Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 4 (2021)
April is overreaction season in fantasy baseball, but when it comes to the saves chase, overreacting is actually justified. We have to overreact to every late-inning appearance and every managerial press conference if we want to beat our opponents to the next breakout closer. It doesn’t matter if a guy objectively deserves the role; if he’s on the cusp of getting it, we (usually) want him on our rosters.
All that said, early-season relief pitcher performances can be every bit as fluky as those at any other position. Even more so, really, because the sample of innings we’re dealing with is woefully small. Three weeks into the season, the five most valuable relievers in standard 5×5 formats are Mark Melancon, Yimi Garcia, Matt Barnes, Richard Rodriguez, and Cesar Valdez. If you saw that coming, I’d also like to know your thoughts on GameStop and Dogecoin.
The top tier of closers remains relatively stable again this week, but the big story of the saves chase so far has been the emergence of unsung closers like the quintet mentioned above. Now we wait to see whether these and other mid-tier closers can further solidify their roles and whether similar options emerge from the 10 or so teams that remain mired in committees. This ride is just getting started.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Coming into the 2021 season, many fantasy managers (and even the Dodgers themselves) feared that Kenley Jansen could be approaching the end of his run as a top-end closer. There’s no doubt that Jansen’s numbers have tailed off a bit over the last several seasons, but he’s still managed to be a more-than-serviceable fantasy closer. Now, his velocity is back up to around where it was in his heyday, and his ratios have followed suit. It will be worth watching whether Jansen is able to keep this level of performance up all season, but he’s certainly back to being a top-tier closer for now.
San Francisco Giants
After a fantastic start to the season, Jake McGee allowed six baserunners and gave up three earned runs over a two-inning stretch this week. We should probably give him a bit of a pass, though, seeing as the two bumpy outings came on either end of a short stint on the Covid list for vaccine side effects. Thankfully, he bounced back on Thursday by striking out the side and picking up his league-leading seventh save. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much whether the rough outings were a result of McGee feeling less than 100 percent. He’s got a firm grip on the closer’s role in San Francisco and should be able to have plenty of success going forward.
With a 4.50 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, Braves closer Will Smith’s numbers don’t look that great so far, but we can chalk it up to some batted ball misfortune in the early going. He’ll want to cut down on the walks, but Smith also has 13 strikeouts through eight innings, so his stuff is just fine.
The Indians may not have had a set closer to begin the season, but they certainly seem to have one now. According to Cleveland.com, Emmanuel Clase “would appear to be the Indians closer in everything but name.” Clase has collected four of the Tribe’s last five saves, and he was likely unavailable for the fifth one, which went to James Karinchak. With a 100 mph heater and 90 mph slider, Clase’s stuff is outstanding, so the more distance he puts between himself and his competition (Karinchak and Nick Wittgren), the more he will rise in the closer rankings.
The Anthony Bass experiment did not go according to plan in Miami, but thankfully Don Mattingly had an excellent fallback option in Yimi Garcia. After a so-so tenure with the Dodgers, Garcia showed lots of promise for the Marlins last year and has picked up right where he left off. All told, Garcia has a 0.71 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9 rate in 25 1/3 innings since joining the Fish. With those kinds of numbers, he could experience a healthy amount of regression and still be a very effective closer.
Tampa Bay Rays
Last week in this space, I wrote that while Diego Castillo is clearly the Rays’ best healthy reliever, it wouldn’t be surprising if manager Kevin Cash stuck with a committee approach and someone like Cody Reed, Ryan Thompson, or Andrew Kittredge got a save opportunity from time to time. Well, it turns out that Jeffrey Springs and Trevor Richards were the Rays relievers who pilfered saves from Castillo this week. That’s just the way things are going to be in Tampa, but Castillo is still the best Rays reliever to roster. He should have a decent amount of fantasy value even if he never gets the closer job to himself.
Yes, you read that correctly. Cesar Valdez, a 36-year old journeyman with an 85 mph fastball, currently has an 0.96 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and four saves while striking out more than a batter per inning for the O’s. It’s awfully hard to believe it will keep up, but maybe we are witnessing the second coming of Brad Ziegler, the soft-tossing submariner who was 35 when he completed his first (and only) 30 save season. Valdez even has a sidearm delivery that is vaguely reminiscent of Ziegler. Let’s just enjoy this great story for however long it lasts.
