Welcome to the second week of “Closing Remarks,” where we examine the moving and shaking of bullpens around MLB.
Even with only a three-game sample size, we have had some interesting things develop through one weekend of baseball.
NEWS and NOTES for the week of 7/27
- Joe Jimenez, Wade Davis, and Trevor Gott lead MLB in saves. With two.
- Most importantly, we have seen a potentially major injury with Ken Giles of the Toronto Blue Jays, who left yesterday’s game with the dreaded right elbow soreness. We will tell you who to get to replace him.
Big Injury Right Before FAAB hits @Roto_Fanatic
Ken Giles left mid-at-bat with an apparent arm injury
Most Likely Replacement is Anthony Bass: Grades out average via xADREIP 0.2173 in 2019
Although there are some really interesting names among his comps pic.twitter.com/qw4ZjsQ43Y
— pmamminofantasy (@pmamminofantasy) July 26, 2020
- The Phillies’ Hector Neris and Astros’ Roberto Osuna both resurfaced this weekend, much to the delight of their real and fantasy owners.
- Many fantasy owners appear concerned with several closers showing some significant velocity drops. Giles was down almost two miles per hour this week before the injury. While that appears to be due to injury, much of this early consternation could just be pitchers shaking off rust before ramping up their velocity. Remember most closers only pitched two or three times in Spring Training 2.0. Give it time.
There is going to be velocity anomalies as SP/RP ramp up from Summer Camp, but here are pitchers to keep an eye on:
Morton 2019: 95.11/98.12
Morton 2020: 92.2/93.9
K.Giles 2019: 97.21/100.50
K.Giles 2020: 95.4/96.1
Hand 2019: 92.89/96
Hand 2020: 90/92
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) July 25, 2020
- But the Cleveland Indians’ Brad Hand had the same issue. As did the Texas Rangers’ Jose LeClerc and the Los Angeles Angels’ Hansel Robles. Yet they still remain their teams’ top options.
- We also saw managers use their bullpen “aces” in novel ways. Greg Holland got a save in Kansas City. Oliver Drake got a save for Tampa Bay. What does it all mean? There is growing wisdom in using your best relief pitcher when the game is on the line before the ninth inning. That is what happened to Ian Kennedy (KC) and Nick Anderson (TB) this past week. Both look to still be excellent candidates for saves.
- Trevor Gott (seen below) recorded his 2nd save for the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.
As a reminder, here is our rubric to grade the closers if you need to refresh your memory:
- 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.
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers: no data yet
He should be the number one rated relief pitcher in fantasy baseball. No surprise here. K rate of 16.41 last year? Cory Knebel did not look so good on Saturday, giving up a run on three hits while only getting one out. Hader has yet to throw. He should remain the top-rated closer in baseball.
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres: rocky start, but will remain elite
I know Yates blew a save yesterday, but I remain confident he will be a master in the bullpen. Look at the table below. Yates features the four-seamer about 57% of the time, and has essentially stopped throwing his slider and upping his split-finger usage to almost 42%; three years ago, he was only throwing the splitter about 11% of the time. Yates will be fine.
Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan provide value in saves + holds leagues and will help you control ratios. I have shares of both in multiple leagues.
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros: on the mend and rising
Osuna did end up making the Opening Day roster for the Houston Astros. However it appears at this time that Osuna and Pressly may share the role for the time being. Osuna needs time to ramp up since he was not in summer camp with the Astros. Pressly has the stuff to close but also struggled with a finger blister last week. Looking at the table below, it is easy to see that we can move Osuna in the mastery level on our rubric once he is a full-go.
Note what Osuna did last year that made him successful: he doubled his slider usage, reduced his cutter usage, and relied heavily on his 96.7 MPH four-seamer. Expect his success to continue in 2020.
Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics: treading water
Featuring an elite slider, Hendriks made the most of his opportunity in Oakland in 2019 with 25 saves. The swinging strike rate for him was almost 30% with his slider at 29%. Hendriks got into two games this weekend, earned a save in one, but was shaky. It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but his velocity was down; the four-seamer was 96.5 MPH in 2019; in the two outings in 2020, he was 94.8 MPH. Likely he is just ramping up, but keep an eye here.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 27, 2020
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians: treading water
Hand has seen his velocity down to start the year as well. Hand got the save on Friday night despite sitting at 90.4 MPH on his fastball. I am not worried yet; Hand said in preseason interviews that he planned to throw his slider more in 2020, so velocity might not be a big tell for him. Grab James Karinchak just to be safe.
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Neris is back after being out with COVID. Neris got into one game this weekend, striking out one in his 2020 debut. Neris had 28 saves, an ERA under 3.00, and struck out 89 batters in 67 innings. Vince Velazquez does not appear to be the handcuff here as he started a game last week. Maybe it’s Tommy Hunter? No matter right now. It looks like you can ride Neris for the foreseeable future. Expect him to move up in the coming weeks. Neris throws his four-seamer and his sinker with high velocity while giving up on the slider and change-up in 2019. This worked for him. See the velocity chart below:
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins: no data yet
As both Twins wins over the weekend were blowouts, Rogers did not make an appearance. There is no reason to think anything has changed here, but as noted last week, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and the rubber-armed Sergio Romo are off-stage right and ready to report for duty if Rogers falters. Rogers had 30 saves, a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 2019. He’s the guy.
Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays: one to watch
I fully expect, as much as one can with any Tampa Bay Rays’ player, that Anderson will close…for now, at least. He features a high-octane four-seamer, which he threw 60% of the time last year. Manager Kevin Cash did use Oliver Drake to close the game on Saturday night; Drake earned the save when Anderson was called on in the seventh inning in the fireman role. This is one to watch.
in a 1-1 game in the 7th, Nick Anderson is warming in the pen. When asked who was going to close for the past few months, my answer was “yes” when presented with any name.
— Jason Collette (@jasoncollette) July 25, 2020
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets: moving down
The Mets do have a bevy of options behind him should Diaz falter. He did have a save on Opening Day but also blew one on Saturday. Dellin Betances and perhaps Seth Lugo wait in the wings. The leash is short in New York this year, methinks. The high-wire act continues for Diaz, who still has high strikeout potential.
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds: moving down
He is truly a wild card. Iglesias got shelled Saturday night and took the loss, but Michael Lorenzen was no better. Holding pattern for now.
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers: no data yet
Jansen’s demise has been well-documented. Grab Blake Treinen if you have roster space.
Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks: moving up
Some analysts love Bradley. He had been used as a middle reliever but transitioned nicely to the closer role last year, earning 18 saves with 87 strikeouts. Yes, his ratios could hurt you, but look below at the barrel percentage by season below. He induces weak contact and is the best option in the Arizona bullpen.
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox: no data yet
Colome has yet to get in a game for the White Sox, who were shelled in two games and won a laugher as well. Aaron Bummer did get in and is a must handcuff; he had 27 holds and great ratios with a 2.13 ERA and .99 WHIP. Colome will probably keep the job all year unless he struggles.
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs: no data yet
Kimbrel was shaky last year, mostly due to poor control and reduced velocity. He has yet to appear in a game for the Cubs. See the velocity drop last year:
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers: treading water
Leclerc got a save this weekend and was one of the closers some had expressed concern with the velocity drop, but it was only one MPH. There really is no reason to look over the shoulder.
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels: dropping in value
Remember when we talked of regression last week? Robles was down almost three MPH; 97.1 to 94.2 this weekend. Cause for concern, or just ramping up? I am a non-believer in Robles. Grab Ty Buttrey and/or Keynan Middleton this week.
Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox: no data yet
Remember to be careful; regression is likely coming but could give you some value as a third reliever.
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers: moving up?
Don’t look now, but Jimenez leads the major leagues in saves right now. Obviously that may not last, but he did earn two saves over the opening weekend. Will it last? Unlikely.
Sean Doolittle (Daniel Hudson?), Washington Nationals: treading water
This bullpen is in flux. Doolittle gave up the lead yesterday after free agent acquisition Will Harris melted down the inning before him. HIs velo has topped out at 92.3 mph after reaching 94.9 mph in September of last year. Tenuous grasp here; I would get Daniel Hudson if you have bench space. The defending champs cannot mess around with a wonky bullpen. Manager Davy Martinez showed a willingness to play the hot hand in the playoffs.
