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Collette Calls: American League Closers

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

In the final Collette Calls of 2015, we looked at the tumultuous situation for NL closers thanks to trades and defections to the superior American League (go DH!). That situation was only exacerbated this week when Drew Storen took his talents (and 29 saves) north to the Ontario Province when Toronto traded Ben Revere to the Nationals. That makes 154 saves that have left the National League from 2015 and have gone to the American League, which means both jobs gained and lost in the American League, but also a deeper talent pool of closers for the junior circuit.

We'll stick with the same style as the National League version, but will use the now-available 2016 RotoWire projections instead of the 2016 Steamer projections.

Tier 1 (in alphabetical order): Cody Allen, Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Ken Giles, Craig Kimbrel

PITCHER TEAM IP SV K ERA WHIP
Allen Indians 70 37 95 2.44 1.13
Britton Orioles 69 40 81 1.96 0.99
Chapman Yankees 61 31 112 1.92 1.07
Davis Royals 71 43 89 1.14 0.83
Giles Astros 65 38 80 2.35 1.22
Kimbrel Red Sox 61 37 78 2.66 1.10

In reality, there should be a Tier Wade Davis and then a Tier 1 because WD-40 is in a class by himself. Since moving to the pen full time in 2014, Davis is 17-3 with 20 saves, a 0.97 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. In 139.1 innings, he has allowed 71 hits and three home runs and has struck out 187. Take the dominance of Mariano Rivera and the strikeouts of Craig Kimbrel into one reliever, and you have Davis. These days, closers rarely go for $20 in a mixed-league format but the case is definitely there for Davis.

The good news is that if you are not going to be the one to bite the bullet and pay that price for Davis, you have a few options. Aroldis Chapman's projections are a bit reserved because of the uncertainty that exists in the Yankees' bullpen. Last year, everyone assumed Dellin Betances would have the job and Andrew Miller went cheap and was a terrific value for those lucky enough to roster him. This year, both return and Chapman is thrown into the mix. Miller and Chapman are both lefties, so there's no advantage there, but Chapman may only be under control this year depending on how long his suspension lasts. If this is indeed his final year before free agency, the Yankees could decide to utilize him like a rented mule and leave Miller in the closer role. They did use Betances heavily last year, so it's just as easy to imagine a scenario where all three live together in a committee situation as it is for the Yankees to deal Miller for other help while his value is at its peak.

We also have Kimbrel, who we could call Davis-lite. Kimbrel has the swing-and-miss stuff, but doesn't have the dominating ratios that Davis has posted and had issues with home runs last year. Kimbrel enters what should be an improved situation in Boston and some simple HR/FB regression could help him clinch the second spot in the AL by season's end. If he cannot do that, perhaps Britton can. The lefty took a big step in 2015 shutting down most comers and did not hurt himself with walks or homers. He has the ratios, he has the strikeouts, but he has one of the worst situations of this group in that the Orioles do not look very good on paper this year, which could limit his save situations. Ken Giles has a lot of the same skills as Zach Britton with a little less command but upgraded his situation moving from Philadelphia to a Houston club that will be ahead in the ninth inning more often it is beind.

Lastly, Cody Allen pitched rather well for a third consecutive season for Cleveland. It would be nice if his walk rate was a bit lower, but he continues to miss bats at an excellent rate, which offsets that. Last season, his good work was held back by an abnormally high .342 BABIP and a low (for him) 71 percent LOB% but he also enjoyed a very low 3 percent HR/FB ratio. This season could look the same as all three of those rates normalize.

Tier 2: David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Drew Storen, Huston Street

PITCHER TEAM IP SV K ERA WHIP
Robertson White Sox 65 39 88 2.91 0.97
Rodriguez Tigers 55 35 57 3.11 0.98
Storen* Blue Jays 57 37 63 2.68 1.05
Street Angels 59 36 56 2.75 1.14

First up, we have the projected Tier 1 skills of David Robertson. While the White Sox disappointed many, it wasn't all Robertson's fault. His skills were arguably better than his years with the Yankees, but he suddenly lost his infamous ability to get out of jams that earned him the "Houdini" nickname when his LOB% dropped to a full-season-low 66 percent. Here is his year-by-year LOB% -- can you say outlier?

2009 - 75%
2010 - 78%
2011 - 90%
2012 - 82%
2013 - 88%
2014 - 78%
2015 - 66%

While Robertson's ability to strand runners has declined each of the last three seasons, baseball is not linear and that trend could reverse itself. The decline has been fueled by an increasing HR/FB ratio that has been in double-digits in each of the last four seasons but has been especially high for him in the most recent two. That's due to the fact that whereas Robertson was once heavy with groundballs, he's become more of a flyball pitcher as his GB% has declined from 51 to 44 to 36 percent the last three seasons. He's still very cutter heavy and hasn't lost velo or changed up his pitch mixture, but his curveball lacks the depth/drop that it once had. Our projections like for Robertson to improve and his current ADP of 101 has him as the 12th closer off the board in mixed leagues and the eighth American League closer off the board.

