This is now the fourth article in the year for the Relief Pitcher column, and I feel that means it is time for some reflection. The “Closer Review” portion of the article will be very similar to the previous week. But instead of seeking out numerous new names to profile as potential SV+HLD-types, this week I have decided to go back through my previous articles in an attempt to create something of a priority list.
As with anything involved in relievers, I feel the need to once again mention the variance that is Relief Pitcher Value. Different leagues of varying contexts will have widely different potential values. The best way to understand the list is to either take the commentary to heart, as that is designed to help you understand what to do in your league.
Weekly Closer Review
No Drama Relievers
Greg Holland (Arizona Diamondbacks), Brad Hand (Cleveland Indians), Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals), Felipe Vazquez (Pittsburgh Pirates), Blake Treinen (Oakland Athletics), Shane Greene (Detroit Tigers), Rasiel Iglesias (Cincinnati Reds), Sergio Romo (Miami Marlins), Edwin Diaz (New York Mets), AJ Minter (Atlanta Braves), Will Smith (San Francisco Giants), Kirby Yates (San Diego Padres), Wade Davis* (Colorado Rockies)
*: Davis had a bit of a skirmish in a 4-Run game, but as the clear closer it’s “Nothing to see here, folks.”
Vulture Saves — Players who got saves due to Rest Days
Nick Wittgren (Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians), Yoshihisa Hirano (Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Struggling W/ Jobs — “Struggling” just a factor of the past week, not necessarily indicative of losing one’s job. Players in this category fit a typical closer usage.
Ken Giles (Toronto Blue Jays) — To me, there doesn’t really seem to be anything worth reporting here. He didn’t have a bad week at all, just surrendered a Run in one of his save opportunities, which took him off the “No Drama” list. He may not be elite, but he’s good enough to get saves and is the clear Closer. CONCERN LEVEL: LOW.
Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers) — Similar to Giles, a player that simply allowed 2 Rs (1 Earned) this week and was removed from the “No Drama” list. Clear closer and no real struggles means no concern. CONCERN LEVEL: LOW
Sean Doolittle (Washington Nationals) — The only thing to add to Doolittle’s name that wouldn’t just be an echo of Giles and Jansen is the fact that Doolittle hasn’t had the fortune of actually getting saves so far this season. So it was a bit more disappointing. But the Nationals will get their attempts, and I expect Doolittle to get those attempts. CONCERN LEVEL: LOW
Aroldis Chapman (New York Yankees) — Part of me wants to completely ignore a few of Chapman’s less glamorous moments to start the season. But as much as he has some great excuses, and still does possess high-end velocity, that velocity IS currently down. His average FB dipped under 100 MPH for the first time in a number of years in 2018, and now in 2019 that figure sits even further down at 97.87. I wouldn’t panic in any way, but I’m keeping a very close eye on him if I happen to own him in any leagues. CONCERN LEVEL: LOW to MODERATE
Pedro Strop (Chicago Cubs) — Strop had a bit of an interesting week for a Closer. He got an untraditional save when the tying run got up on deck earlier in the week, but also blew a save. I don’t think there’s much to say here, as his sample in SV Opps is limited so far this year. But I do think that, if the three above him are “LOW,” then there should be a bit more concern with Strop. None right now, but one or two more BS’s strung together and the conversation can change quickly. CONCERN LEVEL: LOW to MODERATE
Mychal Givens (Baltimore Orioles) — I don’t know really how to define the Orioles RP situation as of yet. It seems that Givens is still the priority guy, but it isn’t really a role I’m very intrigued to buy into. In terms of his struggles this week, Givens really isn’t as much to blame as is typical for a Blown Save. Not to give him excuses, but it was a full 2-Inning save, and he wasn’t able to get all 6 outs. If you want a guy from this pen, I think it’s probably Givens, but there’s little upside in a team that doesn’t win much and a team philosophy that doesn’t value the “Closer.” CONCERN LEVEL: LOW to MODERATE
