Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Liam Hendriks, Nathan Eovaldi emerge as saves sources while Edwin Diaz, Hector Neris cling to closer role

I could tell you all about how bad Edwin Diaz and Hector Neris have been, how tenuous their grip on the closer role has become, and how familiar you should become with their understudies 

I could, but I won't. I believe the men currently closing for the Mets and Phillies are far and away the most qualified for the job.

That's especially true for Diaz, who still boasts a 2.78 xFIP in spite of his ERA rising from 1.64 to 5.35 over his past 11 appearances. In every measure but runs allowed, he still rates as a dominant reliever. The runs, then, are owed less to the quality of his pitching than an inflated BABIP and a couple days when he got burned by the long ball. This year, everybody has those days.

Seth Lugo might do a fine job in the role, but for the Mets to bail on their biggest offseason acquisition when he's still missing at-bats at an elite rate and hardly struggling with his control would be short-sighted and hard to defend when the results begin to match up to the performance, which is ultimately how I see this one going. 

For Neris, it's more about a lack of alternatives. His manager, Gabe Kapler, led the way with the closer-by-committee approach but had to abandon it when it became clear Neris was the only one he could trust, which unfortunately may still be the case even with Neris allowing six earned runs in his past six appearances.

Neris isn't as good as Diaz but certainly has the strikeout potential of a closer. And frankly, we should be rooting for him to succeed because the alternative is another committee situation -- and perhaps the least inspiring of those across the majors.

Even the most inspiring ones in Boston and Tampa Bay haven't given us prized Fantasy assets. Fortunately, there's some hope of those committees breaking up soon, as you'll discover below.

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.

Athletics
Pecking order

Blake Treinen hasn't been good this year. It took an injury -- specifically, a strained shoulder -- for the Athletics to recognize they have someone better, but to their credit, they didn't hesitate when given the invitation to switch. Treinen missed only about two weeks with the injury, but it was enough for Liam Hendriks to secure the role instead.

"We're still with Hendriks right now," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "At this point, Liam deserves to be there." 

Treinen had a season for the ages in 2018, but the fact is the right-hander isn't missing bats like he did then and is walking far too many betters. Basically, he's looking like he did in every other year but 2018, and with the way Hendriks has performed this year, I don't see why the Athletics would go back. 

Yes, it looked like Emilio Pagan, who recorded two consecutive saves with Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo both sidelined by injury, might be able to make a play for the full-time closer role. At this point, he has far better numbers than Castillo, who struggled before his brief absence for shoulder inflammation, and it's not like Alvarado is coming back anytime soon.

But sure enough, the Rays had Pagan enter in the seventh inning Monday after already using Castillo for five outs. Oliver Drake ended up recording a one-out save, and as you can see, I don't even include him in the pecking order. Clearly, the Rays are still committed to their committee even with Castillo's struggles and the loss of Alvarado. Pagan should earn a more sizable share now, but there's little reason to believe it'll be a clear majority.

Blue Jays
Pecking order

Ken Giles has been unavailable recently because of inflammation in his elbow, but it sounds he'll be able to avoid the IL. If it turns out he isn't, it should be pretty clear who his replacement will be (Daniel Hudson has already recorded a save in Giles' absence), and it's noteworthy because Giles is a dominant closer on a rebuilding team -- i.e., trade bait. The K/9 and FIP especially will make you do a double take. His save total is so low that you may not realize how good of a year he's having.

That brings up another point regarding Hudson: He ain't no Giles. He'd suffice as a Fantasy option if he was closing for a better team, a la Luke Jackson, but if these miserable Jays have delivered Giles only 13 saves to this point, Hudson would certainly be a bottom-of-the-barrel closer in Fantasy. Still, it's better than a closer committee.

Twins
Pecking order

Seems like the Twins may be good and done with their committee, mercifully. From the get-go, it was evident Taylor Rogers was their best reliever, but for whatever reason, they hesitated to commit him to the role full-time. And look, Blake Parker was getting the job done when the Twins turned to him, but in a way that suggested he was due for a downfall.

That downfall finally came in June. Parker's ERA swelled to over 4.00. He missed some time for family issues, which allowed Rogers to gain even more of a foothold, and now here we are having seen Rogers convert each of the Twins' past four saves. The ERA difference between him and Parker is 1.69 to 3.62. The FIP difference is a just-as-stark 2.62 to 5.50. Hopefully, we can put the silliness behind us now.

Other than maybe the Rays, the team that has been the most committed to the committee this year is the Red Sox, which has only twice since April allowed a reliever to record back-to-back saves. Multiple reports have said that's going to change, though, with Nathan Eovaldi gearing up to return from an elbow procedure. Even though he hasn't pitched since April, it won't take long for Eovaldi to build up for relief duty -- he's set to begin a rehab assignment this week -- which is part of the reason the Red Sox are making this move. The other part is that he was so dominant out of the bullpen in the playoffs last year.

Of course, he didn't strike out many hitters, which has always been his problem as a starter. Nobody questions whether he throws hard enough for the role, but is he going to be any more effective than someone like Brandon Workman? It's unclear. I do wonder how committed Alex Cora specifically is to the idea of Eovaldi closing and how committed he'll remain to it if there are any hiccups along the way. Still, Eovaldi is as rosterable as any Red Sox reliever has been since Ryan Brasier was looking like the top guy in April.

Braves
Pecking order
Jacob Webb ATL RP

Though the strikeout rate has remained high for Luke Jackson, he has been flirting with disaster for about a month and a half now. Already, he has three saves in the second half, though he allowed an earned run in two of those appearances. Left-hander A.J. Minter also has a save since the All-Star break, but only because Jackson needed a day off. Minter has been his own version of shaky since returning from the minors in mid-June.

The only Braves reliever who you could argue might be more deserving than Jackson is Anthony Swarzak, who has been lights out since coming over from the Mariners in an early-season trade. He only recently returned from an IL stint for shoulder inflammation, though, and may need to prove himself again. Rookie Jacob Webb might make for an interesting alternative if he didn't just go on the IL with an elbow impingement.

Cardinals

Though he wasn't necessarily the most obvious choice to take over ninth-inning duties when Jordan Hicks was lost to Tommy John surgery, Carlos Martinez has quickly stabilized the role with three saves already in July. Giovanny Gallegos and John Gant both make for interesting alternatives, but they're at arm's length right now.

The Cardinals have been connected to potential closer trade targets like Will Smith, so Martinez isn't a sure thing yet. But he has improved his stock considerably over a short time.

Rockies
Pecking order
Scott Oberg COL RP

Scott Oberg has continued to do his thing, looking every bit like a reliever who deserves a shot to close, but the well-compensated Wade Davis has been near-perfect in his past four appearances, quieting the chatter for now. Things got so rough there both before and after his IL stint for a strained oblique in May that other managers -- maybe the Athletics' Bob Melvin -- might have already turned the page. But nonetheless, owners in leagues where saves are scarce are forced to continue stashing Oberg in the hopes that the four-run difference in ERA eventually results in a change.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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