Welcome back to our sixth edition of Turning Two. We've now discussed candidates for 50 HR, .350 BA, 300 K, 20 W, and 20/20 campaigns for the 2017 season. This week's topic focuses on the one position we have yet to cover, the most mystical of fantasy players, closers.
Reaching 50 saves is an impressive, yet not rare, feat. Since 2010, four pitchers have accumulated 50 saves; Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson (x2), Mark Melancon, and Jeurys Familia which was called by Max last season. Trust me, I'm just as shocked as you that Johnson is on the list, twice!
Being a dominant closer isn't enough to reach 50 saves. It's an all-around team effort, from having a solid set-up crew to not having a completely destructive offense (sorry, Chicago). For as dominant as Aroldis Chapman is, he's never eclipsed 38 saves in a season. Craig Kimbrel averaged over 46 saves from 2011-2014, but he wouldn't have had that opportunity if the Braves bullpen wasn't ranked first, second, second, and eleventh in bullpen ERA, respectively. You get the idea, it takes a village to raise a closer, or something like that. Enough talk though, let's get to the picks!Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
Turning Two: Who Will Save 50 Games?
Ken Giles, HOU
2016 was a bit of a roller coaster in Giles first season as an Astro, but he still proved his has some of the filthiest stuff in all of baseball. He suffered some poor luck in the form of HR/FB%, BABIP, and LOB%, which is why the 4.11 ERA isn't fooling any experts in 2017. For the season, he owned a 2.67 xFIP and the sixth highest K/9 among relievers. After the All-Star break, his 16.33 K/9 was easily top of the league and is the reason for all the excitement heading into this season. He is one year removed from two consecutive stellar sub-3.00 ERA seasons in Philly and should hold down the closer role in Houston this go-around.
Giles was one of my picks for this same topic last year, and obviously it didn't pan out. But my momma didn't raise a quitter. I view Giles as a top five fantasy RP for 2017, and think Houston has a good set up to support a 50 save candidate. The rotation is shaky with a bunch of question marks regarding health and consistency, but an absolutely stacked offense should hold them in contention for the majority of their games. Even with a lackluster showing from Giles, the bullpen was still top 10 in ERA in '16, meaning the save opportunities will be bountiful for Giles as his electric stuff trumps any attempt from lady (bad) luck in 2017.
Ben: I’ve got nothing here. Giles is an elite closer thanks to his ridiculous career 33.7% strikeout rate, 25.6% K-BB rate, and 2.20/2.65 FIP/xFIP. After getting off to a rocky start, he recovered down the stretch last season and looked excellent in the closer role (other than that one late-season blow up). I expect the Astros to be much improved this season, meaning Giles can thrive in his current role.
Mark Melancon, SF
I'm sorry for picking the low-hanging fruit here. I have just been so bold all off-season long, that I have grown weary. I wanted to be sure that I ended our prediction series on a name that I felt 100% would lead me to victory over Ben. That man was Mark Melancon. For four straight seasons, he has owned an ERA below 2.25. Three of those years boasted ERA's below 2.00. He is the Clayton Kershaw of closers, but is often overshadowed in fantasy by the sexier closers with elite strikeout ability.
In 2016, only two MLB teams had more save opportunities than the Giants. Unfortunately, they squandered 30 of them and led the league in blown saves. Enter Mark Melancon who hasn't blown more than four saves in a season for three straight years, and you have a man who will see a large majority of 70+ opportunities all to himself- and he won't blow them.
Ben: If Melancon can hit 50 saves with the Pirates, no reason to think he can’t with the Giants. Two nice picks for Mr JB this time; well played sir. It is almost a given he won’t hold his ERA as low as 1.64 again this season, but even if it raises to his FIP/xFIP levels of 2.42/2.99 he will still be an elite closing option given the number of opportunities he should receive.
Edwin Diaz, SEA
Edwin Diaz had one of the most electric rookie seasons for a closer in recent memory. After working as a starter in the minor leagues, the Mariners switched him over to a reliever in Double-A and he never looked back. He was second among all relievers last season with a ridiculous 15.33 K/9 rate, third with a 1.88 xFIP, and third with an 18.5% swinging strike percentage (SwStr%).
What garners the most attention about Diaz is his 100-mph heater, and when used in the right spots is a fantastic pitch. However, opposing hitters hit .292 off his fastballs last season. His most impressive pitch last season was his slider, which limited hitters to a .131 BAA. This pitch alone generated a 33.5% SwStr%, making it one of the top sliders in all of baseball. Reaching 50 saves certainly won’t be an issue of skill for Diaz. Seattle should be an improved team from last season, after adding Jean Segura in the offseason, as well as getting full seasons from James Paxton and rookie Mitch Haniger. They should be in enough games for Diaz to get a shot at 50.
JB: I'm all about owning Diaz in fantasy leagues this year. No doubt he is a stud, and will return elite strikeout totals and ERA. But the only reason I would refrain from predicting 50 saves is the current health of Drew Smyly and Steve Cishek. The bullpen looks pretty awful behind Diaz and the rotation wasn't looking great even before losing Smyly for at least eight weeks. I see his fellow relievers blowing enough opportunities to keep Diaz below 40 saves in 2017.
Kelvin Herrera, KC
Kelvin Herrera was already one of the Royals better relief arms heading into last season. He then proceeded to improve several facets of his game, and became the interim closer when Wade Davis hit the DL last season. He posted a career-high strikeout rate of 30.4%, and his K/9 of 10.75 was his best since 2013. Herrera also set a new career high with a 15.2% SwStr%, which was 12th best among qualified relievers last season.
The biggest improvement Herrera made lies in his walk rate, which he lowered by nearly two runs down to 1.50 per nine. His 7.17 K/BB rate was fifth among all relievers last season. This was accomplished by throwing more first pitch strikes than he ever has before, at an above-average 64.7% rate. Herrera introduced a slider last season, something he hadn’t thrown prior. That pitch held opponents to a .077 average over 117 pitches. If he can get expanded use of that pitch this season, we could see his K/9 rate rise for the fourth straight season. A high-strikeout closer in the right situation should have no troubles racking up saves, and Herrera is in that exact spot.
JB: Like every other team mentioned in these picks, Kansas City failed to reach 50 saves as a team in 2016. But not only was their 41 saves the lowest of the four, I also believe they did the least this off-season to alter their fate in 2017. Notice Ben failed to mention the supporting cast in his pitch, and while Herrera is yet another elite closer....it takes a village to reach 50 saves.