Cody Allen (Los Angeles Angels) — I think the hard part here is that there’s a difference between Cody Allen returning to being the Indians’ High-End Cody Allen, and Cody Allen just simply keeping this job. While his career highs were quite a bit better than Allen’s, this situation reminds me a bit of the late-career K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez. It was very clear over his past several years as a closer that K-Rod was not who he used to be. But he could still finish games. Allen had one of the most unfortunate situations of anyone this week. And I disagreed with the usage at the time, but Allen entered the game to face Haniger in a non-SV situation. But in that situation, if Haniger gets on base, it becomes a SV situation. It seemed to make more sense to allow someone else to face Haniger, and then bring in Allen in the traditional SV situation. Instead, he came in to a non-situation, struggled, created a SV situation, and then ceded to another reliever. I have faith he keeps the job, but there’s fair reasons to be concerned. CONCERN LEVEL: MODERATE
Jose LeClerc (Texas Rangers) — Last week I listed my Concern Level as being Low. It is certainly creeping up now. It’s hard to lose faith in a guy that you put so much faith in and touted in the offseason, but LeClerc had some legitimate struggles this week. He had both an ugly save and was pulled from a SV Opp after surrendering 4 BBs. I grimaced early in the season when I saw him give up his 1st HR of 2019 (matching his 2018 season) but never thought it was going to be indicative of the start he’s had. I think LeClerc last year was no fluke. But LeClerc right now is a lost man out there, and he could be losing the job soon. And to reiterate that HR stat: LeClerc has allowed 2 HRs in 2019, and allowed 1 HR in 2018. CONCERN LEVEL: MODERATE and rising.
Jobs in Flux / Committees
Tampa Bay Rays — I don’t know what the best way to define this bullpen is. Alvarado has a rather ugly BB/9, but has also been filthy throughout the season. Castillo does not have Alvarado’s BB problem, but also probably doesn’t project to suppress HRs as well. The Save Totals currently stand at 4 (Alvarado) to 2 (Castillo), so it stands to reason right now that Alvarado is the favorite. If I’m in most 12-Team Saves leagues though, I’m definitely rostering both. Not just because I think Castillo will get saves anyway, but if Alvarado’s BB/9 does cause his performance to go south, his replacement could come quickly.
Minnesota Twins — Both Parker and Taylor Rogers got saves this week for the Twins. Rogers himself will be covered a bit later. In general, I think this is another situation where match-ups will be played fairly frequently. Rogers for instance got a 2-Inning save this week in the first game of a Double Header. I would presume some of the logic was that Rogers would not pitch the second game, but would preserve the other members of the Twins’ Back-End. The Twins however put up a crooked number versus Baltimore by the mid-4th and the back-end of the bullpen was never needed in that second outing. I’m prioritizing Rogers in SV+HLDs and I think in SVs leagues too, but I think Parker could get more SVs overall. I just like Rogers as an arm more overall, and he will get saves.
Philadelphia Phillies — This is more of a discussion about Hector Neris and his prospects. Obviously, most Saves leagues he will have been rostered by now. If not, I would go out and get him just on the prospects of what he could be. Neris has an incredible K/9 and, despite awful ERA results last year, could easily translate his Swing+Miss stuff to consistency in the closer role. He seems to be trending towards being the preferred guy. I wouldn’t put the weight of the world on him Saving 30 Games this year, but he’s extremely intriguing just on the prospect of what he could be.
Seattle Mariners — This is one of the most complicated situations and one of the hardest to determine for me. I was pretty convinced until very recently that it would be Anthony Swarzak and that Swarzak would be the guy you wanted to own. But Elias certainly was used more like the closer this week. Elias is no where near the typical expectations for a closer’s skill-set. His K/9 and K/BB are both lackluster at best. The only real way his skills fit into this role is if his HR suppression (1 HR Allowed in past 64.2+ IP) is repeatable. Both are worth owning in SVs leagues, and if Swarzak is being dropped because of Elias, I’d make sure to add him still. Elias’ skills bother me.
