You Should Add Brandon Kintzler in Fantasy Baseball
There is a common theme that exists every year in season-long fantasy baseball leagues: closers will emerge out of nowhere.
The latest example is Brandon Kintzler, who was called-up from Triple-A Rochester on May 8, of the Minnesota Twins.
With last year's closer, Glen Perkins, currently shelved with a shoulder issue, the closer job was given to Kevin Jepsen to begin this season. He's racked up seven saves in 2016 but has been disastrous on the mound, especially of late, prompting Twins manager Paul Molitor to remove him from the ninth-inning gig.
Paul Molitor said Brandon Kintzler and Fernando Abad may be splitting 9th inning duties now. Kevin Jepsen taking a step back from the role.
— Derek Wetmore (@DerekWetmore) June 9, 2016
It was an easy choice for Molitor because Jepsen owns a 6.17 ERA and a 5.16 Expected Fielder Independent Pitching (xFIP) in 23 1/3 innings pitched this season. Jepsen has allowed at least one hit in each of his last 16 appearances (25 hits in 14 2/3 innings), allowing 12 earned runs, while posting just a nine-to-five strikeout-to-walk ratio.
With the Twins leading 7-5 against the Miami Marlins heading into the ninth inning on Wednesday, Molitor elected to give Kintzler the ball and the first crack at the closer job. He had to face the heart of the Marlins order, starting with two hitter Martin Prado. Kintzler retired the first two hitters before giving up a single to Marcell Ozuna and striking out Giancarlo Stanton to end the game and record his first big league save.
And he was fired up about it.
1st career save fist pump for Kintzler. https://t.co/Uc49ao4UZ9 #MNTwins pic.twitter.com/2PAdlykYOK
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) June 9, 2016
His numbers prior to joining the Twins suggest that he should have been given the ball in high-leverage situations sooner.
Impressive Track Record
Kintzler pitched 142 1/3 innings of relief for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2013 to 2015, posting a 3.10 ERA, a 3.35 xFIP, and a 3.19 Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA). He wasn't much of a strikeout pitcher, recording just a 16.6 strikeout percentage (K%) -- league average over this time frame was about 20.0 percent -- likely due to a fastball velocity that averaged 92.1 miles per hour.
However, he was effective at getting hitters to chase pitches that were not strikes, as his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone) was 35.9 percent, which ranked 18th-best among relievers from 2013 to 2015. This is despite having a swinging strike percentage of just 8.0 (league average was about 9.5 percent), which means, even though hitters were not swinging and missing at Kintzler's pitches, they were consistently chasing pitches that were balls.
He was also able to induce lots of weak contact, as his percentage of batted balls hit softly (Soft%) was 20.6, which was almost three points higher than the league average. The same can be said for the percentage of batted balls he allowed that were hit hard (Hard%). Kintzler's Hard% from 2013 to 2015 was 24.2 percent, significantly lower than the league average of 29.3 percent.
The 2016 Season
Kintzler has thrown 15 2/3 innings this season, and his numbers so far are similar to what he did in Milwaukee. He owns a 2.30 ERA, a 3.14 xFIP, and a 2.49 SIERA. His strikeouts are up almost two points (18.3 percent), and he's walked just one batter while continuing to induce weak contact.
The current league average this season for soft hit rate for relievers is 19.4 percent. Kintzler owns a 27.7 percent mark, more than eight points above the league average, perhaps because hitters are still chasing bad pitches.
His O-Swing% of 32.4 percent is down from what it was with the Brewers but superior to the reliever league average of 29.3 percent. Kintzler still isn't throwing hard (92.4 mile per hour average fastball velocity this season), but he's showing it hasn't affected his ability to get hitters out.
Unfortunately for Kintzler, his manager also mentioned teammate Fernando Abad as an option for saves, and he's been excellent this season (0.87 ERA, 2.53 xFIP, 26.6 strikeout rate in 20 2/3 innings), but Kintzler was given the first crack at the job. It's an assumption, but the guy given the first nod for saves makes me believe he's the manager's preferred option.
Regardless, the closer job will likely be given back to Perkins as soon as he's able to return. However, there isn't a current timetable for Perkins to rejoin the Twins, and Kintzler certainly can fill the role in the interim. That said, the Twins have been awful this season -- their -1.27 nERD ranks third-worst -- and they have the second-fewest wins with just 18.
Save opportunities will be far-and-few between for Kintzler, but his numbers suggest he's capable of shutting the door when they are, so any fantasy owner in need of saves should scoop him up immediately.