Closer Encounters: A First Look at Closers for 2023 Drafts

Closer Encounters: A First Look at Closers for 2023 Drafts

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

Last week, I was fortunate to participate in the first 2023 NFBC Draft Champions league with 14 of the sharpest fantasy baseball players I know. My friend Rob DiPietro organized the group, and we all got together live on Zoom to draft the first seven rounds of this 50-round draft-and-hold league. The remaining 43 rounds will resume once the NFBC opens up their 2023 leagues sometime after this season concludes.

I highly recommend listening to the audio recording of the draft with some hilarious banter and trolling of picks on Rob's Pull Hitter podcast. My colleague James Anderson also participated and had a nice write up of the draft last week. James picked 11th, while I had the 13th pick. 

Here is the draft board:

I won't provide complete analysis of my team or the entire draft, but I do want to focus on the 12 closers taken among these first 105 picks. Remember, this is a draft-and-hold format with no free-agent pickups during the 2023 season. Since we're still so far away from next year's Opening Day, this draft played out similarly to early 2022 Draft Champions leagues that took place during the MLB lockout in that "safe" closers with perceived stability were pushed up quite a bit. There were even some newly minted closers that went much earlier than I expected them to. To summarize, here are the 12 closers who  were taken:

Rank

Player

2023 Team

Round

Pick

Overall Pick

1

Edwin Diaz

Free Agent

2

Last week, I was fortunate to participate in the first 2023 NFBC Draft Champions league with 14 of the sharpest fantasy baseball players I know. My friend Rob DiPietro organized the group, and we all got together live on Zoom to draft the first seven rounds of this 50-round draft-and-hold league. The remaining 43 rounds will resume once the NFBC opens up their 2023 leagues sometime after this season concludes.

I highly recommend listening to the audio recording of the draft with some hilarious banter and trolling of picks on Rob's Pull Hitter podcast. My colleague James Anderson also participated and had a nice write up of the draft last week. James picked 11th, while I had the 13th pick. 

Here is the draft board:

I won't provide complete analysis of my team or the entire draft, but I do want to focus on the 12 closers taken among these first 105 picks. Remember, this is a draft-and-hold format with no free-agent pickups during the 2023 season. Since we're still so far away from next year's Opening Day, this draft played out similarly to early 2022 Draft Champions leagues that took place during the MLB lockout in that "safe" closers with perceived stability were pushed up quite a bit. There were even some newly minted closers that went much earlier than I expected them to. To summarize, here are the 12 closers who  were taken:

Rank

Player

2023 Team

Round

Pick

Overall Pick

1

Edwin Diaz

Free Agent

2

8

23rd

2

Emmanuel Clase

CLE

3

3

33rd

3

Jordan Romano

TOR

3

9

39th

4

Liam Hendriks

CWS

4

1

46th

5

Josh Hader

SD

4

8

53rd

6

Ryan Pressly

HOU

4

10

55th

7

Devin Williams

MIL

5

5

65th

8

Ryan Helsley

STL

5

7

67th

9

Felix Bautista

BAL

5

12

72nd

10

Kenley Jansen

Free Agent

5

13

73rd

11

David Bednar

PIT

6

6

81st

12

Raisel Iglesias

ATL

7

3

93rd

I went back and looked at 2022 NFBC Draft Champions ADP from December 2, 2021 through March 10, 2022 — the 99-day duration of the MLB lockout — to see how many closers were taken on average by pick 105:

On average, 11 closers were off the board by the end of the seventh round, while another six just missed the cut and were taken by the end of round 10. You'll notice all six had "min picks" before pick 105, so more than 11 closers were off the board in certain drafts. That means early 2022 DCs played out pretty similarly to how the first seven rounds of this 2023 draft played out.

A quick note on my closer strategy for this draft, which was very similar to how I approached drafting closers in Draft Champions leagues this past spring. I wanted to come away with at least one closer that I felt comfortable with for 2023. As the resident "closer guy" in the draft, some wondered if I'd be taking "pocket closers" with the 13th and 18th picks. Actually, I did have Edwin Diaz or Emmanuel Clase penciled in for my second round pick at 18th overall! However, when Yordan Alvarez fell to me there, I had to adjust. I also passed on Liam Hendriks in the third round and Ryan Pressly and Josh Hader in the fourth. When I mapped out potential draft scenarios, I simply had other plans for those rounds. Remember, my initial plan was to have Diaz or Clase already rostered in round two.

Fortunately, there was still a closer I liked a lot in the fifth round in Kenley Jansen. Despite not knowing where the upcoming free agent will play in 2023, and assuming he doesn't retire, I felt more comfortable with Jansen than the other three closers taken in that round — Devin Williams, Ryan Helsley and Felix Bautista. We know that if Jansen is pitching, there's a 99 percent chance he's going to close for the team he's pitching for, whereas I'm not sure the percentage is that high for the other three. Jansen has basically been the same pitcher that he's been for the last few years but with improved strikeout and walk rates. Depending on where he signs, we'll see his ADP fluctuate in 2023 drafts relative to the other closers off the board. A reunion with the Dodgers or a move to the Yankees or Mets would probably solidify Jansen as a top seven closer for 2023. But what if he signs with the Cubs? Imagine if he signed with the up-and-coming Orioles and what that would do to Bautista's value. There are just so many unknowns drafting this early, which makes the elite closers even more desirable.

