The inherent difficulty in writing this article is that the Relief Pitcher position is perhaps the most different depending on League Context. In a Saves only league, closers HAVE to be prioritized with the only exception being if you are trying to punt the category in its entirety. Points leagues? Well your roster situations and Games Played limits may dictate otherwise, but frankly there’s no reason to FORCE yourself to take a single save that you’re not interested in. Somewhere in the middle, we have the traditional compromise (SV+HLDs) alongside some new ideas and structures like IRS+HLDS, or Inherited Runners Stranded + Holds, which is a category in the leagues on Major League Fantasy Sports.
This is one of the most basic dichotomies in fantasy sports: the difference between statistic and reality. Most leagues or quite a number of players try to close that gap with these different kind of rules to try to bring the game closer to “reality.” What a SV+HLDS or IRS+H league does moreso than give you MORE options, it takes away the necessity to force yourself to go after players and situations that don’t intrigue you at all.
As this is my first dive into the RP world in terms of column writing, I’ll be messing with a few forms these first few weeks. My goal is always to give the best possible view of what I deem to be the most important information. This week that will take place in the form of a “Closer Review,” and then a targets list for players who are not necessarily currently in Save situations, but have value either as prospective Saves earners or stand alone value in SV+HLDS / IRS+H.
First Week Closer Review
***Save Chances defined as 9th inning save chances unless otherwise state. Not updated with 4/2/19***
Los Angeles Angels (Closer: Cody Allen)
Chicago Cubs (Closer: Pedro Strop?) (See: Cishek Below)
Pittsburgh Pirates (Closer: Fellipe Vazquez)
Philadelphia Phillies (Closer: David Robertson) — Robertson did enter in a 4-Run game, but surrendered 2 Runs.
Washington Nationals (Closer: Sean Doolittle)
Atlanta Braves (Closer: Arodys Vizcaino? This one’s hard. Vizcaino and Minter have both dealt with injuries.)
Colorado Rockies (Closer: Wade Davis)
***These saves were not only accomplished, but did not allow a Run***
Houston Astros — Roberto Osuna — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Oakland Athletics — Blake Treinen — 2 Saves, 2 Opportunities
Texas Rangers — Jose LeClerc — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Detroit Tigers — Shane Greene — 2 Saves, 2 Opportunities
Chicago White Sox — Alex Colome — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Cleveland Indians — Brad Hand — 2 Saves, 2 Opportunities
New York Yankees — Aroldis Chapman — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity (Lost tie game 4/2/19)
Boston Red Sox — Matt Barnes — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Toronto Blue Jays — Ken Giles — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Milwaukee Brewers — Josh Hader — 3 Saves, 3 Opportunities
New York Mets — Edwin Diaz — 2 Saves, 2 Opportunities
San Diego Padres — Kirby Yates — 3 Saves, 3 Opportunities
Los Angeles Dodgers — Kenley Jansen — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity
Arizona Diamondbacks — Greg Holland — 1 Save, 1 Opportunity (13th Inning)
San Francisco Giants — Will Smith — 2 Saves, 2 Opportunities
Drama and Opportunity in the 9th Inning
Seattle Mariners — Everything seemed a-okay when the team was in Tokyo. Hunter Strickland closed the door twice, and while no one expected him to post 162 Saves in a season, it was quite the start to 2019. And then Strickland blew a game, landed on the IL, and chaos has ensued for the Seattle Mariners. Just to bring up one such example of chaos in the 9th Inning, 3rd Baseman Dylan Moore recently had three straight errors on three straight opportunities in three straight plays. Cody Gearrin had a SV Opp, but he walked 3 of the 4 batters he faced, before Chasen Bradford shut the door. And then Roenis Elias after that. This is one of the most in-flux Bullpens out there right now. Taking a page from today’s book, when the chips were down, runners were on the corners, and it was a 1-run game, the Mariners leaned on Swarzak, who they acquired from the Mets as part of the Cano trade. Anthony Swarzak K’d Pujols when all the ancient one needed to do was hit a long fly ball to get Mike Trout home from 3rd on a game-tying Sac Fly. It wasn’t just a save, it was an impressive save, and one that may earn more opportunity.
