“On Bzdek” Bullpen Briefing: New Closers, Blown Saves, and Other RP Happenings from Opening Day
I was originally supposed to write a buyer’s remorse article for today, telling you about how dumb I am for drafting Shohei Ohtani (Pitcher) in two of my five leagues. Spring training stats don’t mean anything right? That’s what I keep telling myself. Anyway, we are just one day into the MLB season and there’s been a ton of relief pitcher news already, so I called an audible. Similar to least season, I will have a weekly report on relief pitchers across the MLB. I’ll try to cover the whole gamut: closers, CLEWs (Closers En Waiting, a term coined by my fellow MLFS colleague Joe Iannane, aka 65 Mustangs), LOOGYs (Lefty One Out Guys), 100 K relievers (I’ll have to think up an acronym for that) and any kind of relief pitcher in order to provide value for all league types.
Today I’ll start with the new closers in St. Louis, San Francisco, Texas, and Arizona. I’ll move on to the teams whose closers who are off to shaky starts, including Philly, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Los Angeles. And I’ll finish with some positive notes from Oakland as well as the three RP stars of Opening Day. Here we go.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals made news yesterday when they agreed to a 1 year, $14 million deal with reliever Greg Holland. Holland racked up 41 saves last season with the Rockies, while also posting a 3.61 ERA; impressive for pitching half his games in Coors field. If you’re wondering why he took so long to sign, Holland missed all of 2016 due to injury. I think teams were reluctant to give him the multi-year deal he wanted and I’m sure Holland and agent Scott Boras were initially looking for something in the 3-year, $50 million dollar range that Wade Davis signed earlier this year. So, Holland gets the money, but not the years. He’ll take over closing duties for the Cardinals as soon as he’s ready (seeing as he missed spring training) and will hit the free agent market again next year.
With Holland set to close, Dominic Leone will slide back into a setup role. Leone finished 2017 on a tear. He posted an 11.5 K/9 in the second half while also lowering his BB/9 to 1.5 and posted a 0.91 WHIP. Elite numbers if he can keep that going into 2018, and after allowing only 1 earned run over 10 innings in spring, while striking out 13, I think Leone will continue to pitch well.
Actions to take: If you’re league values setup men, hang onto Leone. In a saves only league, I’d cut bait for a pitcher with an established closer role (see Strickland, Kela, or Boxberger discussed below). If there are no options available on your waiver wire, hang onto Leone for now. He will probably get a couple of save opportunities while Holland gets himself game-ready. Holland was probably added by someone in your league by now, but if not, he’s an obvious add. In FAAB leagues I’d consider throwing a nice chunk on him as he’s got a great shot at another 30+ saves this season.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants placed Mark Melancon on the 10-day DL. Melancon was on and off the DL last season with a forearm injury that eventually required surgery. He only pitched 30 innings with a 4.50 ERA, definitely not the Melancon we were used to the previous 4 years. With the forearm not completely healed, I’m very concerned about his status for 2018. This has the feel of a DL-stint that lasts a lot longer than the minimum 10 days.
With Melancon out, the Giants announced that Hunter Strickland will take over closing duties for the time being. Strickland has been a guy I always thought deserved a chance to close, but the Giants seemingly looked elsewhere for saves whenever an opportunity arose in the past. He finally gets his chance so we’ll see how he does with it. He already notched his first save last night, pitching a scoreless inning while allowing one hit and striking out one. Last season Strickland posted an 8.5 K/9 and an effective 2.64 ERA, however he also had an ugly 4.3 BB/9 and a 1.43 WHIP. 2017 was Strickland’s worst season in his career, so perhaps 2018 will be closer to his previous seasons. If not, Tony Watson and Sam Dyson both have closing experience and could see an opportunity.
Actions to take: Melancon can be safely dropped if you don’t have the room on your DL or bench. Strickland is the add for saves right now, but Tony Watson and Sam Dyson both make for speculatory saves adds. I don’t love either one, but I much prefer Watson over Dyson due to a lower walk rate: 2.7 BB/9 for Watson compared to 4.9 BB/9 for Dyson. Corey Gearin is in the mix too and he also sports a walk rate over 4, coming in at 4.6 per 9. This bullpen could be an ugly one over the course of the season.
The Rangers announced yesterday that Keone Kela will be the team’s primary closer. I’m not surprised as Kela posted an 11.9 K/9 last season to go along with a 2.79 ERA. He’s prone to walks (4 BB/9 last year), but doesn’t give up many hits, which is how Kela managed a 0.91 WHIP in 2017. Alex Claudio was also effective in 2017, posting a 2.50 ERA, but with just a 6 K/9 he doesn’t have the dominant stuff most teams look for in a closer. He’s also a lefty, so he’ll provide value to the Rangers as the left on left match-ups dictate. The Rangers also have Matt Bush who pitched well last year but battled shoulder problems, as well as Kevin Jepsen who returned to the MLB after a 1-year hiatus.
Actions to take: Kela is the add for saves. The closer gig in Texas was a hot potato last season, but I think Kela can provide some stability for the Rangers in 2018. Claudio will provide value in leagues that value holds and Inhered Runners Saved (IRS). He may even get a boost in value as Rangers manager Jeff Bannister can mix and match, putting Claudio in situations more suited for him to succeed.
