Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Is Bud Norris back to being the Angels closer, and how long before we see Aroldis Chapman again?
Is Juan Minaya a trustworthy option for the White Sox? Are Mark Melancon and Jeurys Familia on the verge of reclaiming ninth-inning duties? And just who is the Angels closer anyway? Scott White looks at eight tumultuous bullpens.
It can change so quickly at relief pitcher.
One day you're comfortable, wondering why anyone would ever stress about saves. The next day you're poring over box scores, hoping to identify some newcomer to the role.
Why? Too much is riding on it. The pitcher working the ninth inning can single-handedly lose a game, and this time of year, no contender can afford to give one away. So while with any other role, a manager might stick it out, trusting in the ability, he has to be particularly ruthless with this one -- for the sake of his own job.
It's why the owners of Greg Holland and Edwin Diaz are sweating today. Roberto Osuna, too. And while I don't think any of those three is in real danger of losing his job, I might have said the same about Chapman a week ago. Fact is that if they don't stop the bleeding soon, someone else will stop it for them.
And once a reliever is out of the role, he's all but worthless in Fantasy Baseball.
So yes, I'm still keeping an eye out for any possible closer turnover in the majors right now, and by my count, there are currently eight bullpens in question.
That includes one that seems to change its answer by the day.
Note: "Pecking order" is how I'd prefer to roster them in Fantasy and not necessarily who's in line for the next save.
So Bud Norris is removed from the role in early August after allowing 14 earned runs in the span of 10 appearances, which wouldn't have been altogether surprising except that the first reliever to record a save in his absence is Keynan Middleton, who had previously served in more of a mopup role. Middleton enters in the top of the eighth inning the next night, which makes more sense, and while another run in the bottom half eliminates the possibility of a save, Blake Parker -- the team's best reliever with a 2.30 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings -- is the one warming up and records the final three outs with ease.
But Parker doesn't get the save the next night. Cam Bedrosian does. It's not completely out of left field -- Bedrosian would have been the Angels' closer from the get-go if a groin injury hadn't opened the door for Norris -- but he has struggled about as much as Norris lately and was thought to be lower in the pecking order. Sure enough, he's not called in for the save the next night, but instead, Yusmeiro Petit is, with Middleton once again working the eighth. As for Parker, who knows?
Next day, another save -- this one going to Bedrosian again. We learn the Angels don't want him pitching in back-to-back games because of his troublesome groin. We're annoyed but also relieved at the possibility of closure. Middleton records the save the following night, with Parker working the seventh inning and Petit the eighth. A pattern emerges. Two days later, it's back to Bedrosian.
The next game is two days later, and Middleton blows a save, serving up a two-run homer to reintroduce chaos to the semblance of order. It's not the first sign of trouble, though. No, that comes in the sixth inning ... when Bedrosian first enters the contest.
So surely, it's Parker's turn, right? If the Angels can't trust Middleton and don't want to commit to Bedrosian because of his limitations, their best reliever deserves the next shot. Sure enough, with an early lead, Middleton pitches the sixth inning, Bedrosian the seventh, Petit the eighth ...
... And Norris the ninth for his 19th save.
Try to keep up, won't you?
So it's Norris again? Or still Bedrosian? It's a headache is what it is. I'm tired of guessing wrong, so let's just wash our hands of this one and move on.
Yeah, I'll continue to prioritize Aroldis Chapman for now. Dellin Betances has gotten three of the Yankees' five save chances since manager Joe Girardi began to hedge on Chapman, but the fact it's Betances, whose previous stints as a fill-in closer haven't gone so well, rather than Robertson, a long-time closer who was having a lights-out year for the White Sox, tells me Girardi doesn't expect it to be a long-term switch.
His actual words would seem to confirm that thinking:
"I just thought for us to get [Chapman] back on track, maybe the best way would be to move him around a little bit until he gets going," Girardi told MLB.com Sunday. "When we get him going like I believe he'll get going, there's a good chance I'll put him right back in that closer's role."
While it's true Chapman didn't completely melt down until August, he hasn't been as dominant since losing part of May and June to rotator cuff inflammation. Still, the fact he's topping 100 mph suggests it's more an issue of mechanics than health -- bad habits he developed while hurt, maybe.
In any case, his return to form could be as sudden as his collapse, so while it's late in the year and Dellin Betances (who boasts a 0.46 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his last 19 appearances) makes for an enticing fill-in, I'm still not ready to punt on Chapman.
So the White Sox still have to show up for their games? Really? On the rare occasion they actually have a lead, it's not like they'll be able to preserve it after unloading Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard in the span of just a couple weeks.
Except they did just hold three leads in the span of four days. And all three of the saves went to the same guy, Juan Minaya, which all but ruins that no White Sox reliever would record more than four saves the rest of the way.
