A continuation of our series Closers and their Handcuffs with a look at the NL Central Closers…
- Closer: Jose Veras
- Risk: High
- Next in Line: Pedro Strop
Jose Veras was a nice little fantasy role player in 2013. He put up 22 saves, gave you almost a K per inning, and didn’t kill your ERA or WHIP. Considering where you drafted him or that you likely grabbed him off the wire, that’s solid return.
The one thing that stuck out to me for Veras last year was his increase in command as evidenced by his 3.16 BB/9 and his 8.7 BB%, both of which were well below his career averages. So far below his career averages that, I have to assume he will regress a little in those categories. And with regression in command comes increases of losing your job.
Pedro Strop experienced a similar increase in command once he was dealt to the Cubs last year. Maybe the once highly touted prospect found some comfort in Chicago and could be close to being a legit option to close. But, if Strop himself regresses with his command back to his career averages, then I do not see him being a viable fantasy target.
At that point, the Cubs may have to call up recently demoted Blake Parker. Personally, I have a rule about drafting Cubs, I don’t do it, and that strategy seems to have worked out well for me this far, I recommend giving it a try yourself.
- Closer: J.J. Hoover/ Aroldis Chapman
- Risk: High/Low
- Next in Line: Aroldis Chapman/J.J. Hoover
I feel bad for Aroldis Chapman and truly hope he heals well and is able to bounce back and not be affected by the scary injury he just suffered. When Chapman comes back, you may want to watch him carefully as taking a comebacker off the face could, and has in the past, affected the psychology of a pitcher. If he can bounce back and pitch like it never happened like the way Alex Cobb did last year, he will be a top RP moving forward with little risk.
J.J. Hoover will likely be the closer until Chapman returns. Hoover has four saves under his belt in two big league seasons. He has decent stuff, but a 92.7 average fastball and a SwStr% of 9.5 is kind of meh for a closer. I do think the pressure will be minimal for Hoover, because no one has that high of expectations for him.
No one is thinking if he performs well there could be a closer controversy. This is Chapman’s job the second he returns from a rehab assignment. I think Hoover will look at it that way and be able to be a little more relaxed on the bump. In the end though, we do not know how Hoover will respond, which is why he is a High risk even to maintain his role as an interim closer.
Overall this is an interesting situation. I normally would stay away from a closer like Chapman, too expensive, too high of a draft pick. However, if he slides outside the Top-10 rounds, he might be a guy I jump on and stash on the DL. Hoover I would only consider drafting in leagues that score holds, but not a bad waiver wire guy to add for short term results. Obviously if you are in a league where you own Chapman, you hopefully were in a position to claim Hoover.
- Closer: Jim Henderson
- Risk: Moderate
- Next in Line: Francisco Rodriguez
Jim Henderson became the closer early on last year in Milwaukee when John Axford was relieved of that role. Henderson did a fine job, closing 28 of 32 opportunities with an ERA of 2.70 a WHIP of 1.13 and a K/9 of 11.25.
Francisco Rodriguez would be next in line but his best days as a pitcher, especially as a closer are long gone. This, in my mind, buys Henderson a longer leash if he starts to regress. I have targeted Henderson in a few leagues all ready this year. He fell to the late rounds and I happily grabbed him up and I do not feel the need to handcuff him at this point.
If he throws a few duds in a row, I might back him up with K-Rod.
- Closer: Jason Grilli
- Risk: High
- Next in Line: Mark Melancon
Grilli took over the as closer for the Pirates heading into the 2013 season and although he lacked experience, he performed very well in the role. He saved 33 out of 35 opportunities, had a K/9 of 13.32, and an xFIP of 2.21.
So why is Jason Grilli at high risk for losing his job with those numbers? I am putting him in the high risk category because of injury issues last year. Grilli, 37, had to be shut down for a while last season due to a forearm strain. And, if you do not remember from kindergarten, the forearm is connected to the…el-bow… Grilli is on a modified throwing schedule this spring training which doesn’t exactly scream confidence in his health.
If Grilli has to miss time again this year, Mark Melancon will be his handcuff again. Melancon was doing great as the closer last year until about mid-September when he blew three straight saves. Then to top it off, Melancon blew his only opportunity in the post-season. If Grilli was younger and healthier, I would be promoting him as a viable target in fantasy. But his age and questionable health are enough for me to look elsewhere in 2014.
Melancon is a guy you can jump on if he gets the call to close, but because of the way he ended last season, keep those expectations in check.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Closer: Trevor Rosenthal
- Risk: Moderate
- Next in Line: Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Jason Motte
Trevor Rosenthal took over as the Cardinals’ closer in late last season when Edward Mujica had some struggles. Rosenthal stepped up to the challenge and performed well racking up three saves in the last week in September and another four in the postseason.
Although Rosenthal does not have a full season under his belt in the role, his stuff is just too electric to increase his risk due to the lack of experience. Rosenthal’s average on his fastball came in at 96.4 MPH producing a SwStr% of 14.7 and a K/9 of 12.9.
Backing Rosenthal up if he were to go down could include Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, and Jason Motte when he returns. Siegrist and Martinez are two young guys that can dial it up on the radar gun themselves.
Martinez might have more potential, but with that, it would come as no surprise if he ends up in the rotation at some point this season.
Motte was supposed to be the closer in 2013 after leading the NL in Saves in 2012. However, Motte was shut down before his season really began and had to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Motte will likely be back at some point but even if the surgery was successful there usually is a season of adjustment coming off of T.J. to get their feel back.
It would not surprise me if Rosenthal ends up as a Top-5 reliever this year, as to his handcuff, you may not be able to pick the sure replacement right now, but you cannot go wrong with any of the three above mentioned names in deep leagues were holds are scored.