Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 9 (2021)
I took last week off from the Closer Report for a little beach vacay, but now I am recharged and ready to go. We also happen to be reaching the one-third mark of the baseball season. In that sense, the timing is perfect for a bit of a refresh on where we’re at in the saves chase.
A little more than half the league has what I would call locked-in closers, most of whom can also provide you with solid ratios and strikeout totals. There are a couple of other “hold-your-nose” type of closers — I’m looking at you, Daniel Bard, and Stefan Crichton — who may end up doing you more harm than good and could lose the job at any moment.
Then there are 10 or 11 committee situations, most of which have been committees all season long. The most attractive of those committees for fantasy purposes are the “good teams with good relievers” category, namely Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and to a lesser extent, San Francisco. The next tier of committees to target are the “disappointing teams with good relievers” (Minnesota) and “decent teams with ok relievers” (Toronto and Kansas City).
Finally, there are the “bad teams with bad (or at least unproven) relievers”: Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, and Cincinnati. As with Bard and Crichton, most of these committee relievers are best avoided unless you are really desperate for saves.
I’d be happy to expand on any of this on Twitter if you’d like to chat — just shoot me a message @andrew_seifter. Now here are this week’s rankings.
Ryan Pressly has been perfectly good when called upon (1.31 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), but he hasn't been called upon all that often (seven saves). Surely, fantasy managers were expecting the Astros' closer to get more opportunities than that. His strikeout rate is also down substantially, but it's still over a batter per inning, so I wouldn't be freaking out over it. He was unavailable on Wednesday due to neck stiffness but is considered day-to-day.
Brad Hand was the biggest loser in the last edition of the Closer Report, and he had a couple more poor outings after that article went to print. But Nats manager Dave Martinez stuck with Hand in the closer role, and he's responded with three straight clean saves over the last week. Hand's velocity has been plenty good this season, but his strikeout and walk rates are worse than they've been in years, and his expected ERA is a full run higher than his actual ERA. As someone rostering Hand in a fantasy league, I am holding onto Daniel Hudson as insurance for the time being.
Emmanuel Clase has only allowed two earned runs this season, but he has been a bit wild at times, which may have been what opened the door for James Karinchak to force his way into a closer committee. Karinchak also walks his fair share of opposing hitters, but he's struck out nearly twice as many batters as Clase has. Honestly, this may have always been destined to end up a committee all along. Indians manager Terry Francona hinted that was the case as the season began, and now it seems clear that Francona is rotating between Clase and Karinchak based on matchups, with Karinchak more likely to see save opportunities against lefty-heavy lineups. Both players are well worth rostering, even if they only get half the save chances.
In the last Closer Report, I described Daniel Bard as holding onto the Rockies' closer job by a thread, but since then, he's managed to rattle off five straight appearances without permitting an earned run. Bard's ratios are still ugly -- and the next Coors Field-induced blowup is probably just around the corner -- but he does seem to have built back a bit of job security. Interestingly, when Bard was rested on Monday, it was Carlos Estevez -- not Mychal Givens or Jordan Sheffield -- who shut the door on the Mets. So Estevez is the guy to roster in deeper leagues if you want to bet on Bard eventually losing the job.
New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman has been unavailable for the last two games because of an illness. It doesn't sound like Covid, though, and he should be back as soon as Friday. Chapman finally gave up his first earned run of the season in his last appearance, but he's still been the best closer in fantasy through the season's first two months.
With a 1.86 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 10.71 K/9, Ian Kennedy has been truly excellent so far -- even better than he was when he saved 30 games for the Royals in 2019. Normally, I'd be tempted to move him even higher in the closer rankings, but it feels like a better than 50-50 chance that he'll be pitching in a set-up role for a contender by August. Texas is currently in the basement of the AL West, and with the 36-year old Kennedy on a one-year deal, the Rangers would be foolish not to explore trade offers for the veteran reliever.
Richard Rodriguez is a strange case. In a league where strikeouts are king, he has only 16 Ks in 21 innings after striking out 34 batters in 23 1/3 innings last year. He also only has six saves, which isn't that many for a full-time closer, but not a surprising total when that closer pitches for the Pirates. On the other side of the ledger, Rodriguez has only walked one batter and given up two earned runs all year.
