Fewer and fewer teams these days have a bonafide closer at the back end of their bullpen as many clubs are now going with a “closer by committee” approach.
The art of the save is still a valuable one, however, as there is nothing like a lights out ninth inning arm to ensure victory when it’s handed to him.
Continuing with my series of predicting over/under player stat totals, this piece will focus on the back end of the bullpen, and more specifically, saves.
Not every closer in baseball is listed over at MyBookie, but I am going to tackle the over/under for all 12 arms listed on the site.
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As always, keep in mind that I am assuming full health for all closers unless a certain player has an injury history that we should take into consideration.
Without any more hesitation, let’s go!
Edwin Diaz (Mets)
2018 Save Total: 57
Diaz burst onto the scene as a young fire-baller in 2016 as he ended up locking down 18 saves for the Mariners that year in just 49 appearances to go along with an elite 2.79 ERA.
Just two years later, Diaz saved the second-most games in a single season as he locked down 57 saves with the Mariners last year while his ERA sat at 1.96, while his peripherals were even more favorable of his work in the form of a 1.61 FIP and 1.78 xFIP. Diaz also blew hitters away with a 15.22 K/9, fourth best in baseball.
Diaz was involved in a blockbuster trade to the Mets in the offseason and will now be closing games in Queens. The Mariners won 89 games last season, but the correlation between saves and wins is a loose one as a closer can only notch a save with certain criteria, namely a three-run lead or less.
The Mets should win their fair share of games, but it’s also going to be an extremely difficult NL East this season, not to mention stiff competition in the NL Central to boot. Can the Mets match the Mariners’ 89 wins from last season? It will be close. However, I can see plenty of games being won by a run or two in that division this year.
Diaz is an elite arm and one of the most trusted closers in baseball right now. At these odds, I’ll look for him to get at least 40 saves in his new digs.
Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)
2018 Save Total: 38
2018 was a rough one by Jansen’s standards as his save total fell to 38 – the lowest in three years – while his 3.01 ERA was the worst mark of his big league career, not to mention his 4.03 FIP and 3.56 xFIP.
Jansen also dealt with serious home run issues last season, posting a 1.63 HR/9 compared to his career mark of 0.79. A solo home run is much more devastating to a closer than a starter as the margin for error is often just one run when a closer gets the ball.
Now, Jansen still went 38 for 42 in save opportunities, good for an elite 90.5% conversion rate. He also would have likely had more opportunities considering he missed some time with a heart condition later in the 2018 season.
Closing for the Dodgers will give him plenty of chances again this season. He is also said to be healthy and ready to go for Opening Day this season. At just 31, age is not a concern, nor is durability considering he still logged 71.2 innings last season – second-most in his big league career.
History suggests his home run issues are a one-off issue, so I will give the right-hander the benefit of the doubt and pick him to save at least 38 games for the fourth straight season.
Roberto Osuna (Astros)
2018 Save Total: 21
We can essentially disregard Osuna’s save total from 2018 as he missed a lot of time early in the season due to legal issues while with the Blue Jays.
However, Osuna will now be closing for a World Series favorite in Houston and he should see plenty of leads come his way as the Astros appear to have one of the very best offenses in the league, at least on paper and when healthy.
That said, the Astros’ rotation doesn’t appear to be nearly as good this season as it was last season. Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel (most likely) departed in free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. is out for the season thanks to Tommy John surgery.
Despite how many save opportunities he gets, we need to take a look at his history of blowing saves. In 2017, Jansen blew 10 saves in 49 opportunities with the Blue Jays, good for a shaky 79.6% conversion rate. The year prior, he blew six saves in 42 opportunities, good for an improved 85.7% mark.
For his career, Osunda has made good on 116 of 136 save chances, good for an 85.3% conversion rate.
He also has a career 2.78 ERA and 2.65 FIP to go along with a 9.96 K/9.
Six closers saved at least 37 games in 2018, and I think Osuna will get enough chances to get at least that many in 2019.
Brad Hand (Indians)
2018 Save Total: 32
Hand’s save total from 2018 should also be taken with a grain of salt as he closed games for the 66-win Padres for the first half of the season before sharing he closer role with Cody Allen once traded to the Indians at the deadline in late July.
You would think he is surely in for an improved save total in 2019 in a full season with the Tribe and with Allen signing with the Angels in free agency, but I’m a little hesitant.
The Indians’ elite rotation should be able to hand over plenty of leads to the back end of the Indians’ bullpen, but there’s no guarantee those leads even get to Hand in the ninth inning as Cleveland’s pen looks rather shaky with no major additions and some notable departures from a group that ranked 25th last season.
