By: Matt Watkins
MLB Saves Odds: Who Can Shut the Door the Most
As we detailed in an earlier article, short inning pitchers will be a huge key to success this year in baseball. With starting pitchers likely needing more time to fully stretch, there is an opportunity for bullpen arms, especially ones on good teams, to rack up appearances, holds, and saves early on.
If we go under the assumption that an average MLB relief pitcher can go two days on, one day off, while still maintaining effectiveness, it stands to reason that someone could max out at 40 appearances. You’re also not going to throw high-leverage pitchers in games where you’re down multiple runs, so in reality, you may need someone to pitch three days in a row and then not again for 2-3, so everything averages out in the end.
Going beyond that, while we’ve seen a SLIGHT movement back to lesser defined roles and pitchers—particularly closers going in for more than three outs—one thing that has remained crystal clear is that managers generally only use closers in save situations. That would tend to push us towards teams that will likely be good and have late leads to protect. With that in mind…
MLB Saves Odds: The Best Men to Put Out the Fires
Kenley Jansen (+800): When he’s on, he’s as good as anyone. He’s playing on a team that is touted as the best or second best in the game. He’s projected between 13-15 saves, but that number could easily be higher if the Dodgers starting pitching needs longer to stretch out (remember, Kershaw, Ryu, and Stripling are all on the wrong side of 30; a time when arms tend to throw less innings per start). Looking at those points above, there could be plenty of chances if the LA middle relief can get the ball to him.
Here’s the downside. Pitchers go through slumps too and Jansen is prone to one or two during the course of a season throughout his career. Add to that some health issues, which puts him in a high-risk group. If there is a rash of positive tests on the Dodgers in a short period of time, does he look at it and opt out, recognizing he’s had two heart surgeries? If he doesn’t opt out, does he have one of his homer happy stretches where he blows more saves in a week than games he actually finishes?
Recommendation: Lay the money down at your own risk. Only getting a +800 is too low a return for my blood on someone who, if it all goes right, has every reason for you to think you’re cashing in, but there are just too many factors that can go wrong.
Craig Kimbrel (+900): Last season was a wash for Kimbrel with the Cubs, who he joined later in the year when the draft pick penalty to the Red Sox was no longer attached. He struggled to find a rhythm, going 0-4 with three blown saves in 23 appearances and had an ERA north of 6.00 with a negative WAR.
So why is he still so highly valued? Because he’s also a pitcher with seven all-star appearances, eight seasons where he locked down 30+ games, and has four years where he had a sub-1.65 ERA while making 60 or more appearances. When he’s on his game, which he has been for the majority of his career, he is a dominant force.
I’d expect a bounce back year and the Cubs should provide plenty to chances to close wins. Only concern is the start point of the season; is it too similar to last year when he didn’t make his first appearance until June 27 after having to keep himself in game shape?
Recommendation: Buy. Of the <+1000 money line favorites, he’s my favorite.
Roberto Osuna (+900) – Ok, for all the negativity around the Astros, they are still a good team. Maybe not a dominant team, but still a good one. One that will provide the opportunity to close games. For everything he is and the number of saves he’s racked up on good teams, one thing Osuna has never been is automatic. 10 blown saves in 2017. Six in 2019. Add to it coming off a controversy and a checkered past, maybe not worth it.
Aroldis Chapman (+900) – I would have been all in on Chapman and two other pitchers earlier in the week. A positive COVID test on Saturday, though and we may not see Chapman in pinstripes this year.
Recommendation: Pass. Aaron Boone said Chapman will be away from the team for the “forseeable future.” Read into that what you will, but at the end of the day, isn’t it more important that we see him healthy and recovered fully with no long term damage than worry about when he can pitch again?
MLB Save Odds Leaders: My Personal Favorites
Kirby Yates (+1000) – The Padres are going to surprise this season. They have an emerging offense and a lockdown bullpen, anchored on the back end by Yates. Most projections have him at 14 saves. I think that number will be much higher, possibly as many as 20+. The Padres are on the brink and will use Yates in every high leverage situation they can in order to maximize wins.
Josh Hader (+1200) – How? When I ask how, I mean how is Hader being almost given away for +1200. This is a guy who has been a lockdown as you can get in the past two seasons. He strikes out 15.3 batters per nine innings. Craig Counsell will use him for three, four, or five outs a night if he needs to and then throw him the next day. The Brewers should be good and will play 31 of their games against the Reds, Pirates, White Sox, Royals, and Tigers. Save chances will be there and he will rack them up.
The only way Hader doesn’t get saves is if, in those games against bad teams, the Brewers are consistently up by more than three runs late. Does that give the edge to Yates as the Padres will win games, but will likely be in tighter contests? Possibly. Given what your return on investment is, I think dropping some moderate cash on both to spread your chances is a decent idea.
A Longshot in the MLB Save Odds
Zach Britton (NL) – With Chapman out, someone has to close for the Yankees. Britton is the likely guy to step up as he has plenty of closing experience for Orioles teams that, just five years ago, were winning divisions and wild card berths, so he not only has experience getting the final three outs, he’s done it in leverage situations.
While the loss of Chapman throws things somewhat into flux, the Yankees will be alright with Britton closing and he’ll get plenty of chances. See how his line develops, assuming Aaron Boone formally declares him the guy, but it would be a risk worth taking.