Richard Rodriguez picked up his third save on Thursday and seeing as that’s exactly how many saves the Pirates have as a team, I’ll go ahead and designate him as the team’s closer. The 31-year old right-hander can struggle with the long ball at times, but he quietly struck out 34 batters in just 23 1/3 innings last year. Don’t expect Pittsburgh to generate a ton of save chances, but as long as Rodriguez continues to get the vast majority of them, he’s got the stuff to be a solid fantasy closer.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for 2020 NL Comeback Player of the Year Daniel Bard to remain successful in the unforgiving environment of Coors Field, and sure enough, he’s been hit around a bit of late. Bard has surrendered four earned runs on nine hits over his last four innings, and if you roster him, it’s probably time to accept that he isn’t going to give you the prettiest ratios. The good news is that Bard has little in the way of competition, other than perhaps Mychal Givens, who had his own problems when asked to close games for Baltimore in 2019.
Stefan Crichton appears to be Arizona’s closer of choice at the moment after picking up the team’s last two saves. His most recent outing, however, did not go very smoothly. Like most of the pitchers that day, Crichton got hit around in the Diamondbacks’ wild 14-11 victory over the Reds on Thursday. He also got hit in the hand by a line drive, but thankfully x-rays on the injured hand were negative, so he shouldn’t miss too much time.
One player to keep an eye on in the meantime is 24-year old right-hander J.B. Bukauskas. He looked filthy this spring and could eventually work his way into the late innings.
Toronto Blue Jays
With Julian Merryweather and Jordan Romano sidelined, it was logical to assume that Rafael Dolis would be next up in the ninth for the Blue Jays. But you know what happens when you assume. On Wednesday, Dolis gave up a run while pitching the eighth inning of a 4-2 game, while Tim Mayza and Anthony Castro combined to finish off the Red Sox in the ninth.
Dolis still seems more likely to get the next save chance than Mayza or Castro, but it may be a moot point. While Merryweather is still at least a couple weeks away from returning, Romano should be back in the Blue Jays’ bullpen by this weekend.
Mariners manager Scott Servais told us this spring that “[t]here will be no closer,” so we can’t be surprised that Rafael Montero, Kendall Graveman, and Keynan Middleton have all had turns closing out games this month. Montero remains Servais’ most frequent choice to pitch the ninth inning, even after blowing several opportunities. Servais went back to him to close out the Dodgers on Monday, and then Montero pitched the ninth inning of a tie game on Thursday while Graveman handled the eighth. It’s fair to say that Montero is currently the one with the most fantasy value, but Graveman and to a lesser extent, Middleton are both worthy of rostering in leagues where saves are scarce.
Lou Trivino picked up Oakland’s first two saves of the season, but Jake Diekman got on the board with his first save on Tuesday. A’s manager Bob Melvin previously indicated that he was going to play matchups, and that’s exactly what has transpired. We can probably expect a roughly 2-to-1 save distribution in Trivino’s favor going forward. In this particular instance, Melvin said he thought Trivino was better suited to enter in the middle of an inning and get the A’s out of a jam, whereas he wanted Diekman to “start his own inning.”
The Twins have been using Alex Colomé like a traditional closer in the early going, but his struggles may be just the excuse manager Rocco Baldelli needs to go back to his committee ways. Colomé has given up 11 runs in eight innings this season, although just five of those runs have been earned. Still, he’s allowed 10 baserunners in his last four outings and taken two losses in the process. Should that continue, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Colomé get a break from late-inning duty while Taylor Rogers and/or Hansel Robles gets a turn closing games.
Amir Garrett drew rave reviews this spring for having the “personality” of a closer, but that can only get you so far. You also need results. Unfortunately for Garrett and those rostering him in fantasy leagues, he’s struggled out of the gate to the tune of a 16.20 ERA and 3.20 WHIP. Lucas Sims and Sean Doolittle are both plausible alternatives to Garrett in save situations, but they both got hit around in their most recent appearances. There are a lot of different directions this could go, and we should expect a committee in the short-term, but perhaps intriguing right-hander Tejay Antone gets a shot at some point. He’s been the Reds’ best reliever so far.
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