, I’d rather see the most talented bullpen option in the closer role because then I don’t have to roster nincompoops who destroy my ERA and WHIP, all while chasing the dragon save. Of course, being blocked by an incompetent colleague is not the only reason that pitchers get denied coffee. Injuries, a couple of poorly timed blow ups, or a lack of experience can also cost a reliever a shot to use SemiSonic as his entrance music as well. The point of this article, then, is to shine a spotlight on some guys who would be closers, but for a minor flaw, be it in their game or their situations. These are players who could be elite-level fantasy closers if they are presented with the opportunity. The key is identifying them before the opportunity arises.

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Reason he’s not a closer: Chris Perez’s chalk outline

Vinnie Pestano is the long-suffering heir to Chris Perez’s “throne” in Cleveland, but just as he was on the verge of filling Perez’s shoes, Pestano suffered from some ineffectiveness himself (5.04 FIP). Pestano’s struggles have many looking at Allen as the next in line for save chances in Cleveland, if or when Perez leaves during free agency. It might not even matter if Perez stays, though, as despite some gaudy save totals, he’s been merely decent. He has converted 22 of 26 save chances thus far in 2013, but that comes with a 3.59 ERA (okay), a 4.57 FIP (yuck), and a 4.75 FRA (gross).

Allen on the other hand has produced a spectacular season, with a 77 strikeouts in only 61 innings pitched. Allen’s 2.35 ERA (shiny), 2.86 FIP (pretty), and 2.74 FRA (oooooooh) all best what Perez has produced this season. While I could say that Cleveland would have benefited the most from handing ninth-inning duties from Perez to Allen, the reality is that with only four blown saves, it wouldn’t have been a dramatic difference (although Cleveland is only 3 ½ games out of the second wild card right now). The reality is that those who would benefit the most from such a change are us fantasy owners. Allen would be a star if he were racking up saves to go with his great peripherals, but in the meantime he will toil in anonymity. I am against speculating for saves if it’s going to cost a roster spot, but if you play in a holds league or are just looking for middle relief options, a guy like Allen is going to be very valuable, and should get the closer gig in the near future.

Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers
Reason he’s not a closer: His name is an old-world profession Blocked by Joe Nathan/Joakim Soria

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