Preparing for the Second Half Closer Carousel
Every year a couple Major League teams in contention, complete with Major League analytics and player evaluation departments, inevitably decide that in order to put themselves over the top and into the post-season the one thing they absolutely, positively cannot do without is a Proven Closer to nail down the ninth inning. So in the interest of keeping up with the times, let’s take a look at a couple of the potential heirs apparent in the event that some closers currently speculated to be on the block do end up changing laundry over the next couple weeks.
Ken Giles RHP PHI
If Giles isn’t on your radar already he should be, as it looks like Philadelphia might actually, maybe, possibly pack it in and ship Jonathan Papelbon and his big mouth out of town. The 23 year old started the season dominating – and when I say dominating I mean dominating – the Eastern League. He struck out 29 AA hitters against just five walks in 15 innings of work. That works out to a 17.4 K/9 mark, for those scoring at home. After a less inspiring stop at AAA, the Phillies recalled him in June and he’s right back to dominating. He’s faced 50 big league hitters over 13 appearances now, striking out 18 of them and allowing just one solo homerun among seven hits. He’s earned those numbers with a ho-hum 98 mile an hour four-seam/87 mile an hour slider combo that’s yielded an 18.4% swinging strike rate trailing only Aroldis Chapman and Koji Uehara among Major League relievers. Given that he’s a 7th rounder from a random (at least in baseball terms) college and has been a relief-only prospect since, chances are that outside of the deepest of dynasty formats he’s available and with minor league eligibility to boot. Even if Rueben Amaro manages to Amaro up this trade deadline and doesn’t move Papelbon, Giles is positioned to be one of the elite ratio support men in the fantasy game over the second half, and he’s worth an immediate speculative add in all leagues in which he’s available.
Josh Fields, RHP HOU
It may be hard to remember this, but Fields actually entered the season as Houston’s “closer” and saved the Astros inaugural win of the season along with one other April game before a disastrous three game stretch at the end of the month (1.2 IP, nine earned runs on eight hits and two walks) closed the book on that chapter of his career. You know the story from there: after a period of uncertainty Chad Qualls took hold of the reigns and hasn’t let go. Fields meandered along for the next month and a half and pitched pretty good ball, chopping a 12.00 (not a typo) ERA at April’s end in half by mid-June before inflammation in his elbow put him on the shelf for a couple weeks. Since returning from the DL, though, Fields has been a whole new pitcher. I wrote about his recent efforts in our TDGX transaction analysis this week after scooping him up in that league, and I encourage you to check that out. The punchline is that his cutter is coming in at 95 while his change-up is tumbling in at 78. Perhaps not coincidentally both pitches are currently generating whiff rates north of 20%, and relief pitchers who can generate that many swings and misses with two separate pitches are very good indeed. Qualls is a tricky trade for the Astros, as he just signed a two year deal with an option this past off-season, and dealing players who’ve recently signed multi-year extensions is a generally frowned-upon gesture. Still, his value’s not likely to be any higher in the future than it is now, and a data-driven front office like Houston is as sure a bet as you’ll find to understand the fungibility of relief assets. If Qualls does move I’d put my money on the new look Fields to be an immediate first option to close out games for Bo Porter.
Kevin Quackenbush, RHP SDG
This one’s a bit of a longer shot, because while Huston Street is perhaps the most widely anticipated closer to be ripe for a move, there’s a ready-made replacement in waiting in Joaquin Benoit, and Benoit sits in a very similar position to Chad Qualls. Still, the temptation to clean bullpen house has to be there for the Padres a) because they’re not going anywhere and have two coveted assets in Street and Benoit and b) because they have a seemingly endless supply of relievers at the ready who can thrive in Petco. At the top of that pile is Quackenbush, who’s more than held his own over the first 27 appearances of his rookie season thus far, compiling a 2.73 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and a strikeout an inning. Perhaps most impressively he’s surrendered just 15 hits over 26 1/3 innings. And the performance is by no means coming out of left field; in 179 career minor league innings previously he logged a 1.16 ERA with 12 strikeouts per nine. His calling card is a four-seam fastball that, while not overwhelming velocity-wise (he’s averaging 92.45 miles an hour this season), plays up on account of a deceptive release. Given the track record and performance to date – not to mention the most favorable of contract situations – Quackenbush makes for a strong option if the Padres get frisky.