Kwang Yun Kim, St. Louis Cardinals
It’s tough to have much confidence in anyone in the Cardinals bullpen since the job seems to change hands daily. But Kim seems to have the job, for now. Kim did earn the save on Opening Day, but did give up two hits and a run (getting hit HARD) before closing the door. Ryan Helsley might get an opportunity, and Alex Reyes is lying in the weeds. Watch this one, but it is Kim’s job. For now.
Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals: treading water
Last week we pointed out that Kennedy was likely trade bait to a contending team after experiencing success in the closer role for the Royals in 2019. However, manager Mike Matheny used…are you ready… Greg Holland for the save after using Kennedy in the 6th and 7th inning in that game. We will need to observe this one in the coming weeks. I still think Kennedy is the best option in the Kansas City bullpen.
Mark Melancon/Will Smith, Atlanta Braves: holding pattern
An uncertain situation where Melancon has the job for now, almost by default, since Smith was not on the active roster to start the year. Smith threw a side session yesterday and has been cleared to rejoin the Braves. I see him stepping into an eighth inning role…for now. This is one situation to watch carefully.
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Givens did pitch in a non-save situation on Saturday, and struck out two in the process. Somebody named Cole Sulser got a save Sunday. Move along here. Sulser is 30 and does not seem to have the pedigree to close. Don’t look now but the O’s have two wins…
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Davis is on thin ice in Colorado. Scott Oberg is a better play for your team when he comes back. I also like Carlos Estevez as well. But Davis has two saves even though he gave up a run on Saturday. I don’t trust him and neither should you.
Matt Magill, Taylor Williams? Seattle Mariners
Who is closing in Seattle? Magill? Hirano, once he recovers from his injury? You? Me? Who knows? I like Hirano to get the job.
But get this: the Mariners used little-known Taylor Williams to close the game in a save situation on Sunday. What does this mean? Who knows. Williams features a four-seamer and a slider, but is a 29 year old journeyman who has never held the role. I would not touch this situation for fantasy purposes right now. Wait and see what happens.
Kyle Crick/Nick Burdi, Pittsburgh Pirates: treading water
This is desperation personified. Burdi did strike out the side Sunday in the ninth in a non-save situation. Crick gave up four unearned runs on Saturday with two hits and a walk. I would lean Burdi at the moment…
Trevor Gott, San Francisco Giants: God have mercy on your soul if you need to use one of these guys
Are you still reading? How desperate for saves are you? If you must know, Trevor Gott earned his 2md save for them Saturday night. Expect the Giants to use committees and hot hands all year, with Gabe Kapler seeming to prefer mixing and matching.
On The Mend
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Chapman is recovering from the Covid illness, and according to general manager Brian Cashman, is still testing positive. The Yankees used Zach Britton in their save opportunity, and he came through. There is zero doubt that Chapman will take the role back once he is healthy. Grab Britton this week of you are looking for some saves.
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates
He was just placed on the IL last night without reason. He has not participated in any aspect of summer camp. He was to be the closer; now the Bucs will turn to some combination of Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz and Richard Rodriguez, and maybe Nick Burdi.
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays: moving down, on the mend
Giles rebounded to dominance in 2019 with great ratios (1.87 ERA, a microscopic 1.00 WHIP) and 23 saves. Giles left yesterday’s game with right elbow soreness; word is he will have an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury. Recall he had elbow soreness issues in 2019, and this doesn’t sound good. It should also be noted that his velocity was down almost two miles per hour to start in 2020.
Anthony Bass is his likely backup. As we pointed out last week, Bass had five saves last year when he filled in for the injured Giles. He likely is the Blue Jays first choice should Giles miss significant time.
Bass’s pitch chart below, while looking like my most recent EKG, shows the tightrope walk he gets by with: high-level sinker and slider usage. Does this repertoire profile as a closer for a young team? Time will tell but you a stash Bass if you would like and watch to see what happens.