Every week this year, I have given a “Closer Review” similar to the one you see below. But it has been a process. Two weeks ago, I chose to focus the latter half of my article on a review of “Holds” leaders and who amongst them would be worth owning in SV+HLDS leagues. While I intended to follow in those foot-steps last week, I actually took more time to critique my Closer Review format into what it is now, more-or-less. This week is intended to represent a true example of this column moving forward.
I don’t pretend to offer anything too fantastic. In fact, a good portion of this article is simply gathering simple facts about what the Closers for teams did and did not do this past week. But I’m fairly satisfied with the organization of this piece today, which both continues the new organization established last week as well as takes a look at IRS+Hs leaders amongst MLB Relievers.
And as this article will have a bit to do with IRS+Hs, I’d be doing a disservice to not quickly cover that category and its importance. We all know Saves suck. I’m actually a fan of Saves leagues maybe even moreso than any other format, but Saves suck. The intention with categories like SV+HLDs is to offer an alternative that gives numbers not exclusive to 1/9th of the Baseball game. IRS+Hs takes it another step further. While not perfect, IRS+Hs includes the concept of the “Inherited Runner Stranded,” which is quite interesting as it gives the ability for someone in a Loogy or Fireman role to have increased value. I’ll go over the top 15 in IRS+Hs so far this season below. But before that…
Week 7 Closer Review
Clean Week Closers — Players who have little-to-nothing to discuss role wise, as well as got their team’s save Opportunities this week and converted flawlessly.
Hansel Robles (Los Angeles Angels), Roberto Osuna (Houston Astros), Alex Colome (Chicago White Sox), Shane Greene (Detroit Tigers), Brad Hand (Cleveland Indians), Ken Giles (Toronto Blue Jays), Edwin Diaz (New York Mets), Sean Doolittle (Washington Nationals), Felipe Vazquez (Pittsburgh Pirates), Raisel Iglesias (Cincinnati Reds), Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers), Will Smith (San Francisco Giants), Kirby Yates (San Diego Padres)
Clear Closers who “Struggled” — “Struggled” taken loosely. Simply the closer fails to live up the criteria of the former category. Specifically, the world “Flawlessly.” But they are the clear closers with little to discuss.
Blake Treinen (Oakland Athletics), Aroldis Chapman (New York Yankees), Wade Davis (Colorado Rockies), Greg Holland (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Circumstantial Saves — Saves that Occur not because of any role dynamic change, but rather because of circumstances such as the typical closer being tired or extra innings.
Heath Hembree (Boston Red Sox), Pat Neshek (Philadelphia Phillies), Josh Venters (Atlanta Braves), Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Teams / Closers With No Opportunity this Week
Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals
Jobs to Discuss, Week 5/7-5/13
Minnesota Twins — There doesn’t seem to be much new, or much worth discussing on this team in general. To me it is less of a debate about “who” and more so just a team that will manipulate matchups as they see fit. Taylor Rogers was the only player with a Save this week, but I still expect Blake Parker (6 Saves, 1.32 ERA) to get just as much if not more work in this role. Twins have a sneaky back-end of the bullpen and I think right now they have a lot of faith in that backend.
Texas Rangers — This one is obviously difficult not because of a lack of clarity, but actually because it was so clearly Jose Leclerc coming into this season, and then it appeared to be clearly Shawn Kelley before he ended up on the IL. Chris Martin got the Save this week, but I’m really having a hard time figuring out who the long term Closer is for this year. I still think the smart money is on Leclerc / Kelley getting the most saves this season over the current compilation of the rest of the bullpen.
Seattle Mariners — This is another hard one, as the only player that I felt was a real potential fit for the Closing Role (Anthony Swarzak) has been dreadful. He has an ERA over 5 and as many Saves as Blown Saves (3). It’s also hard to feel any level of confidence about Swarzak when you compare his new 2019 sample with his 2018 Sample. The years are eerily similar at this point in terms of elevated BB/9’s and ERA’s. Roenis Elias has looked solid in the role, and I would figure has the next opportunity. But I still can’t buy into Elias’ skills at that point in that role. He can probably hold it down with a mid-3’s ERA for a while, and that may be good enough for our purposes in fantasy. But the Ks will be mediocre for the position, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they are continuing to look for a replacement for the position.