There’s also the fact that the Indians’ offense looks much weaker than last year’s group with much more production going out the door than coming in in the offseason. While the Indians’ rotation will keep them in games, I’m left to wonder if their offense can score enough to ensure Hand gets leads that the seventh and eighth innings guys don’t blow before Hand gets his chance.
If you’ve been reading my work leading up to this season, I’m rather bearish on the Indians given their lackluster and puzzling offseason for a team that should certainly be in win-now mode while that rotation is intact.
I’m not nearly confident enough for all the stars to align for Hand to rank among the league’s saves leaders this season, so I’m going under the total.
Aroldis Chapman (Yankees)
2018 Save Total: 32
As dominant as Chapman has been in his big league career, you may be surprised to see that he has never even eclipsed 38 saves in any single season to this point.
Injuries have played a part over the last couple years as a member of the Yankees as Chapman made just 52 appearances in 2017 and 55 in 2018 compared to his Reds tenure when he was annually around 65-plus appearances.
That said, I don’t have much reason to doubt his health entering this season as he is a full Spring Training participant.
He will also be pitching for a team poised to win more than 100 games this season – and a team that improved by eight wins from last year’s 100-win season according to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello’s formula of wins accumulated via offseason moves.
The Yankees have an elite rotation now with the trade acquisition of James Paxton while stout back-end arms such as Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Chad Green should ensure that the overwhelming majority of leads the Yankees’ rotation and lethal offense gives them will make its way to Chapman in the ninth.
If we are assuming full health – which I am – this one isn’t even a decision for me as I’ll hit the over all day.
Wade Davis (Rockies)
2018 Save Total: 43
Despite posting by far his worst ERA as a reliever in his big league career in 2018, Davis’ 43 saves ranked second to Edwin Diaz and his 57 from last year.
Davis ensured that the leads he has given were converted into wins as he posted 43 saves in 49 opportunities, good for an 87.8% conversion rate. While the six blown saves doubled his previous career-high of three set in the 2014 and 2016 seasons, Davis still converted saves at an admirable rate for big league closers, even if it fell below his lofty standards.
The Rockies should once again be a competitive team in 2019. At it stands right now they will duke it out with the Dodgers for NL West supremacy once again as the D-backs, Padres, and Giants all look like non-contenders.
Saves will be more difficult to come by outside of the division, however. There appear to be only two non-contending teams between the NL East and Central in the Marlins and Pirates. Eight of the 10 teams in those divisions are going for it. While those games will be difficult to win, there should also be many close games mixed in.
AS the sure-fire closer of a competitive team, I’ll give Davis the benefit of the doubt and I like the odds we are getting with the over as well.
Felipe Vazquez (Pirates)
2018 Save Total: 37
Vazquez as asserted himself as a dominant closer in this league as he posted an ERA of 1.67 in 2017 before a 2.70 mark along with 37 saves in the 2018 campaign.
There’s no doubt about the talent when it comes to the hard-throwing southpaw, I just have an issue with the opportunity side of things.
Getting right back to what I mentioned above with Davis, the NL is packed with contenders, and Vazquez’s NL Central is loaded with the Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, and Reds in win-now mode this season, something that could leave the Pirates in the dust.
The Pirates do have a nice top three in the rotation, but their offense isn’t going to compete with most teams in the NL. They should remain pesky as always, but I see the Pirates falling to under 75 wins this season, and it’s going to be difficult for him to get over this total if that’s` the case.
Including himself, six pitchers saved at least 34 games in 2018. Vazquez’s Pirates had the lowest win total of the bunch with 82, followed by Diaz’s Mariners with 89. Closers for the Rockies (91), Red Sox (108), A’s (97) and Dodgers (92) were the remaining four.
I just don’t see it happening, so better give me the under.
Blake Treinen (A’s)
2018 Save Total: 38
Treinen was given the Nationals’ closer job out of Spring Training in 2017, then proceeded to pitch to a 5.73 ERA and blowing five of 10 save opportunities, which got him released from the team all together.
One man’s garbage is another man’s gold, am I right? The low-budget A’s swooped in and claimed the right-hander on waivers, and the rest is history.
Treinen would go on to post a 2.13 ERA for the remainder of the 2017 season with the A’s before exploding last year for a historical 0.78 ERA while locking down 38 saves in 43 opportunities. How he blew five saves with a 0.78 ERA is beyond me, by the way.
Peripherals suggest that Treinen greatly outpitched his deserved ERA as he posted a 1.82 FIP and a 2.42 xFIP as well. That said, those numbers are still elite.
Regression in the ERA department is almost certain. However, he is going to have the support of an elite offense and one of the game’s very best from last season at his disposal again this time around. The A’s may not sport a rotation full of quality or quantity, however, the likely strategy for them is to get what they can out of their starters and turn it over to a dominant bullpen ASAP.
