Note: Don't whiff on this special FanDuel offer. Win your first contest or get your money back (up to $10) to keep playing. Try FanDuel now!
Relief pitcher stinks.
At what other position does a player go from worthless to indispensable at the drop of a hat?
I mean, occasionally you'll see an injury open the door for a prospect or intriguing bench player at some other position, but at relief pitcher, it can happen based only on a manager's mood. And that can be fickle. Already, eight teams have changed from their presumed closer at the start of spring training for one reason another, and we're only one-thirteenth of the way through the regular season.
Granted, some of those situations have stabilized by now, but that number doesn't even include some of the teams that haven't made an actual change but aren't exactly settled in the role either. Much is in flux at the relief pitcher position, and unless you're one of the lucky ones (for now) who landed two of the stable Abels at the position, it's fair to assume it's keeping you occupied on the waiver wire.
And frankly, you have more you want to do there than chase the latest hopeful for saves.
Perhaps I can lend some clarity to the situation. Below are what I consider to be the seven closer situations currently in flux and my assessment of each: what I think will ultimately happen, who I'd target in Fantasy, etc. I also rate each front-runner's job security and Fantasy potential on a scale of 1-5, with five being the best.
Based on his work in the role down the stretch for the Phillies last year, Fantasy owners were drafting Ken Giles as if he was already a top closer only to find out he's not a closer at all. The Astros have instead stuck with the relatively ordinary Luke Gregerson in the role, and he's a perfect 4 for 4 in save opportunities so far.
And by perfect, I'm not strictly referring to the conversion rate. He has allowed all of one hit in five innings.
Meanwhile, the spring performance that cost Giles the role has carried over to the regular season. He has allowed five earned runs on three home runs and, as of now, isn't even secure in his eighth-inning role.
He still has plus-plus velocity and outstanding strikeout potential, so I wouldn't be surprised if he became one of those relievers who matters in Rotisserie leagues even without the saves. But at this point, Gregerson would need to flop to cede the closer role to him, and considering he was the go-to guy from start to finish last year, I'm not counting on it.
So the Athletics said all offseason that they're committed to Sean Doolittle, torn rotator cuff and all, as their closer. And fine, his velocity was back toward the end of last season, so I could go along with that. But then they gave Ryan Madson their first two save opportunities under the guise of "playing the matchups." Soon thereafter, they had Doolittle work the eighth inning against the heart of the Mariners lineup only to have Madson work the eighth against the same hitters on the very next day, preserving Doolittle for a 10th-inning save.
That was on April 10, and considering the decision most definitely wasn't based on matchups, we could only assume Doolittle was back to being the preferred choice for saves. Well, one blown save later, Madson was back to working the ninth inning Saturday and again Sunday.
Bottom line is that Doolittle has yet to record a ninth-inning save this season while Madson has four. I think we can all see which way the wind is blowing on this one. The Athletics still say they're playing matchups, but now they've added a new variable to the equation: performance.
"We're just trying to do the best we can with, number one, matchups and, number two, with how guys are pitching," manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com.
The way Madson is pitching, I'm assuming he's Priority 1 even if that means his services are required in the eighth inning instead of the ninth every once in a while.
After giving every indication during draft season that Jason Grilli would get the first shot at saves, the Braves revealed when the games began to count that Arodys Vizcaino was actually their preferred option.
But wait, wasn't that Grilli coming in for a save opportunity Saturday -- and again Sunday?
Relax. Manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to give Vizcaino a breather Saturday after watching him throw 35 pitches Friday and initially joked that he wouldn't use him again until Wednesday. Apparently, Sunday was off limits as well because even after Grilli faltered, Gonzalez brought in starting pitcher Matt Wisler rather than Vizcaino for the save.
Wisler isn't moving to the bullpen -- he's actually still in line to start Wednesday -- and Grilli's struggles also confirm that Vizcaino's role isn't in jeopardy. But by giving him more than just a day off after a 35-pitch appearance, even with the game on the line, Gonzalez showed that he's handling the Tommy John survivor with kid gloves. And as scarce as the save opportunities figure to be for this Braves club, Vizcaino can't afford to lose any to an abundance of caution.
