Monday, May 2, 2016

AL EAST CLOSER DEPTH CHART ANALYSIS

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Today, we'll continue our rundown of closer depth charts by division, this time with the AL East.

Previous Posts:
AL West
AL Central

Red Sox
Closer: Craig Kimbrel (Job Security: 5)
Next-in-line: Koji Uehara
Looming: Carson Smith

Craig Kimbrel is awesome. How awesome? Try 43.2% strikeout rate awesome. FanGraphs has scouting grades on his player page (which is odd, they usually only have them for prospects) and they say he has a plus-plus curveball and an 80 grade fastball, which is to say that his fastball is one of the 3-5 best in the game. Like I said, he's pretty freaking awesome.

Yes, Koji Uehara is still around at 41 years of age. But he's doing some very un-Koji-like things, walking 11.6% of batters he's faced. His age seems to be catching up with him, as his once impeccable control is looking less a strength and more a liability. Uehara will need to get his walks under control, because he doesn't have good enough pure stuff to survive without it.

Carson Smith should return tomorrow from his forearm injury, and with Uehara's command woes, the former Mariner setup man could find himself the next in line behind Kimbrel fairly quickly. Smith managed to pitch quite well in 2015 despite his apparent lack of man muscles, holding opponents to a .192 batting average.

Junichi Tazawa also plays a significant role in the bridge to Kimbrel, and he's pitched quite well this year, with a 2.33 SIERA.

Yankees
Closer: Andrew Miller (Job Security: 0)
Next in line: Dellin Betances
Looming: Aroldis Chapman

I hear scary music in my head when I think about this bullpen. Chapman, Betances, and Miller rank 1st, 3rd and 5th in K% out of the bullpen in the history of baseball. That's a lot of history. 3 of the top 5 are on the same team. Ever. I'll stop now.

Aroldis Chapman returns from his suspension on May 9th. Manager Joe Girardi has made it very clear the closer job is his, though Chapman could get an outing or two in non-save situations first to get him re-acclimated.

Blue Jays
Closer: Roberto Osuna (Job Security: 4)
Next in line: Drew Storen

Osuna was not old enough to watch the 2015 playoffs at a bar, so he decided to pitch in them instead. Good things happen to pitchers who rack up strikeouts and limit walks, and Osuna does both of those things very well. Though the announcement he would remain the closer came as a shock to some, Osuna still has plenty of job security, because there's no reason to take the job from a guy who was your closer for the playoff run last year and has been nothing but dominant in the role.

Everything was going well for Drew Storen. He was the closer for the first-place Nationals. He had a 1.73 ERA. But then the Papelbon trade happened. It wasn't for lack of confidence in Storen that that Nationals traded for the veteran closer, but for lack of faith in his setup men. If they acquired another closer, they could have Storen in the setup role. A 1-2 punch in the bullpen. You can hardly blame them. They gave up next to nothing. Though Storen said the right things to the media, he was clearly frustrated. After the trade, he posted a 6.75 ERA, and his season ended prematurely when he broke his thumb slamming his locker shut after serving up a go-ahead home run to Yoenis Cespedes. When Toronto acquired Storen this off-season, many assumed he would be the closer, but, as we already mentioned, he was beat out by Osuna. Storen hasn't responded any better to setting up Osuna than he did to setting up Papelbon, as his 10.13 ERA will attest.

Orioles
Closer: Zach Britton (Job Security: 5)
Next in line: Darren O'Day

Britton is currently day to day with an ankle injury, but when he's healthy (which should be soon), he's one of the best in the business, with a good K rate and mind-boggling GB rates.

O'Day is one of the best setup men in the game, a fact the Orioles acknowledged by giving him a 4-year, $31 million contract this off-season. Despite this, there seems to be a good chance that the team would keep him in his setup role even if something were to happen, as evidenced by Buck Showalter's statement that it would be "all hands on deck' while Britton is nursing the ankle.

If something were to happen to Britton, O'Day would probably still be the strongest waiver add, but Mychal Givens and Brad Brach would also be good speculative adds.

Rays
Closer: Alex Colome (Job Security: 1)
Next in line: Xavier Cedeno
Looming: Brad Boxberger (DL - abdomen)

Alex Colome has been pretty dang good since his conversion to the bullpen, with a career 2.55 FIP as a reliever. However, he faces a substantial threat when 2015 Rays closer Brad Boxberger returns. As long as he has the gig he will be solid, but I'd consider it a toss up once Boxberger returns.

Boxberger had a rough year in 2015, taking major steps backward in both strikeouts and walks, en route to a WAR of exactly 0.0 over 63 IP. We shouldn't forget his dominance in 2014, when he put up a gaudy 14.47 K/9, but his struggles in 2014 paired with his abdomenal issue raise significant red flags. Conventional wisdom says good closers are ones who limit walks and limit homers, and Boxberger struggles in both departments.

While Cedeno is an effective reliever, his stake in the closer hierarchy appears to be limited to facing lefties, but manager Kevin Cash has shown a willingness to let Cedeno do so even in the 9th, so he could pick up a couple 1 or 2 out saves for those who are really desperate.

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