Minnesota Twins — Taylor Rogers, who is listed below as a “non-closer”, got the first Twins save of the season in a 4-Out Opportunity. But this seemed to be a bit of a match-ups play. More recently, we have seen Blake Parker come into a Save Opportunity and close the door effectively. While I could see both getting saves, I think the pertinent detail here is that there’s a strong willingness to use Rogers PRIOR to the 9th, which doesn’t necessarily exist with Parker. Rogers will be used as he can best be utilized against lefties, wherever that may be. Parker is who I want to own for Saves, but Rogers is listed below as one of the most intriguing non-Closer Adds in Baseball, if he happened to be available.
Kansas City Royals — Brad Boxberger got the first save of the season, but it was a messy game and the 9th began as a 5-Run inning before Peralta / Diekman / McCarthy as a unit decided to push the Royals towards a save opportunity. More recently, we have seen former starter Ian Kennedy emerge as a potential sleeper for that role. Kennedy may not have done much, but he got a scoreless save in his first opportunity, and with no other large factor that I can see involved, it seems that he should be in line for the next one as well.
Tampa Bay Rays — This one is simpler to me. There will be more match-up plays in Tampa than elsewhere, but this is Jose Alvarado‘s bullpen to me for now. Diego Castillo got the Rays 3rd Save Opportunity of the season, but Alvarado had pitched back-to-back days, and going three in a row that early in the season would’ve seen a little foolish. In the 7-1 Victory over Colorado, Alvarado did enter the game before Castillo, but I don’t find that to be necessarily indicative of what they will do in save opportunities. Again, Alvarado’s job to me until proven otherwise.
Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles have really made a mess of their Save Opps so far this year. The first save of the year went to Mike Wright Jr., and was a 4-Run game going into the 9th before Bleier surrendered a HR, 2B, and 1B with only 1 out to speak of. Mychal Givens, who pitched the 8th inning of that game cleanly, was used the next game in a save opportunity. And through two outs it was looking good, until three consecutive base runners lead to a Pitching Change and a 1-Out save for Paul Fry. The original “Save” guy from game 1, Mike Wright Jr., got the call in the next opportunity in a 6-3 game, but was swiftly pulled for Bleier. Bleier of course did what you would expect reading down this paragraph, and surrendered a Double, Sac Fly, and Triple while allowing the tying run to get to 3rd. He did, however, get the save. If I have to invest in someone here it is probably Mychal Givens. But man this bullpen has been one of the toughest to watch through one week.
St. Louis Cardinals — Coming into the year and based on the first usage we saw of the season, Jordan Hicks was clearly the Cardinals closer. But his first Save Opp went very poorly. He surrendered three consecutive hits, and allowed reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich to walk-off with a Double. After that, we saw Gant with the next Save opportunity. However, Gant’s opportunity came in the 11th inning, and Hicks was used in the 10th. Unlike Baltimore, I think the person who emerges here will undeniably be interesting. But this seems like a fluid situation to me right now.
Cincinnati Reds — Maybe a sign of things to come, the Reds don’t at all seem inclined a few games into the season to reserve Rasiel Iglesias, the presumed Closer, for the 9th inning role. And while using Iglesias in different situations is not surprising at all, the usages as early as they’ve come are a bit concerning. Then this past game Iglesias was put in the 9th Inning of a tie game, but surrendered the lead and allowed Hader another opportunity for another save. I believe Iglesias gets enough saves that no one else, in a Saves context, is too interesting. But I am worried about how many Saves he ultimately gets with his usage.
Miami Marlins — It would appear that this is Sergio Romo‘s bullpen. The only real caveat from the first start is that Romo didn’t actually begin the 9th. With two lefties due up, the Marlins went to Wei-Yin Chen. Chen however was not interested in getting outs, allowing two baserunners before being pulled for Romo. I don’t know what the opportunity will be like here, but if there’s a guy to chance it is likely Sergio Romo.
Taylor Rogers — RP, Minnesota Twins — While Rogers got the first save of the season, and that may push his value or Ownership% to a point where he really isn’t considered “off-the-radar” or as a “non-saves” option, I feel that his first usage was situational. Regardless of the price, Rogers is one of the most likely pitchers in my opinion to not just have value in Holds / IRS leagues, but actually have the ratio abilities to contribute in that means for a 5×5 league. After the All-Star Break last season, Rogers posted a 0.94 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, and 35 Ks to 8 BBs. His K/9 isn’t the most impressive, but his increase after that ASB to a 10.99 K/9 and 34.0% K% is substantial. If he, as I predict, isn’t a traditional closer, he’ll be used like Josh Hader: specialist and fireman.