As for the order in which the closers were taken, there were no huge surprises. I thought Pressly would have gone off the board where Jordan Romano did, and vice versa, with Romano after Hendriks and Hader. I also thought Raisel Iglesias may have gone a little higher, since he's signed with Atlanta for the next several years and we're assuming he takes over their closer role in 2023.

The next tier of closers that I expect will go off the board by the end of round 10 include Clay Holmes, Camilo Doval, Jorge Lopez, Scott Barlow, Alexis Diaz and Gregory Soto.

Back to 2022

With just over six weeks remaining in the season, there's still plenty of time to attack saves if you find yourself in a position to gain points in the category. I have a few competitive leagues where this category is extremely tight and two or three saves would result in a several point swing in the standings. I recently updated my closer in waiting rankings and think there are a handful of opportunities to speculate on saves that could end up paying big dividends.

Yankees - Scott Effross (shoulder) joined Clay Holmes (back) on the injured list Monday, leaving manager Aaron Boone to get creative will his bullpen personnel in the late innings, at least until Holmes returns.

Before I dive into the "mix and match" candidates, let's talk about Holmes, who blew three straight save chances and allowed seven runs over his last five outings before landing on the IL. Despite the sour taste he left in our mouths, Holmes is my number one closer-in-waiting, and I personally added him in two important leagues this past weekend. Simply put, he was one of the best relievers in baseball for four months straight before hitting his rough patch. The right-hander recently threw a 15-pitch bullpen session on Sunday and is eligible to return as soon as August 29. In the meantime, Boone has several candidates he can summon for save chances while he awaits the return of his two best relief pitchers.

Aroldis Chapman finally looked like he was turning the corner with nine consecutive scoreless outings between July 26 and August 13, but his last two appearances have not gone smoothly. The left-hander gave up three earned runs and four walks while recording just three outs across those two outings, and just like that, Chapman is no longer trustworthy again. Given the Yankees' recent injuries, Boone might have no choice but to use his most experienced arm in save situations, but some lesser names could also emerge over this next week.

Former A's closer Lou Trivino had a standout performance this past weekend against Toronto, pitching 2.1 scoreless frames in a tight contest to finish the game and earn the win against the Blue Jays. Since joining the Yankees along with Frankie Montas earlier this month, Trivino has only allowed one earned run across nine innings, good for a 1.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with his new club. He might be Boone's current "go-to" reliever in the "mix and match" approach described above.  

Jonathan Loaisiga recorded the Yankees' most recent save — his first of the season — after firing 1.1 scoreless innings against the Mets on Monday. Loaisiga tallied five saves last season with a 2.17 ERA and 1.02 WHIP across 70.2 innings, but he's been inconsistent this year with a 1.48 WHIP and walk rate over 11 percent.

Rookie right-hander Ron Marinaccio is another candidate to close based on his impressive performance to date. Marinaccio has struck out 37 across 31.1 big-league innings this season with a 1.72 ERA (3.08 FIP) and 0.80 WHIP. He's allowed just one earned run over his last 27.1 innings with the Yankees, but a .143 BABIP and 12.3 percent walk rate suggest some regression may be in store.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post also mentioned the rehabbing Zack Britton (elbow) and Triple-A closer Greg Weissert as potential reinforcements for this currently unsettled closer role. Britton was an elite closer with Baltimore from 2014 through 2016 and has 154 career saves on his resume. The southpaw is currently throwing bullpen sessions on his rehab from UCL surgery last September, but Joe Trezza of MLB.com reports he doesn't have a timetable to return. At the very least, his experience would benefit the young relievers in this pen if he can return by September. Weissert was considered for a promotion this past weekend, but the Yankees went with Luke Bard instead. That's not to discount Weissert, who has 18 saves for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with an impressive 1.77 ERA. The 27-year-old right-hander is not yet on the Yankees' 40-man roster but would need that designation soon anyway to avoid Rule 5 draft exposure. Weissert has not allowed a run in his last 22 outings, whiffing out 33 against only five walks in 23 innings.

Dodgers - Manager Dave Roberts is a patient man, remaining committed to Craig Kimbrel as the Dodgers closer despite some pretty awful results from the 34-year-old. After finding the fountain of youth with the Cubs in the first half of last season, Kimbrel has gone back to posting an ERA worse than league average for the third time in the last four years. Another obvious sign of Kimbrel's decline is his career-worst strikeout rate, which sits at 28.3 percent after being in the high-30's in five of the last six seasons. He does have a high BABIP (.378) and his 2.58 FIP is nearly two points better than his 4.36 ERA, but a 1.52 WHIP on the season and 1.70 WHIP since the All-Star break don't inspire much confidence.