Some closers have proven they can get the job done with low strikeout rates -- Mark Melancon comes to mind -- but that wasn't Rodriguez's recipe for success prior to this season, so it's a bit of a concern. The other concern is that he could be traded and end up in a set-up role with a contender. Rodriguez will start getting more expensive through arbitration next season, and the perennially-rebuilding Bucs seemingly wouldn't have much long-term use for a 31-year old closer whose trade value may never be higher.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays' closer situation is back to its familiar level of ambiguity, and that's just how manager Kevin Cash likes it. Diego Castillo looked to be running away with the job early on, piling up seven saves by May 2. But Castillo landed on the injured list with groin tightness on May 5, and ever since then, the save chances have been impossible to predict. During Castillo's absence, Jeffrey Springs and Andrew Kittredge picked up saves, and since Castillo's been back, he, Pete Fairbanks, and J.P. Feyereisen have one each. The latter three relievers are the leading contenders going forward, but we can no longer expect Castillo or anyone else in this bullpen to have the job to themselves.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are another team that has recently thrown save chasers for a loop, which shouldn't come as a great surprise for anyone who has followed Gabe Kapler's managerial career. When last we checked in on San Francisco, Jake McGee had seemingly held onto the closer job, even though Kapler had just finished suggesting that he could move temporarily demote McGee in favor of submarine sidearmer Tyler Rogers. But after McGee rattled off three straight saves, Kapler had yet another surprise up his sleeve, handing the ball to Rogers for four of the Giants' five saves since May 13. At this point, it would be impossible to say that McGee is still the closer, but I'm not ready to anoint Rogers, either. So "closer committee" it is.
The only pitcher the Twins made a concerted effort to reserve for the ninth inning was Alex Colome, but he wasn't getting the job done, so manager Rocco Baldelli has gone back to his comfort zone with a closer-by-committee approach. Hector Robles, Taylor Rogers, and Tyler Duffey each have a save over the last week, but Robles has three of the team's last five saves, so it's fair to consider him the committee head right now. Just make sure to also roster Ketel Marte, so you can change your team name to "Hansel and Ketel."
Toronto Blue Jays
Rafael Dolis has only made one appearance since suffering an ugly blown save on May 20, while Jordan Romano picked up his second save of the season on Thursday. We still have to consider this a committee for now -- and it may just stay that way -- but the momentum is currently on Romano's side.
Kansas City Royals
The last time I addressed the Royals bullpen, I noted that presumed closer Josh Staumont wasn't getting typical closer usage, but that is what hard to get a read on the situation when the Royals weren't winning any games. Since then, Staumont picked up back-to-back saves on May 18 and 19, which is reassuring, but also mysteriously sat in the bullpen while Kyle Zimmer was called on to close out a victory on Tuesday. After the game, manager Mike Matheny said that some members of the bullpen "weren't available," but Staumont hadn't pitched since Saturday, so it's a little surprising that he'd be one of them.
Matheny has always been a manager who prides himself on playing the matchups with his bullpen, and that might explain why seven different members of this bullpen have garnered save opportunities this year. Staumont is still the best bet for saves until proven otherwise, but I no longer feel comfortable calling him "the guy."
Well, it was fun while it lasted, Brad Ziegler 2.0. With six runs allowed in his last 2/3 of an inning (and 9 ER in 4 IP since May 11), it's fair to say that the wheels have come off in a hurry for soft-tossing 36-year old journeyman Cesar Valdez. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde now says the closer could be a "mixed bag," and while he presumably meant a committee, that's also an apt description for the lack of reliable late-inning arms in this bullpen. Although to be fair, Paul Fry and Cole Sulser have both actually been quite good this season and are fine speculative pickups in deep leagues. Still, this is a team that has lost 10 in a row and 17 of 19, so don't expect the save chances to be flowing.
Kendall Graveman has been the best reliever in Seattle this season, but he's currently on the COVID list. In his absence, Keynan Middleton and Rafael Montero have each picked up a save over the last few days. Graveman is worth rostering because he can also help out your ratios, but this situation could remain a committee for a while, if not all season.
Lucas Sims has the Reds' two most recent saves, but make no mistake, this is still very much a committee. On Tuesday, manager David Bell gave Amir Garrett the chance to close out the game against a string of left-handed Nationals hitters, but if any of them reached, then Sims was going to be called on to face right-handed hitter Starlin Castro. That's precisely what happened (Josh Bell homered), and Sims got the one-out save.
It isn't just a two-man committee, either. Bell reserves Tejay Antone for the biggest outs, which sometimes will come in the ninth inning. And Sean Doolittle and even Heath Hembree may continue to see the odd save here and there. For a team that has only generated eight saves all year, that is a lot of different ways to slice a small pie.
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