Good stuff. Bad situation.
Yeah, so the Phillies closer is going to be David Hernandez. No, wait -- it's Dalier Hinojosa. Oh, oh, nevermind. They're back to Hernandez. Er, scratch that. Jeanmar Gomez is most definitely the guy.
Confused yet? Yeah, it's fair to say the Phillies bullpen has had the most turnover of any so far. And I have a feeling it's not done.
For as many headaches as it gave manager Pete Mackanin that first week, you can understand him sticking with Gomez until the 28-year-old right-handers proves he shouldn't. And given Gomez's profile as a pitch-to-contact ground-ball specialist, which makes him susceptible to luck and, thus, liable to implode at an inopportune time, that's what I think will happen ... eventually.
How soon is eventually? I wouldn't even wager a guess. But since Gomez stopped the bleeding, Hernandez has emerged as a viable alternative, justifying the early hype with eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. A mechanical tweak allowed the Tommy John survivor to recapture the velocity that wasn't there in his first appearance.
Of course, it's a wonder the Phillies have had a chance to cycle through so many closer candidates, what with their bottom-of-the-division roster. Whoever emerges here, be it Gomez or Hernandez, figures to be small potatoes in Fantasy.
His ERA may still be an unsightly 11.25, but from what I can tell, Shawn Tolleson is no longer feeling the heat from his April 6 meltdown, when he blew a game by allowing five earned runs, two on a home run by Robinson Cano, without recording an out. And for what it's worth, manager Jeff Bannister's confidence never wavered.
"After two outings, I'm not going to raise the red flag of being concerned," he told MLB.com at the time. "We'll continue to pay attention to it."
Since then, Tolleson has converted two save opportunities without incident. Sam Dyson, who got save chances over Tolleson in the postseason last year, has been a little steadier, and Keone Kela probably has the best stuff of the three. But on an expected contender, Tolleson's role appears safe enough to trust in Fantasy.
The Rays finally notched their first save Sunday, and it went, as expected, to Alex Colome, who has been mostly effective as the presumptive fill-in for the injured Brad Boxberger. He nearly blew a game in his first appearance April 5 but was bailed out by the new slide rule, which erased Jose Bautista's breakup of a double play, but that wasn't technically a save situation since the Rays already took the lead after Colome entered in the eighth. He was trying to close out his own win, in other words.
And that's what makes him less than trustworthy even in a situation where, given the strength of the Rays starting rotation, he should be able to pile up saves. Since the days of Joe Maddon, the Rays haven't exactly subscribed to traditional bullpen roles.
But Boxberger eventually emerged as the no-questions-asked closer even during a miserable second half last year. I'm just not sure Colome will get that opportunity with Boxberger now only a month away from returning from abdominal surgery, it kind of feels like, outside of deeper leagues, owning him is a waste of time.
Kevin Jepsen is the guy at least until Glen Perkins returns from a shoulder strain, which should be not long after he's eligible April 26. But at this point, I'm beginning to wonder if Jepsen isn't the more effective pitcher.
His ERA, like every reliever who has been less than flawless this time of year, is inflated, but he has allowed no hits over his three appearances in the role and had a 1.27 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in his 21 games closing for the Twins down the stretch last year, which was made necessary because -- guess what? -- Perkins wasn't healthy.
The left-hander has battled back/neck issues for the better part of two seasons, and you have to wonder at what point it impacts his effectiveness. He does, after all, have a 7.48 ERA in his last 24 appearances dating back to last year. And who's to say this shoulder issue isn't related -- a compensatory injury arising from altered mechanics? It's only a guess, but it's not entirely off base.
I'm just saying that if Perkins shows any vulnerability at all after returning, the Twins have an easy fallback in Jepsen, so if I was having to rely on the former in Fantasy, I'd want to keep the latter around.