Boston Red Sox — I think this is becoming more and more Ryan Brasier’s job to lose. Part of that is colored by what I heard from Boston people all off-season: that Brasier was the second most trusted arm in that bullpen last year. And while this closer position has been a bit in flux, Brasier now outnumbers Barnes 6 Saves to 1. Barnes may have the better skills in terms of K/9 and other such metrics, but Brasier is no Elias. He gets enough strikeouts for me to believe he can hold down the position.
Updated for SV+HLD / IRS + H
Again, these aren’t so much a “Ranking” as they are a loose guide of the players selected in the past.
Taylor Rogers (Minnesota Twins)
Joe Biagini (Toronto Blue Jays)
Ty Buttrey (Los Angeles Angels)
Ryan Pressly (Houston Astros)
Steve Cishek (Chicago Cubs)
The first break-off point is for the players who could easily be strong contributors in SVs, and are likely strong contributors in SV+HLDs leagues as well. Taylor Rogers is my favorite name on this list. I’ve made a very loose comparison already this year to Josh Hader. That comes from the “Who could be this year’s ________?” line of thinking. I don’t think anyone in this list is actually near Hader’s level. But Rogers is a Lefty with a strong K/9 who is tallying SVs and HLDs based on the situations the Twins find themselves in. He will be a high-end SV+HLDs option this year. Biagini lacks as much stand alone value in SVs leagues, but in SV+HLDs leagues he is one of the most clear-cut 8th-inning men in baseball. And if Giles were to falter, it would be Biagini moving directly into the 9th inning role. Ty Buttrey arguably should be higher than Biagini due to my relative concern in Cody Allen, as well as his unscathed dominance so far. I’m not as convinced he’s the clear successor or that Allen is necessarily going anywhere, but Buttrey remains one of the most premium cases of a Speculative Saves add who is not currently in the role. Pressly and Cishek could be separated into a second sub-tier of these relievers. I like Pressly, and his pre-season extension helps me to believe he can earn the Closer’s Role. But ultimately I don’t see him getting into that position this year. Cishek has been my darkhorse for saves since the beginning of the offseason. Morrow is still dealing with injury issues and Strop blew one of his save opps this week. Cishek isn’t great, and he hasn’t had a great season, but he’s used with a lot of faith and trust in Chicago, which could earn him more high-leverage innings down the road.
Brandon Brennan (Seattle Mariners)
Caleb Ferguson (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Jalen Beeks (Tampa Bay Rays)
These are the “Long” guys. Not necessarily intentionally, but the value in these three names in a row are their ability to provide a large volume of innings from the RP slot. Beeks and Ferguson have already started games at times (or “opened” if you must) this season. Unless and even if you play in Inherited Runner’s Stranded type leagues, these three won’t be the most likely to see the quality high leverage situations. But all three could provide a volume of innings that is valuable even in mixed leagues.
Tony Watson (San Francisco Giants)
Keone Kela (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Watson and Kela are two guys who entered the year as 8th-Inning types, but have had far different results so far this season. Watson hasn’t missed bats, but that’s not really what he does. Tony Watson just is who he is at this point: he’s not too bad, not too good, and will be used consistently in high-leverage, non-save situations. He’ll get IRS+H and Holds when coming in to face lefties. But the numbers won’t be special. Kela could have special numbers. But so far his season has been far from special, and has been more accurately detrimental. He’s still someone with skills and strikeout upside. But honestly in most league formats and almost rather just keep him on the bench permanently right now even if he were on my roster. I’d want to see him sort it all out first.
JB Wendelken (Oakland Athletics)
Richard Lovelady (Kansas City Royals)
These two are closer to the “Honorable Mention” type names on the list. Wendelken could easily be up with the Brennan/Ferguson tier soon. He just needs to bring his ERA down and continue to prove that he can be consistent while missing bats. Lovelady hasn’t had a great debut in his MLB career, but the raw stuff from the left side is hard to ignore. He’s still worth some speculation.
Was hoping to put three new profiles out but this is all I had time for this week. Cheers!
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #167, 6/23/2019 Host Brian Roach, Jr., Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Kevin Bzdek
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #169, 8/4/2019 Host Cole Freel, Guest Joe Iannone
@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.