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ADP Sleepers and Busts - Closers

Where an owner drafts closers comes down to personal strategy and philosophy. Some owners are willing spend up for high-end closers like Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel, while others are content to let closers fly off the board deep into the draft and scrounge for saves late.

For those of us unwilling to invest in expensive closers, we need to wade through the middle and late-tier reliever pool to get value.

Here are a couple of closers to target in the mid-late tiers, and a couple to avoid. ADP data is based on NFBC ADP as of 03/19/2018.

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Undervalued Relief Pitchers

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets – 170th Overall, 19th RP

Injuries limited Familia to just 24.2 innings in 2017, and he missed 3 and half months due to a blood clot in his right shoulder. This has caused the once upper-mid tier closer to tumble down draft boards. The good news is that unlike other scary injuries, such as forearm issues that have owners afraid of Mark Melancon and Kelvin Herrera, this blood clot issue shouldn’t linger and doesn’t foretell greater injury. In his limited 2017 action Familia wasn’t his usual self, with a 4.38 ERA, 4.01 xFIP, and 9.12 K/9. His walk rate also ballooned to 5.47 BB/9. This 2017 performance coupled with his poor spring training (7.11 ERA in 6.1 innings as of 03/18) may have people thinking he won’t recover.

There are reasons to be encouraged with Familia. First, despite the injury Familia’s fastball still clocked in at 97 MPH, and his sinker was 96.1 MPH. These are both slightly below his career averages, but he didn't have the stark velocity drop that is often seen in injured pitchers as they implode. Another reason to be optimistic is the context of Familia’s high ERA last season. He surrendered seven of his 12 earned runs in two appearances, the one just before he hit the disabled list, and his first game returning from the disabled list. In those two appearances Familia pitched 1.1 innings and gave up six hits, eight runs (seven earned), and four walks. If we eliminate those two games from his overall numbers Familia has a 1.95 ERA in 23.1 innings instead of the 4.38 he had in 24.2 innings. It’s not fair to totally disregard those performances, but it at least offers context to his ugly overall numbers. Out of all the injury bounce back closers, Familia is the one worth targeting late. The injury is less likely to recur compared to forearm injuries in other pitchers, and his skills haven’t deteriorated.

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics – 175th Overall, 21st RP

It’s understandable why Treinen is going this late. His ERA was nearly four last season, he only had an 8.8 K/9, and he’s the closer on a team that’s been in the cellar for the past three seasons. Now that the bad is out of the way, let’s dig into the good. After being traded from Washington to Oakland, Treinen flourished as the full-time closer. In 38 innings, he had a 2.13 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 9.9 K/9 with the Athletics. He was everything owners look for in a closer. Of course, 38 innings is a small sample size, and Treinen was horrible in 37.2 innings with the Nationals before getting traded. He had a 5.73 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 before getting shipped out west.

So how do we know that the second half Treinen is the real Treinen? His success was driven by a deadly sinker/slider combination that baffles even the games best hitters. In 2017, Treinen’s sinker averaged 97.4 MPH, giving him the second-highest sinker velocity in the majors among pitchers that pitched at least 50 innings. This sinker has allowed Treinen to have an elite 61.4% groundball rate throughout his career. That sinker pairs excellently with his nigh unhittable slider. Batters have hit .147 against with a 24.1% whiff rate against Treinen's slider over the course of his career.

After being traded to the Athletics Treinen ditched his four seam fastball for his slider. While in Washington Treinen threw his slider 19% of the time, and threw is four seam fastball 20% of the time. After the trade he upped his slider usage to 30.7% and more than halved his four seam usage down to 9.4%. The results in Oakland speak for themselves. This two-pitch mix is the stuff late-inning relievers are made of, and as the 21st closer off the board Treinen is a great upside pick.


Overvalued Relief Pitchers

Greg Holland, Unsigned – 167th Overall, 17th RP

Not only does Holland not have a guaranteed closer job, he doesn’t even have a team. It seems accepted that when Holland finally finds a home he’ll automatically slide into the closer’s role. A month ago that seemed likely, but we’re less than two weeks from opening day and he hasn’t even thrown a pitch in 2018 yet. He’s been linked to Arizona, Atlanta, and Texas recently by Jon Heyman of FanRag sports, though nothing seems imminent. With every passing day it seems more likely that Holland is not going to be a closer for one of the 30 MLB teams by March 29th. 167 is too high to speculate on saves.

Team situation aside, there is doubt surrounding Holland’s skills. He collected 41 saves for the Rockies in 2017, but it wasn’t pretty. Those 41 saves came with a 3.61 ERA, 4.05 xFIP, and 4.08 BB/9. Holland’s fastball also clocked in at 93.8 MPH, three MPH less than his 96.9 MPH peak in 2013. His fastball also got obliterated by hitters in 2017. Batters hit .303 against the pitch with a .236 ISO. Holland’s fastball was never his bread and butter, that was the slider, and the slider is still effective. However, the deterioration of his fastball leaves Holland with only one effective pitch.

There are ways to rationalize Holland’s 2017 struggles. It was his first season back from Tommy John Surgery, and he pitched his home games at Coors Field. Holland actually performed worse on the road (3.90 ERA, 4.58 xFIP) then he did at home (3.34 ERA, 3.56 xFIP). His .252 BABIP against was also unusually low given his .293 career BABIP against and the fact that he pitched in Coors field. Everything is trending downwards, and Holland’s days as a high-end closer seem long gone. Even if he finds a job as a closer, he might be a ratio killer. There are better options going later than Holland.

Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays - 127th Overall, 14th RP

Colome broke out big time in 2016, emerging as the Rays closer and locking up 37 saves with a 1.91 ERA and 11.28 K/9. He followed it up by leading the majors with 47 saves in 2017, but his performance took a step back. In 2017 Colome had a 3.24 ERA, 4.32 xFIP, and 7.83 K/9, leaving doubts as to whether Colome can be the lights out closer we thought he was. There was an obvious cause to Colome’s struggles in 2017--his four-seam fastball. Despite gaining 0.4 MPH on his fastball, Colome lost all effectiveness with the pitch. Batters destroyed Colome’s four seamer, hitting .369 against it with a .246 ISO. This caused Colome to throw his four seamer just 32.7% of the time after throwing it 52.1% of the time in 2016. He was forced to rely on his cutter 67.3% of the time. Colome's cutter is elite and it’s the reason he broke out in the first place. But even with his amazing cutter Colome needs to at least have a usable fastball to recapture his 2016 performance.

Colome’s fastball struggled because it became straighter, and because he lost the ability to command it. He lost over an inch of horizontal movement from 2016 to 2017 on an already average four seamer. Colome also found himself unable to throw the pitch for strikes consistently. To demonstrate this, we’ll compare his fastball heatmaps against lefties from 2016 to 2017. These charts were taken from fangraphs.com.


He threw the pitch lower, out of the zone, and away from left-handed hitters significantly more in 2017 compared to 2016. It’s not that we expect good results from fastballs in the zone, but Colome needs to have a fastball he can rely on so he can mix it with that devastating cutter. This change resulted in a jump in walks against lefties. He walked lefties 8.3% of the time in 2016, and 12.1% of the time in 2017. He also surrendered 10.9% more hard contact in 2017 to lefties, giving up hard contact 35.9% of the time. Unless Colome can regain his 2016 fastball, we won’t see a performance like 2016. That makes him a low strikeout closer, who’s ERA will likely be north of three, on a team that lost several significant pieces during the offseason. This is not the mid-tier closer to buy.


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