Last week, I wrapped up the year in closers with the guys I deemed to be the five most surprising players to emerge from the pack and provide fantasy value in relief in 2017. You can’t have surprises like that without some significant disappointments, and there were plenty of those this year. Once again, I have picked the five players I believe are the most disappointing, though they are not listed in any particular order. Before we begin, I should also note that I don’t think it’s fair to include injured players as disappointments. That means Zach Britton and Mark Melancon are not included on this list despite the fact that they did not nearly return the investment that was made on them prior to the year. You could argue that Melancon should be included here, injury or not, but who knows how much of his performance was due to health? Whatever, they’re my arbitrary rules and I choose to live with them. Now, with that out of the way we can get on to the disappointments.
Seung-hwan Oh, Cardinals
While the names that come after Oh on this list could feasibly be put in any order, I can’t imagine that any closer could possibly be deemed more disappointing than the Cardinals Opening Day closer. Oh, of course, was a revelation last year and completely dominated the league in his first year in the majors. Although he was entering his age-34 season and had just one season under his belt, that one year was enough for people to select him as the fifth overall reliever in NFBC leagues this spring, and it was hard to argue with that ADP. Unfortunately, he became a whole lot more hittable and stopped getting strikeouts while starting to allow a ton of home runs. There were a litany of issues for Oh, but the most jarring was how much less effective his slider was. That was the pitch that made him so dominant in 2016, but he couldn’t find any success with the pitch in 2017. He ended up keeping his closer job until the middle of July, but even while he held it he did nothing but disappoint.
2018 Outlook: Oh could be an interesting buy-low for 2017, though he’s certainly not someone I would spend significant resources on. As he enters his age-35 season, there’s virtually no chance he begins the year as St. Louis’ closer and he probably won’t even be their No. 2 option. We’ve seen him do it before, and relievers have a tendency to bounce around in terms of production, but in mixed leagues he’s someone to simply keep an eye on rather than target. In deep NL-Only leagues he could be worth a desperation target.
Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
It was a tough call between Chapman and a few others here, but given how high the expectations were for Chapman this year I think he deserves a mention. Before the season, he was part of a clear trio atop the closer rankings, along with Britton and Kenley Jansen. Chapman did not live up to that. Part of the reason for his lackluster finishing position is because he missed some time with injury, which contradicts what I said above. However, he felt shaky and unlike himself all year and suffered some truly horrendous stretches. The lefty was even taken out of the closer role in New York for a few weeks. He only finished with 22 saves, saw his strikeout rate fall to a career low and his walk rate rise from a year ago.
2018 Outlook: Chapman is still going to be a high draft pick next year, and he will probably deserve it. Still, he is a good reminder that early investments in closers can often become disappointing.
Kelvin Herrera, Royals
Herrera was one of the more exciting options in drafts last year in what was supposed to be his first full season as a closer. The Royals righty had spent years as one of the better setup men and it was assumed he’d be able to carry that success into the ninth inning. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out, though he did hold on to the role for a good chunk of the year. Herrera took a major step back from his 2016 and looked a lot like the guy from earlier in his career, except more hittable. Given his lack of strikeouts, at least relative to other closers, he needs to induce weak contact to succeed and that just wasn’t the case in 2017. He’d lose his closer job at the end of the year and he couldn’t get it back.
2018 Outlook: With his contract ending after next season, Herrera could be a prime trade candidate this winter. I would imagine he won’t be traded to a team looking for him to close, but I believe he could be an intriguing buy-low candidate next year as a valuable player late in drafts.
Tony Watson, Pirates/Dodgers
It seems like a long time ago at this point, but Watson entered the year as Pittsburgh’s closer after years of being one of the most underrated setup men in the league. As a guy who had never been able to strike out a ton of batters. he wasn’t one of the most highly sought-after closers in drafts this year, but as someone who was getting saves he was certainly owned in all leagues. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate fell even lower than it already was and he stopped inducing ground balls. This was enough to cause him to lose his closer job by the beginning of June, and he’d never gain it back.
2018 Outlook: I absolutely believe that Watson can and will be a useful major-league reliever again as soon as next year, but I’d be surprised if he were fantasy relevant again.
Adam Ottavino, Rockies
Here we have the one disappointment who did not begin the year as a closer. Although he was never Colorado’s ninth-inning man, he was selected before Greg Holland in drafts and many believed he’d be among the first non-closers to win over a role. Part of the reason Ottavino was so disappointing was that Holland was great in the ninth and held on to the job all year. Clearly, there’s nothing Ottavino can do about that. However, the latter still should have been a fantasy asset as a setup man but thanks to a complete loss of command he was droppable very early in the year.
2018 Outlook: Ottavino will not open the year as a closer, and while I could certainly see him coming back strong and getting back to his old ways he won’t be someone I’ll be taking a chance on for next year.