Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 2
Typically when I write this column, a closer who moves up or down three or more spots in the rankings qualifies as a “big mover.” But that was before 2020, the year where nothing happens the way it’s supposed to happen.
We knew there was going to be even more closer chaos than usual in this coronavirus-shortened season, and the first week certainly did not disappoint. No fewer than five apparent Opening Day closers (Ken Giles, Jose Leclerc, Sean Doolittle, Ian Kennedy, and Ryan Pressly) have already lost their jobs for one reason or another, while four more (Edwin Diaz, Brad Hand, Craig Kimbrel, and Hansel Robles) are officially on the brink.
Meanwhile, more teams than ever seem prepared to go with true closer-by-committees, accelerating a trend that we’ve seen over the last couple years. And then there’s Brandon Kintzler and Hector Neris, whose teams haven’t even played in almost a week because of that whole Covid-19 thing I mentioned up top.
In other words, there’s a lot to get to in this week’s Closer Report. So strap on your Ricky Vaughn glasses, cue up my Twitter handle for questions, and start blaring Wild Thing, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
|Team (Closer)||Rank (Δ)||Notes|
|Brewers (Josh Hader)||1 (+1)||Corey Knebel doesn’t currently look like a threat to MLB’s best closer|
|Padres (Kirby Yates)||2 (-1)||Top-3 closer in ’19 is poised for a repeat|
|Astros (Roberto Osuna)||3 (+11)||Kudos if you got a discount here on draft day|
|A’s (Liam Hendriks)||4 (-)||Top breakout closer of last year should maintain success|
|Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)||5 (-)||Proven reliability is a big plus amid current closer madness|
|Twins (Taylor Rogers)||6 (+2)||Missed out on one save chance already, but still the RP to own in Minnesota|
|Phillies (Hector Neris)||7 (+6)||Has barely pitched, but scoots up the rankings by default|
|Braves (Mark Melancon)||8 (+11)||Plenty of job security at the moment, so saves should keep flowing|
|Nationals (Daniel Hudson)||9 (+3)||Proved last year he could step in for Doolittle and deliver for defending champs|
|Reds (Raisel Iglesias)||10 (+1)||Off to a rough start, but concern is mild compared to other closers|
|Yankees (Zack Britton)||11 (+4)||So far, so good, while Aroldis Chapman’s status remains murky|
|White Sox (Alex Colome)||12 (+4)||Strikeout rate won’t wow you, but he could rack up saves on improved White Sox squad|
|Red Sox (Brandon Workman)||13 (+5)||Major regression candidate, but misses enough bats to provide value if he can hold onto the job|
|Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley)||14 (+7)||Hasn’t quite lived up to the hype and wild at times, but can still get the job done|
|Tigers (Joe Jimenez)||15 (+8)||Off to a nice start, could be taking a step forward|
|Blue Jays (Anthony Bass)||16 (-9)||32-year old journeyman with spotty track record, but the job is his|
|Indians (Brad Hand)||17 (-8)||Struggles continue, and James Karinchak could be coming for his job|
|Cubs (Craig Kimbrel)||18 (-12)||Coaching staff seems to be sticking with him…for now|
|Marlins (Brandon Kintzler)||19 (+5)||Could have some sneaky value if the Marlins can get back on the field|
|Cardinals (Kwang-Hyun Kim)||20 (+2)||Was shaky in first appearance, but managed to convert the save|
|Rays (Committee)||21 (-11)||Tampa’s committee is looking even messier than anticipated|
|Angels (Hansel Robles)||22 (-2)||Struggling with velocity and coming off epic meltdown|
|Mets (Edwin Diaz)||23 (-20)||Already on thin ice after awful 2019 campaign|
|Rockies (Wade Davis)||24 (+2)||2-for-2 in saves but hasn’t had to pitch at Coors yet|
|Pirates (Committee)||25 (+2)||Nick Burdi is the favorite for saves, but Pirates won’t overwork him|
|Giants (Committee)||26 (+1)||Trevor Gott could be emerging as Giants’ closer, but it’s too soon to say|
|Rangers (Committee)||27 (-11)||No shortage of closer candidates with LeClerc out|
|Royals (Committee)||28 (-3)||Has the look of a season-long committee situation|
|Mariners (Committee)||29 (-1)||Hard to see any Seattle RP having much fantasy value unless they have the closer job to themselves|
|Orioles (Committee)||30 (-)||The Orioles’ closer job is up for grabs, but fantasy owners may want to take a hard pass|
Roberto Osuna came at a discount in a lot of fantasy drafts this year due to his uncertain status heading into Opening Day. As it turns out, Osuna was ready to rock from Day 1, while his presumed replacement, Ryan Pressly, has been the one missing games due to injury. If you got Osuna and didn’t have to pay a top-5 closer price, give yourself a nice pat on the back.
Mark Melancon’s numbers took a noticeable dip after his dominant four-year run as the Pirates’ closer from 2013-2016, but he’s settled in as a wily veteran who is still more than capable of getting the job done in the ninth inning. Will Smith is getting close to returning from the Covid-19 Injured List, but Smith’s delayed start has allowed Melancon to build up some much-needed job security. He’s two-for-two in save chances so far and should continue to see plenty more while closing for a loaded Braves squad.
Sean Doolittle was widely assumed by many (including me) to be the Nats’ closer heading into the year, but it turns out that Daniel Hudson may have had the job all along. Hudson relieved a faltering Doolittle down the stretch last season, closing out eight games including Game 7 of the World Series. Now, with Doolittle working on his mechanics in an attempt to regain some lost velocity, Hudson looks to again be Washington’s clear choice at the end of games. He’s handled the ninth in the Nationals’ last two victories, earning a win and a save in the process.
New York Yankees
One of the many challenging aspects of navigating the Covid-19 pandemic from a fantasy perspective has been trying to get to the bottom of when players with the virus will return. Teams need to protect the privacy of their players on these medical matters, which helps explain while Yankees GM Brian Cashman was mum on when we can expect to see Aroldis Chapman back in pinstripes. Cashman did say that Chapman is “doing well” and he was cleared to return on Friday, but we don’t know exactly when he will return. Zack Britton has comfortably handled two save chances so far, and he remains a must-start closer for however long Chapman is sidelined.
Chicago White Sox/Boston Red Sox/Arizona Diamondbacks
Alex Colome, Brandon Workman, and Archie Bradley all get a big bump in the closer rankings this week, but it’s mostly due to the struggles of those who were previously ranked above them. None of these three is likely to be an elite stopper anytime soon, but they’ve been fine so far and appear to be solidly locked into the ninth inning for the time being. There’s plenty of value in that given the closer instability happening elsewhere in the league.
With a cool 2.25 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and league-leading four saves, Joe Jimenez is off to a terrific start in Motown. Jimenez has good bat-missing stuff, so perhaps he is ready to take a big step forward in his age-25 season. Just don’t go overboard on the Jimenez hype train just yet. Walks have been a big issue for him in the past, and it’s a little too early to say with great confidence that he’s improved on that front.
I labeled Brad Hand as “a bit of a question mark” heading into 2020, and the questions about Hand’s performance have only grown bigger over the season’s first week. After earning his first save with ease, Hand was shakier his second time out, allowing a run on two hits to the White Sox but holding on for save number two. Then, he completely melted down against Chicago the following night, allowing four runs (three earned) in a third of an inning and taking the loss. His velocity ticked downward, adding to the worry.
Another reason for Hand owners to worry: James Karinchak. Perhaps Indians manager Terry Francona simply wanted to rest Hand after two difficult outings, but whatever the case may be, the flame-throwing Karinchak looked more than capable in recording his first career save on Thursday. With just as much strikeout potential as any pitcher in the game, Karinchak could be a dominant fantasy closer if given the chance. We’ll keep Hand as the closer for now, but that’ll change if he doesn’t get — and convert — the Tribe’s next save opportunity.
Much like Hand and Edwin Diaz (who we’ll get to in a bit), Craig Kimbrel is a formerly elite closer whose performance has seemingly fallen off a cliff. Kimbrel struggled to the tune of a 6.53 ERA last season, and his first outing of 2020 was even more disastrous: four walks, one hit batsman, and two earned runs in just 1/3 of an inning. His velocity was also down, just like last year.
Jeremy Jeffress stepped in for Kimbrel and rescued the Cubs in that game, and he could quickly emerge as Chicago’s new closer if Kimbrel doesn’t turn things around in a hurry. Jeffress had a bad year of his own in 2019, but he was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018.
There’s nothing sexy about owning Brandon Kintzler in fantasy leagues, but he’s off to a solid start and has little competition for saves in Miami. The question is whether the Marlins will be able to finish out the season after more than half of the active roster tested positive for Covid-19. It’s unknown whether Kintzler is among that group.
