Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 10 (2021)
I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for wordplay. This week’s Closer Report will feature a discussion of Rays reliever J.P. Feyereisen, a name I can’t even mention without immediately contemplating “fire” and “ice” puns.
At first, my mind went towards Game of Thrones, but that’s A Song of Ice and Fire. His name isn’t J.P. Eisenfeyer so that just won’t do. Then I remembered the Robert Frost poem “Fire and Ice,” which could be interpreted as Frost’s commentary on the makeup of a closer — if it hadn’t been written nearly 50 years before the advent of the save. Still, it can easily double as a poem about Tampa Bay’s new closer candidate with just a few small edits:
Some say the ninth will end in Feyer,
Some say Eisen.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor Feyer.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of saves
To know that for production Eisen
Is also great
And would suffice.
Thus concludes the literary portion of today’s programming! If you’d like to submit a closer poem of your own, I’d be happy to review it for you on Twitter. But for those of you who aren’t here for closer poems, let’s get to the good stuff, this week’s closer rankings.
I still don't really trust Daniel Bard to post helpful ratios the rest of the way, especially as the weather gets warmer and the ball starts carrying more at Coors Field. But there's no denying that he has been outstanding lately. Bard looked to be on the verge of losing the job just a few weeks ago, but he's now given up just one earned run with a 21-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last 13 innings, picking up four saves and two wins along the way.
Yimi Garcia has been one of the best new closers to emerge from obscurity in 2021, and the 30-year old's 2.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 9/41 K/9 are more than adequate. But he's currently enduring his first rough stretch of the season, allowing four earned runs on four hits and three walks over his last 1 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, Anthony Bass, who was the Marlins' presumed closer to begin the year, gave up six runs in his first three outings but has a 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 17 1/3 innings since.
Don Mattingly has not given any indication that a closer change is imminent, but Garcia will want to string together a few clean outings to build back some job security. And Bass isn't a bad stash for fantasy managers who roster Garcia or are otherwise speculating on saves.
Richard Rodriguez's 6.56 K/9 rate is extremely low for a closer and roughly half the rate he posted last season, and yet Rodriguez currently sports the best ERA (1.54) and WHIP (0.60) of his career. Perhaps it's time to start worrying a little, though. Rodriguez allowed a grand total of two baserunners through his first 12 appearances, but he's now allowed six baserunners -- and three earned runs -- in his last three outings. His velocity is on a steady decline, and his pristine ratios are due in no small part to an unsustainable .188 BABIP against and nary a home run allowed. His xFIP is 4.83, which gives you a sense of what could happen to his ERA if/when his home run rate normalizes.
Add in the fact that Rodriguez is a logical trade candidate this summer, and he makes for a wise sell-high option in fantasy leagues, too.
Cleveland co-closers Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak are talented pitchers, but they've both had their struggles of late, especially with walks. Just as he was staking his claim to a share of the ninth inning, Karinchak's performance has dropped off a cliff. He's given up seven earned runs in his last four-plus innings of work and has issued at least one free pass in 10 of his last 11 outings. Clase's struggles haven't been quite as pronounced, but he's got an uninspiring 8-to-9 K/BB ratio over his last 8 1/3 innings.
Ultimately, there's no need to panic here. Manager Terry Francona has yet to show any inclination to turn away from the Karinchak-Clase closing tandem in favor of a wily veteran like Bryan Shaw or Nick Wittgren. Cleveland's prized young arms appear to be having some growing pains, but we can expect both of them to get back on track soon enough.
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays manager Kevin Cash is a noted proponent of the closer-by-committee, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll go with a different guy in the role every single night. Early in the year, Diego Castillo was looking comfortable in the ninth, and Cash afforded him the opportunity to close out seven games between April 1 and May 2. The situation got far more unpredictable when Castillo landed on the injured list on May 5, and Castillo did not immediately reclaim the job when he returned.
Rather, it's been J.P. Feyereisen who has each of the Rays' last three saves. Feyereisen, who was acquired from the Brewers on May 21, has a solid 2.73 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 9.23 K/9 rate this season, although his high walk rate is a little concerning. While it's fair to call him the leading candidate for saves in Tampa right now, let's not go calling Feyereisen the exclusive closer. Case in point: just one day after collecting his third save on Monday, Feyereisen was summoned to pitch the eighth inning of a tie game in the Bronx on Tuesday.
Kansas City Royals
It was a bit of a mystery why the Royals did not turn to Josh Staumont for a save chance back on May 25, but a few days later, we had our answer: he was heading to the injured list with a left knee strain. We still don't have a firm timetable for when Staumont can be expected to return, but he threw a bullpen session yesterday, so more information should be coming soon.
Staumont wasn't on the firmest of ground as the exclusive closer to begin with, given how manager Mike Matheny likes to play things, and it's safe to say this is a full-blown committee while Staumont is on the shelf. Scott Barlow picked up a two-inning save against the Twins on Thursday, but Greg Holland and Kyle Zimmer have each also closed out a game since Staumont went down.
Kendall Graveman has been the best reliever in the Mariners' bullpen this season, hurling 16 2/3 scoreless innings with a cool 0.54 WHIP. He's been on the Covid-19 list since May 23 but is finally out of quarantine and will be back with the Mariners as soon as he gets back into game shape. While he's been out, Rafael Montero and Keynan Middleton have each picked up a couple of saves.
Graveman never really ran away with the job, even with how well he was pitching. So while he could quickly find himself back in high-leverage spots and has stand-alone value in fantasy leagues regardless, we should expect this to be a three-headed committee until further notice.
Stefan Crichton has all of one save opportunity in the last 30 days, but he is still the Diamondbacks' nominal closer, as best I can tell. He did convert that save chance back on May 10, but the problem is he's also had a 6.75 ERA and 1.65 WHIP over that timeframe. Rather than rostering Crichton, you would have been better off using that roster spot on a good middle reliever, a backup catcher, an injured player, or even someone who's out of the league (Fernando Rodney and John Axford are widely available in Yahoo leagues!).
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