Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 7 (2021)
I usually begin this column each week by talking about the closer situations that are in flux, but let’s take a quick moment to appreciate the best closers in the game today. Josh Hader currently sports a 0.61 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 15.95 K/9 rate, and yet I had to move him out of the top spot because of how absurdly good Aroldis Chapman has been. If Chapman and Hader were playing poker, Chapman would say, “I’ll see your 0.61 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 15.95 K/9, and raise you a 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and 18.60 K/9.” Unreal.
Ok, now about those closer situations in flux! Last week, I led off this column by noting that the Giants and Tampa Bay Rays were both headed back to closer committees after uncharacteristically relying on a single guy in the role. Well, both teams now appear to be going back to their guy. Meanwhile, Brad Hand and Emmanuel Clase are starting to look a little shaky, and the situations in Oakland and Kansas City are getting a little more complicated.
We’ll cover all that and more this week, and don’t forget to hit me up on Twitter @andrew_seifter with all of your closer-related queries!
While there were reasons to be concerned about Brad Hand entering the season, he seemingly proved the doubters wrong by throwing 10 scoreless innings to begin his Nationals career. Suddenly, though, the wheels have come off. Hand has given up six runs (four earned) over his last 2 1/3 innings, putting his grip on the closer role in jeopardy.
On Thursday, Daniel Hudson pitched the eighth, and Austin Voth handled the ninth of a 5-1 Washington victory. But Hand was warming up in case Voth ran into trouble, even though he had labored just one night earlier. That seems like a sign that Hand hasn’t lost the job just yet. However, if the Nationals do decide to make a change, Hudson is a more likely replacement than Voth. Hudson struggled last season, but he has been great so far this year and has saved 22 games since the start of 2019, including four postseason games during the Nats’ title run that year.
San Francisco Giants
Jake McGee was one of the best closers in the game through the season’s first few weeks , but after he allowed eight runs over a 5 2/3 inning stretch, Giants manager Gabe Kapler sounded like he wanted to move McGee into some lower-leverage spots and give submarine sidearmer Tyler Rogers a try in the ninth inning. Well, so much for that. Kapler went right back to McGee in each of the Giants’ next three save situations, and he handled all three without incident.
Rogers did pick up a save on Thursday, but that’s likely because McGee was unavailable after closing out the previous two games. Then again, the Giants had an off day on Wednesday, so it’s hard to know for sure. For now, I am going back to designating McGee as the closer, with the understanding that Kapler’s bullpen usage is tough to predict and that Rogers could still see a save opportunity from time to time.
A’s manager Bob Melvin showed confidence in right-hander Lou Trivino this week, going back to him for a save opportunity three days after he had a really bad outing against the Blue Jays. But Melvin also showed once again that he is more than comfortable with lefty Jake Diekman closing out games when the matchups dictate it. Diekman has the team’s two most recent saves and is five-for-five in save chances on the season, while Trivino has successfully converted six of his seven opportunities. I still think Trivino may see a few more chances since he is the right-hander, but this committee is about as even as it gets.
Kansas City Royals
I designated Josh Staumont as Kansas City’s closer a couple of weeks ago, after he ran off three consecutive saves, but I must admit that I don’t feel too confident about it at the moment. Since then, the Royals haven’t generated a single save opportunity, and they are currently on an 11-game losing streak. Woof.
Two of Staumont’s last three appearances have come before the ninth inning and in games that the Royals were tied or narrowly behind in, which isn’t typical closer usage. He’s also given up four earned runs over those three appearances, raising further doubt about whether manager Mike Matheny will turn to him the next time a save opportunity arises. I’ll stick with Staumont as the closer until we see someone else pick up a save, but I wouldn’t blame you for swapping him out for a more reliable source of saves in leagues where closers are readily available.
With seven saves and a 1.06 ERA, Emmanuel Clase has generally looked up to the job of serving as Cleveland’s closer. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll notice that he’s been putting a lot of men on base, especially of late. Clase was unable to shut the door on the Mariners on Thursday night after walking the bases loaded, which forced manager Terry Francona to turn to Bryan Shaw for the final out. That marked the fifth-straight appearance that Clase allowed multiple baserunners, and the eighth-straight appearance in which he allowed at least one.
Clase clearly has the stuff to be a dominant closer, but perhaps he is getting overworked. Thursday’s walk fest was the third straight day he had pitched. With a ridiculous 0.52 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, and 17.13 K/9, James Karinchak has quickly established himself as one of the very best relievers in baseball, so he stands ready to inherit the role should Clase’s struggles become more pronounced.
Tampa Bay Rays
I expected Pete Fairbanks to lead Tampa Bay’s committee while Diego Castillo was on the injured list, but manager Kevin Cash apparently opted against throwing Fairbanks into the ninth inning after returning from an IL stint of his own. Instead, Jeffrey Springs and Andrew Kittredge have the team’s two most recent saves. Don’t bother adding them though, save chasers. Castillo is expected to be activated on Friday, and since no one else has really stepped up in his absence, we can expect him to step right back into the primary closer role.
Toronto Blue Jays
With Rafael Dolis on the injured list with a calf strain, Jordan Romano finally has an opportunity to lay claim to the closer job that he was expected to have at the beginning of the season. Romano picked up his first save on Tuesday, and then was rested on Wednesday as A.J. Cole earned the fourth save of his seven-year Big League career. Romano then struck out the side in the ninth inning of a four-run victory on Thursday.
Fantasy managers rostering Romano don’t need to worry about Cole, but the situation could get messy again when Dolis returns. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday, so assuming that goes well, his stint on the IL could be a short one.
Gregory Soto picked up his team-leading fourth save on Wednesday, but then manager A.J. Hinch pushed the envelope by bringing Soto back for a third straight day on Thursday. It did not go well. Soto gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning, forcing Hinch to call on Michael Fulmer for the final two outs.
For the year, Soto has four save opportunities (Thursday’s game doesn’t count as one), while Bryan Garcia has three and Fulmer has two. Soto is clearly the frontrunner for saves, but I haven’t seen enough yet to say he’s clearly the guy. Given how infrequently the Tigers generate save chances, it could be a while before we get much more clarity here.
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