Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 6 (2021)
Two of the big early surprises in the closer world were that San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler and Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash had each settled on a single closer. Both skippers are notorious closer-by-committee aficionados. It turns out that the sun does still set in the west, what goes up still must come down, and the Giants and Rays still rotate relievers in the ninth inning.
I’ll cover those situations and much more in this week’s Closer Report. If you’d like my input on any of the latest closer-related happenings, give me a shout on Twitter @andrew_seifter. Now onto this week’s rankings:
New York Mets
Edwin Diaz’s streak of eight straight scoreless appearances was rudely snapped last Sunday when he allowed three runs over 2/3 of an inning in Philadelphia. He eventually had to depart the game with what he described as back “tightness,” and although he reported feeling much better the next day, it’ll be something to monitor moving forward. In his first appearance since the injury, Diaz hit 101 mph on the radar gun and picked up the save, but allowed two hits and didn’t strike anyone out.
This is a pitcher who can look as good as anyone when he is on his game and as bad as anyone when he’s off it, so we shouldn’t take a back injury too lightly. If Diaz looks fine over his next few appearances, we can chalk this up as a false alarm, but for now, I’m dropping him several spots in the closer rankings out of an abundance of caution.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenley Jansen blew a save on Thursday night, but that’s not why he’s moving down the rankings this week. The blown save was the result of an automatic runner scoring in extra innings after a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. The bigger issue for Jansen is that he has zero strikeouts over his last three appearances, and his velocity is back down again, too. Maybe it’s nothing, and Jansen has managed to remain a solid fantasy closer even with diminished stuff over the last couple of seasons. But a reduced number of Ks, combined with a bloated walk rate, is somewhat worrisome for a 33-year old reliever with as much tread on the tires as Jansen.
San Francisco Giants
Jake McGee got off to a fabulous start as the Giants’ closer, but things have gone downhill for him in a hurry. McGee has given up eight earned runs on 11 hits over his last 5 2/3 innings, and he probably experienced some bad flashbacks to his Rockies days during a four-run meltdown at Coors Field during his most recent time out. Gabe Kapler, who rarely likes to stick with a designated closer to begin with, looks ready to move McGee into some lower-leverage spots for the time being.
The Giants really don’t have any other obvious closer candidates in their bullpen, but the leading candidate is submarine sidearmer, Tyler Rogers. Rogers has a pretty 1.02 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, but just 10 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. He’s not a great bet to run away with the job, especially with Kapler calling the shots.
Daniel Bard may not have much competition for saves, but he is still pushing his job security to the limit. Bard has surrendered nine earned runs over his last 6 1/3 innings, and his ERA is now up to 8.10. He did pick up his third save on Wednesday, but not before walking the first two batters (one of whom came around to score on an error). The Rockies would surely prefer that the 35-year old Bard serves as a placeholder in the ninth during (yet another) season where they aren’t competing for a playoff spot, but if he continues to struggle, he may force them to make a change. Mychal Givens and Robert Stephenson are next in line for saves, although it’s hard to have a ton of confidence in them, either.
Craig Kimbrel took a loss on Sunday and blew a save on Tuesday, and yet he moves up a couple of spots in the closer ranks this week. Why? Well, the loss occurred when he gave up a single to the first batter he faced in extra innings, with an automatic runner on second base. The blown save was due to surrendering a game-tying solo homer to Max Muncy, which was the only hit he allowed in that appearance. Hardly disastrous stuff. Kimbrel bounced back to pitch a clean ninth inning in a tie game against the Dodgers on Wednesday and now boasts a sparkling 0.69 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 14.54 K/9 rate.
With a 0.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, Emmanuel Clase has been terrific as the Tribe’s ninth-inning man, but it was equally impressive setup man James Karinchak who shut the door on the Royals on Wednesday. Clase had pitched on Sunday and Monday and warmed up in the pen again on Tuesday, so it’s safe to assume manager Terry Francona just wanted to give him a day off. Sure enough, on Thursday, it was Clase back in the ninth of a 4-0 game, with Karinchak setting him up.
Lou Trivino has run into some trouble of late, giving up a run on two hits on Monday and then unraveling for five earned runs in 1/3 of an inning on Wednesday. Ouch. Trivino’s numbers no longer look so good, but there is no indication (yet) that Bob Melvin wants to demote him from the head of the A’s closer committee. This will likely go down as a small bump in the road, but should Trivino continue to struggle, Jake Diekman and his 2.03 ERA are more than ready to handle sole closing duties.
Tampa Bay Rays
Diego Castillo flourished as Tampa Bay’s closer with Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks out, but now Fairbanks has been activated — and it is Castillo who has landed on the injured list with a groin injury. The Rays are optimistic that Castillo will only miss the minimum 10 days, but injury optimism is always a dangerous game. Either way, it’s safe to say this is back to the committee approach we’ve come to expect from manager Kevin Cash. Lefty Jeffrey Springs picked up the first save after Castillo was sidelined, and while Fairbanks is the best bet to lead the committee until Castillo returns, Springs could see more chances when the late-inning matchups dictate it.
Kansas City Royals
Josh Staumont had a rough outing his last time out, but the most frustrating part for fantasy managers is that it wasn’t even in a save situation. Staumont was brought in during the seventh inning of a tie game against the Indians on Tuesday, and while he got out of that inning fine, he ended up giving up three earned runs in the eighth. Staumont is still the best bet for saves in KC at the moment, but this is a reminder that Mike Matheny is not going to reserve him exclusively for save situations.
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