Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 5 (2021)
As we approach the end of April, closer situations across the MLB seem to be stabilizing more than expected. Famous last words, right? But seriously — this week, 24 of the 30 teams have one guy who I feel comfortable labeling as the team’s main closer, and several of the remaining committee situations appear to be relatively straightforward and appealing for fantasy purposes.
That is a far cry from how the closer landscape shaped up at the beginning of the month — half of the teams in baseball had no clear-cut closer! Let’s enjoy this while it lasts, because if past is prologue, we are due for some closer chaos shortly. I probably cursed it just by talking about it anyway!
As always, if you want to pick my brain about closer conundrums, I am more than happy to field your questions on Twitter @andrew_seifter. Here are your Week 5 closer rankings:
Boston Red Sox
Matt Barnes has always been a consistent source of strikeouts, but he has rarely been a good source of saves or helpful ratios. That has changed in a big way this season, and it’s because he isn’t walking anybody anymore. The Red Sox closer has issued just three free passes through 14 innings after posting a BB/9 of 4.5 or greater in each of the last three seasons. Barnes is also piling up swinging strikes (20.4 percent) and strikeouts (16.07 K/9) at a career-best clip, but it’s that lack of walks that has vaulted him into the upper echelon of fantasy relievers. Barnes was no lock to close when the season began, but he’s put a mile of distance between himself and set-up man Adam Ottavino.
St. Louis Cardinals
It feels somewhat unfair to drop Alex Reyes three spots when he’s yet to allow a single run, but the fact he’s walked 10 batters in his 12 1/3 innings is an obvious red flag. You don’t need to see his 5.22 expected ERA or 4.94 xFIP to recognize that pitchers who issue that many free passes eventually run into trouble. Reyes absolutely has the talent to succeed in the ninth if he can get his control under, erm, control, but if he doesn’t, he may not hold this job for very long. He did throw two innings without allowing a baserunner on Thursday, so I’m hopeful that he can build off that performance. Jordan Hicks and Andrew Miller have struggled a bit out of the gate, so Giovanny Gallegos would appear to be next in line for those concerned about Reyes.
I wouldn’t normally get too excited about Pittsburgh’s closer, but Richard Rodriguez has been just about as good as a closer can be so far. The 31-year old right-hander has not only held his opponents off the scoreboard; he has allowed a grand total of two baserunners through his first 10 1/3 innings of 2021. He still doesn’t quite crack the top half of the closer rankings because he’s struck out less than a batter per inning, is due for quite a bit of regression, and isn’t likely to see a ton of save chances in Pittsburgh. But at a certain point, results are results, and Rodriguez has earned the respect of fantasy managers this month.
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny is one of many modern-day managers who does not believe in having a designated closer, and we’ve seen that play out with five different Royals relievers earning saves in the season’s first month. But something certainly seems to have changed recently. Fireballing 27-year old right-hander Josh Staumont has collected each of the team’s last three saves after not garnering a single save opportunity over the first three weeks.
Staumont has quintessential closer “stuff,” but it’s taken him a long time to put it all together. Even now, the strikeouts aren’t really there, and walks remain a concern. He absolutely merits a pickup in any leagues where he is still available, but just be aware that there are many different ways this could go.
While Mariners manager Scott Servais maintained the team would have no closer, Rafael Montero was widely considered the frontrunner for the job heading into the season. With a 4.09 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, Montero hasn’t been awful, but he has only converted three of his seven save chances and was hit around in his most recent appearance. That could be enough to persuade Servais to hand primary closing duties over to Kendall Graveman, who picked up his third save on Thursday. Graveman has yet to give up a run and has a pretty 12-to-2 K/BB ratio across 10 2/3 innings. He’s worth an add in all leagues where saves are needed.
The Diamondbacks simply don’t have a great option to close games, but Stefan Crichton seems to have filled the void by converting each of the team’s last three save opportunities. Crichton currently sports an ugly 5.00 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9, but he has been a serviceable reliever for the Diamondbacks over the last couple of seasons. Should Crichton run into trouble, Chris Devenski, Kevin Ginkel, and J.B. Bukauskas are other relievers who could see opportunities at the end of games. In other words, it ain’t pretty in the desert.
Los Angeles Angels
The Halos’ prize offseason acquisition, Raisel Iglesias, currently sports an unappealing 6.00 ERA. However, as is often the case with small sample sizes, the peripherals tell a different story. Iglesias has 13 strikeouts and just one walk through nine innings, but he’s been victimized by a .381 BABIP, 25.0 percent HR/FB rate, and 43.5 percent left on base percentage. Once those numbers normalize — and they will — we can expect his ERA to settle in much closer to his 2.82 expected ERA and 2.42 xFIP.
Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Cash doesn’t typically employ a set closer, but injuries to Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks seem to have forced his hand. The last proven late-inning reliever left standing, Diego Castillo, has clearly emerged as Cash’s main option to close out games. Castillo’s six saves are five more than any other Rays reliever has this season, and his eight save opportunities are six more than have gone to anybody else. However, Castillo doesn’t move up the rankings this week because he’s been scored upon in three of his last four outings, and a return to a committee is always possible here. In fact, Fairbanks reportedly could return next week, so Castillo’s stint as the de facto closer could be a short one.
The Twins gave free-agent acquisition Alex Colome a try in the closer role, but it did not go well, and now the veteran has been demoted to lower-leverage situations as he seeks to get back on track. That opens the door for Taylor Rogers to operate as Minnesota’s primary closer, with Hansel Robles and Tyler Duffey also potentially mixing in. Rogers was terrific as the Twins’ stopper in 2019 and led the team in saves last year. He is a good enough pitcher to have plenty of value even if he doesn’t get the closer job all to himself.
Toronto Blue Jays
Jordan Romano was activated from the injured list last weekend, but at least for now, Rafael Dolis remains the slight favorite to close games for Toronto. Dolis picked up two saves over the last week and handled the ninth inning of a four-run game on Tuesday. Both pitchers can produce helpful enough ratios to merit adding in most fantasy leagues, but we should probably expect this to be a committee for a while.
Amir Garrett was supposed to be the favorite for saves in Cincinnati, but his horrendous 12.27 ERA and 2.32 WHIP should take him out of consideration for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean this team is anywhere close to settling on one guy, though. Former Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has the team’s most recent save, but according to manager David Bell, that was mostly circumstantial. Expect Doolittle, Lucas Sims, and Tejay Antone to all see save opportunities from time to time.
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