With so any things happening this week, including a combined no-hitter, and the sticky substance investigations, one thing we could not have foreseen was the re-emergence of Brad Brach in the major leagues. And he’s now a closer. Maybe. Let’s take a look and see what is happening this week in the wacky world of bullpens.

Mailbag Questions:

Lost Sims.  Which closer-who currently doesn’t have the job-might be quietly or unexpectedly making a run at it?  @inthedugout

Hey @inthedugout, thanks for the great question. Here are a couple of names that could get a chance before too long: Joely Rodriguez (if Ian Kennedy gets moved), Kyle Crick (if Richard Rodriguez is moved), Dylan Floro (due to an ineffective Yimi Garcia) and Amir Garrett (by means of elimination).

How long is the leash for Neris? Who do you expect to take over if he is removed from the role? John Fish @Fish2483

First of all, if you are not following John Fish @Fish2483, you should be. John, I think we saw some answers this week on this.  Manager Joe Girardi removed Neris, put in Jose Alvarado, then Alvarado did not get the job done, and then Neris got the next two save opportunities. I do think Alvarado will get the chances while Neris tries to find himself again in lower leverage situations. A huge issue for Alvarado though is his 19.4 BB%. Tread carefully but his stuff is lights out. See below:

The closer workbook for this week is here: Closer Workbook 6.27.21

Here is our rubric for grading the bullpens:

  • Mastery: the best. Nothing else to be learned here. Move forward with confidence.
  • Distinguished: just a notch below mastery, excellent work, but still some room for improvement.
  • Proficient: is average. Think of this as a solid “C” on your term paper.
  • Marginal: poorly constructed, issues with organization, and unclear what is happening.
  • Unacceptable: failure due to lack of planning or execution.

Mastery

Milwaukee Brewers: Hader and Williams are back at the top of the heap. Hader has 53 punch-outs in 31.1 innings and 19 saves. And Williams is now 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 48 Ks in 29.1 innings. This bullpen has been magnificent especially with the resurgence of Williams.

Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel has been spectacular and is back as a top five closer in the game. He’s in the 100th percentile in K% and Whiff %, with 20 saves and 52 strikeouts on the year. Andrew Chafin leads MLB with 17 holds.

New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman has five wins and 16 saves and remains one of the best closing options in the game. Interestingly his fastball usage is down to 56% from 72% last year, and he is using the slider more as well as his new split finger fastball.

Boston Red Sox: Matt Barnes continues to be excellent. Three wins, 16 saves and a nice 2.81 ERA. But what really tells the tale for Barnes is the remarkable .88 WHIP. He’s just not walking guys anymore, and it is making all the difference. Adam Ottavino gets holds and vulture saves in doubleheaders or days when Barnes needs a break.

Tampa Bay Rays: Diego Castillo has 12 saves but has shown some cracks in the armor in June with an 0-2 record and 4.15 ERA. Pete Fairbanks hasn’t been any better even though he has earned two saves in June. He got shelled last Wednesday. The job belongs to Castillo for now, and I think it will be.

Chicago White Sox: Liam Hendriks takes the ball whenever the White Sox can bridge to him; their middle relief has not been providing much relief lately. But Hendriks has been gold: 3-1, 2.01 ERA, .77 WHIP and 19 saves, and as good as advertised.

Cleveland Indians: The Emmanuel Clase/James Karinchak carousel continues. Both have been effective; Clase has pitched eight innings this month, giving up nothing while earning two saves. Karinchak has two wins and three saves in the same time span. So hard to say what is going to happen here, although I think Clase is still the closer with a 60/40 split. Just my hypothesis. Terry Francona is a master manager and is playing chess out there, so don’t read too much into one guy getting 2-3 opps in a row.

Houston Astros: Ryan Pressly is a wonderful closer who gets zero hype. Four wins, 12 saves and 38 strikeouts in 31 innings. He just doesn’t get as many save chances as other elite closers, simply because his Astros’ teammates are bludgeoning other teams on offense. Even Myles Straw has gotten in on the act. Use Pressly without reservation.

New York Mets: Edwin Diaz has two wins and 16 saves for a Mets team just getting back to health. The 41 Ks in 30.2 innings are a delight. Diaz leads MLB with seven saves in June. Use with extreme confidence. Seth Lugo seems to have worked himself back into a valuable eighth inning guy in New York. What’s not to like here with Diaz? See below:

 

Los Angeles Dodgers: It surprises me sometimes how much people want to bury Kenley Jansen. Is he the Kenley of old? Certainly not. But is he still effective? Here are the facts: 18 saves, a 1.47 ERA, a .95 WHIP and 34 punchouts in 30.2 innings. I would say that’s pretty darn good still. Blake Treinen backs him up and has value for vulture saves and holds.

