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Closers Due for Regression in 2020

Finding reliable closers is always a challenge. There is a high turnover rate in the role every season, and in today's game, a lot of teams are going to a closer-by-committee approach, which adds a layer of confusion to the saves category.

In each of the last three seasons, exactly 11 relievers have saved 30 or more games. That is in stark contrast to the previous three seasons when we saw an average of 18 pitchers get to the 30-save mark.

Even in a shortened season, there is sure to be a lot of turnover in the closer role again in 2020. The difference this year will be that owners will have less time to find saves on the waiver wire, increasing the importance of hitting on closer targets in drafts. Today, we'll take a look at three closers who are in pretty high demand but are unlikely to return fair value at their current costs.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

Brandon Workman was one of the big surprises from the reliever pool in 2019. He locked down the closer role in July and went on to save 16 games, to go along with his 10 wins and 1.88 ERA. Workman appears to have a firm grip on the job heading into 2020, but the skills warn against having too much confidence in a similar encore.

Workman did post an elite 36.4% K% in 2019, and also did an excellent job of limiting hard contact. In fact, according to Statcast, he ranked in the 90th percentile in Hard Hit %. The combination of a lot more whiffs and a lot less hard contact led to some major gains.

 

 

 

Workman's 2019 numbers were completely unexpected. Increasing his curve usage was a key to his success, as he threw it nearly half the time, and held batters to a .135 batting average and .060 ISO on the pitch. But even the curve had a whiff percentage under 12%, and some good fortune fueled Workman's sub-2.00 ERA.

Workman gets himself into trouble with control problems, as his 15.7% BB% was the 2nd highest BB% among all pitchers with 50 or more IP in 2019. While his K% was extremely impressive, he was very lucky to avoid more damage. Workman benefited from a .209 BABIP, which was fourth lowest in the league (Min. 50 IP), and insanely low for a ground ball pitcher. Also, while keeping the ball on the ground helps keep the ball in the park, he was rather fortunate to allow just one home run all season.

Workman's track record of mediocrity makes it difficult to buy into his breakout 2019 season. Walks are a major concern and will lead to trouble when the BABIP corrects, and he can't be expected to limit the hard contact as well as he did in 2019. Workman has been going in the 140 range in NFBC Draft Champions (15-teams) and Online Championships (12-teams) since the beginning of March, which seems like too steep of a price to pay.

 

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

Craig Kimbrel had a very disappointing first season with the Cubs, as he signed late, and never really got on track. He remained a free agent until early June, when no draft-pick compensation was attached to him, before finally settling on a three-year, $43 million deal.

Kimbrel had a rough debut with his new team, recording a 6.53 ERA across 20.2 innings, and landing on the injured list twice. He was sidelined with knee inflammation in early August, and it was a sore elbow that knocked him out for a couple of weeks in September. Kimbrel's 31.3% K% is still pretty strong, but not by his standards, and there are other reasons to believe he's not nearly the pitcher he once was.

First of all, Kimbrel's struggles didn't just start in the summer of 2019, as he got roughed up during the 2018 playoffs as well. Going back to the last week of the regular season in 2018, he has appeared in 34 games, while putting up an atrocious 7.16 ERA, with a 14.9% BB%, 27.9% K%, and a 3.0 HR/9.

Kimbrel allowed a ton of hard contact in 2019, as 47.1% of balls in play against him were 95 MPH or harder. That ranked 25th highest among 588 pitchers with 50 or more batted balls against, while his Barrels/PA % was 6th highest in the league. Granted, the sample was small, but this wasn't the first instance, as Kimbrel had the fifth-highest Hard Hit % in the league in 2017.

Kimbrel has featured just a four-seam fastball/curve combo throughout his career, but that has been enough to make him elite, as both pitches have always been highly effective. That wasn't the case in 2019, and the loss of both the velocity and whiff percentage (shown below) on the fastball is concerning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at his pitch values confirms that the fastball wasn't a good pitch in 2019, and actually, the curve wasn't either.

Kimbrel probably deserves a bit of a pass for the poor 2019 campaign, since he started so late and didn't go through a typical spring training. But there are several red flags in his profile, and he's going inside the top 140 in NFBC Draft Champions and Online Championships. That's a pretty valuable pick to invest in a pitcher who offers some upside, but also a pretty high percentage to bust.

 

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Alex Colome ranks fifth in all of baseball with 126 saves over the past four seasons and is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he saved 30 games and put up a 2.80 ERA. He's locked in at closer to start the season for a White Sox team that should be much-improved, but there are a few reasons to be wary about paying for a repeat.

While strikeouts were up across the league, Colome's 22.1% K% in 2019 was pretty poor for a reliever, and his second-lowest mark since moving to the pen full-time in 2016. He also struggled more than usual with his control, as his BB% jumped to 9.2%, and all the way up to 10.9% in the second half.

Colome also got extremely lucky on balls in play, allowing a .215 BABIP despite giving up a lot of hard contact. He ranked in the bottom two percent of the league in average exit velocity allowed, and the 12th percentile in Hard Hit %, as 41.2% of batted balls against him were hit 95 MPH or harder. The .191 batting average and .350 Slg Colome held his opponents to were pretty fluky, as his expected marks per Baseball Savant were .244 and .446, respectively.

Colome has a few things going for him in that he is the unquestioned closer heading into the season, has a lot of experience in the role, and he pitches for a good team. But despite the shiny surface stats in 2019, the underlying numbers show that he carries quite a bit of risk. There's a good chance the declining skills catch up to Colome at some point in 2020, and he looks like a poor value as the 15th closer off the board in NFBC drafts.

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