Closer Report: Brad Ziegler, Carson Smith, Rafael Soriano
For an overview of every team’s closer situation, check out our Fantasy Baseball Closer Depth Charts.
The Chicago Cubs’ closer situation was already a mess, with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Jason Motte all working in ninth-inning roles and earning saves over the past few games. Rondon has earned the most saves so far, with eleven. He has a 2.84 ERA and has notched 22 strikeouts in 25.1 innings. He has blown three saves already, though, and manager Joe Maddon pulled Rodon from a save situation after he faced only one batter, allowing a walk to the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon. Maddon went to Strop, who closed out the game and earned the save. Asked later to define the roles in his bullpen, Maddon responded, “How’s like, ‘Be ready to pitch in the last three innings’?” implying that his “last three innings” guys will be Rondon, Motte, and Strop. And thus, another closer-by-committee was born. With any other manager, Rondon would still be the favorite for the most saves going forward simply because of his experience, but with Maddon, it could be any of the three. Fantasy owners of Rondon shouldn’t cut bait yet, but if there’s roster room available, Strop would be a smart add. Making things even harder to predict and throwing yet another wrench into the gears of the Cubs’ ninth inning role, Rafael Soriano was signed to a Minor League deal. While he will need several outings at lower levels before he is ready to pitch for the Cubs, it is safe to assume that he will pitch late in games once he gains his footing. It is impossible to say at this point whether Soriano will be given save opportunities as part of the committee, or if he will even be given a chance to win the role all for himself. Of course, if he wins the role outright, he becomes an immediate must-add, but as part of the committee, he may ultimately end up with fringe value at best. Keep an eye on Soriano’s progress and see how he is used once he is added to the active roster. If at all possible, the Cubs closer situation is one to ideally stay away from.
Closer News Around the League
Fernando Rodney has a 6.75 ERA. Six-seventy-five. He has allowed 19 runs on 31 hits and 13 walks in 25.1 innings. Despite this, he has earned 14 saves and only blown three. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon had given his 38-year old closer several votes of confidence throughout the season, but finally caved a bit this week and handed the ball to Carson Smith in the ninth inning. McClendon said he expects Rodney to pitch the eighth and “sometimes, the ninth” inning once he has his mechanics tuned up. The fact that he said he would only “sometimes” pitch the ninth inning, even once his mechanics have been fixed, means that Smith becomes an absolute must-add in all formats of fantasy. Smith is having a fantastic season, putting up a 1.38 ERA/2.80 FIP and 10.04 K/9. He has great control, allowing only 1.73 BB/9. Assuming he can handle the ninth inning, Smith should run away with the job and won’t give Rodney a chance to bring his quiver back out. He is only 25 and has put up excellent results throughout his brief Major League career. We may be seeing the beginning of an elite closer in Seattle.
Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale removed closer Addison Reed from his ninth-inning role on May 15th, saying that Reed would work earlier in the game in order to get his mechanics straightened out. At the time, he had a 7.20 ERA and had blown two of his four save chances. Hale said he would mix and match in the ninth inning from then on, creating the dreaded closer-by-committee. But as expected, righty Brad Ziegler ended up getting the ball in most close ninth inning leads since then. Reed has slowly been working his way into more and more critical situations, and since his demotion has allowed four runs in 12.1 innings with ten strikeouts and six walks. Ziegler, as the temporary closer, has earned six saves and blew one, allowing four runs in 11.2 innings with eight strikeouts and only three walks. Hale has repeatedly said he will work Reed back into the closer’s role, but with Ziegler performing well in the ninth and Reed performing well in the eighth, the Diamondback’s situation is anything but clear. Ziegler is likely the better pitcher overall, but his platoon splits make him a better match up pitcher than a committed ninth inning closer. Reed, on the other hand, does not have extreme platoon splits either way and therefore would likely make a better closer despite possibly not being a better pitcher overall. This is a situation to keep an eye on. Ziegler needs to be owned in all formats for now, but Reed can be tentatively added in deeper leagues while he waits for his manager to give him his job back.
Luke Gregerson has been the Astros’ closer all season and has gone 15-for-17 in save chances. His 4.50 ERA, however, isn’t quite as pretty. The Astros have some excellent relievers in their bullpen, with righty Pat Neshek sporting a 2.82 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. He has a 20/2 K/BB ratio. His first walk of the season came in his 25th game, and he has overall been keeping hitters off base. He’d be a great candidate to close if Gregerson slips up, but there is no indication that Astros manager A.J. Hinch is considering a change at this time. Will Harris would also be an interesting candidate to close. He is in the midst of the best season of his career by far, with a 0.94 ERA to go with a 0.52 WHIP and a 33/7 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings. Owners of Gregerson don’t need to worry yet, but should definitely keep an eye on his progress and keep up on any closer mentions by Hinch.