Boston Red Sox — The most frustrating occurrence when watching saves on a weekly basis is a lack of opportunity. Opportunity obviously gives us the ability to expand our sample and view what the team wants to do. Boston didn’t really have much opportunity after Matt Barnes recorded a Save early in the week. That game certainly wasn’t a bright spot for Ryan Brasier, who was used in the lesser role and gave a poor performance prior to Barnes’ Save, but Brasier still has 2x the number of Saves Barnes does (6 to 3). Barnes is the better talent, so if I’m leaning on talent I’m going Barnes. But talent isn’t also the pure decision making factor in Save Situations. Until we get direct usage quotes from management, I’d wager we see more mixing and matching moving forward.
Philadelphia Phillies — I don’t know if there is anything at all worth mentioning here, but I did want to point out that Hector Neris has been very unutilized this week. As long as he’s healthy and they’re just “saving” him this is fine, but was the only thing I saw worth monitoring for this job.
Atlanta Braves — There’s an argument I think that this Closer Role shouldn’t even be here right now. If things go the same way this week as they did last week, it won’t be in the “Up in the Air” section next week. What I’m getting at here is that Luke Jackson has been utilized very clearly as the Closer. Venters has one save and it was a game that Jackson appeared to be unavailable, and a game in which Venters got the Save on a Single Out, and no one started a Clean 9th. Jackson had 3 Save Opportunities just this week, which is amongst the most in Baseball. He converted 2 and blew the 3rd. Overall the results suggest that, unless it be Kimbrel or a Minter renaissance v. Lefties and some mix/match, it is Luke Jackson’s job to lose.
Chicago Cubs — Steve Cishek time anybody? I will admit to full bias here. Not because I am a Cubs fan. But because I have Steve Cishek everywhere, and wrote very highly of him in my very first RP Article with MLFS back in April. Strop / Morrow may be back from injury soon. But they also might not. And Strop hasn’t exactly been sharp so far in the 2019 Season (5.06 ERA). At 33 YO and recovering from a Grade 2 Hamstring Strain, the Cubs’ Closer role could be up for grabs. Steve Cishek was one of the most trusted RPs in baseball last year. He was one of the League Leaders in Inherited Runners Stranded, and was a valuable 7th-8th Inning man who had frequent usage. The Cubs may prefer moving him around, but they also trust him a great deal. That isn’t something that can be said about every arm in this pen right now. Cishek may not be a 20 Save option, but I think he has a chance to rack up a few saves here, as well as continue to get some saves throughout the year as Strop / Morrow battle their own issues. UPDATE: I usually don’t put too many updates for Tuesday games on these articles by a rule for a firm stopping point, but Cishek did get his 2nd SV and 3rd Opp on Tuesday. Very excited.
These observations are based on the Top 15 Players in the IRS+Hs Category so far this season, not my personal top 15.
The Top 5: Always Trust Your Lefties (in IRS+H)
Andrew Chafin, Alex Claudio, [Trevor Hildenberger], Paul Fry, Adam Kolarek
Other than Hildenberger, appearing in Brackets to establish that he is in fact not Left Handed, four of the top five IRS+Hs leaders are Left Handed Relievers. And this obviously makes a lot of sense. Lefties, especially quality specialists, often enter the game for the express purpose of facing lefties, regardless of the remainder of the situation. And they often leave just as soon. If you enter any game in a Save Situation (not just a 9th inning Save situation mind you) and leave at any point without surrendering the lead, you get a Hold. So often, Stranding Runners or getting holds in a game are just a matter of being used often. Skillswise though, it really is just Andrew Chafin who is intriguing across the board. Hildenberger may have had an incredible April, but his May has been terrible. He’s given up 2 ERs in 4 of his 5 outings with a 16.62 ERA on the month. Claudio, Fry, and Kolarek aren’t very big strikeout RPs. If you happen to play in an IRS+Hs league, they all hold value. But even in Holds leagues, they aren’t my favorite players to target. All three have chances to be leaned on relievers with solid ratios, but that can be a lackluster upside. Chafin on the other hand at least flashes K/9’s ranging from 9.6 to 10.6 over the last two+ years with solid ERAs in those two+ seasons (2017-2019).
Interesting Names Amongst the Next 10
Adam Ottavino, Pedro Baez, Ty Buttrey, Diego Castillo, Jace Fry, Adam Morgan, Craig Stammen, Jake Diekman, Carlos Estevez, John Gant
Every reliever on this list has between 15 and 19 IRS+Hs, and only Ottavino and Baez fall outside the 15-16 range. So there are obviously a good deal of options and the differentiating factors here are mostly what we perceive of the talent. Maybe it is the fact that I actually play in a lot of “Saves” leagues, but Ty Buttrey is a name that sticks out to me right away. Hansel Robles is clearly in front of him right now, and it wouldn’t at all shock me if in some reality Cody Allen got another shot at the gig, but Buttrey has been really good so far and flashing some of those high-end closer signs I love to see. Firstly, Buttrey has not allowed a HR this year. And while HR suppression in-and-of itself is something that intrigues me greatly, even in a small sample it is even more significant when that HR Suppression comes alongside a lack of Walks (1.29 BB/9).
To put this Ty Buttrey argument to the test, I went on Fangraphs and looked for every pitcher in baseball, minimum 20 IP, to have allowed 0 HRs this year. I found five: Kirby Yates, Jerad Eickhoff, Mike Soroka, Joakim Soria, and of course, Ty Buttrey. Of the group, Buttrey has the lowest BB/9 (1.29). The second lowest in the group is Jerad Eickhoff (3.30), which exceeds Buttrey’s BB/9 by around 250+%. Buttrey also has the 2nd Highest K/9 of that group, behind only Kirby Yates, who has been truly incredible this year.
Adam Ottavino has been a great source of non-Saves production with Ks and a sub-2.00 ERA. The BB/9 does leave a little something to be desired. Well, more than a little. In fact, I find it hard to believe he maintains such a quality ERA with that many walks. But ultimately I do think Ottavino has shown himself as a nasty reliever and can continue to post similar, albeit worse, numbers moving forward. Another player showcasing high Ks is Carlos Estevez, who plays for Ottavino’s former team, the Colorado Rockies. For Estevez, this leap in Ks is new and hasn’t been seen before. Being on the Rockies and a non-Closer probably put Estevez off the radar for a lot of owners. And his ERA runs the risk of being Coors-effected. But his Ks and early season usage are worth keeping an eye on.
Adam Morgan, Diego Castillo, and John Gant have been off to excellent starts to the year. Gant’s start looked like a fluke to me for a while, but it is starting to look more and more legitimate. He’s obviously getting a bit fortunate. His BABIP is .130, and he has stranded every base runner he has allowed so far this season (2 ER on 2 Solo HRs). He doesn’t have a dramatic K/9 or even a very high K/9 for a reliever, and until recently his BB/9 was also still fairly high. (As is, the number is 2.70, which while not bad, is not elite by any stretch of the imagination). But the numbers do look MORE legitimate by the day, and Gant now has a sub-3.00 FIP to go with some other excellent predictor numbers. Morgan is of particular intrigue for me in IRS+Hs leagues because he is a lefty with Ks that is performing at a high level to start the season. It would not at all surprise if Morgan shot up the IRS+Hs standings and not the other way around. Diego Castillo is interesting to discuss more so because of the headache Rays situation. He’s a good reliever who has a bit of a HR problem from time to time. He’ll get some holds, he’ll get some saves, and he’ll get some inherited runner situations. But the usage is anyone’s guess.
I have less to say about the rest of the lot. Baez is intriguing and showing strong numbers across the board, but nothing really sticks out to me, and Jansen is King in LA. Jace Fry has a 7+ BB/9 and in terms of results has been atrocious this year. Stammen is relied upon and a veteran at 35 Years Old, but not the most intriguing fantasy option. Jake Diekman is a lefty, and actually having a pretty good year. Maybe there is a little bit more to talk about with Diekman, who could become a valuable trade chip at the deadline as the Royals should be sellers.
General Priorities List
So hard to gauge an owner’s individual league settings. From the group, I am currently favoring Ty Buttrey because of the BB / HR combination mentioned above. After that it starts to get a little bit more dicey for me. If I’m hoping for Saves down the road, I’d target Castillo or even Ottavino. Lefties Adam Morgan and Andrew Chafin are two players that have the potential to put up incredibly high IRS+Hs totals alone, so depending on your league’s weighing of that category, Morgan and Chafin can be blasted towards the top of this list. A few weeks ago I would’ve discussed how good Hildenberger had been, but he’s been ghastly. I can imagine a league deep enough where I’m not dropping him, but I don’t play in leagues with the depth and setting combination to warrant a Hildenberger. Similarly, Jace Fry is a player who shouldn’t be touching many rosters at this point. They have faith in him clearly to put him in these situations, but the 7 BB/9 is speaking loudly.
Until Next Time,
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 12th, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #159 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 Kevin Bzdek. Kevin is a writer, editor, league owner, and frequent guest on majorleaguefantasysports.com shows.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday May 16th, 2019 from 7:30-9pm EST for episode #160 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.