Hey guys I hope you all read the first installment about sleeper starting pitchers for your season long drafts, if not go ahead and give that a read after your done with this. Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel should be some of the top closers in the league once again this season so they will not be mentioned in this article.
A closer is one of the pivotal positions of a baseball team. The closer is the player who comes in for the 9th inning in a game where his team has a 3 run or less lead. The MLB Record holder for saves is Mariano Rivera with 652 saves. The only current MLB player with a chance at breaking Rivera’s record is Craig Kimbrel himself; over his 7 full seasons as the primary closer on his teams he has 291 saves. Kimbrel is averaging 41.6 saves per each full season, while Rivera averaged 40.75 over his 16 full seasons. If Kimbrel can stay healthy he is on pace to break Rivera’s record. That’s enough about MLB history, now lets get into the sleeper closers in your drafts this year.
Corey Knebel – Knebel is one of the lesser known closers in the league, but he shined in his first season as the Brewers closer. In 2017 Knebel pitched to a 1.78 ERA, .180 baa, and a staggering 14.92 K/9 over 76 innings while saving 39 of 45 opportunities and getting 126 strikeouts. . The Brewers won 86 games in 2017, so Knebel’s 39 saves means he helped them get 45% of those wins. Knebel also pitched in 76 of 162 games for the Brewers or right around 47% of their games.
The Brewers have improved their offense this offseason and has relatively the same starting pitching staff, so Knebel should have those 45 opportunities again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are closer to 50+. Knebel’s hobbies other than making opposing batters look silly at the plate include brewing his own beer.
Ken Giles- Giles bounced back in a huge way in 2017. He posted a 2.30 ERA, a .198 baa, and a 11.92 K/9 with 34 saves and 83 strikeouts over 62.2 innings. A pitcher of Giles skill set and ability usually isn’t a sleeper, but there were originally talks at the beginning of spring training that Giles manager would use multiple people as closers. As spring training has gone on Giles has pretty much cemented himself as the closer for the Astros should see his 38 opportunities he saw last season plus a few extra.
Giles is on the World Series Winning Houston Astros and he will be a big piece of their journey to back to back World Series. Ken Giles was always talked about for his power fastball and incredible slider. I’m seeing he is adding a change up to his pitch repertoire which will make him even harder to hit. The only bad thing I see here is his beard, but we can’t fix that.
Raisel Iglesias- Iglesias had his first full season as the Reds closer and put up some pretty eye-popping numbers. In 2017 he posted a 2.49 ERA, a .207 baa, and a 10.89 K/9 while striking out 92 batters over 76 innings. Iglesias had 28 saves on 30 appearances, and helped be a part of 41% of his teams wins. This team has improved a little bit from last season which should open up more opportunities for Iglesias to get saves. Iglesias has a road ERA of 3.43, which would be my only concern, but it is so high partially because he allowed 4 of his 5 home runs on the road.
Iglesias is a former starter who showed some good stuff, but always had issues after more than a few innings so the Reds decided to move him to closer, and so far it looks like their decision has paid off. Interesting fact that just 2 years ago in 2016 Iglesias was the Red’s opening day starter, wow how things have changed him over the course of a year.
Felipe Rivero- Rivero got his first taste of being a closer in 2017 for the Pirates. This was mostly because of Melancon being shipped off to SF and Tony Watson getting hurt, but he took the reigns of the closing job and exceeded expectations. Rivero posted a 5-3 record, 1.67 ERA, .171 baa, 10.51 K/9, and 88 strikeouts over 75.1 innings of work. He also had 21 saves in 23 opportunities. The saves and opportunities sound low until you consider that Rivero never got his first save opportunity until June 10th, already just over 2 months into the season. I could definitely see Rivero around 33 saves in 35 opportunities for a Pirates team that everyone thinks will struggle.
Rivero, a left handed pitcher, dominated lefties in 2017 holding them to a .082 baa and 7 hits over 26 innings. There are more right handed batters in the league and usually that is who left handed pitchers struggle against, but Rivero did pretty well against them too. He held them to a .211 baa and 40 hits over 49.1 innings. His ERA was 2.19 which isn’t high at all, and it’s only that high because he allowed 7 runs on 4 home runs to righties. Rivero is poised to have another breakout year and show people that last year wasn’t a fluke.
Shane Greene- Greene pitched to a 2.66 ERA, .205 baa, 9.71 K/9, with 73 strikeouts over 67.2 innings. If you look more into his stats you will see that Greene only had 13 save opportunities last season, this is because the Tigers had a closer by committee, or multiple being the closer at different times. Some the projections I’ve seen has Greene projected at 26 saves this season, but they also expect green to get traded at the deadline so it would be interesting to see if wherever he is traded to still uses him as a closer.
Greene had his best season of his career last season and his first season as a full time reliever. He is a former Yankees starting pitcher who got dealt to the Tigers in a part of the three team trade that brought Didi to New York. Greene dominated right handed pitchers last season and held them to a 1.74 ERA, .185 baa, and 40 strikeouts over 41.1 innings. His numbers against lefties can be a little worrisome because he allowed almost as many hits to lefties in half the innings, but I think once Greene gets settled into his role as closer he will dominate.