Next, we have old man Rio, Francisco Rodriguez. He has maintained a K/9 of at least 9.0 for 12 consecutive seasons, and while the home run can be an issue for him when he hangs a changeup, he doesn't hurt himself with walks and he induces a lot of soft to medium contact. He's a low risk closer who could put up yet another 35-plus saves in 2016. Drew Storen's save projection is copied from what Roberto Osuna had assuming Storen gets the closer role (and he likely will). Storen was having a good year until he was marginalized in the bullpen by the acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon. Storen's ERA rose due to a combination of BABIP and LOB% inflation but he also spiked his strikeout rate from 21 to 29 percent thanks to increased use of his fastball. This season should be even better than last season before he was unnecessarily demoted.

Lastly, there's Huston Street who is coming off back-to-back 40-save seasons. From 2013-2014, Street stranded all but four baserunners as he had 99 and 93 percent LOB% in those seasons. The regression to 80 percent in 2015 led to the higher ERA, but it was still 3.18. He doesn't strike out as many as the others and has issues with the long ball from time to time, but he also doesn't have anyone looking over his shoulder trying to steal the job.

Tier 3: Brad Boxberger, Steve Cishek, Ryan Madson, Glen Perkins, Shawn Tolleson

PITCHER TEAM IP SV K ERA WHIP
Boxberger Rays 59 35 71 3.36 1.34
Cishek Mariners 59 11 52 3.97 1.41
Madson Athletics 61 18 60 2.36 1.05
Perkins Twins 57 35 58 2.68 1.16
Tolleson Rangers 69 38 75 2.61 1.16

In the final Collette Calls of 2015, we looked at the tumultuous situation for NL closers thanks to trades and defections to the superior American League (go DH!). That situation was only exacerbated this week when Drew Storen took his talents (and 29 saves) north to the Ontario Province when Toronto traded Ben Revere to the Nationals. That makes 154 saves that have left the National League from 2015 and have gone to

This time last year, Brad Boxberger was all the rage as he came off an excellent 2014 season as a set-up man. In short, 2015 was not pretty for the closer whose strikeout rate fell from 42 to 27 percent, his walk rate fell below the league-average and he became more hittable with opponents raising their average against him 76 points from 2014. Boxberger's command did not look sharp throughout most of the season and toward the end of it, he blamed it on his irregular workload put upon him by rookie skipper Kevin Cash. That workload schedule is unlikely to change, and he has the very capable Jake McGee right behind him in the pen, as well. If Boxberger comes out of the gate as he went into it, he could be demoted back to the role in which he flourished in 2014.

Steve Cishek too was a good buy this time last year as he was coming off back-to-back 30-plus save seasons for the Marlins and indicators were trending in a positive direction. That fell apart in 2015 as Cishek lost his command, lost his dominance and eventually lost his role as closer. The decline in performance wasn't related to any spike in being more hittable or stranding runners as much as it was putting 1.5 baserunners on each inning. If he stumbles again, the very experienced Joaquin Benoit could step in quickly.

Ryan Madson's story is well known: saves 32 games, reportedly turn down a 4/40 deal and then missed the next three seasons with elbow injuries only to come back in middle relief and pitch in the shadows of the Royals' pen to then get a 3/22 deal from the Athletics. One would assume the Athletics aren't paying Madson that money to set up Sean Doolittle, but Billy Beane is anything but predictable. Madson's skills were fine last season, but the fact he's worked just 60 innings since the 2011 season makes it tough to trust him in the upper tiers.

Placing Perkins in Tier 3 coming off back-to-back-to-back 30-save seasons seems unusual, but it is not without cause. Perkins's workload has declined slightly each of the last three seasons while his strikeout rate has done the same and his batting average against has increased each season and he wasn't 100 percent healthy all season. Perkins ended 2015 with neck and back issues, making it a second consecutive season that health limited his effectiveness down the stretch.

Lastly, there's Shawn Tolleson. Tolleson was surprisingly effective last season saving 35 games with good skills. You'd like to see him allow fewer than seven home runs as a closer, and apparently so would the Rangers since they were tied to a number of rumors this offseason in the pursuit of a bigger-named closer. Tolleson's skills look good on paper, but the Rangers appear to be leaving their options open.

In short, the American League closer class is very strong heading into the season and just about every job is settled. Keep your eyes on Texas, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Seattle during spring training, but otherwise these roles seem stable for an unstable position throughout the fantasy season.