Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Closers: Comparing Jim Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, and Greg Holland

Closers are the most volatile of all the positions in fantasy baseball. Predicting save totals from year-to-year is a losing game. A save opportunity is not only up to the pitcher’s ability but also his team putting him in a position to get a save. No one can predict over an entire season how many save opportunities are going to be available to a closer.

You think you are drafting someone who will give you 35 saves and within six weeks they no longer are receiving save opportunities because of their lack of performance or an unstable bullpen situation.

On the flip-side of drafting a closer in a shaky bullpen situation, you will end up drafting a pitcher who vastly under performs from the prior season.

We try to kid ourselves and believe we have an edge based on past performances. In reality we don’t know how our closers will perform from week to week.

Today we will focus on three closers that are on very different paths from one another heading into the 2014 season. I will not predict save totals. Instead, we will focus on underlying trends going into next season’s drafts.


  • Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson owners were very pleased with another 50 save performance in 2013. Considering the fact that he had 51 saves the prior season only adds to his value for 2014. Who wouldn’t draft a closer who has averaged 50 saves the past two seasons?

I for one will not be drafting Jim Johnson for the 2014 season. This is based on a trend from the past three decades. Only two closers have tallied more than 149 saves in a three-year period.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

  • Eric Gagne racked up 152 saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers between 2002 – 2004.
  • Francisco Rodriguez tallied 149 saves over a three-year period for the Los Angeles Angels.

After Gagne and Rodriguez posted the two best spans for closers in the history of the game, their save totals dropped precariously. Rodriguez managed another season with 35 saves and Gagne never got more than 16 in a year due to multiple injuries.

It’s possible for Johnson to post another 50-save season, but the odds are against him.

In the second half of last season, he allowed a .297 batting average to opponents with a BABIP of .350. These are not numbers of an elite closer. These below average statistics were hidden by the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were fourth in the American League in runs scored.

What would happen to save opportunities for Jim Johnson if he were not on a prolific run scoring team? We may find out, as in the last few days, Buster Olney from ESPN and Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun are reporting the Orioles are shopping their closer this offseason. If he is traded, odds are he won’t land on a team with an offense like the Baltimore Orioles. With that, his save opportunities will undoubtedly decrease.

Fantasy owners will overpay for Jim Johnson based on the last two seasons, especially if he remains in Baltimore. He will be an above average closer for 2014 but his second half numbers from last season do not point to a top five ranking among closers.


  • Craig Kimbrel

What happens when you face Craig Kimbrel? You have a 38% chance of striking out against him. More than a third of all hitters he faces don’t even get a chance to put a ball in play. This statistic alone is a huge advantage when you only average one inning as a closer.

His contact % stands at 70 %. Sure, hitters get good wood off of his pitches. In most cases when you throw a 97 mph fastball that contact stays within the infield. He has an IFFB% (in field fly ball) of 17.4%.

To put this in context, 55% of all hitters either strikeout against him or the ball stays in the infield. This is an astounding statistic. The advantage that the Atlanta Braves have when he is on the mound with a lead is immeasurable.

If you are one of the lucky hitters who manages to hit .166 against him, you’re not scoring. It comes as no surprise that he strands 92% of hitters who actually manage to get on base against him.

I tried to find weaknesses in any of his statistical categories but he really doesn’t show any signs of a decline anytime soon. Without a doubt he should be the first closer off the board in your draft. It is possible he might not be the best closer next season but he will definitely be the most consistent. Draft him with very high expectations.


  • Greg Holland

The next sentence would be a great open for any romance novel.

My love affair with Greg Holland began this year around the month of July.

July is when the Kansas City Royals closer went from a bright young arm to one of the game’s elite shutdown artists.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In July, he posted an ERA of 0.82 with 15K’s through 11 innings. August was even more dominant as he had an ERA of 0.00. He didn’t allow a home run for two months spanning from the end of June to the first week of September. He didn’t walk more than 4 batters in a month going back to the beginning of May.

Among all closers he ranked second in K/9 at 13.84, behind only to Aroldis Chapman [compared to Kenley Jansen here]. His ERA, strikeouts and WHIP were in the top four among all closers.

His 47 saves from last season could very well be a preview of what he has in store for fantasy owners over the next few seasons.

He plays on a Kansas City Royals team with an offense that ranked 11th among all American League teams. Here’s the next question you need to ask yourself. How will a closer on a team with a bottom-five offense sustain 40+ saves a year?

This is the beauty of Greg Holland. He is an elite arm playing on an offensive team that will always score just enough to keep games close. The ineptitude on offense is a gold mine for a closer with Greg Holland’s abilities. There will never be a lack of save opportunities when an offense does just enough to win a game, which is what the Kansas City Royals showed us last season. There is no reason this won’t change going into 2014.

If you don’t want to pay Craig Kimbrel prices on draft day you better be prepared to take Greg Holland. You will probably be able to grab him one round and maybe even two behind Kimbrel. You will be getting the same dominant closer for a cheaper price.

Tags: Craig Kimbrel Greg Holland Jim Johnson

comments powered by Disqus