San Diego Padres: Ho hum, Mark Melancon leads the free world with 23 saves. He’s not going to help you much with other stuff, but has a 1.91 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He’s had a couple of rough outings in June and an ERA over 5.00, but the Padres continue to use him in the ninth where he has earned six saves this month. Keep using him.

Distinguished

St. Louis Cardinals: With four wins and 18 saves, it’s tough to argue with the work of Alex Reyes. He doesn’t give up many hits, just 16 on the year, but the 20.3 BB% is terrifying. But that is the tradeoff in rostering this electric arm; you take the good with the bad. And the 47 Ks in 34.1 innings take some of the sting off.  It feels like the Cardinals are doing a good job managing his workload after saying this spring that they would like to keep him to 90-100 innings pitched in 2021. Should he need rest, or become injured, Giovanny Gallegos is the guy to roster here.

Texas Rangers: Ian Kennedy has been the guy all year, but Joely Rodriguez lurks behind him. With Kennedy falling ill one day last week, Rodriguez stepped in and got his first save of the year. Kennedy has been a godsend for Texas this year, but he should be moved in coming weeks to a contender looking for bullpen stability, and I doubt he closes in his next town. Kennedy has 12 saves, a 2.49 ERA and 28 KS in 25.1 innings. Keep using him.

Los Angeles Angels: Don’t look now but Raisel Iglesias has returned to his filthy ways after a disastrous April. He’s got 12 saves and 48 punchouts in 31.1 innings. Moreover, Joe Maddon has stuck by him through thick and thin, and in reality, the Angels don’t have anyone close to Iglesias in terms of his pedigree and potential. Look for continued good results here. Just pray that Maddon doesn’t use him in  a non-save situation…

Proficient

Toronto Blue Jays: Jordan Romano appears to be locking this job down. He’s got an electric arm; 36 punchouts in 27.2 innings, chipping in five saves as well. He’s been spotless in June. Why would Toronto use anyone else at this time? Tyler Chatwood got a save on Monday but that was more likely due to a rest day for Romano. Tim Mayza could get some hold opps here, and Rafael Dolis and Julian Merryweather remain on the IL. Pretty clearly the job belongs to Romano. Take a look at what Romano is putting together below:

Pittsburgh Pirates: Has the Richard Rodriguez Trade Watch begun yet? If not today it will commence soon. He’s been good for the Pirates: three wins, 10 saves, a 1.78 ERA. The problem remains that on a bad team he doesn’t get as many opportunities as his peers. That said, he does have four saves in June even as the Pirates are 28-47.  If and when he does get traded, look for Kyle Crick to get the opps if he too isn’t traded. If that happens, the door opens for Chris Stratton, David Bednar and Sam Howard.

Washington Nationals: Brad Hand just continues to do what he does, limiting hard contact at a high rate and getting saves. He’s got 16 saves on the year and a helpful 2.61 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He’s been excellent in June,  but the one place he doesn’t help much is piling up strikeouts, where he has 30 in 31.1 innings. I would expect Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero to get holds with Daniel Hudson and Kyle Finnegan both on the IL.

Marginal

Seattle Mariners: It’s Kendall Graveman and will be based on what we have seen and based on the rest of his bullpen mates. The Mariners did bring Keynan Middleton back up this week, and he could get vulture opps if Graveman needs a day off. Graveman has six saves, a miniscule 1.25 ERA and a .65 WHIP. Those are number that can help you but keep in mind that his workload may be closely monitored as Seattle tries to stay afloat in a tough AL West.

Detroit Tigers: It’s Michael Fulmer, who unfortunately just went back on the IL. And then Gregory Soto; wait, no, it’s Jose Cisnero. Again let’s read into this a bit. On Saturday, Detroit played a double header. In game one, manager AJ Hinch called on Cisnero, who closed the door, earning his third save. Cisnero has been excellent in June, earning all three of his saves and adding 10 strikeouts. Hinch called in Fulmer in the nightcap, and Fulmer blew it. This looks like a full-blown committee now, and lefty Soto will also get chances depending on the handedness of the lineup being faced in the last inning. Put on your seatbelt.

San Francisco Giants: The committee continues with Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers. McGee has been great in June, with three saves, a 0.00 ERA and .41 WHIP. If manager Gabe Kapler doesn’t burn him to the ground again with overuse, McGee would likely be the favorite for the majority of save opps. Rogers has been almost as good, though. Look for the committee to continue. Dominic Leone is an intriguing name here too, potentially for holds as he has moved into a higher leverage role over the last six weeks.