But it doesn't totally ruin it. Minaya isn't actually good, after all. He has averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings, which at least gives him a chance of holding up in the role, but his walk and home run rates are also high. Case in point: He served up a long ball in one of those three save chances.
Of course, the White Sox's alternatives aren't any better, which is why I think manager Rick Renteria will take the if-it-ain't-broke approach. And Minaya hasn't cost them a game yet. He's still a dicey bet, though, even if he's a safer bet for saves than anyone in the Angels bullpen.
It was going so well for Trevor Rosenthal, the triple-digit curiosity who made a mechanical adjustment in a warm-up session with rookie Luke Weaver in late June and hadn't looked back. In a span of 15 appearances before his elbow injury revealed itself, he had put together a 0.52 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings, looking like the next big thing off the waiver wire.
But let's not forget it was Seung-Hwan Oh who bailed out Rosenthal and his Fantasy owners a year ago. The roles were reversed for a while there, sure, but since his removal from ninth-inning duties, Oh has put together a 2.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 14 appearances. Those numbers aren't as impressive as Rosenthal's, but on a fringe contender with plenty more to play for, they're enough to attract the attention of Fantasy owners.
I don't think you should hold out hope for a Rosenthal return. Though his injury right now is classified as "elbow irritation," it's a UCL issue that may well result in surgery. Clearly, then, Tyler Lyons is the longest of long shots, but with a 2.77 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, he could do a fine job if Oh blows up again.
Mark Melancon has looked fine in five appearances since returning from a strained forearm. The velocity is down a little, but he has yet to allow an earned run, striking out five and walking none. He has also revealed he's contemplating surgery for a separate elbow issue that began in 2012.
That's the only explanation I have for why he hasn't overtaken Sam Dyson yet. Don't get me wrong: Dyson himself has done fine in the role, compiling a 1.98 ERA in 26 appearances with the Giants, but his pitch-to-contact approach makes him a greater liability in the ninth inning. Plus, he's not owed tens of millions of dollars over the next few years.
I'm thinking any day now manager Bruce Bochy transitions back to Melancon, but Melancon himself could upend the whole thing if he turns his attention to 2018. Dyson owners shouldn't be so quick to dump him in leagues where saves are scarce.
The Mets weren't quite ready to punt on the ninth inning at the trade deadline, acquiring A.J. Ramos, who has one more year of team control, so they could move Addison Reed, who has none. But their intended closer is of course Jeurys Familia, who has been out since early May with a blood clot in his right shoulder.
Familia is expected back this weekend, though, and while the Mets would probably prefer to ease him into closing duties, it's clear that a healthy Familia is better than a healthy Ramos, who has a 3.78 ERA and 1.26 WHIP this year.
How long before the Mets are convinced he's healthy? It's a good question given the extent of the injury and the amount of time Familia has missed. Familia wasn't exactly lights-out before the injury either, compiling a 3.86 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 11 appearances.
I trust him to begin the 2018 season as the Mets closer, but I don't trust him to lead the Mets in saves the rest of the way. Until Ramos is officially out of the role, he's my preferred option in Fantasy.
To be honest, I'm not even sure this role is in flux anymore. Sure, Matt Belisle's season-long stats are uninspiring, and he did just blow a game by serving up a two-run homer two outings ago. But he bounced back by striking out the only two batters he faced for his third save Thursday, and he has a 1.09 ERA in his past 23 appearances.
I don't buy it. It's not like he's suddenly some bat-misser extraordinaire. Still, he's the best the Twins have right now. Woe to them if they actually advance to the playoffs.
Taylor Rogers makes for a reasonable fallback option, having allowed just one hit in his past four appearances after a bumpy stretch to begin the second half, and Tyler Duffey is ... there. I don't know why I've included him, to be honest. I assume if Belisle implodes and the Twins prefer to keep the left-handed Rogers in a situation role, Duffey would be the next man up.
But woe to us all in that case.
Kyle Barraclough is someone Don Mattingly singled out as a possible closer candidate when A.J. Ramos was on the block, but then when the Marlins actually moved Ramos, Barraclough was sidelined by a right shoulder impingement.
He's back now and doing Kyle Barraclough things, striking out four in 2 2/3 innings. Still, his 9.9 strikeouts per nine inning are a far cry from his 14.0 last year, and his 5.7 walks per nine innings aren't exactly closer-caliber.
In other words, I think Brad Ziegler would have to fall apart for Barraclough to get a shot now, and I've seen the soft-tossing side-armer rescue too many bullpens in the past for me to bet against him now. Sure, he has a 5.11 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 42 appearances this year, but he was contending with a back injury earlier in the year and hasn't allowed an earned run since inheriting the closer role eight appearances ago.
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