Closer Report: Koji Uehara, Tommy Kahnle, Sean Doolittle
Quite a few ninth inning changes this week, as the Red Sox saw their closer throw his last pitch of the season, the Rockies named a replacement for the ineffective John Axford, and the Tigers and Cubs bullpens remain in flux. Also, a potentially elite closer is on his way back despite originally not being expected to pitch this season, and some prospects are starting to show promising signs for future seasons.
Closer News Around the League
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox got bad news regarding their closer Koji Uehara. Koji broke his wrist on a comebacker while pitching against the Detroit Tigers last week. While the severity of his injury was not known right away, he was sent back to Boston for tests after the game. Tests showed a non-displaced fracture of his right wrist and he was placed on the disabled list and ruled out for the season. The 40-year-old closer appeared in 43 games for the Red Sox, saving 25 of them and compiling 47 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Koji went through a rough patch earlier in the year, but overall put up a sparkling 2.23 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. There is still no clarity from the Red Sox regarding who will be taking over their ninth inning duties, but the names Junichi Tazawa, Jean Machi, and Ryan Cook have all been mentioned as possible candidates. Another interesting candidate is current starter Joe Kelly, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen this season. Tazawa got the first save opportunity in the post-Koji era, but he blew the save by allowing the Marlins to tie the game. He may get another chance to close next time, or manager John Farrell may go with Jean Machi. Ryan Cook had an extremely rough outing in a non-save situation, so he may have dropped a bit below Tazawa and Machi in the pecking order.
Pretty much as quickly as Tigers manager Brad Ausmus named Alex Wilson his closer, he made in-game moves to prove that he may already be having other ideas. Wilson has excellent numbers this season (1.72 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) but he doesn’t have “closer stuff” since he’s struck out only 33 in 57.2 innings. While it seemed like Wilson was given the ninth-inning job, he dealt with some shoulder soreness which forced him to sit out a few games. Bruce Rondon took over for Wilson, and according to Ausmus, “there’s nothing set in stone at this point” for the ninth. While Wilson has better overall numbers, Rondon is the guy who pitches more like a closer with 26 Ks in 17.2 innings. Once Ausmus makes a decision, the Tigers closer should be owned in all formats. Fantasy players should hope for it to be Rondon, since he’ll help in Ks along with saves. He has two saves in five days and he may be gaining on Wilson quickly.
The Rockies demoted former closer John Axford after a series of poor outings leading to blown saves. Manager Walt Weiss went with a committee for a while, but he finally named a full time closer. Righty Tommy Kahnle will be the Rockies’ ninth-inning man from now on. He’s has good stuff, striking out 37 in 29.1 innings so far this season, but his WHIP is worrying at 1.47. As with anyone that pitches in Colorado, temper the expectations on Kahnle. He’ll get saves, he’ll get Ks, but he may have some blow up innings that negatively affect your team ERA, and he won’t be much of an asset in leagues that count WHIP.
Oakland Athletics closer Sean Doolittle continues on the road back. Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth inning in his first rehab appearance with the High-A Stockton Ports. He needed just nine pitches, and seven of them were strikes. He’ll need several more outings to make sure he has his arm strength back. He and the A’s will want to avoid a repeat of what happened before, when he came off the DL, made one appearance, and then went right back on the shelf. Even once activated, Doolittle may not take over ninth-inning duties right away. He’s a potentially elite closer when healthy though, so fantasy leaguers with an open DL spot should think about stashing him before he comes back later this month.
Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss reportedly considered reliever Scott Oberg for their previously vacant closer role. He ultimately went with Tommy Kahnle. This is interesting because is shows Weiss’ complete ignorance of analytic stats. Scott Oberg has been, per fWAR, the worst pitcher in baseball. He has a -0.9 fWAR for the year. In 41 games (38.2 innings) he has posted a 6.05 ERA. His FIP is 6.75, so as bad as his ERA is, he has actually been worse. He doesn’t get strikeouts, he walks a lot of hitters, and he gives up homeruns at a stunning rate. Despite all of that, he was considered an option for Walt Weiss’ ninth-inning role.
- Roberto Osuna – 4 IP, 4 SV, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP
- Ken Giles – 4 IP, 4 SV, 9 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
- Trevor Rosenthal – 3 IP, 3 SV, 6 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP
- Jeurys Familia – 3 IP, 3 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP
The Blue Jays are on fire, and so is their 20-year-old closer Osuna. This week, he saved four games, striking out three and only allowing two hits. He’s currently owned in only 54% of fantasy leagues but needs to be owned in 100%. He’s the sole closer on a first place team and he strikes out over a batter per inning.
Giles appeared in four games this week and saved all four. He struck out over two batters per inning and allowed five hits and a run in the meantime. Somehow, he’s only owned in 63% of leagues right now. The Phillies may not create too many save chances, but Giles will get his opportunities here and there and will continue to strike out almost twelve batters per nine innings. Check your wire and claim him now.
Rosenthal had a perfect week, spinning three innings in three games and earning a save in each one. He struck out six batters total and did not allow a single batter to reach base. Unlike the previous two top performers, Rosenthal is owned in almost all leagues (97%) so if you have him, appreciate the ride.
Familia had a great week as well, allowing just two base runners on a pair of hits. He came into three games, saving all three. He struck out five in the process and continues to be an excellent source of saves and Ks. He’s mostly owned (89%) so for those of you in the 11% of leagues with Familia as a free agent, change that.
Don’t forget to check out our Closer Depth Chart.