Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Emilio Pagan, Hansel Robles become viable saves sources while Braves still in search of a closer
Are the Rays going full-blown closer by committee? What about the Mariners and Braves? Do we know who's replacing Cody Allen for the Angels yet? Scott White looks at nine of the most questionable closer situations.
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It was an ugly weekend for closers, wasn't it?
Between A.J. Minter melting down, Anthony Swarzak losing his grip on the role, Cody Allen going on the IL and Emilio Pagan stealing chances from more proven options, a number of bullpens are in a state of upheaval at present.
Granted, in this era of closing committees, many of them will likely remain in that state, but it doesn't stop us from speculating. Let's see if we can make sense of it all.
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves, though it's usually one and the same.
Manager Brad Ausmus had already decided Cody Allen needed a break from ninth-inning duties when the former Indians closer landed on the IL with a back strain, so even if it turns out to be a minimal stay, Allen may need a while longer to regain his Fantasy standing. He needs to get back to throwing strikes, something he struggled with last year as well, and the Angels have a couple capable alternatives to hold things down in the meantime.
Unfortunately, the best of those alternatives, Ty Buttrey, appears to be behind Hansel Robles in the pecking order seeing as Buttrey worked the bottom of the eighth Sunday to set up a save situation for someone, presumably Robles. The Angels put the game out of reach in the top of the ninth, though, so no one got the save. It's still possible they'll go with a true committee in Allen's absence.
If you thought the Rays were going closer by committee before, when Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo were splitting saves based on matchups, then allow me to introduce you to Emilio Pagan, who is responsible for three of the team's past four saves. There's nothing wrong with him — he has allowed just one hit in 7 1/3 innings of work and put together a terrific strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Mariners two years ago — but his presence introduces a wrinkle to a bullpen that already had one too many, as far as Fantasy owners are concerned. And it doesn't sound like he's going away.
"He's been in some big, big situations and really come through for us," manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com. "Emilio has certainly proven over a week that he's a really good option to have, whether in the sixth or the ninth, whenever."
Probably the best of the Rays' ninth-inning options, Alvarado, hasn't recorded a save since April 7 even though the Rays as a team have seven since then. Yeah, it's a mess. They're all worth owning in leagues where saves are scarce and not worth owning in leagues where they aren't.
The Braves already know Arodys Vizcaino isn't going to come riding in on a white horse — he's done for the year following shoulder surgery — so they have to figure out an option for the ninth inning or kiss their hopes for contending in a crowded NL East goodbye. The most obvious candidate, A.J. Minter, had a shoulder issue early on and hasn't looked right since returning, blowing Saturday's game in epic fashion and nearly blowing Sunday's game as well before getting bailed out by Luke Jackson.
Minter now sports a 9.35 ERA and 2.08 WHIP. Jackson, meanwhile, has been surprisingly steady since serving up an opening day grand slam to Rhys Hoskins, but the 27-year-old has had mediocre results in the majors up to this point and would be a desperation play for the Braves. Who else do they have, though? Jacob Webb converted a two-out save with both Minter and Jackson unavailable Monday, and he had some pretty good strikeout rates in the minors — along with control issues. If there's a team that needs Craig Kimbrel more, I'm unaware of it.
The most annoying thing about Gabe Kapler is that even when he's not annoying, it's so unexpectedly not annoying that it's still annoying. So yeah, it looks like the Phillies don't have a closer committee after all despite insisting since the start of last season that they do. Hector Neris, the presumed closer at the start of last season, is responsible for each of the team's past three saves and four overall. He needed a trip to the minors last year to figure things out, but since returning in mid-August, he has a 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and an amazing 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 32 appearances, which are clearly closer-caliber numbers.
Sure, David Robertson is the one making all the money and will be returning from the IL sooner than later, but Kapler wasn't using him like a closer before the injury. So why would he now?
(Actually, I know why: to be annoying.)
Blake Parker was one of several Twins who fell victim to the flu the weekend before last, an episode that wasn't so widely reported. It led to Taylor Rogers converting back-to-back save chances, furthering concerns that the Twins were taking a by-committee approach to the ninth inning. They've only had one save chance since then, and Parker got it, with Rogers setting him up. At least now we have a clearer idea who is the backup option for saves, especially after Trevor Hildenberger came away with one earlier in April, but the job appears to be Parker's for now. Of course, there's a case to be made he's not as good as either Rogers or Hildenberger, but he hasn't done anything to lessen his claim to the role yet.
It's fair to wonder after a series of ugly outings (including one in which he walked four) if Jose Leclerc's claim to the role is in jeopardy, but manager Chris Woodward has insisted it isn't, even pointing out after that four-walk outing that he thought the 25-year-old righty was tipping his pitches. It was the walks — or more specifically, the way the Astros knew not to swing at the changeups — that clued him into it, but it's supported by the fact Leclerc's swinging strike rate is way down even though the stuff appears to be the same. There has also been some talk of Leclerc maybe overthrowing his fastball.
If the worst comes to pass, Shawn Kelley has good ratios as usual while Chris Martin has been filling the eighth-inning role. The Rangers are already invested in Leclerc long-term, though, and will presumably make every effort to get him right.
From as far back as when Corey Knebel first suffered the elbow injury that we've since come to learn required Tommy John surgery (so about the middle of spring training), the hope was that Jeremy Jeffress would come back and fill the closer role once his shoulder was back to full strength. After all, it's the role he was filling at the end of last season, when he finished with nearly as many saves (15) as Knebel (16). So far, he has returned to make five appearances, but none in the ninth inning. He has had some trouble throwing strikes, sure, but of greater concern is that his average fastball velocity is about 4 mph lower than last year — and showing no signs of getting better.
So it looks like the job will remain Hader's for the time being — and he may be the top reliever in Fantasy for as long as he has it — but you shouldn't get too comfortable with the idea of him recording saves, knowing it's not really where the Brewers want him.
Though manager Don Mattingly has been reluctant to name a singular closer, it sure seems like Sergio Romo has settled into the role, recording each of the team's past three saves. The Marlins have only eight wins total, an ongoing concern for anyone filling the ninth-inning role, and Romo's 6.00 ERA should be all the reminder you need that the 36-year-old doesn't have the firmest grip on the role. He did manage to pick up 25 saves for the Rays last year, though.
While Drew Steckenrider, the presumptive favorite coming into the year, isn't totally out of the running seeing as pretty much all of the damage against him has come via the long ball, Nick Anderson seems the more likely of the two to challenge Romo at some point. The 28-year-old rookie has 25 strikeouts to just two walks in his 12 1/3 innings so far.
It's still not clear exactly how the Mariners are approaching the ninth inning with intended closer Hunter Strickland sidelined for several more weeks with a strained lat, but presumptive favorite Anthony Swarzak would appear to be losing ground. He blew his second save in five chances Friday and has allowed a total of six runs, three earned, in his past four appearances.
Left-hander Roenis Elias actually has four saves to Swarzak's three since Strickland went down and may be the better bet moving forward. Rookie Brandon Brennan has arguably been the team's most effective reliever this year, but the Mariners haven't shown much interest in trying him in the ninth inning yet.
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