There may not be a better value pick among closers this year than Jordan Walden. While much of the closer buzz is around Craig Kimbrel, Walden appears to be a poor man’s version of the number one roto reliever. While at lesser rates, Walden can also provide a high strikeout total, tally up saves, and accrue a superb ERA. Even though Walden is one of six projected closers with a strikeout rate at 26.5% or higher, it is doubtful that he ever reaches the 100 strikeout barrier as Kimbrel did in his rookie season. However, that does not mean that the two are entirely dissimilar.
As you can see above, both Walden and Kimbrel burst onto the scene in late 2010 and thoroughly impressed in their Major League debuts. They then followed up with impressive rookie campaigns, but had some trouble closing games at points, which resulted in relatively high blown save totals. Despite troubles at times, both managed to walk fewer batters than expected while keeping the ball in the ballpark and striking out tons of batters.
Although a few numbers are somewhat comparable, Kimbrel is a top tier closer for a reason. He is better than Walden, but that does not mean Walden lacks the potential to eventually join Kimbrel as a top tier reliever. The big test this year will be if Walden can keep his home run and walk rates near the levels he set this past season.
I am skeptical about Walden or Kimbrel matching or bettering their walk totals from the previous year, but both should remain valuable even with a slight uptick in free passes. As long as they avoid walk rates above 13%, they should still be able to have productive seasons.
Walden’s 5.3 HR/FB rate is assisted by pitching in a homer friendly park, and although that rate is well below the league average of 9.7%, I still expect him to be able to maintain a low ratio. Most of his batted ball ratios were comparable to league average, and the fact that he plays in a pitcher friendly home park as well as in the mostly spacious AL West parks point to a below league average rate being attainable once again. Upper nineties heat being thrown at an average of four out of every five pitches is worrisome for sustaining such a low home run rate, but even a small increase should not hurt his value too drastically. A significant upgrade in both rates could be problematic, and those drafting him should understand that relievers are often volatile, though I would not expect this to occur.
The additions the Angels have made to their roster and the fact that Walden will be the closer out of the gate also help his chances of becoming an elite roto reliever. An expected increase in total team wins, a few extra days in the role, and the assumption that his 10 blown saves were an anomaly compared to the norm lead me to expect a save total in the mid to upper 40’s compared to the 32 he totaled in 2011.
Skipping over Kimbrel and targeting Walden a bit ahead of projected draft position may provide your team with more value, if you make a sound selection in Kimbrel’s place. It is highly likely that Walden’s numbers will be worse than Kimbrel’s across the board, but the difference in their actual roto production may not warrant the difference in draft position. In our last closer rankings, Kimbrel was the number one reliever while Walden was number 15. While you will not get identical production with Walden, you can get a poor man’s version at a much lower cost.