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Part of why you invest in the closer position on Draft Day is to give yourself peace of mind. While the rest of your league mates are running around after the latest Adam Ottavino or Chris Hatcher, you can feel confident in your team's situation with Craig Kimbrel or Greg Holland holding things down. Until, of course, injury strikes.
In today's MLB, it seems it isn't so much a question of if, but when any given pitcher will get hurt. Holland is the latest example, though luckily he avoided serious structural damage to his arm and should be back in two weeks from a grade 1 pectoral strain. Holland escaped without serious damage, but his injury also highlights how important an elite setup man can be. The Royals and Fantasy players were able to slide Wade Davis right into the ninth inning and expect better production than most other teams get from their primary closers.
As a non-closer who is still worth a roster spot, Davis is pretty rare, but he isn't necessarily alone in that regard. In fact, there are a few relievers who will be worth keeping an eye on even without the ninth inning role in their hands. We'll kick off Week 3's Closer Stock Watch with a few players you'll want to keep an eye in, even before they get their chance to close games out.
Tony Watson, Pirates
The Pirates bullpen has been an issue so far this season, posting a 4.20 ERA and blowing a handful of leads from a starting staff that has mostly done its job, and Watson has been a part of that with a 4.00 ERA. However, three of those four runs allowed came in his first appearance of the season, and he has been basically untouchable since, recording eight strikeouts in nine innings since, while allowing just two hits and one run with no walks. This isn't some small-sample size thing either; Watson was absolutely dominant a year ago, posting a 1.63 ERA in a league-high 78 appearances. The fact that manager Clint Hurdle went his way so often is a good indicator of the fact that he trusts Watson deeply, so if Mark Melancon's (see below) struggles continue, Watson should be a safe bet to get the opportunity. Given his 9.4 K/9 and 5.4 K/BB last year, I have every reason to think he should do well in that role.
Season stats: 4 IP, 4 K, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 R
Shawn Tolleson, Rangers
Tolleson has looked very good so far this season, and there might be an explanation for that beyond the very small sample size; his changeup looks like it could be a weapon. Tolleson threw 137 changeups and racked up a swinging strike rate of 19.7 percent and opposing hitters managed to hit just .100 on it, but it was just his third-most used pitch according to BrooksBaseball.net. Though we're dealing with just 172 pitches so far, Tolleson has moved the changeup into the No. 2 spot in his repertoire, without losing effectiveness. He has induced a swinging strike on six of his 30 changeups so far, and it has become a particularly devastating weapon against lefties. With a changeup lefties hit just .086 against in his career and a slider that holds righties to a .234 average, Tolleson has weapons he can utilize against hitters on both sides of the plate. Given a relatively brief track record of high-level performance, Tolleson is still a question mark, but he looks like he could provide some solid production if he gets a chance in the ninth.
Last week's stats: 3 1/3 IP, 7 K, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 R
Mark Melancon, Pirates
A couple of bad outings aren't necessarily anything to panic about; even Craig Kimbrel was tagged for runs in consecutive outings last season at one point. In this instance, it's not the "what" that we're worried about with Melancon, but the "how." Melancon's main weapon over the years has been a cutter that he has wielded with fantastic results; opposing batters swung and missed 13.4 percent of his cutters a year ago, and hit just .226 against the offering that came in at 92.8 miles per hour on average. In 2015, that cutter is coming in at just 89.6 miles per hour, with a swinging strike rate down to 5.8 percent and an opponent average of .316. He has already given up four extra-base hits on 69 pitches, compared to just five on 620 a year ago. Melancon is also having issues with his curveball, and this kind of sudden drop off has to be concerning. Whether there is something structurally wrong or Melancon just needs a break, it wouldn't surprise me if he is out of the role before long.
Last week's stats: 3 1/3 IP, 1 K, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 R, 2 S, 1 BS
Joakim Soria, Tigers
Nobody likes rooting for injuries, but we have to understand that this is a zero-sum game. If someone is closing for a given team, that necessarily means someone else cannot be. With that in mind, Joe Nathan's apparent setback Thursday during a rehab game has to be viewed as good news for Soria, who might have had to relinquish the role to the veteran upon his return from the DL. Whether you think Soria should have been at risk of losing the job even if Nathan was healthy -- and I don't -- this clearly leaves the door open for Soria for at least a little while longer. Soria isn't the elite bat-misser he once was, but he has done a solid job so far, nailing down five saves in as many chances. As long as he can remain effective, the Tigers will give him plenty of chances, so Soria should rack up saves.
Last week's stats: 3 IP, 1 K, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 S
Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Feliz hasn't registered a K/9 above 7.80 since 2011, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that he isn't missing many bats right now. His strikeout rate has fallen from 17.2 percent a year ago to 16.1 percent so far, and none of his other indicators are trending in the right direction. Feliz's walk rate is up from 9.0 percent to 12.9 percent, his swinging strike rate is down to 9.7 percent, and he just really seems to be struggling to command his pitches right now. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Feliz has thrown just 22.8 percent of his fastballs for strikes, and only 31.3 percent of his sliders, his two most used pitches. Opposing hitters are swinging at just 16.4 percent of his pitches out of the zone, a good indication that Feliz just isn't fooling them right now, and a bad sign for him moving forward. Feliz. The Rangers might not be competing for much this season before long, which could give Feliz a longer rope to work on things, but he isn't looking like a must-own option on a team that might not give him many save chances.
Last week's stats: 2 2/3 IP, 1 K, 1 4, 2 BB, 2 R, 1 S, 1 BS
Cody Allen, Indians
Allen had little trouble serving as the closer last season, holding down 24 of 28 save opportunities, and generally pitched better in save opportunities than otherwise. In 37 save situations, he hold opposing hitters to a .183 average while striking out 37.9 percent of opposing batters, with just seven walks in 33 2/3 innings. Things haven't come quite so easily for him this season, and not just because he has melted down for four runs in two of his first appearances. He hasn't allowed a run in any of his other appearances, but walked at least one batter in four straight appearances, and has issued six free passes in five innings of work. Control wasn't an issue for Allen last season, so this could just be a small-sample size issue, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on. The 10 strikeouts are nice, but ask Cubs fans who had to endure the Carlos Marmol era how long you'll tolerate an unhittable pitcher if he can't hit the strike zone either.
Last week's stats: 3 1/3 IP, 9 K, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 R, 2 S, 1 BS
Jake McGee, Rays
The Rays' insistence on not naming a closer might be what sabermetrically minded baseball fans want to see from a forward-thinking organization, but it is the last thing Fantasy players want. Brad Boxberger has been the main recipient of saves so far, but he entered Wednesday's game in the seventh inning and faced the heart of the Red Sox order; that allowed Steve Geltz to become the fourth Rays pitcher to record a save this season. The fact that the Rays have been mostly unwilling to give any one player the ninth inning job consistently could bode well for McGee's chances to take the job as soon as he returns from the disabled list, though his fitful recovery from an elbow injury means we don't quite know when he will be back. There is also the concern that, as with Boxberger, the Rays might be inclined to use McGee as more of a fireman than a true closer, meaning some save opportunities may go elsewhere at times. Still, if you've been stashing McGee or eyeing him as a potential pickup as he gets closer to returning, you have to like that nobody else has taken the job and run with it yet.