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Given how solid Steve Cishek has been in the closer's role over the last two seasons, it is safe to say his start to this season has been nothing short of a disaster. Cishek has been tagged for eight runs in 7 1/3 innings of work, with his strikeout rate, groundball rate and walk rate all moving in the wrong direction. Though there is little indication the spendthrift Marlins are looking to make him into a $7 million setup man, how much of a cause for concern is Cishek's start to the season?
Cishek has primarily been a two-pitch pitcher in his career, and that has remained the case this season. 46.7 percent of his pitches have been sinkers, 46.0 have been sliders, right in line with last year's marks. The problem is, his slider isn't sliding as much and the sinker isn't coming in as hard as in year's past.
Cishek has lost two miles per hour on both pitches this season, and his slider doesn't have quite as much depth to it; though it is gaining an extra inch or so in horizontal movement, per PITCHf/x, he has sacrificed nearly an inch and a half in horizontal movement in the process. It's no wonder Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal quoted a scout who said of Cishek, "His slider just rolls ... He's more like a seventh-inning guy now."
Cishek hopefully hit rock bottom Monday, allowing a three-run home run to Daniel Murphy for his second blown save of the season. The good news, I suppose, is Cishek saw a similar drop in his velocity last April, as he worked at 90.7 MPH with his sinker before jumping up to as high as 93.8 in July.
The Marlins are sure to have a long leash with Cishek, so he'll get time to work through his issues. However, the velocity drop is concerning, and shouldn't be ignored. His stock is down right now, and it will be hard to trust him until the velocity returns.
Brett Cecil, Blue Jays
Cecil dealt with shoulder soreness in the spring, so it was alarming to see him come out of the gate armed with an 87.9 mile per hour fastball, six ticks lower than his average a year ago, per BrooksBaseball.net. The team took appropriate caution and moved him out of the closer's role, allowing him to work his way back to full strength in a lower-leverage role. He hasn't regained the 93-94 MPH velocity he sported in 2014, but Cecil has added enough velocity to assuage at least some of the concerns about his shoulder, and the Blue Jays moved him back into the role this week. However, there are still warning signs here; his overall swinging strike rate has fallen from 16.5 percent to 10.2, and he has picked up a swinging strike on just 17.1 percent of his curveballs, compared to 19.6 a year ago. Cecil is back in the only role than can make him Fantasy relevant, so he should be back on your radar, but he certainly doesn't look like a lights-out option at this point. The Blue Jays seemingly want him to run away with the role, but there's no guarantee he is up to it. There are probably 15-20 closers with a better mixture of potential and job security, so don't run out immediately to grab Cecil.
Last week's stats: 2 1/3 IP, 1 K, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 1 S
Dellin Betances, Yankees
Let's get this out of the way first: Betances isn't particularly close to earning the ninth inning job. This isn't because of his performance, of course, as Betances has righted the ship and become the elite reliever we all expected him to be coming into the season. No, it's more about the fact that, as good as Betances has been, Andrew Miller has been even better, matching him scoreless outing for scoreless outing, without the wildness that Betances struggled with in the first few weeks of the season. However, Betances is a rare breed of reliever who can still sustain Fantasy relevance even when he isn't getting saves. Oh sure, he's not a must-own player by any means until he gets into the ninth consistently, but he does have 17 strikeouts in 11 1/3 scoreless innings. That comes out to a 13.5 K/9, identical to his mark last season. He's basically as unhittable as any reliever in baseball; he just happens to be setting up for one of the only players who might have him beat there. Still, the present-day production and potential to become one of the three most valuable closers in Fantasy if Miller falters makes him worth a stash and occasional start.
Last week's stats: 3 1/3 IP, 9 K, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 0 S
Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks traded one of their top prospects for Reed two years ago, and they've gotten a 4.27 ERA over 65 1/3 innings, with seven blown saves in 40 opportunities out of the deal. That isn't a great return, and Reed hasn't given us much indication that his 2014 season was a minor bump in the road. With Brad Ziegler looming as a potential replacement, don't be surprised if a few more bad innings costs Reed his job.
Last week's stats: 2 1/3 IP, 2 K, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 R, 0 S, 1 L
Yimi Garcia, Dodgers
Their bullpen has been one of the best in baseball so far, but the Dodgers have run through a number of different options at closer with Kenley Jansen recovering from foot surgery. Jansen is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Friday, so the answer will arrive soon enough, but he could need 10-14 days before he is ready to pitch in the majors. That leaves time for the replacements to rack up short-term value. The latest to get his chance is Garcia, who picked up the save last Friday, the Dodgers' most recent save opportunity. Whether Garcia will get the next one is an open question, but he deserves to be on your radar. Garcia routinely racked up massive strikeout numbers in the minors, and has so far struck out 35.5 percent of opposing batters in the majors, dating back to last season. He racks up big swinging strike numbers and has baffled hitters with a fastball-slider combo he can throw with a 10 MPH difference and tons of movement both ways. With 18 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings, he could be the kind of reliever who has value for Fantasy even outside of a closing role.
Last week's stats: 3 2/3 IP, 6 K, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 1
Wade Davis, Royals
Through no fault of his own, Davis is about to lose his job, and we all saw this coming. He only took over the ninth inning role as a result of Greg Holland's injury, and with Holland already throwing in the bullpen and eyeing a return to action next week, Davis' time as the closer is drawing to a close. But that doesn't mean you should automatically dump him, at least not in every league. OK, in H2H leagues, you probably should. However, in Rotisserie leagues, he can still be useful, in much the same way Betances can be. For a variety of reasons, he probably has less upside than Betances, but there is still something to like about him in his current role..
Last week's stats: 2 IP, 2 K, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 1 S
John Axford, Rockies
It has been a long time since John Axford was a useful Fantasy option, after three straight seasons in which his ERA hovered above 3.90 and he hovered between jobs. However, if you look back far enough, you can see that he was actually one of the best closers in baseball for a two-year stretch from 2010 to 2011. He has always been able to throw hard, and he still has that 95 MPH heat, only this time he's actually using it the right way. Opposing hitters are swinging and missing at a career-high 11.6 percent of his pitches, largely due to an elevated rate of swings on pitches outside of the zone; he's making them chase junk. With just five innings under his belt this season, it's too early to erase memories of his erratic stuff in recent years, but Adam Ottavino's injury has opened a door for Axford. At just 28 percent owned in CBSSports.com leagues, Axford is at least worth a flier if you need saves, even if he might turn into a pumpkin before long.
Last week's stats: 4 IP, 5 K, 3 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 2 S