Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 12 (2021)
This has been a weird year for baseball, and it’s been a weird year for the Closer Report. While injuries have completely ravaged MLB, they have somehow spared the upper echelon of closers up to this point (knock on wood). And while most things across the league have become more unpredictable in general, the closer landscape has been significantly more stable than expected.
I find that there is little to say about the tough half of these rankings each week. Sure, I’ll sprinkle in some fun anecdotes — see the Liam Hendriks blurb that follows — but the top pitchers in these rankings are studs and they’ve had few ups and downs over the first three months.
It is the second half of the rankings — the closer committees — where I really earn my keep. In particular, I feel like I have to discuss the A’s, Rays, and Giants just about every week. These are all first place teams with multiple relievers who can help you in ratios and saves, so they need to be constantly monitored, even though all three are unlikely to ever completely abandon their committee approach. The Indians are another team in much the same category.
Short of a few early-season risers like Matt Barnes, Alex Reyes, and Yimi Garcia, there hasn’t been a ton of fluctuation in the rankings. But one guy who is making some noise this week is the Blue Jays’ Jordan Romano, who seems to have a clear path to saves on a team that has been using a committee up to this point. I’ll discuss Romano and all your favorite committee situations after the jump.
But first, let me plug my new fantasy sports podcast, the Rest of Season Rankings podcast, which recently debuted on Apple and Spotify. If you like what you see here, please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast, so my co-host Lauren Auerbach and I can grow our audience. And if you’re interested in how I view players values going forward — not just closers — check out our brand-spanking-new website, rosrankings.com. Thanks everybody!
Brad Hand has made his fantasy managers nervous at times, but the end results look pretty good as we approach the midpoint of the 2021 season. On May 21, Hand's ERA stood at 4.11, but since then he has allowed only two earned runs in 12 innings while collecting eight saves and a victory.
He isn't close to the pitcher he was at his peak, as his 8.89 K/9 rate is his lowest since 2015 and his 3.95 BB/9 rate is his highest since his rookie season of 2011, when he pitched for the Florida (not yet "Miami") Marlins. But Hand seems to still know how to close out games, and his only realistic competition for the job, Daniel Hudson, is now on the injured list with elbow inflammation.
With a 3.04 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 11.14 K/9 rate, Hector Neris' season-long numbers look quite good. But that ERA is more than a run higher than it was on June 6, thanks to a couple poor outings. Neris' control is of particular concern. He's walked three batters and hit two others over his last three appearances.
It's too soon to be ringing any alarm bells with Neris, but as I mentioned in the spring, the Phillies made a point this offseason to not be left in a lurch this season if Neris melts down like he has in seasons past. Offseason acquisition Jose Alvarado has had control issues of his own, to put it mildly (his BB/9 is 8.37!), but he does have some closing experience and a 1.74 ERA since May 22. He'd likely be next up should Neris' struggles become more pronounced.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have had a closer committee all year, but it looks like Romano is finally inheriting the role fantasy managers were hoping for when they drafted him this spring. The breakthrough came on Monday night in Boston, and it involved Romano not pitching.
The Blue Jays had just tied the game in the top of the ninth, and Montoyo elected to go with Rafael Dolis to pitch the bottom of the ninth instead of Romano. Dolis proceeded to lose the game, and when Montoyo was asked about it afterward, he indicated that Romano would have been the one who pitched if Toronto had taken the lead. “If you’re at home, you bring the closer in,” Montoyo said. “If you’re on the road, you bring the other guy in.”
Speaking of that "other guy," Dolis is now on the injured list with a finger strain, erasing any remaining doubt (there really wasn't any) that Romano is the guy.
The Rangers' closer situation became thoroughly unappealing the moment Ian Kennedy landed on the injured list with a hamstring injury, but thankfully the injury was mild and Kennedy missed the minimum amount of time before being activated. You know the story with Kennedy: He's had a late-career renaissance as a closer, first with Kansas City in 2019 and now Texas. But he's also one of the most likely players to be traded by the end of July, and it could very well be to a team that will use him as a set-up man rather than closer.
Last week, I admitted that I had picked up Stefan Crichton in a fantasy league during a bout of temporary insanity. Thankfully, I came to my senses and dropped him the next day -- before he gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning in San Francisco on Monday. I also happened to move on from him before it became clear that the closer job isn't even his to begin with.
There are losing streaks, and then there are losing streaks, and the Diamondbacks are playing some of the worst baseball that we've seen in a long time. This is a team that has three wins since May 12. Think about that for a second!
