We're about a quarter of the way through the season now, and a third of the league's bullpens are still in flux.
I say "still" like there haven't been any new developments since the start of the season, but it's not all the same teams. Not ... all.
Here's hoping the Rays, Twins, Mariners and Royals bullpens eventually reach a point of stasis. I've buried them here because it's more of the same. Hopefully, clearer favorites for saves are emerging in each of their bullpens, but it still feels mostly like guesswork.
Of course, there are more immediate developments in other bullpens across the league. Let's take a look at some of the biggest ones.
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.
The specter of Craig Kimbrel looms larger here than for any other bullpen — and it's likely we learn his destination in three weeks' time, after the draft — but at least for now, Luke Jackson appears to have settled into the role by recording three of the Braves' past four saves, all in the span of eight days. The one he didn't get came Saturday, when Jacob Webb and Jonny Venters split the ninth inning after Jackson had worked two days in a row, but then Jackson came right back with a two-inning save Sunday. Is he good enough to hold up in the role? It's a fair question, but A.J. Minter is such a mess he got sent to Triple-A. If nothing else, Jackson has shown an ability to miss bats.
Chris Martin got some attention last week when he recorded a save immediately before Shawn Kelley went on the IL with an infection. The Rangers offered few other details regarding the injury, but considering Kelley threw a bullpen session over the weekend and thinks he can return after the minimum 10 days, it must not be anything as serious as staph. The presumption, then, is that Kelley will reclaim the role given that he was the first choice prior to the IL stint, but Martin would be a passable choice as well. Of course, the Rangers' ultimate goal is to hand it back to Leclerc, but he needs to show more consistency first.
Manager Alex Cora has been frustratingly mercurial regarding his bullpen usage, but in April, he seemed to show a strong preference for Ryan Brasier in the ninth inning, which is why Brasier has six saves to Matt Barnes' three. But a couple shaky outings at the start of May, one resulting in a blown save and the other requiring Barnes to bail out Brasier, seem to have changed Cora's thinking.
It's too early to say for sure, but Barnes followed that four-out bailout back on May 7 by working the ninth inning of a tie game (Brasier himself pitched the 11th), and then Brasier pitched the eighth inning with the Red Sox up by five Saturday — clearly not a high-leverage situation. Seeing as Barnes has a 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 16.4 strikeouts K/9 on the year, he's a priority pickup just in case he really is the guy.
We're nearly a week into what figures to be a 3-to-4-week absence for Pedro Strop, who's recovering from a Grade 2 hamstring strain, but the Cubs have been winning by too much and with too many walkoffs to reveal their preferred replacement. Supposedly, it's a committee, and since there may not be long enough for anyone to separate himself, it may indeed prove to be. But of the two former closers in their bullpen, Steve Cishek has been more of the eighth-inning guy while Brandon Kintzler has handled the seventh. And sure enough, Cishek got the save chance Sunday.
The Angels' closer situation is one of those weird ones where the pitcher most likely to record the save today (Hansel Robles) is only the less desirable in Fantasy. That's because he's far from entrenched in the role, having already ceded one opportunity to the more effective Ty Buttrey. Granted, it happened way back on May 1, but the Angels have had only two save chances since then. Neither Robles nor Buttrey is expected to be the long-term choice anyway, with manager Brad Ausmus preferring that Cody Allen reclaim the role. Allen has continued to struggle with control, though, even since return from an IL stint for a back strain.
Diego Castillo has converted the team's past two save chances after Emilio Pagan's unexpected run of three in the row, and while this closer situation may be the truest of committees, Castillo has the clear leg up as the one right-hander of the three. Still, of the team's 11 saves recorded by conventional means, he's responsible for only four, which hasn't amounted to much Fantasy production now seven weeks into the season. All three might be worth rostering in 5x5 leagues deep enough that middle relievers have value just for the ERA and WHIP help — they're all plenty valuable in that regard — but you should think of any saves this trio might provide as just a nice bonus.
The Twins' only save chance in May so far was handled by Taylor Rogers, who has four saves to Blake Parker's six, but I still get the feeling it's not a true closer committee. Two of Rogers' four saves came during a two-day span when Parker was sidelined by illness, and another came on opening day, when he entered the game in the eighth inning. Parker has certainly done fine in the role — unsustainably, perhaps, but former closers who have a 1.32 ERA and 0.88 WHIP generally remain closers — so I think he's the one to own right now. If the strikeouts don't pick up, though, and it all comes crashing down, Rogers would be the obvious choice to replace him.
You can pretty much forget about Anthony Swarzak. He got his chance but blew three saves and now sports an ERA over 5.00 (with a FIP that's even worse). Roenis Elias actually leads the Mariners with four saves and would presumably get the next save opportunity, but his last chance came on April 19. The team as a whole has recorded just one save since then, which is part of the reason there's still so much uncertainty. By the time they sort it out, Hunter Strickland (lat) may be back — he has already begun throwing, after all — and at that point, all bets are off.
This one looks pretty close to sewn up. Granted, no official declarations have been made — and as infrequently as the Orioles find themselves with a save opportunity, managerial tendencies are difficult to read — but Givens has converted each of the Orioles' past four saves, dating back to April 24. In fact, the last time an Orioles reliever other than Givens recorded a save was April 2. Givens has been far and away their best reliever and was the presumptive favorite coming in, but because manager Brandon Hyde decided to go the clever route at the start of the year, we've been forced to guess since then. Hopefully, the guessing can end now.
Ian Kennedy looks like the Royals closer now — at least as much as anyone with a total of two saves spaced more than a month apart can. He handled the team's most recent save chance way back on May 1 and worked the end of the game in each of his three appearances since, most recently to preserve a four-run lead against the Phillies Friday. It'd certainly make sense if the Royals had unofficially annointed him to this role. The 34-year-old has shined with his move to the bullpen, recording 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings with a 1.64 FIP, while Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta have been disastrous. Scott Barlow has been similarly impressive but has mostly worked the middle innings to this point.