Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Has Chris Devenski replaced Ken Giles as Astros closer? Is Bud Norris the guy for the Cardinals?
Are Ken Giles, Alex Colome and Greg Holland already in hot water? Scott White looks at six shaky closer situations.
When you make a heavy investment in a closer, the very least of your hopes is that he'll keep the job.
But the volatility of the role pays little regard to stature or preconception. A closer, by design, is at the center of a game's outcome, and if the outcome goes against him one too many times, he's not the closer anymore.
The outcome hasn't gone against Giles yet this year, but the Astros are operating as if they expect it to, possibly still gun-shy from the postseason meltdown that buried him in the pecking order just as they were closing in on a World Series title. Because they couldn't trust him to record their final three outs then, he needs to go the extra mile to restore their confidence now, and while he hasn't technically blown a save, he hasn't inspired great confidence either.
Which is why we find ourselves here, already questioning his claim to the role even though he was considered the sixth-best closer on Draft Day.
Is nothing sacred?
So here's how Giles messed up: He allowed two runs on five hits over his first three appearances, making it so that when he allowed a base runner in his fourth, in came Chris Devenski to bail him out. So who should get the team's most recent save Friday but Devenski -- in a one-run game, no less. Here's what manager A.J. Hinch had to say about it:
"Any given day, I feel the liberty to use any one of our guys," he said. "I think our guys are on board. It's unfair to point the finger at Ken Giles at not being the closer, which is not necessarily the case. I just think there's been some extreme examples of matchups that we like and some rest period for guys like [Brad] Peacock and Devenski, particularly, that I really liked."
So ... Giles isn't necessarily the closer?
"I think that at the end of the season, Ken Giles will have the most saves, but I don't know," Hinch said. "I also remember when Ken Giles was extremely effective for a three- or four-month period in the middle of the season to the tail end of the season last year where it didn't matter who was coming up or where we were in the order or what rest we had, he was the guy to go to."
In other words, we should prepare for a roller coaster ride akin to the one Giles has put the Astros on. Devenski struck out the side, allowing one hit, in his save chance Friday, so I don't know that Fantasy owners would mind a switch if it brought some closure to the whole thing. Or Brad Peacock, who has the other of the Astros' three saves, would also be fine.
But because Hinch said he still thinks Giles will lead the team in saves, Giles remains the front-runner even if this whole ordeal has dealt a serious blow to his value.
Anyone looking for resolution here shouldn't have to look too hard, even if manager Mike Scioscia has kept silent on the matter. Actions speak louder than words, after all, and his actions suggest Keynan Middleton is every bit the team's closer. Middleton has converted three saves in the the team's past four games while Blake Parker, the presumed closer at the start of the year, has worked the ninth inning once (in a 7-1 victory) since April 1, allowing at least one run in half of his appearances.
Middleton has a fastball that pushes triple digits and a swing-and-miss slider. And while his 3.86 ERA and 1.34 WHIP last year wouldn't suggest closer potential, it was only his rookie season.
"I was pretty young and dumb last year, to just go out and think I could throw fastballs by people," Middleton told The Orange County Register, with Scioscia acknowledging that the 24-year-old has "started to figure some things out for sure."
Middleton's assignment isn't a particularly secure one, especially considering how effective Parker was last year, but with the Angels off to a 13-3 start, it's looking like a lucrative one for right now.
Manager Craig Counsell has indicated he would prefer a singular closing option while Corey Knebel is sidelined by a strained hamstring, which is pretty refreshing, at least to Fantasy owners, in an era of noncommittal managers.
"I'm open to going with the same guy every night, but I think right now we'll just play the games and see how it kind of works out," Counsell said. "I think as we get further along in this, somebody will probably claim most of the opportunities. But I don't know who that will be right now."
His primary candidates, Matt Albers and Jacob Barnes, aren't helping to clear things up. The one to actually record a save since Knebel went down is Albers, who preserved a 3-2 lead Wednesday. He allowed as many baserunners (two) as he recorded outs in that appearance, though, and he took the loss in his most recent outing Sunday, entering a tie game and allowing a solo home run.
Barnes is probably the better bat-misser of the two, but he had a 4.00 ERA last year compared to Albers' 1.62 mark. He looked like he had first dibs on the role back on April 7, but he blew that save chance and then blew another when he allowed an inherited runner to score three days later.
My guess is Albers gets the next save chance, but I'm not comfortable dropping Barnes. And if the two continue to take turns failing, wouldn't be surprised if Josh Hader begins stealing chances even though the Brewers would prefer to keep him in a more flexible role.
Bud Norris has converted the Cardinals' last two save chances and will probably handle the next one, too, but it doesn't mean he's the one you want here. It's all part of the Cardinals' effort to ease in Greg Holland, having him clear a series of hurdles in lower-leverage roles after he walked four in his first appearance April 9.
"You can't emulate pitching in the big leagues unless you're actually doing that," Holland told MLB.com. "It's not my job to decide when I pitch. Being a bull-headed relief pitcher, sometimes I don't want to hear what's best. But I'm at the point in my career where I'm not as sharp as I expect to be."
Which is to be expected given that he didn't pitch this spring. Shoot, he didn't have a team until opening day.
Some will point to his 3.61 ERA with the Rockies last year as cause for alarm, but apart from a horrendous month of August when he hurt his right index finger and lost the feel for his slider, he had a 1.69 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. The Cardinals gave Holland $14 million because they wanted him out there in the ninth inning, and they have a succession plan in place. Don't jump ship now.
There isn't a full-blown controversy in this instance -- nor is there an obvious heir -- but Alex Colome clearly isn't getting the job done, having allowed at least one earned run in four of his last five appearances. He has blown two saves and suffered two losses while having yet to throw a clean inning. It took him until his sixth appearance to record his second strikeout.
Possibly because they lack an obvious alternative or possibly because they need to preserve his trade value, the Rays are standing by the 29-year-old right-hander.
"It was probably a step in the right direction for Alex," manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com after Colome's last outing Saturday in which he allowed one run on two hits but also recorded his second, third and fourth strikeouts. "Alex has done a lot of good things over the last three years. He's allowed, just like anybody else in that clubhouse, to go through some rough stretches."
Colome is throwing as hard as usual, so it's not a case of diminished skill (for whatever that's worth after he averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year). If the Rays grant him a long enough leash, he's a reasonable bet to make good on it, but you have to figure even they have their limits. And in the meantime, he's virtually unstartable in Fantasy, apart from the most desperate of saves shortages.
Nate Jones recorded the latest save for the White Sox, striking out two while issuing one walk in a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday, which was notable in its timing. After converting the team's first two save chances with ease, Joakim Soria blew the third in particularly brutal fashion and then wasn't called upon for the fourth.
But Jones began warming up in the eighth inning of Wednesday's contest, with the White Sox trailing by a run. They ended up taking the lead and Jones was already ready, so in he went. It's not like the White Sox readied him specifically for the save chance, which makes sense given that Soria had already recovered from his blown save by the time Jones' opportunity came around, having struck out two in a perfect inning just two days earlier.
Having said that, Jones may be the better option of the two in the long run. The White Sox have twice intended to make him their closer only to see him suffer a major injury -- first in 2014 and then just last year -- so if he continues to pitch as he has so far, the promotion has been a long time coming. Soria had fine peripherals for the Royals last year but also a 3.70 ERA and has been mostly unreliable since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2013.
In leagues where saves are scarce, Jones is a reliever to stash.
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