Needless to say, the save chances have not been flowing in, but when one finally arose last weekend, the opportunity went to Joakim Soria, not Crichton. Soria ended up giving up three runs and blowing the game, so it's no lock he gets the next chance. But does it really matter when the next chance may not be until August?
Chicago White Sox
Liam Hendriks hadn't given up an earned run since April 24 entering play on June 11, but that streak came to an end under some rather stormy circumstances in Detroit. Pitching in the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead, Hendriks had what the Associated Press described as a "tantrum" about being asked to pitch in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. Per the AP, he "angrily threw a wet ball into foul territory," and the game was delayed moments later. After sitting through a 49-minute rain delay, Hendriks came back out and served up a game-tying home run to Mike Cameron's son, Daz, the first of the 23-year old's Big League career.
The episode makes for good headlines, but it is just a blip on the (Doppler) radar for Hendriks, who is having another truly excellent season.
Neither Emmanuel Clase nor James Karinchak should be on any fantasy league waiver wires, but it's still worth closely watching with Cleveland reliever has the edge for saves, and right now that is Clase. Karinchak pitched in the eighth inning and Clase handled the ninth in three straight games against Baltimore this week, with Clase picking up his 10th and 11th saves in the process. That certainly doesn't mean that Clase will be the designated closer the rest of the way, but with the Indians in the midst of a nice winning streak, it wouldn't be surprising to see manager Terry Francona stick with this late-inning set-up for the time being.
It's been the Lou Trivino show of late in Oakland, as the A's right-hander has rattled off five saves since Jake Diekman last garnered one on May 26. Typically, that would be enough evidence to say that Trivino is the closer. But A's manager Bob Melvin has said all along that he wants to play matchups between the right-handed Trivino and left-handed Diekman, and Melvin hasn't given any indication that plan has recently changed.
Between May 3 and May 26, it was Diekman who had four saves while Trivino only had one, so we've now seen this play out both ways. Perhaps Melvin is getting more comfortable using Trivino as the main guy -- as the right-handed reliever he was always the favorite in my book -- but I'm not quite ready to remove the committee designation given past history.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays' closer committee continues to tease fantasy managers. While Diego Castillo and J.P Feyereisen have both had their moments in the sun, Pete Fairbanks is the latest reliever to emerge as manager Kevin Cash's choice for the ninth inning. Fairbanks has two of the Rays' last three saves, and it would have been three of four if he hadn't melted down on Thursday night in Seattle (2 ERs on 3 hits and a walk in 1/3 of an inning).
We'll have to see if the blown save kills Fairbanks' momentum or not. But one thing is for certain: it will take a lot for me to consider any of these guys the Rays' exclusive closer.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals' closer situation is about as clear as mud right now, as it has been most of the year. Six different Kansas City relievers have earned saves this season, and all six of them have had between two and six save opportunities. The leader of the pack is Josh Staumont, who has five saves. Staumont seemed to be picking up a little bit of momentum before he landed on the injured list. He's been back for nearly two weeks, but with the Royals currently on a skid in which they've lost 11 of their last 12 games, we haven't been able to get any recent intel on whether he is still the top candidate over guys like Greg Holland, Scott Barlow, and Kyle Zimmer.
The O's are another team on an extended losing streak (eight games, entering Friday's action), so it's unsurprising that the team hasn't had a save since June 4. The only thing we can safely say at this point is that Cesar Valdez is no longer the closer. But whether Cole Sulser or Paul Fry has the upper hand -- or whether they'll continue to split the job evenly -- very much remains to be seen.
Kendall Graveman is finally back after missing almost three weeks on the Covid-19 list, but he's given up a run in both of his appearances and hasn't earned a save since returning. In fact, the only save the Mariners have had in June came from an unlikely source: Drew Steckenrider. He's quietly having a nice season, with a 2.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 8.88 K/9. Rafael Montero is not having a very good season and Keynan Middleton was recently sent down to the minors, so it isn't a stretch to view Steckenrider as Graveman's main competition at the moment.
Lucas Sims has six saves since May 25 and is edging closer to earning the designation of the Reds' closer. But Tejay Antone, Michael Feliz, and Amir Garrett each also have saves during that stretch, and Antone, particularly, is a solid bet to share the job with Sims when he returns from the injured list sometime over the next few days.
After a short stay on the injured list with a shoulder injury, Michael Fulmer returned this week and picked up his fifth save of the season on Wednesday. The previous day, Gregory Soto earned his sixth save. Jose Cisnero appeared to be the frontrunner when he picked up back-to-back saves in early June, but this certainly has the look of a three-man committee. All three guys have been pitching decently this season and are fine to roster if you really need saves, but I wouldn't call any of them a must-add while sharing the job on a losing team.
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