Minnesota Twins: Very quietly, the shared role between Taylor Rogers and Hansel Robles has worked. And Alex Colome is showing signs of becoming effective again in a middle inning role. Robles got two saves this week sandwiched around a loss to Cincinnati. Robles and Rogers both have seven saves on the season. This is a full-blown committee now, but I still lean Rogers long-term. Minnesota is 32-43 but 6-4 in their last ten, and still 12 games out of first. If they don’t improve further, don’t be surprised to see Robles and/or Colome traded to teams looking for bullpen help, which would free up Rogers for all the save opportunities.

Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland earned his fifth save on Tuesday night, then got shellacked on Wednesday, giving up three hits and two runs to take the loss against the New York Yankees. Oddly, Josh Staumont has seen a decrease in his usage, with only two outings since June 16th. This raises an eyebrow since he was hurt and coming off the IL; maybe he still is and needs his workload monitored? Thing is I would rather have Staumont and Scott Barlow than Holland. You might get a save or two from Holland but it’s not worth weekly destruction of your ratios. This is a bullpen to watch if you have the stomach for it.

Miami Marlins: It’s hard to trust Yimi Garcia these days although he did convert last night. It’s still his job but there are other options here with two blown saves in his last four appearances. Dylan Floro is a name getting tossed around, and Anthony Bass has experience. Another name to watch is Anthony Bender, who has a 0.00 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 21.1 innings. Watch this one as change could be imminent.

Philadelphia Phillies: We’ve all been following this, right? Manager Joe Girardi announces on Thursday that Hector Neris is out as closer and he installs Jose Alvarado, who we speculated in prior pieces would be next in line. And then Alvarado blows his first opportunity, with thanks to Rhys Hoskins. So what does Girardi do Friday and Saturday? Use Neris in a save situation. Now you need to read it a little closer. Both Alvarado and Archie Bradley threw quite a few pitches this week, and Girardi did say he might use Neris to close on Saturday, and he did, but Neris blew the save. Right now my hierarchy here would be Alvarado and some combo of Bradley/Neris behind him, with Bradley perhaps having a slight edge right now. Alvarado has the stuff to do the job; will he throw enough strikes to keep the job? Alvarado owns a 19.4 BB%. Jack Carter can beat that number!

Atlanta Braves: Will Smith is not often mentioned as one of the better closers in baseball, and we understand that; there are far sexier names than his. But if you are looking for saves, and he is on the waiver wire, speculate. He’s got 16 saves on the year and 42 punch-outs in 31.1 innings. The low ERA is not there, but 3.69 won’t hurt you. In reality he has four saves since last Sunday, and we are all chasing saves. Grab him if he’s free in your home league, which he very well may be.

Colorado Rockies: Daniel Bard finally cracked double digits in saves this week, earning is tenth, before blowing a save on Saturday against Milwaukee. I love Bard and all that he represents as a human, but I cannot use him as my closer, and you should not, either.

Baltimore Orioles: It’s Paul Fry’s job right now but he has not earned a save since June 4th. Cole Sulser earned a save last night in an extra inning game that helped end Baltimore’s unreal 20 game road losing streak. Sulser has been good as well. It’s hard to say on a team as bad as this one who will get the bulk of the limited opportunities, but keep in mind that Hunter Harvey is lurking as well. It would not surprise me at all if Harvey ends the year with the job.

Unacceptable

Arizona Diamondbacks: It’s Joakim Soria on a team that rarely wins, so don’t bother with this situation.

Cincinnati Reds: So I mentioned Brad Brach a few hundred words ago, and he resurfaces at the end of the piece. Brach has done a fine job in the Cincinnati pen, with a 2.93 ERA and 20 Ks in 15.1 innings, but should he be closing? The answer to that is an obvious no. But an elbow injury to Lucas Sims (out a month) and a recurrence of the forearm strain to Tejay Antone open the door wide open, especially considering the interminable struggles of Amir Garrett. Then on Saturday night, Brach got the eight facing the heart of the Atlanta order, and Garrett got the ninth. That could have been because of Freddie Freeman to get the lefty/lefty matchup. Clearly Garrett has the ability to close, but will he?  He has been slightly better the last two weeks. Maybe you can stash Garrett if you have bench space and see what happens the next week or two. In the box below, compare the results of Garrett’s fastball and slider between 2020 and 2021. Some stark differences: