Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 3
Sometimes being a save chaser feels like the sports equivalent of being a storm chaser. They’re often totally unpredictable, and in order to be good at tracking them, you have to embrace the chaos.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the perfect storm that is the Houston Astros’ closer situation. Heading into the season, Roberto Osuna was a major question mark due to unclear fitness/conditioning concerns, while Ryan Pressly was considered a high-upside set-up man in the wings. Then Osuna miraculously returned by Opening Day, and Pressly turned out to be the one dealing with an actual injury. Then we learned that Osuna needs season-ending Tommy John surgery, once again opening up the door for Pressly to be a difference-making fantasy closer. But Pressly’s first opportunity to take over the job went very poorly, and now it wouldn’t be shocking if the next save chance went to Josh James, who was just demoted from the starting rotation.
Overall, the last week may not have been quite as crazy as the previous one, but we still saw Osuna, Wade Davis, and Nick Burdi get hurt. Also, job security questions continue to swirl around Kirby Yates, Brad Hand, Edwin Diaz, and Craig Kimbrel; uncertainty persists about when Aroldis Chapman will return, and Kwang-Hyun Kim lost his closer gig because he got promoted to the starting rotation. Just another week in 2020, I guess.
As always, I am available to answer all your closer quandaries on Twitter @andrew_seifter. Now here’s this week’s closer rankings.
|Team (Closer)||Rank (Δ)||Notes|
|Brewers (Josh Hader)||1 (-)||Corey Knebel doesn’t currently look like a threat to MLB’s best closer|
|A’s (Liam Hendriks)||2 (+2)||Top breakout closer of last year continues to look quite good|
|Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)||3 (+2)||Proven reliability is a big plus amid current closer madness|
|Twins (Taylor Rogers)||4 (+2)||Missed out on some save chances already, but still the RP to own in Minnesota|
|Phillies (Hector Neris)||5 (+2)||Has barely pitched, but keeps moving up by default|
|Braves (Mark Melancon)||6 (+2)||Plenty of job security at the moment, so the saves should keep flowing|
|Nationals (Daniel Hudson)||7 (+2)||Proved last year he could step in for Doolittle and deliver for defending champs|
|Reds (Raisel Iglesias)||8 (+2)||Two straight clean appearances after a rough start|
|Padres (Kirby Yates)||9 (-7)||Gave up 8 ER in 60 2/3 IP last year; 5 ER in 3 1/3 IP so far this year|
|White Sox (Alex Colome)||10 (+2)||Strikeout rate won’t wow you, but he could rack up saves on improved White Sox squad|
|Indians (Brad Hand)||11 (+6)||Velocity is worrisome, but still the closer in Cleveland|
|Red Sox (Brandon Workman)||12 (+1)||Major regression candidate, but misses enough bats to provide value if he can hold onto the job|
|Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley)||13 (+1)||Hasn’t quite lived up to the hype and wild at times, but can still get the job done|
|Tigers (Joe Jimenez)||14 (+1)||Off to a nice start, could be taking a step forward|
|Blue Jays (Anthony Bass)||15 (+1)||32-year old journeyman with a spotty track record, but the job is his|
|Marlins (Brandon Kintzler)||16 (+4)||The Marlins are back and are winning ballgames|
|Rockies (Jairo Diaz)||17 (+7)||Has successfully stepped in for Wade Davis (IL) so far|
|Yankees (Zack Britton)||18 (-7)||He’s been excellent, but Aroldis Chapman should return soon|
|Cubs (Committee)||19 (-1)||Rowan Wick is the current favorite to replace Craig Kimbrel, but Jeremy Jeffress is another possibility|
|Astros (Committee)||20 (-17)||With Osuna (and others) injured, Pressly, Josh James, and Andre Scrubb are the top options in an inexperienced bullpen|
|Angels (Committee)||21 (+1)||Halos are replacing Hansel Robles with a committee led by Ty Buttrey|
|Mets (Committee)||22 (+1)||Edwin Diaz is pitching better of late, but Seth Lugo has most recent save|
|Cardinals (Committee)||23 (-3)||Kwang-Hyun Kim is joining the starting rotation and Cards are going with a closer committee|
|Rays (Committee)||24 (-3)||Tampa’s committee is looking even messier than anticipated|
|Pirates (Committee)||25 (-)||Nick Burdi is out for the season, but Keone Kela could reclaim this job soon|
|Giants (Committee)||26 (-)||Trevor Gott is the best bet for SF saves, but Gabe Kapler may not settle on one guy|
|Orioles (Cole Sulser)||27 (+3)||Has all three saves that the Orioles have generated thus far|
|Rangers (Committee)||28 (-1)||No shortage of closer candidates with LeClerc out|
|Royals (Committee)||29 (-1)||Has the look of a season-long committee situation|
|Mariners (Committee)||30 (-1)||Lots of uncertainty here, but keep an eye on Carl Edwards Jr.|
San Diego Padres
Kirby Yates played so well last year that he began 2020 atop my closer rankings, thanks to his edge in job security over Milwaukee’s Josh Hader. Unfortunately, Yates has burned through all that job security in a hurry, allowing five earned runs over his last 2 1/3 innings. Yates pinned his struggles on mechanics and then struck out the side while surrendering a solo homer to Cody Bellinger in his last appearance. I’d still bet on Yates to get things together, but he can’t afford any more slip-ups. Emilio Pagan is also pitching poorly to begin the year, so if the Padres did make a change, it would likely be to Drew Pomeranz.
So far, the Indians have stuck with Brad Hand despite his early-season struggles, and he’s responded with back-to-back successful save conversions. His diminished velocity is still a concern, but he should at least have a bit more leash at the moment. If Hand does force Cleveland to make a change, James Karinchak could take over. Karinchak has Josh Hader-like upside in fantasy leagues and should be owned in most formats regardless of how Hand is doing.
The Marlins are 4-0 since returning from their COVID-19-induced hiatus, and Brandon Kintzler has closed out two of those victories. Miami was not expected to be a good team this year, but it’s 2020, so all bets are off. Kintzler doesn’t miss many bats, but he’s posted a very respectable 3.35 ERA over nearly 430 Big League innings, and he picked up 45 saves for the Twins from 2016-2017. With little competition in the ninth inning, Kintzler can absolutely be a mid-tier fantasy closer this year.
Wade Davis was never a great bet to make it through 60 games as the Rockies’ closer, but his tenure has ended even more abruptly than expected due to a right shoulder strain that sent him to the IL. Scott Oberg, who was the handcuff of choice for fantasy owners coming into the year, is also out of the picture after suffering blood clots in his right arm. That leaves the closer job to Jairo Diaz, who has successfully converted his first three opportunities. The 29-year old Diaz had the look of a career minor leaguer before posting a 4.53 ERA and five saves with the Rockies last year. Perhaps he’s just a late bloomer.
New York Yankees
News broke last Friday that Aroldis Chapman was cleared to return, but it hasn’t happened yet, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone says that we shouldn’t expect to see Chapman “anytime soon.” That could just be coach-speak to keep the media off his (and Chapman’s) back, but it does look like we’ll get at least one more week of Zack Britton closing out games in the Bronx. With five saves and a 0.00 ERA, Britton has certainly been up to the task, but it’s very hard to imagine him stealing the closer job from a pitcher as accomplished as Chapman.
I summarized the Astros’ messy situation up top, but I’ll take a moment here to dive into what we can expect going forward. With Osuna, Chris Devenski, and Brad Peacock all on the shelf, Pressly is the most experienced reliever left standing in Houston. Unfortunately, Pressly blew his first opportunity in ugly fashion, as he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk without retiring a batter against Arizona on Thursday. Dusty Baker had Pressly’s back in his post-game comments, but it remains to be seen if he goes back to Pressly the next time a save chance arrives.
Andre Scrubb picked up a save back on July 31, and lefty Blake Taylor has been Houston’s best reliever in the early going. But the team’s best solution in the ninth inning may well be flame-throwing right-hander Josh James, who walked 11 batters in six innings in two abbreviated starts this season but was excellent as a reliever down the stretch last year. As the Houston Chronicle noted prior to Pressly’s blown save, “James figures to pair with Ryan Pressly to handle the Astros’ most high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.” James has elite bat-missing stuff, so if he can cut down on the walks and start collecting saves, he has high-end upside in fantasy leagues.
St. Louis Cardinals
Sometimes a good move for your career isn’t a great one for your fantasy value. That looks to be the case with Kwang-Hyun Kim, who will now get a chance to join the Cardinals’ starting rotation after Carlos Martinez landed on the Injured List (likely due to the team’s COVID-19 outbreak). In Kim’s place, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt suggested that he will use the dreaded closer-by-committee. When reading the tea leaves, the first name Shildt mentioned was Ryan Helsley, who is probably the slight favorite for save chances at the moment. Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller are other logical names to see ninth-inning opportunities, and Shildt also mentioned Tyler Webb as a possibility. A darkhorse candidate is Alex Reyes, whose once-promising career has been severely sidetracked since his breakthrough 2016 season.
Maybe the Orioles don’t have a closer committee after all. The team has generated three saves so far, and all three have been collected by Cole Sulser. There isn’t a ton of reason to believe that the O’s will create many save chances or that Sulser will be successful in the job, but he did post impressive strikeout totals in the minors, and saves are saves. If available, he’s certainly worth a pickup if you need saves.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen says that he’s still not 100 percent recovered from his bout with the coronavirus, but it would be hard to tell from looking at his stats so far (1.50 ERA, 4 saves). Jansen may not be quite as dominant as he was earlier in his career, but with so many other closers hurt or struggling, he’s vaulted all the way up to the number three spot in this week’s rankings.
Craig Kimbrel has yet to have a clean appearance in 2020, and it looks like he’s run out of chances to hold onto the Cubs’ closer job. Kimbrel was pulled from a save opportunity on Tuesday and then pitched in mop-up duty in a lop-sided loss on Thursday. With the Cubs off to a terrific start despite Kimbrel’s struggles, Rowan Wick has earned two saves, and Jeremy Jeffress has picked up one. Based on manager David Ross’s most recent comments, it sounds like both Wick and Jeffress could continue to see save chances for the time being. Both are well worth owning in most fantasy leagues.
Los Angeles Angels
Hansel Robles was one of the closers I expected to see regress this season, and his early-season struggles have already cost him the closer job. Angels manager Joe Maddon has said that the team will go with a closer-by-committee approach, and the head of the committee appears to be Ty Buttrey, who had been pitching the eighth inning. Buttrey gave up the tying run in his second inning of work on August 2, but Maddon went right back to him on August 4 and he successfully converted the save. Buttrey has good stuff and had an impressive 10.45 K.9 rate last year. The Angels have other interesting options in their bullpen, including Keynan Middleton and Felix Pena, but if anyone is going to run away with this job in the short term, it’s probably Buttrey.
New York Mets
After his first season in New York turned into a total nightmare, it wasn’t promising to see Edwin Diaz scored upon in two of his first three outings in 2020. Diaz has since settled down to throw two clean innings in non-save situations, but it’s unclear whether he is still the Mets’ closer. With Diaz having worked two of the last three days, Mets manager Luis Rojas turned to Seth Lugo to close out the game on Wednesday. Rojas had previously been non-committal about Diaz’s status as closer, so it remains to be seen whether two uneventful low-leverage outings are enough to earn him the next save opportunity over Lugo.
Sadly, Nick Burdi’s feel-good story didn’t last long — he’s now out for the season with yet another elbow injury. With Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz also sidelined, Richard Rodriguez is probably the current favorite for saves in Pittsburgh. But it isn’t worth chasing Rodriguez in fantasy leagues given the news that Keone Kela is on the verge of returning from a bout with Covid-19. The Pirates had already made it clear that Kela would regain his closer job as soon as he’s back from the Injured List, and that move is even more obvious now. As we’ve seen with Aroldis Chapman, it can be tough to figure out when players with the coronavirus will actually make it back, but it doesn’t sound like it will be too much longer in Kela’s case.
San Francisco Giants
Trevor Gott has all three of the Giants’ saves to begin the 2020 season, but manager Gabe Kapler has unsurprisingly said that he won’t anoint Gott as his closer. Kapler wants to keep his options open with how he uses his bullpen, which means that we could see Gott used in high-leverage situations earlier in the game if that’s what Kapler feels he needs to do to pull out a victory. It’s hard to argue with that strategy when your job is to win games, but it’s sure to leave fantasy managers frustrated. Still, Gott is worth owning as the most common source for saves in San Francisco.
The Mariners are another team that has shown little interest in choosing a full-time closer, but it was interesting to see Carl Edwards Jr. pick up a save on Wednesday. It wasn’t too long ago that Edwards Jr. was a high-end bullpen arm for the Cubs, and even if he never becomes Seattle’s full-time closer, he can help out with strikeouts and ratios if he’s able to regain his past form.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.