Such a strategy worked while winning 97 games last season, and it could very well work again this season. I expect a competitive year out of the A’s again this time around, and we can still regress by five saves and still hit the over. I’ll take it.
Raisel Iglesias (Reds)
2018 Save Total: 30
Iglesias saved 30 games for a team that won just 67 games last season, so there’s something to be said about that.
The Reds are almost certain to improve on that win total this year after some win-now offseason moves, notably adding three stable veteran arms to the rotation and a power/speed bat in the outfield in Yasiel Puig. Perhaps Dallas Keuchel can come in and solidify that rotation in full.
Nonetheless, Iglesias was excellent in posting a 2.38 ERA after a 2.49 mark in 2017 and a 2.53 mark in 2016, although he has outpitched his ERA indications in all three seasons, and especially so last season.
He dealt with some run issues last year in particular with a 1.50 HR/9 mark, something that comes back to bit closers. He still converted 30 of 34 save chances, however, good for a nice 88.2% conversion rate.
At 29 years old, the right-hander is right in the middle of his prime. He’s managed to post at least 28 saves in each of the last two seasons on last-place ball clubs.
If the Reds and can get their win total close to 81 at the .500 level, there should certainly be a two-save increase for Iglesias given his efficiency at the back end of the bullpen. I’ll hit the over here as well.
Cody Allen (Angels)
2018 Save Total: 27
Allen shared the closer’s role with Brad Hand on a matchup basis down the stretch last season, something that held him to just 27 saves, the first time he’s failed to hit the 30-mark over his last four seasons.
Something that also prevented him from closing out more games was his career-high 4.70 ERA, 4.56 FIP, and 4.55 xFIP. Yup, Allen deserved every bit of that lackluster ERA figure.
He blew just five saves in 32 opportunities, good for a solid 84.4% conversion rate.
Last year’s results aside, there is a wrinkle in Allen’s situation this year with the Angels. The Angels brought him in to close games for the ball club, but possibly only until Keynan Middleton returns from Tommy John surgery.
Middleton didn’t get the surgery until May of last season, so he is certain to miss the first half of the season and possibly not return until August. While it’s anything but a sure thing that Middleton regains his spot as the Angels’ closer after missing 13-14 months, it’s also anything but a sure thing that Allen rebounds from his disastrous 2018 season.
In other words, Allen might not even be the Angels’ closer when Middleton returns if he can’t produce better results than he put forth last season. I see too much risk in the over here, so I’m going under.
Ken Giles (Blue Jays)
2018 Save Total: 26
Giles had some serious first half issues with the Astros last season, even spending time in Triple-A, before being sent to Toronto as part of the Roberto Osuna trade at the deadline.
Giles wasn’t a whole lot better with the Blue Jays, posting a 4.12 ERA with the club, but also going a perfect 14 for 14 in save opportunities as well. It’s not like his 4.33 FIP was any more fond of his work that that subpar ERA suggests.
In order for Giles to get over this total, he will need a season like Iglesias where he closes 30 games for a poor team. Not to suggest the Jays will win just 67 games as the Reds did last season, but their win total is around 73 in Vegas right now, so they may not be much better.
Of course, he could always find the form that made him an elite closer with the Phillies when he posted a 1.18 ERA in 44 appearances as a rookie before a 1.80 mark in 69 appearances in his second year, back in 2015.
It’s going to be a tough go for the Blue Jays in a division with two possible 100-win clubs in the Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention a 90-win club with the Rays from 2019.
I have much more confidence in the under given Giles’ recent work and his team’s likely spot around 70 wins.
Kirby Yates (Padres)
2018 Save Total: 12
Yates was handed the closer’s gig when Hand was dealt to the Indians at the deadline, and he did well to save 12 games in 13 chances, good for a 92.3% conversion rate, although 10 came after the trade.
It was a career-year for Yates even before getting the closer’s role as he posted a 2.14 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and 2.64 xFIP to go along with a big-time 12.86 K/9 clip.
It would appear he is the bonafide closer in the Padres’ bullpen, but he will be closing for a team that ranked among the league’s worst offenses and didn’t improve their starting pitching in the offseason. The future is bright in San Diego, however, as they own baseball’s top farm system and we should see some of these top prospects rear their heads in the big leagues imminently. Whether they can turn San Diego into a contender along with Manny Machado is another story.
This one is going to be close. Yates has a history of home run issues, even at Petco Park. His team likely isn’t going to be competitive until 2020, and closing for a non-competitive team rarely leads to at least 28 saves. Given the odds, I’m going to fall under the total as there seems to be too much risk to lay down at -130 on the over.