Tampa Bay Rays
We knew the Rays were going to have a closer committee, but that committee has been even more unpredictable than expected. Both of the team’s saves so far have gone to Oliver Drake, who was not seen as one of the leading contenders coming into the year. But Drake’s most recent outing came in the sixth inning, so it’s anybody’s guess who gets the next chance. Nick Anderson is still the best Rays reliever to roster, thanks to his strikeout ability, while Diego Castillo also has some value, especially in leagues where it’s helpful to slot him into an SP slot.
New York Mets
I was one of many people who were hopeful that Edwin Diaz would rebound this season, but the early results aren’t promising. After posting an ugly 5.59 ERA last season, Diaz has been scored upon in two of his three outings to begin 2020. In his most recent outing, he retired just one of the five batters he faced, walking two and hitting one. Mets manager Luis Rojas didn’t sound overly confident in Diaz following the game, and MLB.com interestingly pegs former closer Jeurys Familia as “the most obvious candidate” to replace Diaz. Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances, and lefty-specialist Justin Wilson are other possibilities to see save chances if Rojas pulls the plug on Diaz.
Toronto Blue Jays
You know there is a lot of closer news happening when it takes this long to get to an injury involving a consensus top-10 fantasy closer. Blue Jays closer Ken Giles has been shut down with a forearm strain, and he won’t throw for at least two weeks. At this point, it’s hard to count on Giles returning at all during this short 60-game season. The Blue Jays are maintaining that Giles will be able to return relatively soon, but skepticism is warranted given the nature of the injury.
Anthony Bass picked up the first save in Giles’ absence and is the clear favorite for saves in Toronto moving forward. Bass has been a serviceable reliever for the last couple of seasons, but he doesn’t possess elite bat-missing skills or control, so he’s not a sure bet to hold onto the job all year. Should Bass falter, Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano are other candidates to pitch the ninth.
As if we didn’t already have enough closer chaos to deal with, we learned on Thursday that Rangers closer Jose Leclerc would be placed on the 45-day Injured List with a Grade 2 strain of the teres major in his right shoulder. LeClerc is unlikely to pitch again this season, and there is currently very little clarity about who will replace him.
The most talked-about name right now is probably Jonathan Hernandez, an exciting young arm with a nasty sinker. But Hernandez has struggled mightily with walks to this point of his career, at both the minor- and Major League levels. Another option is Nick Goody, who earned the save on Wednesday when LeClerc warmed up but couldn’t go. Like Hernandez, Goody posts a lot of strikeouts — and a lot of walks. Veterans Jesse Chavez and Edinson Volquez (remember him?) have also been discussed as possibilities, so it could be a while before we have a good sense of what is going on in Texas.
Los Angeles Angels
This really qualifies as more than a mere random musing, but Hansel Robles wasn’t very high in the rankings to begin with, so he only fell two spots this week. But make no mistake, the Angels’ closer job looks to be slipping through his fingers.
Robles was already a good bet to experience some regression from his excellent 2019 season, and it’s happened in a hurry. He’s already given up seven runs (six earned) through his first 2 2/3 innings, and Angels manager Joe Maddon recently admitted that he’s somewhat concerned about Robles’ diminished velocity. Ty Buttrey is presumably next in line, but he’s also struggled out of the gate, so perhaps Keynan Middleton or even Cam Bedrosian could see save chances at some point down the line.
With Keone Kela still on the Covid-19 IL list and Kyle Crick on the traditional IL, Nick Burdi has emerged as the favorite for saves in Pittsburgh. That said, Pirates manager Derek Shelton has indicated that he will be cautious with Burdi’s workload, given his injury history. So it’s possible that Richard Rodriguez and/or Michael Feliz could also see the occasional save opportunity.
San Francisco Giants
I will always remain skeptical that any team coached by Gabe Kapler will have a set closer, but it is worth at least mentioning that Trevor Gott earned back-to-back saves this week. It’s not enough for me to stop calling this a committee, but Gott does look to be ahead of Tony Watson in the pecking order, and he isn’t the worst pick up if you’re really desperate for saves.
Kansas City Royals
Royals manager Mike Matheny has quickly delivered on his promise to move away from a traditional bullpen structure with a designated closer, relegating last year’s closer Ian Kennedy to middle relief while handing out save chances to Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal. Why he would do that rather than try to build up Kennedy’s trade value is beyond me, but the main problem for fantasy owners is that the Royals probably won’t generate enough save chances to justify rostering multiple Kansas City relievers, especially if they aren’t helping in the ratio categories.
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