Welcome to another edition of Closing Remarks, where we look at each team’s closer on a weekly basis and spin the Roulette wheel hoping for clarity and successful save conversions. This week I team up with Paul Mammino, founder of RotoFanatic’s Data Monster, to begin applying these useful stats to bullpens. Take a look at this chart below, and we will discuss how to use it later in this piece.

First, let’s attack our reader mailbag questions of the week:

So many questions about Anthony Bender and his role post-trade deadline. Andy Carlson @Bankers_Box

Andy, this is so true.  What the heck is going on in Miami? I think there is a 75/25 chance that erstwhile closer Yimi Garcia gets moved before the deadline. It’s important to recall that context matters; Garcia is 31, and not an up-and-coming youngster.  He could help bolster a contending team’s middle relief ranks, but will not close for anyone else. Should he be moved, that would seemingly open a spot for Anthony Bender. Dylan Floro also lurks here as well. However, manager Don Mattingly does not prefer committees and would rather have one guy earmarked for the role. Bender showcases a terrific sinker and an overpowering slider.  Bender is younger at 26, and the developing Marlins have no pressing need to solve the role. They seem to prefer Floro in a setup role, and he profiles better in that role. Look for Bender to continue to get opportunities to close, even if Garcia remains in Miami. Thanks for the question!

Assuming that Kimbrel and Rodriguez get traded, who are the next two in line for both the Cubs and Pirates for SOLDS and how reliable are they in those roles? Dave Funnell, @sportz_nutt51

Dave, great question and my crystal ball is hazy. Here is my hunch: Kyle Crick has not performed well of late, leading me to think that David Bednar may get the closer opportunity should Rodriguez be traded in the coming weeks. That would mean that Chris Stratton and Sam Howard may get more holds. I’m bullish on Bednar.

As for the Cubs, trading Kimbrel is up in the air. Are they buyers or sellers? While fans want them to buy, based on what we have seen in recent weeks, they are dead in the water. Kimbrel is a valuable piece in a market where many teams (such as Oakland, San Francisco, Toronto,  maybe the New York Yankees, maybe the Houston Astros) will be looking to add high-caliber bullpen arms. The resurgent Kimbrel should get a high return for the Cubs. My best guess today is that Andrew Chafin would step into the closer role, with the freshly returned Ryan Tepera getting more holds. But here’s something else to consider: all three of these guys could get traded as well.  That would really put a huge question mark in this bullpen. Should that happen, someone like Dan Winkler could step in for the time being. Dillon Maples is quietly rehabbing right now as well. This one is very murky.

Closer Workbook
All Data According To Data Monster
Player Name In_Whiff rfCommand Stuff ERA
Josh Hader 7.1 1.10 1.72
Liam Hendriks 4.4 -0.44 3.12
Aroldis Chapman 4.2 -2.21 3.60
Craig Kimbrel 4.2 3.66 1.64
Matt Barnes 2.3 2.22 3.05
Edwin Diaz 3.0 -0.10 3.05
Mark Melancon -1.3 2.34 3.66
Alex Reyes 1.8 0.16 2.56
Kenley Jansen 3.3 -4.00 2.26
Ian Kennedy 2.1 -3.86 4.08
Emmanuel Clase 4.3 1.45 2.51
James Karinchak 2.2 -1.73 3.39
Ryan Pressly -0.5 4.22 3.14
Raisel Iglesias 7.2 4.23 2.41
Diego Castillo 3.4 4.40 3.22
Richard Rodriguez -0.7 -1.80 3.33
Will Smith 1.4 1.90 3.27
Jordan Romano 1.3 -1.73 3.08
Brad Hand -2.1 -3.64 3.89
Lou Trivino -0.1 -2.33 3.58
Daniel Bard 2.5 -0.85 4.68
Paul Fry -0.9 -1.45 3.61
Cole Sulser 2.0 1.53 3.28
Taylor Rogers 1.5 -0.73 3.69
Hansel Robles -1.8 -1.40 4.35
Michael Fulmer 1.0 3.83 3.60
Gregory Soto 1.7 -2.15 3.31
Greg Holland -0.4 1.92 4.40
Yimi Garcia 0.9 -1.47 3.86
Tyler Rogers -1.0 -6.19 3.91
Jake McGee 0.3 -6.37 4.26
Kendall Graveman 0.6 -1.38 2.89
Hector Neris 3.2 2.87 3.49
Jose Alvarado 2.9 -6.79 3.27
Brad Brach -0.1 6.08 3.49
Amir Garrett 1.6 1.41 3.92
Sean Doolittle 1.2 -4.87 4.91
Joakim Soria 0.9 1.83 4.11

We are always up for trying new things at RotoFanatic. The uber-talented Paul Mammino developed this wonderful tool last year that we refer to, lovingly, as the Data Monster. I want to start using it as a way to grade our closers and other relief pitchers. But before we do that, let’s take a crash course in what these statistics mean.

In_Whiff: This shows how much better a pitcher is at generating swinging strikes than their location would suggest. Essentially, a pitcher gets more credit for a swing and miss on a fastball down the middle versus one up in the zone. We consider it a measure of how “nasty” a given pitcher’s stuff is. In this statistic, zero is average. Josh Hader has an In_Whiff of 7.1, which is otherworldly. Look at Mark Melancon and see his: -1.3.  Egads! Intuitively this makes sense if you have seen these guys pitch; Hader has some of the nastiest stuff in the game, while Melancon relies more on guile and soft contact than many of his bullpen peers.
rfCommand: This is a combination of four metric. XWhiff, XSwing In Zone, xSwing Out of Zone, xWoba (Location based). It is essentially an overall combination of those four metrics that shows how good a given pitcher locates with respect to expected results. Once again, similar to In_Whiff, zero is average. A pitcher with good rfCommand shows us:
  1. He throws pitches with high expected whiff rates
  2. He throws pitches in zone with low expected swing rates, recalling that called strikes are a great thing for pitchers.
  3. He throws pitches out of the zone that are likely to be swung at by batters.
  4. He throws pitches that are hard to hit well, showing a low location based xWOBA.

For example, Diego Castillo has a rfCommand score of 4.40. He throws pitches with extremely low expected swing rates within the zone (62%) and also has one of the lowest location based expected wOBA in the game. His main skill is throwing pitches that historically have generated bad contact. As a contrary, Jose Alvarado, his former teammate in Tampa Bay, owns a rfCommand score of -6.79.  Alvarado has an electric arm, and his velocity is 99th percentile in the game, but he also owns a 19.2 BB%. That makes using him in your lineups a real challenge and risk.

Stuff ERA – This is an ERA estimator that combines In_Whiff, rfCommand, and a few of the other Data Monster metrics. When compared to actual season results, this stat performed better for us than FIP did from 2015-2020. Impressive work. You might be asking yourself, “Self?  What is a good Stuff ERA?” And my answer to that would be, whatever you as fantasy player thinks is a good ERA. In my humble opinion, anything above 3.50 is a no-go for me in a relief pitcher; they don’t usually pitch enough innings for you to overcome bad ratios from a closer, even if that pitcher gets you valuable saves. The only difference for me there is if you have a string enough rotation that you can take the ratio hits. So for example, Daniel Bard’s Stuff ERA is 4.68. In my thought process that makes him unusable to me. Craig Kimbrel’s Stuff ERA is 1.64, and he’s one of the top three closers in the game right now.
As many of you know, I am a very old dog learning some new tricks. I am learning how to use new statistics to help me learn more about this game that we all love. Paul Mammino is one of the brightest minds in our game, in my opinion, and many of us could learn something from him. The first couple of times I heard him talk about things, I was writing down notes because I didn’t comprehend what the hell he was talking about. But he’s sharp and what’s more, he is kind and generous with his time, and patient with oldsters like me using his work. Please check out the RotoFanatic site, and see the Data Monster in its full glory there.
Here are the closer rankings as we move into the All-Star Break. Notice that we have moved Aroldis Chapman down in the rankings. He had been as high as two in our rankings earlier this year, but his recent struggles move him to the middle of the pack. The best in the business right now are Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel. Players in bold are those who have moved up this week; players in bold italics are those that have moved down this week. A brief note will appear next to those who have moved.

Closers

  1. Josh Hader
  2. Liam Hendriks
  3. Craig Kimbrel
  4. Matt Barnes
  5. Edwin Diaz
  6. Mark Melancon
  7. Alex Reyes
  8. Kenley Jansen
  9. Will Smith: Smith has racked up nine saves in the last five weeks, and his peripherals are showing good signs over that time period. Smith’s Stuff ERA is 3.27, and his In_Whiff is 1.4.  I expect him to keep getting results in Atlanta.
  10. Ian Kennedy
  11. Ryan Pressly
  12. Raisel Iglesias: He has six wins and 18 saves, with two of those wins and three of those saves coming the first two weeks of July. Because he really has no competition in Los Angeles, manager Joe Maddon has stuck with him and he should be one of the most reliable closers by means of opportunity in the second half. A 7.2 In_Whiff, a rfCommand of 4.34, and a Stuff ERA of 2.41 show that he’s close to becoming a dominant weapon once again.
  13. Emmanuel Clase/James Karinchak: This is more a referendum on Clase than Karinchak. Clase has blown hos last two save chances and sports a 6.75 ERA in July (obviously small sample size). I think manager Terry Francona may mix and match for a game or two, but Clase will retain this job, based on Tito’s desire to use Karinchak as more of a stopper. However, Karinchak is very tough on lefties, and he could get save chances when the ninth inning shows lefty hitters coming up. One to watch. I feel like we have been saying that all year. Note the In_Whiff difference between Clase and Karinchak listed in the box above; that surprised me.
  14. Aroldis Chapman: Tough times in the Bronx for Chapman. Last night in a 1-0 game manager Aaron Boone rode Gerrit Cole until the end, topping out with 129 pitches. That’s how low his confidence is in Chapman right now.  Hopefully a few days off clears this up for him; Chapman only pitched once this last week after giving up 10 earned runs in his last five outings. I think he will figure it out. But in the meantime, if you need a vulture save, grab Chad Green.
  15. Diego Castillo
  16. Richard Rodriguez
  17. Jordan Romano
  18. Brad Hand
  19. Lou Trivino
  20. Daniel Bard
  21. Kendall Graveman: He quietly has two wins and eight saves for a competitive Seattle Mariners team. The biggest problem is that he doesn’t get as many opportunities as closers on other teams do, so if you roster him, just know that. His rfCommand is -1.38, so don’t expect lots of swings and misses or whiffs.
  22. Taylor Rogers/Hansel Robles
  23. Michael Fulmer/Gregory Soto
  24. Greg Holland
  25. Yimi Garcia
  26. Jake McGee/Tyler Rogers
  27. Paul Fry/whoever closes in Baltimore: no. Just don’t do this to yourself. You are not this desperate.
  28. Hector Neris/Jose Alvarado
  29. Brad Brach/Amir Garrett/Sean Doolittle
  30. Joakim Soria

Next week we will return with more SOLDS options. To be brutally frank I ran out of time this week between my day job and family commitments.  If you have questions on those guys, my DMs are always open! Have a great All-Star Break and get rested up for the second half!