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When discussing the fantasy value of closers, the conversation often boils down to opportunity. The Yankees might have three of the top five or ten relievers in all of baseball, but in fantasyland saves reign supreme, muting the value of players such as Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Today we look at a pair of closers whose opportunities – and corresponding fantasy values – have changed significantly since this time last year.

Jeurys Familia

NFBC ADP: No. 84 overall, No. 5 among RP

According to NFBC rankings, Familia is the first closer after the Chapman wall, ranking ahead of Proven Closers such as Trevor Rosenthal and strikeout artists like Ken Giles. Familia is neither of these, with a relatively modest 9.9 K/9 last season and having seized the Mets' closer role in 2015, saving 43 ballgames (in 48 chances) to cement his status at the end of the reliever bucket brigade that has been thinned by the lifetime banishment of Jenrry Mejia.

Arbitrary Endpoints

Date

IP

ERA

WHIP

BABiP

HR%

BB%

K%

Apr 6 – July 8

40.3

1.12

0.893

.216

1.9%

7.8%

26.6%

July 10 – Oct 4

37.7

2.63

1.115

.330

1.9%

4.5%

29.2%

I often make the claim that “arbitrary endpoints” are not arbitrary at all, but are instead cherry-picked to represent the most extreme cases. They often get a bad rap because of the narrative that is attached to the stats when looking at non-arbitrary endpoints, in which writers look for causation where it might not exist. Sometimes it leads to a legit discovery, other times a red herring, and often the results are inconclusive upon digging deeper. In the case of Familia, I really had to do a bit of digging just to find his non-arbitrary endpoints.

Sure, it's easy to assume that I took his season-low ERA of 1.12, put the cutoff there and called it a day, but really what this non-arbitrary endpoint represents is the exact midpoint of his season, from the perspective of batters faced. From the beginning of the season through July 8, Familia faced 154 batters; his next outing was July 10, from which point through the end of the regular season he faced another 154 batters.

He was dominant on both ends of the spectrum, and though he was aided by an extremely low BABiP in the first half, the BABiP spiked above league-average in the second data set despite Familia having improved his K-to-walk ratio to a ridiculous 45:7 mark over the final 37.7 innings pitched. The home run mark was the exact same (three bombs allowed in the 154 batters) on both sides, and his second-half performance would be more than acceptable for a closer looking at run prevention alone.

Familia definitely has closer stuff, including a fastball that averaged nearly 98 mph last season (the sinking version of which has downward movement and arm-side run), off-set by a pair of secondary offerings that resulted in just two extra-base hits last season, total, as batters hit just .130 in the 100 at bats that ended on the slider or the split (including the postseason).

Verdict: Entering the Circle of Trust

I tend to be conservative with closers, as the volatility inherent in the position will cause me to take pitchers that I can theoretically trust in the saves category. With only one year under his belt, Familia could fall short of the circle of trust, but he was so consistently effective last year and possesses such upside that his high ranking is justifiable. There are no real threats for saves in the Mets' bullpen, the pitching staff is probably the strongest in the game and thus likely to fuel a heavy dose of close games, and Familia has done nothing to shake a fantasy manager's confidence. I think that there is a substantial gap between the very top of the reliever rankings and the second tier, a tier that could be led by Familia, but reaping value on his selection lies in one's ability to wait a bit after Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen and Wade Davis have gone off the board.

Jake McGee

NFBC ADP: No. 193 overall, No. 25 among RP

A move to Colorado will seemingly doom any pitcher, so McGee's value took a severe hit when he was traded away from the Rays and into the pitching hell that is Coors Field. In addition to the batted-ball impact of playing home games at altitude, McGee now has to deal with the difficulty of adjusting to and from sea level every week to 10 days, an issue that might be underrated when considering the challenges of pitching in Denver. One thing that he may not have to worry about is the break-reducing impact of playing in thin air, as McGee is one of the most fastball-philic hurlers in the game today.

Jake McGee's Fastball

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

FB velocity

95.6 mph

97.5 mph

97.3 mph

96.4 mph

95.6 mph

FB Frequency

92.7%

96.5%

93.3%

87.7%

83.2%

FBs Thrown

571

1101

1050

796

436

Whiffs/Swings

26.3%

28.5%

24.6%

26.1%

18.7%

ISO Against

.110

.057

.127

.077

.228

McGee is one of the most extreme pitchers in the game when it comes to FB frequency. For the past three years, he has thrown his fastball at a shocking 94.5-percent rate, or 18 of every 19 pitches thrown. The southpaw's velocity was down last season, which may have been related to surgery to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow, which delayed his season until mid-May (he also missed over a month near the end of the year after knee surgery).

The velocity spike that he enjoyed from 2013-14 might have been a peak and thus be a thing of the past, or it could be that McGee will rediscover those radar-gun readings with a full off-season of rest and a more typical pattern to begin the season. Even more than most players, the dimensions of McGee's fastball play a massive role in his success in the majors.

Regardless of the reduced speed, McGee was extremely effective last season, with a 2.41 ERA and 0.938 WHIP, including 48 strikeouts in his meager 37.3 innings pitched. He only garnered six saves as the Rays had handed the closing reigns to Brad Boxberger, but McGee's two-year ratio of 138:24 K:BB should not be ignored, nor should his 2.07 ERA and 0.911 WHIP over that span.

The fastball frequency might provide some shield for McGee in the transition to pitching at altitude, in the sense that one of the biggest detriments to pitching at altitude is that breaking pitches don't break as well in the thin air, but he will have to worry about results on contact, as the hard thrower will be providing a lot of the power for opposing bats and the results could be scary if and when hitters get a hold of one. McGee has only given up five homers over the past two seasons combined, but it will be difficult to keep that rate down in Denver.

Verdict: Rocky Mountain High

Some fantasy managers might writing the lefty off due to his move to the unfriendly confines of Coors Field, but McGee is well-suited for the job and could be a sneaky source of strikeouts as well as saves. The success of Brian Fuentes showed that relievers can be effective in short spurts, and assuming that McGee has fully recovered from the various ailments of last year, then he could be a much more productive reliever than several of the players listed ahead of him on the NFBC draft boards. He has impressive strikeout potential, has walked just two batters per nine innings over the past two years, and has kept the ball in the yard while pitching at sea level. We have to adjust expectation for any pitcher that moves to Denver, but McGee is well-suited for the job.

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LeafontheWind
3/25
Is McGee even the closer yet? The Denver Post put up an article the other day saying Motte was still in the conversation.
tombores99
3/25
Fair point, and you never know with closer situations (Remember the year of Jim Henderson and Nate Jones?), particularly one that involves two pitchers with TJ scars on their throwing arms. The Rockies might parlay the righty/lefty aspect and let the situation dictate here, given that Motte is basically the right-handed version of McGee, throwing 95+ mph fastballs on the vast majority of his pitches. I think that McGee is the better pitcher, and if the Rockies tab one as their official closer then I would give a heavy edge to McGee, but optimal use of that bullpen in real life may not coincide with ideal fantasy value. FWIW, Motte has been hit up a bit this spring - 6 runs in 4 IP - but of course there are a mountain of caveats when looking at four spring innings.