Tampa Bay Rays
All of a sudden, Kevin Jepsen has four saves. Rays closer Brad Boxberger has been struggling lately and has seen his velocity dip. The team reports that he has been experiencing tightness in his triceps, but the injury is not believed to be serious and he should avoid a DL stint. Still, he didn’t pitch from June 3rd until June 10th. He has 15 saves and a 2.78 ERA, and should earn his job back once fully healthy. Jepsen may earn a few more saves here and there, as manager Kevin Cash will likely avoid using Boxberger too many days in a row at first. Interesting about this situation is the fact that Jake McGee was skipped over in save situations for Jepsen until Wednesday’s game, in which he earned his first save. McGee has been great this season despite his 3.00 ERA. All three earned runs he has allowed this season came in a 0.1 inning outing on May 26th. Aside from that outing, he has allowed 0 runs and 3 hits with 14 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. If the Rays truly go with a committee situation at closer, McGee and Boxberger are the best bets to earn saves as the season continues. Jepsen is likely the third best reliever on the team and would be better served in the earlier innings. The Rays situation is yet another one to keep an eye on. Boxberger owners should sit tight for now, but McGee wouldn’t be a bad add for owners with roster room.
New York Yankees closer Andrew Miller was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday with a strained left (throwing) forearm. Elite set up man Dellin Betances automatically jumps into the closer role and automatically enters into the elite tier. He is probably owned in a lot of leagues due to his strikeout prowess, but have a look on your wire just in case. If he’s available add him immediately. Miller won’t throw for 10-14 days and will check his progress then. Betances should hold down the ninth inning role for a while.
As mentioned above, Rays closer Brad Boxberger is dealing with tightness in his triceps. The injury is not serious, and Boxberger has made appearances the last two days.
Oakland Athletics closer Sean Doolittle isn’t expected back any time soon after his brief return from the disabled list, appearing in one game. This time, the A’s will take their time with Doolittle, leaving Tyler Clippard as their closer for the time being, most likely an extended period.
The Yankees newly anointed closer Dellin Betances recorded his 200th career strikeout this week. He had pitched 129 innings as a Major League player. That gave him a ridiculous career 13.95 K/9. With closer Andrew Miller also posting “video game numbers,” Betances remained locked into the 8th inning role until Miller went on the DL on Wednesday . Even serving exclusively as a setup man, Betances had mixed league value because of his strikeout potential and as a handcuff to Miller. Now that Miller is hurt, Betances will step in as a top-tier closer immediately.
Top Performers 6/4/15-6/11/15
- Francisco Rodriguez – 4 IP, 4 SV, 2 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP
- David Robertson – 5 IP, 3 SV, 6 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.40 WHIP
- Trevor Rosenthal – 3 IP, 3 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP
- Craig Kimbrel – 3 IP, 3 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP
Rodriguez was the only reliever to earn four saves in the past week. He didn’t allow a run and struck out two. K-Rod has been the subject of trade rumors for a while and should be out of Milwaukee by the trade deadline, if not sooner. If he moves to a contending team and works as their closer, his value should increase, as he will likely receive more save chances. If he moves to be a set up man, however, his value will obviously decrease significantly, but he still may be worth hanging onto depending on his new team.
Robertson had a fantastic week as well, striking out six in his five innings and allowing no runs while collecting three saves. Robertson is locked in as the White Sox closer without much competition coming from his bullpen mates. He’s striking out an amazing 12.83 per nine and only allowing 1.01 walks in that span. He’s as safe a bet as anyone to keep his ninth inning job all season.
Rosenthal had another incredible week, not allowing a single batter to reach base while striking out five and picking up three saves in his three innings. His strikeout rate is down a bit from his career average, but he has already collected 20 saves and is maintaining an incredible 0.62 ERA.
Finally, Kimbrel makes his first appearance in my top performers list. If he were anyone else, all we would be talking about is his elite strikeout rate and his manageable walk rate, but because he’s Kimbrel, there’s plenty of talk about his “down year” and questions about whether he will get “it” back. Well, it seems like he’s back. Kimbrel struck out five in three innings this week, saving three games for the Padres. For the season, he has 15 saves and a 13.30 K/9, which is right in line with his numbers from recent seasons. Really, the only thing standing out is his 3.91 ERA. For a guy with a career 1.62 mark, that’s a definite sore thumb. However, he’s allowing the highest BABIP of his career by far and the Padres defense certainly isn’t doing him any favors. Kimbrel will be fine and will end the season as one of fantasy’s best closers, as usual.
Spec Picks for the Upcoming Schedule
Aroldis Chapman vs. Chicago Cubs (Friday, June 12-Sunday, June 14) – Reds and Cubs games are always hard fought by both sides, but with the Cubs not having a defined closer going into the series, Chapman gets the nod here. Chapman is an elite arm providing elite strikeouts like always, but he’s walking hitters a bit more than he has before. Still, he has 11 saves and only 1 blown opportunity on a struggling Reds team. He is a good bet for a handful of strikeouts this weekend and a save or two if the Reds can put together some good offense in Wrigley.
Kenley Jansen vs. San Diego Padres and Craig Kimbrel vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Friday, June 12-Sunday, June 14) – Another series that will likely feature three closely contested games, these two teams also happen to have elite closers anchoring their bullpens. While Jansen has been injured and Kimbrel is in the midst of a down year (by his standards, at least) both are still great sources of strikeouts and saves. It would be surprising to see any blowouts in this series, so the potential for saves should exist in all three games.
We welcome any comments and suggestions you have to make the report as useful as possible for your fantasy team’s needs.