Joe Biagini — RP, Toronto Blue Jays — Just to start, Biagini has pitched so well this year that he has a NEGATIVE FIP and xFIP, albeit in only 3.1 IP. He has managed to produce 7 of his 10 Outs via K this year, managing a hair over 2 K per inning. He has also seemingly been entrenched as the Blue Jay’s Set-Up man, playing the 8th Inning role before Giles’ 9th. Biagini holds value both as a prospective Saves option should Giles falter, as well as having stand alone value in Holds leagues as a go-to holds option.
Ryan Pressly — RP, Houston Astros — Another player who could step into a premium position, but also could maintain surface value alone. Ryan Pressly was actually the recipient of a multi-year extension this off-season, which I absolutely love in prospective saves. Without saves, Pressly still plays for a team that has one of the best potential Win%’s in baseball, and posted a 12.8 K/8 last year alongside a sub-3.00 ERA. He’s locked into a strong position for Holds.
Diego Castillo — RP, Tampa Bay Rays — Again, I don’t think this is so much of a committee, as it was specific usage on a specific day with Alvarado pitching the previous two. But the point of this entire list of blurbs is that these guys don’t need saves to be effective, and I think Castillo could fit into that mold. The K’s from his first couple games are nothing to write home about, but the 22% Whiff% is eye-popping even in a miniscule sample. If Alvarado falters, or even if the Rays do go to more match-ups with saves than I expect, Castillo could be an excellent choice off the wire.
Jalen Beeks — RP, Tampa Bay Rays — Beeks is a high-upside lefty that already has 6 Ks to 1 BB for the Rays. The Rays actually have a very intriguing bullpen top-to-bottom filled with names no where near the size of Ottavino / Chapman / Britton / Betances, but arms that could make up a good chunk of that difference. Beeks is the kind of guy likely to find himself being a priority specialist in high leverage, which often means Holds and IRS.
Keone Kela — RP, Pittsburgh Pirates — Kela is the clear 8th inning reliever that possesses the potential for an explosive K-Rate and at the very least a good number of holds. He can be a little wild at times, but just a few years ago Kela was seen as the clear closer-in-waiting with the Texas Rangers organization. He’s a good reliever without saves, and has high upside as a closer if he gets into the right, +Save situation.
Steve Cishek — RP, Chicago Cubs — Cishek doesn’t carry the upside of Edwards, and doesn’t have the proximity of the role that Strop does, but as many Cubs fans can tell you, this team seems to lean on him quite a bit. In 2018, Cishek was actually second in all of baseball in Inherited Runners Stranded + Holds with 67. And despite the team’s struggles in the Pen, Cishek has already gotten 5 Outs on 4 Ks with 1 Hit Allowed to start the season. He’s actually been my darkhorse guy for this pen for Saves going back to the preseason, but at worst he seems to be the most trusted in the kind of spots that generate at least IRS if not IRS+Hs.
Robbie Erlin — RP, San Diego Padres — This is more of a volume play. Erlin isn’t the flashiest pitcher and wasn’t the most successful starter, but that’s how many of these bullpen stories begin. There was plenty of reason to believe Erlin would be used in the rotation, so as a bullpen arm, there’s fair reason to believe that the volume is going to be there. Paddack and Strahm are very talented, and as a coach I’d prefer they get the starts over Erlin too, but they could have limited IP counts, and in some of these games it may be Erlin’s job to connect the Starter to the Pen. I could see him becoming a relied-upon guy in short order.
Tony Watson — RP, San Francisco Giants — Watson may not be quite the same reliever that he used to be in Pittsburgh, but he’s still a quality arm that limits walks, and will be often utilized. He was one of the ten best RPs last year in IRS+Hs, and while his conversion rate was not ideal, as a Lefty outside of a Save Opportunity, Watson is fairly likely to be in that position again for Holds and IRS.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday March 31st, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #148 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week.
Our guest this week is Brandon Ziman. Brandon is the newest baseball writer to join the crew in 2019. His articles publish every Thursday and covers the minor leaguers.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday April 4th, 2019 from 7:30-9pm EST for episode #149 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Cole and Kyle will discuss the latest happenings in the world of MLB and fantasy. They will take a look back on the previous few days and a preview of the coming weekend. Including spot starts, bullpens, offense, and minor league players.