J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group reported Sunday that Roberts won't use Kimbrel exclusively in save situations anymore, thus prioritizing more regular work for the veteran. This doesn't mean Kimbrel has been ousted from the closer role, but others will see ninth-inning opportunities based on Kimbrel's usage moving forward. One of those potential beneficiaries is right-hander Evan Phillips, who's having the best season of his young career. Phillips has been in peak form over the last two months, allowing just one earned run over his last 21.1 innings (0.42 ERA) with four wins, two saves and 23 strikeouts over that span. He hasn't been scored upon in his last 11 appearances and has a 0.36 WHIP an 14:1 K:BB ratio over those 11 innings.

Brusdar Graterol returned from the injured list Monday, striking out two over a scoreless inning against Milwaukee. He pitched the eighth inning of that game with the Dodgers trailing 1-0 and showcased his elite velocity by hitting 100.2 miles per hour on his fastball.

Graterol should be a key part of Roberts' late-inning equation moving forward, especially after tallying two saves in six days for the Dodgers right before he went on the IL in July. He's another reliever I added in the NFBC Main Event this past weekend for potential saves.

Last but not least, don't forget about Blake Treinen (shoulder), who is trending towards a return on September 2. Treinen has yet to allow a run through three minor league rehab outings and his most recent appearance on August 21 is a promising sign:

Treinen was among my conditional bids this past weekend in the leagues where I need saves, but I'll be much more aggressive on his bidding this coming weekend given his likely return towards the end of next week.

If you're currently rostering Kimbrel, I'd strongly consider dropping him now that Graterol is healthy and Treinen is on his way back soon.

Brewers - I was one of many who believed Devin Williams would get the majority of save chances for Milwaukee in the wake of the Josh Hader trade. Instead, he's only recorded two of the Brewers' five saves since the trade deadline, with two saves going to newcomer Matt Bush and the other to the newly acquired Taylor Rogers. Williams didn't seem thrilled with the Brewers for trading Hader, and it's possible he expressed his desire to split closing duties with his new teammates rather than inherit the role outright. The All-Star reliever's 30-game scoreless streak recently came to an end, but he's still the favorite for saves in Milwaukee despite a lesser-than-expected outcome for our fantasy squads. 

With Williams not yet seeing full-time closing duties, Taylor Rogers is one who recently climbed a few spots in my closer-in-waiting ranks. Rogers has allowed only one baserunner over his last four appearances (4.1 innings) and is actually tied for the league lead with 29 saves, including the Brewers' most recent save on August 21. He'll be another target for me this weekend along with Treinen. Meanwhile, Bush has been sharp lately after a rough start to August. He has a 1.17 ERA and 0.65 WHIP while striking out 11 over his last 7.2 innings. Include him towards the back end of your conditional bids if you expect your league mates to be bidding heavily on save specs this weekend.

Cubs - Rowan Wick has four of the Cubs' saves this month, but his recent form makes him a drop for me in the league that I have him rostered. Over his last four appearances, Wick has allowed three home runs and has blown two saves in three chances. Since then, rookie Brandon Hughes has stepped up for the Cubs with two saves in his last three appearances. With a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a strikeout rate over 30 percent, it seems likely that the 26-year-old is manager David Ross's new closer.

Reliever Appreciation Corner

On Twitter, I often share appreciation posts for closers and/or relief pitchers who have been performing well over recent samples. Here are a few examples:

Evan Phillips and Ron Marinaccio were actually going to headline this section of the article, but their recent success for their respective teams was highlighted above. Let's take a moment to recognize a few more pitchers who may be flying a bit under the radar despite their recent dominance.

Alexis Diaz, Reds - Okay, so maybe he's not really flying under the radar anymore, but the appreciation for Diaz is still worth highlighting. He's currently riding an 8.2-inning scoreless streak over his last eight appearances, with a ridiculous 16:1 K:BB and 0.56 WHIP during this span. Diaz has two of the Reds' four saves this month, but what he's lacking in saves due to Cincinnati's losing ways, he's making up for with positive contributions to ratios and strikeouts. I don't think there is any other Reds reliever worth rostering right now for saves.

Giovanny Gallegos, Cardinals - Remember him? Since July 15, Gallegos has a 0.79 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 13:2 K:BB over his last 11.1 innings. He also has two saves in that span and may be fully back in Oli Marmol's circle of trust. Ryan Helsley is currently on the restricted list after missing the maximum three days on the paternity list, so consider Gallegos in the short-term for saves until Helsley returns. He may even be worth holding at that point too now that he's returned to form.

Erik Swanson, Mariners - Swanson has not been scored upon since July 27, a span of 10.1 innings (12 appearances) during which he's struck out 14 and only walked two. He already has a career-high three saves on the season to go along with outstanding ratios (0.92 ERA, 0.85 WHIP). He's part of a formidable trio with Paul Sewald and Andres Munoz that is bound to make some noise for Seattle as the postseason approaches.

Let me know in the comments who you'll be targeting as save specs over these next few weeks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
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