The D-Backs announced earlier this week that Brad Boxberger would serve as the team’s closer. Not all that surprising, as Box has closer experience and put up a decent 2017 that included 12.3 K/9, a 3.38 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP. We’ll see how long Boxberger can hold down the gig, as his last two seasons he failed pitch more than 30 innings due to various injuries. Archie Bradley, who had a superior 2017 that included a 1.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 across 73 innings, will remain in an “Andrew Miller” type setup role. D-Backs manager Torey Lovullo further cemented Bradley’s role on Opening Day when he brought Bradley in to pitch in the 6th inning to get out of a jam. Bradley got out of it, and pitched the 7th inning to record 1.2 innings on the night with 2 Ks.
Actions to take: Boxberger is the add now for saves, but with his injury history Bradley makes for a great stash as he will provide you a high volume of quality innings from the pen and is the consensus CLEW.
Hector Neris didn’t blow a save, but he took a loss in the 10th inning of yesterday’s season opener when he gave up a walk-off, 3-run homer to Nick Markakis. He was in and out of the closer role in 2017, so this was not the start he was looking for. If the Phillies are trying to compete this year, they can’t afford an unreliable closer who gives up bombs. It’s way too early to judge, but veteran Pat Neshek pitched to a 1.59 ERA last season and looms as a potential replacement.
Actions to take: None just yet, but my confidence in Neris’ ability to hold the closer role for the full season is not high.
Corey Knebel starts 2018 0 for 1 in save changes. He struck out Jose Pirela to begin the 9th, then allowed a single to Carlos Asuaje, followed by a Chase Headly fly out. Matt Szczur pinch ran for Asuaje and stole second base, then came around to score on a Freddy Galvis single to right. Great job by the Padres to manufacture a run to tie the game. A blown save is not a good way to start the year, but it’s not like Knebel got rocked. He gave up two singles. If he gave up a couple bombs I might be concerned.
The Brewers went on to win the game in 12 innings with Jacob Barnes striking out the side in the 12th to notch the save. Also notable was Josh Hader, who struck out the side in the 7th to earn his first hold. Hader is going to be a dominant middle reliever this year with a great shot to strikeout 100 out of the pen.
Actions to take: Knebel owners sit tight. If Josh Hader is available in your holds league, scoop him up.
Brad Brach also starts the year 0 for 1 in saves chances. He lasted for just 2 outs, recording 2 walks, 2 hits, 2 strikeouts, and 2 earned runs to his name before being replaced by Mychal Givens who got out of the inning.
Brach was great in the first half of 2017 but struggled down the stretch. His WHIP jumped from 0.86 before the all-star break to 1.48 after. His walk rate and strikeout rate both trended in the wrong direction, and batters hit .248 off him in the second half. I would be very nervous if I owned shares of Brach. The CLEW in Baltimore is Mychal Givens. Givens posted a 2.75 ERA last season with a 10.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He’s become the premier reliever in the Orioles’ pen, and with Brach struggling, it’s only a matter of time before O’s manager Buck Showalter loses confidence in him.
Actions to take: If you own Brach, consider grabbing Givens as insurance if he’s available. Then try to unload Brach to an unsuspecting owner. Givens is a great add for saves speculators. In a holds or IRS league, Givens is probably owned already, but if not pick him up quickly or someone else will.
Los Angeles Angels
Cam Bedrosian was credited with a blown save yesterday, but the real news was he was brought into the game in the 7th inning. Many, myself included, thought Bedrosian had moved into the Angels’ closer role as Blake Parker struggled mightily in spring training. This doesn’t seem to be the case and at this point I don’t think Bedrosian or Parker will be reliable saves contributors. The Angels’ bullpen was a mess for fantasy purposes last season and looks like it will continue to be, as long as Mike Scioscia is managing the team. I think the most valuable Angels reliever by year’s end will be Kenyan Middleton, who looks to build upon a solid rookie 2017 season in which he posted a 3.86 ERA, 9.7 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9.
Actions to take: If you own shares of Parker or Bedrosian in a saves league, I’d be looking to unload them for a closer with a more secure job. Perhaps you can swap either of the two for Keone Kela or get ahead of the game and add Mychal Givens.
No blown saves here, just a bullpen that is shaping up to be very solid. In yesterday’s 11 inning affair with the Angels, Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Treinen both pitched two scoreless innings. Ryan Buchter and Chris Hatcher each had one scoreless inning a piece, with Hatcher notching the W and 2 Ks. The off-season addition of Yusmeiro Petit should pay dividends for the Athletics. Petit was a workhorse last year pitching 91.1 innings. With 2 innings in his debut, it appears he’ll rack up the innings again in 2018, and with a 10.0 K/9 rate he is a 100 K threat.
Actions to take: Consider adding Petit if he’s available in your league. 100 strikeouts from a reliever is valuable in all league formats.
Three Stars of Opening Day
Jacob Barnes, Mil – Barnes pitched one inning on Opening day, striking out all three batters he faced and notching the save in the 12th inning for the Brewers.
Chad Greene, NYY – Green picked up right where he left off. He went 1.1 innings, striking out 3, and not allowing a baserunner. He’s a multi-inning reliever and racks up the strikeouts with 103 posted in 2017.
Arodys Vizcaino, ATL – Vizcaino struck out the side in the top of the 9th of a 5-5 ballgame, setting the stage for Nick Markakis’ walk-off heroics. Vizcaino did not allow a baserunner.
That wraps up this week’s Bullpen Briefing. Thanks for reading and feel free to drop a comment with any questions and I’ll be sure to respond. Be back next week with another edition.
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