2017 Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Battles: Closers in Contention

by Jonathan Chan
2017 Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Battles

When it comes to Fantasy Baseball, there are a million schools of thought on when you should draft your closers. If you're anything like me, you're willing to sit back, wait and gamble on high-risk, high-upside options at the end of the draft. The closers at the end of the draft will generally be two things:

  1. Less talented.
  2. Engrossed in heated battles for their job.

Picking the right horse can lead to ridiculous riches later in the season.

Last season owners were rewarded for picking the right horse in Houston, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my Closer Chart, the number of unquestioned closers is smaller going into Opening Day. Owners looking to cheap out on bullpen pending should keep an eye on these bullpen battles in order to spend their higher draft picks elsewhere on draft day.

2017 Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Battles

Colorado Rockies - Adam Ottavino (FantasyPros ADP: 203.3) vs. Greg Holland (FantasyPros ADP: 269.3)

This is the battle that owners will want to keep a very close eye on. Despite the occasional bad outing at Coors Field, both Ottavino and Holland have the talent to be one of the top Fantasy RP while closing games for the Rockies. The Rockies explosive offense, combined with their improving rotation will give them plenty of save opportunities throughout the season.

All off-season long, Ottavino was the front runner for the job. His experience closing in Coors, combined with Holland's recovery from Tommy John made the choice pretty clear. However, Rockies beat writer Nick Gronke believes that Holland will begin the year as Rockies' closer. Holland has touched 95 MPH in his spring outings and definitely has the experience edge over Ottavino (145 career saves vs. 11). Ottavino has always had the stuff to be a closer. Over the last three seasons, Ottavino posted a 10.4 K/9 and 2.20 BB/9. In Holland's last full season, he posted a 12.99 K/9 and 2.89 BB/9.

Holland has the better raw stats, but Ottavino has experience pitching in Coors and has fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery nearly two years ago. It's difficult to say who will come away as the Rockies closer, but there's a lot of room for profit at their respective ADP.

Philadelphia Phillies - Jeanmar Gomez (FantasyPros ADP: 289.7) vs. Hector Neris (FantasyPros ADP: 229.8)

The Phillies battle is an interesting one. Everyone knows Neris is the better pitcher and that he will eventually take over as closer. However everyone knows that Jeanmar Gomez will open the season as the Phillies' closer. This isn't to say that Gomez didn't earn his spot in the bullpen. Gomez racked up 37 saves in 2016 to go along with a 3.96 FIP.

Looking into his numbers, there are plenty of signs that Gomez will lose his spot at some point this season. First, his 8.33 ERA in the second half did not inspire confidence in his ability to be consistent over a whole season. Second, his poor 6.16 K/9 shows that Gomez does not have the traditional closer repertoire and will have trouble getting his way out of jams. Neris has the stuff (11.43 K/9) and peripherals (3.17 xFIP) to be the long term closer for the Phillies.

Although Neris had a poor September, it can be attributed to his heavy 80 inning workload. He should be better prepared for a long season in 2017. The question in Philadelphia is not if, but when Neris will take over as closer. This expectation has already been built into their respective draft prices. However, the cost of drafting Neris past pick 200 will be well worth it if he's able to overtake Gomez early in the season.

Oakland Athletics - Ryan Madson (FantasyPros ADP: 236) vs. Sean Doolittle (FantasyPros ADP: 391.5)

The battle in the bay isn't white hot like the teams listed above, but it's just as intriguing. Madson racked up 30 saves last year, taking over from Doolittle as the A's closer. However his 3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP did not inspire much confidence. His advanced stats look even more troubling, as his poor K% and middling BB% resulting in a 4.20 xFIP. Manager Bob Melvin has said that the ninth inning is an open competition. If Madson sees any regression due to age or injury, the door opens for Doolittle to take over.

Doolittle had his 2015 cut short after severe shoulder issues cost him nearly the entire season. He returned in 2016 and picked up where he left off, striking out 10.38 batters per nine innings and walking just 1.85. He finished with a lower ERA, FIP and xFIP than Madson in 2016, staking claim on the role he dominated in 2014. Doolittle has the strikeout ability and control to take over the ninth once again. Another year removed from his shoulder issues should only help matters.

Washington Nationals - Shawn Kelley (FantasyPros ADP: 195.3) vs. Koda Glover (FantasyPros ADP: 343)

Shawn Kelley, my early pick for the Nationals' closer has apparently been eliminated from closer contention due to his previous Tommy John surgeries. As credible as John Heyman is, I have my doubts that the Nats will not considering Kelley because of his past health issues. Official word from Dusty Baker is that the team has given little thought to who the closer will be.

The aforementioned Kelley was top of the class until last week, when doubt was cast on his role. I believe that Kelley is the best candidate for the role, but Baker prefers bullpen stability and has concerns about Kelley's durability. I went over Kelley in my Undervalued Pitchers piece, but I will hit the highlights again. Kelley had the best season of his career in 2016, pitching a career high 58 innings while striking out 12.41 batters per nine innings. His excellent control (1.71 BB/9) and consistently improving swinging strike rate (54.5%) made him the early favourite to man the ninth inning. His previous experience in high leverage situations is also a point in his favour.

On the other hand, Glover is a relatively untested player, having accumulated just 19 major league innings. This spring, it's been Glover pitching in the ninth for the Nats as Kelley and Blake Treinen have done most of their preparation in minor league games. Glover has been excellent this spring, striking out 11 batters over eight innings while giving up just one run. Baker speaks very highly of Glover saying "We like us some Koda. Big Time." He think that Glover has the stuff to close (his fastball hits 98 MPH), but the team needs to decide if he's ready. If the decision was Baker's alone, I expect Glover to be the closer on Opening day. However, financial aspects factor into this decision, so Kelley or Treinen may be used to save Washington some money in arbitration.

In any case, Baker wants to go into the season with one closer. Whoever he chooses will be the undisputed leader of the Nats' bullpen.

Be sure to check out our Rankings, Position Preview and much more in the 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit.

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