Hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend. It was a rather quiet week for bullpens around the league which gave me the opportunity to dive deep into a bullpen situation which I think could be the next one to see a closer change: the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ll start with the usual summary, then get into the more in-depth analysis of Pittsburgh, and I’ll wrap up with the three stars of the week. Let’s begin.
Set-up man Adam Ottavino hit the DL this week with shoulder inflammation. Jake McGee is expected to take over the set-up role, and Chris Rusin is moving up a slot in the pecking order. Rusin, a lefty, was utilized early on in multi-inning relief role. After having success, he’s been seeing more late inning appearances lately. He gave up one run in each of his last two outings but has a 2.48 ERA on the season with 25Ks in 29 innings.
New York Metropolitans
Paul Sewald is emerging as the Mets’ set-up man. He throws a low 90s four-seam fastball that appears ordinary, but has an above average spin rate that gives the ball some rise and allows him miss bats. Sewald also features a plus slider and an occasional change-up to keep batters honest. Sewald has 24 strikeouts through 20.1 innings, along with a 2.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Scoop him up if you play in a holds league.
Los Angeles Angels
It was quite the scare when Bud Norris prematurely left a game last Friday with a knee injury. The sigh of relief came the following day when Norris returned to the mound. He pitched again Wednesday night with no signs of injury, so it seems safe to say a DL stint was not necessary. Cam Bedrosian continues to work his way back from injury; he should begin a minor league rehab assignment shortly. Huston Street was in the midst of his own rehab assignment but a setback has caused him to be shut down for the time being.
Koda Glover has notched four saves in a row, and cemented himself as the team’s closer. Meanwhile, Matt Albers continues to be in a groove and may have surpassed Shawn Kelley in the hierarchy, at least for now.
San Diego Padres
In San Diego, Brandon Maurer recorded the team’s last three saves without issue, lowering his ERA to 5.73 in the process. I still have my doubts about Maurer’s long-term viability. Brad Hand and Ryan Buchter both recorded a couple of holds during the week. One Padre reliever to keep an eye on is Jose M. Torres who’s allowed two earned runs in his last 10 appearances and been used more frequently in close games.
Chicago White Sox
Nate Jones has missed the last month, but should begin a rehab assignment soon. Tommy Kahnle continues to mow down batters and should continue getting holds even when Jones returns. Anthony Swarzak had two bad outings all season making it tough to call anyone the odd man out in this strong bullpen. Perhaps more incentive for the White Sox to move David Robertson at the trade deadline.
…now on to the main event.
Current Pirates closer Tony Watson blew a save on Memorial Day. He gave up a two-run homer, but wound up with the vulture win. This marks his second blown save in as many save chances, with a non-save 10th inning appearance sandwiched in between. Monday’s appearance also marked Watson’s 5th time in his last 10 appearances where he allowed at least one earned run. Of those five appearances, three included a home run. Prior to 2016 Watson kept his HR rate in check, allowing 5 or fewer home runs from 2013-2015, while throwing 70-plus innings each of those seasons. In 2016, Watson allowed 10 homers and thus far in 2017 he’s allowed 4. His fastball is down a couple MPH this year, a concern that might explain why his K% has dropped from 21.3% in 2016 to 16.0% in 2017. There’s not a lot I like when looking under Watson’s hood, making Pittsburgh a great opportunity for saves speculators. There are two likely candidates should Watson’s home run issues continue: Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio.
I’ll start with Felipe Rivero who boasts a 0.65 ERA and 0.83 WHIP through 27.2 innings. He strikes out just over a batter per inning and has a team leading 12 holds to his name. He features a slider to go along with an upper 90s fastball, all the makings of an elite back end bullpen arm. This year he’s throwing the slider 5% more and as a result is inducing more ground balls which doesn’t hurt.
The other guy who should get serious consideration is Juan Nicasio. You might remember his blazing start to the 2016 season as a starter, when he struck out 29 batters in 27 innings in the month of April. As the season progressed, Nicasio moved to the bullpen where he continued racking up strikeouts, recording 75 in 55.2 relief innings. In 2017 Nicasio’s still churning out high quality innings. His strikeouts are down a tad at 23 Ks in 24 innings, but his walks are down and he has yet to allow a home run. His 1.50 ERA and 1.08 WHIP on the season are well earned.
Rivero appears to be the consensus “next-in-line” for the Pirates, but he’s only 25 while Nicasio is 30. There’s no better way to keep the price tag of a young reliever down than by keeping him out of save situations. Rivero is also a lefty, making him a prime candidate for getting a tough lefty out in a high-leverage situation, be it in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning. To date both Nicasio and Rivero have seen equal low, medium, and high-leverage situations, so Hurdle hasn’t tipped his cap one way or the other.
For what it’s worth, I’ve added Rivero over Nicasio in one of my leagues, mainly because I prefer to bet on the more talented pitcher as opposed to attempting to read a manager’s mind. Both pitchers are pitching great and therefore make viable options. I will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Three Stars of the Week
Koda Glover, Was – Glover threw 3.1 innings striking out five and recording four saves. He allowed neither a hit nor a walk. As noted above, Glover has solidified his status as Nationals’ closer.
Craig Kimbrel, Bos – In four appearances, Kimbrel threw 4.1 innings, recorded three saves, and struck out nine batters. He allowed just one baserunner via a walk over that span. This marks Kimbrel’s second appearance as a “Star of the Week” this season.
Chris Beck, CWS – Beck struck out eight batters in 4.2 innings, while recording two holds, and did not allow a baserunner. Right now the White Sox bullpen is oozing with effective pitchers.
That wraps up this weeks Bullpen Briefing. Thanks for reading and come back next week for another edition.
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