The Major League Baseball season is barely a week old and we have already witnessed injuries to a couple of closers. Sure they’re subpar closers, but they were still a source of saves. Jenrry Mejia went down with an elbow injury; Joe Nathan has a forearm issue (which may or may not lead to elbow issues). We look now to see who may still be available in free agency to replace one or both of these injured closers.
Yes, there are closers who won the job during spring training still left over from the draft that have gone mostly untouched (ownership rates are based on CBS Sports fantasy baseball leagues):
Santiago Casilla (70 percent): Last season, Casilla stepped in to replace Sergio Romo and notched 19 saves, en route to a championship with the San Francisco Giants. Casilla won’t impress much in the strikeout department, but depends on a very high ground ball and pop up rate. That is not to say he doesn’t possess the stuff to be an overpowering pitcher (average fastball was clocked at 94 miles per hour in 2014), but he is clearly a pitch-to-contact closer.
Tyler Clippard (66 percent): Clippard finished among the top 30 relief pitchers in Strikeout Rate (K%) last season (minimum 40 innings). His Field Independent Pitching (FIP only takes into account a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts, and home runs) was among the top 35 relievers.
Unlike Casilla, Clippard is a fly ball pitcher. Luckily, he pitches in Oakland where fly balls tend to die in the outfield. Clippard depends mostly on a fastball and changeup combo (finished third among relievers in changeup usage). With the stuff to induce a high Swing Rate, Clippard could deceptively climb up the closers’ rankings.
Luke Gregerson (63 percent): We’ve mentioned Gregerson in greater detail before…
Gregerson does a surprisingly good job at inducing swings and limiting contact. His  Contact Rate of 72.2 percent is right there with other closers, such as Zach Britton, Trevor Rosenthal and Sean Doolittle.
Addison Reed (63 percent): The general consensus on Reed is that his days are numbered as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ closer. Until then, he’s still a cheap source of saves. He did struggle with home runs last season and his FIP was among the 30 worst in baseball in 2014.
Reed is indeed a fly ball pitcher, but also sees a lot of line drives hit against him. Not a very good recipe for success. Reed will once again depend on a fastball/slider combo as Reed ranked in the top 10 in terms of fastball usage. A third pitch would probably come in handy to aid in his closing duties. But for now, his repertoire is enough to induce plenty of swings. Unfortunately, the predictability of his stuff also leads to a high Contact Rate.
LaTroy Hawkins (39 percent): Arguably the worst closer in the game, Hawkins continues to throw the ball surprisingly well for a guy of his age (42 years old). In his most recent blown save against the Milwaukee Brewers, Hawkins was clocking in at 92-93 mph.
However, aside from age, Hawkins has not had a K% above 20 percent since 2010. He can induce grounders, but not enough to be effective and he also sees a fair amount of line drives against him. Just like Reed, Hawkins is a fastball/slider pitcher as he too used his fastball a lot in 2014. Averaging 93 mph, one can’t blame Hawkins for predominantly utilizing his fastball. Unfortunately, opposing hitters can’t be blamed for salivating over his fastball as Hawkins finished second highest in Contact Rate in 2014 (88.3 percent).
New to the Job
Because of trades, injuries, and quick hooks that have occurred in the first week of the 2015 season, there are a handful of pitchers that suddenly see themselves as the ninth inning guy for their team.
Jason Grilli (61 percent): The Braves traded Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres, opening the door for Grilli to close the door on opponents in the ninth inning for the Braves. In 2014, Grilli finished as a middle tier reliever. Grilli gave up a lot of line drives, but balanced that out by forcing plenty of pop ups.
However, at 38 years old, Grilli still has a decent fastball that has not seen a noticeable dip in velocity. There are no spikes in the use of his slider either, showing that Grilli is still showing confidence in his fastball. However, he does induce plenty of contact against him so that’s something to keep an eye on.
…as he gains more confidence to throw the cutter at a higher rate, perhaps his plate discipline numbers will improve to the way they were when he was the closer for the Kansas City Royals.
Edward Mujica (35 percent): As our own Igor Derysh mentioned before, “Mujica is a short-term pickup but a worthwhile one since he will serve as the Red Sox’ closer while Koji Uehara is out with a hamstring injury.” BoSox manager, John Farrell stated that he thinks Uehara should return to the team early next week. Until then, take advantage of Mujica for the rest of the week.
Jeurys Familia (34 percent): Replacing Mejia as the New York Mets’ closer, Familia appeared to be destined to be the eventual closer for the club. Plagued by control problems throughout his career, Familia is slowly decreasing the amount of walks allowed. Familia is a ground ball pitcher and has increased the rate of grounders in each of his first three seasons in the majors.
Familia depends on a sinker that he can throw at 96 mph (highest, average velocity in the majors last season) which he complements well with a slider and a fastball that also sits at 96. So he has the stuff to continue to be a ground ball pitcher and increase his production.
However, hitters know Familia’s control issues and are patient enough to wait on the rare pitches he throws in the strike zone. In terms of Contact Rate in the Strike Zone, he ranked among the top 60 relievers in that category.
Andrew Miller (61 percent): Finishing among our top six relievers in 2014 (finishing second), Miller was rewarded by the New York Yankees this offseason and was even named closer. Well, half-closer as he shares duties with Dellin Betances (the fourth best reliever last season).
Miller finished second to Aroldis Chapman in K% last season and finished fourth in FIP. A knock on him is that he is prone to variance as that has resulted in a high, career BABIP of .322. Miller is a fastball/slider pitcher and has great command on both his pitches as he can post high Swinging Strike Percentages and hitters have a really hard time making contact with his pitches. Even more amazing is the fact that he basically lives inside the strike zone and hitters are still having a hard time making contact against him.
Brad Boxberger (50 percent): Finishing as our fifth best reliever last season, Boxberger appears to be getting the first crack at closing games for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Finishing third in K% last season, Boxberger was already making a case to be the Rays’ closer. He does struggle with home runs, however, and the rest of his batted balls numbers shows he is susceptible to variance. Possessing a healthy fastball, he combines it well with a changeup while showing the occasional cutter. The quality of his stuff results in a high Swinging Strike Percentage and low Contact Rates.
Miguel Castro (19 percent): Just recently inserted into the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer’s role, Castro is the rawest and youngest pitcher on this list. It is simply amazing that the Jays are putting their trust in a 20-year-old who has not pitched past A-ball in his professional career.
MLB.com predicted that he could arrive at the majors by 2017. But armed with a fastball that has sat comfortably in the mid 90s, and can go as high as 99 mph, one can see why Toronto was too eager to insert him at closer. He complements his fastball with a changeup and slider. It’s too soon to gauge his success in the big leagues, but Castro has the stuff to be a successful closer in the majors.
All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.