This past week was not kind to many of the closers around baseball. We saw a bunch of blown saves, blowups, and overall bad pitching. It was not just lower-tiered closers who inflicted damage, either. Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen, and Roberto Osuna have each given up four earned runs since last week’s column. One bad week does not always necessitate massive shifts in my closer rankings or bullpen depth charts. But the position sure seems to be chock-full of minefields at the moment.
Below you will see my closer rankings for all 30 Major League teams, as well as each team’s bullpen depth chart. The rankings are constantly changing, and this week is no different. My rankings are for closers only and should be considered short-term guides. We all expect Jose Leclerc to regain the gig in Texas at some point. But for now, Shawn Kelley is still the closer. Therefore, he is ranked, and Leclerc is not. Feel free to comment below should you have any questions about the closer rankings, bullpen depth charts, or anything else related to your teams.
MLB Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
+ Injury Concern
* Part of Committee
NMU Rank = The potential rank if the Next Man Up becomes closer
Mychal Givens’ nightmare week got worse on Sunday when he blew another save in Colorado. Following the game, manager Brandon Hyde removed Givens from the role. Shawn Armstrong got the first chance on Monday, which I expected would be the case. However, he has not pitched since. Richard Bleier got the call on Friday in Baltimore’s next victory. I am not sure if that was matchup-based or not, but this looks like a situation to avoid either way. Baltimore has the worst record in all of baseball. Avoid the headache.
Ryan Brasier had an ugly blown save on Tuesday against Cleveland. He failed to retire a batter and allowed three runs including two home runs. Many fans were clamoring for Craig Kimbrel following Brasier’s outing. Boston has plenty of good pitchers in their bullpen, so I do not think a reunion is imminent. Brasier still leads the team with six saves, but his ship has sailed. He had zero saves in May to go along with a 7.20 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He is still owned in half of all leagues, which is silly. Barnes is owned in 73 percent of leagues despite not having a true save chance since May 7. He, unlike Brasier, is still at least good. I would much rather have Marcus Walden (41 percent owned) and/or Brandon Workman (30 percent) than Brasier at this point.
Aroldis Chapman had just five saves at the end of April but is up to 16 as we enter June. That is good for fourth in baseball and is further proof that you have to ride the highs and lows of established closers on good teams. Chapman finally had an outing where he failed to strike out at least one hitter on Monday. But he is still one of the most steady options at the closer position.
Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado have been playing a game of hot potato with the closer gig over the past few weeks. Every time you think one has overtaken the other, another bad outing creates confusion. Castillo picked up a save on Tuesday and followed that with a victory in Wednesday’s walk-off win. But on Friday, Castillo took the loss, allowing two runs and hitting two batters. Castillo has a 10.13 ERA and 2.06 WHIP over his last five outings. That’s still better than Alvarado, who has a 10.80 ERA and 3.40 WHIP (not a typo) over his last seven. I wonder if we will see Emilio Pagan or perhaps even Hunter Wood get some additional looks in the near future. Both are widely available and worth a speculative add given the circumstances.
Ken Giles has been possibly the biggest victim of Bad Team Syndrome so far this season. Giles had just three saves in May despite allowing no runs and a grand total of three baserunners for the month. There should be a bit of positive regression at some point, but he is not likely to exceed 30 saves if he stays in Toronto all season. Beginning on Monday, 46 of Toronto’s final 103 games are against the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox. Giles has been great, but his upside is limited as long as he remains north of the border.
Alex Colome has quietly been one of the better closers in all of baseball this season. He has a 0.57 WHIP which is best among all closers and tied with Ryan Pressly for best in all of baseball. There will be some regression, as his league-leading .118 BABIP allowed is not sustainable. On the flip side, the White Sox have been much better than most people expected. They enter June just a game out of the playoff race. If they can hang in it for a while, the chances of a trade involving Colome would likely decrease. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
I made the mistake of mentioning that A.J. Cole could be in line for usage in more important situations. Naturally, he allowed a run and five hits in 1.1 innings this week. My apologies to Cole and his family. In brighter news, Brad Hand had two more saves this week and is a perfect 15-for-15 this year. His ERA is down to 1.19 and he has a 29.9 percent K-BB rate. Among the stranger stats I have seen is that Hand has induced ground balls at a rate of just 13 percent. Yet he has only allowed one home run this season. Both numbers will probably regress towards the mean as the season continues. In any event, Hand is among the best closers in the game.
The Detroit Tigers have 22 wins on the year, and Shane Greene has 18 saves. Let’s remember this when we have the “draft skills, not role” debate for the 30th year in a row next spring. In all seriousness, Greene hasn’t been that bad this year. But he also hasn’t been as great as the numbers suggest. Of the 18 pitchers with double-digit saves, Greene’s 3.52 FIP ranks 15th. He has just run hot this season. Virtually every time the Tigers win, it is a close game, which sets up Greene for a save. I would begin planning an exit strategy if I owned Greene, but I also wouldn’t blame those who want to ride the wave for as long as they can.
The bad news for investors in Ian Kennedy is that he gave up three runs to blow a save on Sunday, then lost a game on Wednesday in Chicago. The good news is that despite this, Ned Yost trusted Kennedy to close Thursday’s game. And Kennedy was up to the task. It sure feels like he is the closer, even though the save was just his third on the year and first since May 1. Kansas City is a bad club, but they don’t really have any better options. Kennedy is also owed roughly $27 million dollars through 2020. That should prohibit clubs from wanting to pry the veteran away. He is not a top-20 closer in any format but he could be worth rostering for those truly desperate for saves.
Minnesota has the best record in baseball and Blake Parker leads them with eight saves. His last appearance came when he entered the game to start the eighth inning with the Twins up 5-0. Parker gave up two runs and three hits which made the bad situation worse. He could have gotten the save on Friday when the Twins took the lead in the ninth. But Rocco Baldelli elected to leave Taylor Rogers in to throw 2.1 innings. Never forget how much Baldelli hates you and your fantasy teams. Parker and Rogers have both excelled this season and will keep stepping on each other’s toes going forward.
Welcome to the part of the show where I talk about how hilarious it is that I bumped Roberto Osuna all the way up to number two in my closer rankings last week, just in time for him to give up four runs and six hits in the 48 hours following the publishing of last week’s column. I guess some pullback was in order and I just got hit with it. Luckily, Osuna righted the ship, pitching clean innings on Tuesday and Friday and increasing his save total to 16. He is still a top option and has a great chance to lead the American League in saves at year’s end.
Osuna is good enough to power through the overwhelming burden of my praise and escape to the other side. I’m not sure I can say the same of Hansel Robles. Robles had a week to forget. He blew two of three save chances and allowed two runs on both occasions. I do think that Brad Ausmus likes keeping Ty Buttrey as a high-leverage option, which could give Robles a bit more leeway. But Robles will have to figure it out, and quickly. Even at his best, he is not the prototypical dominant closer who can overpower hitters. I would not jump ship quite yet, but the sharks may be beginning to smell blood in the water.
Blake Treinen posted two straight outings of flawless, two-inning baseball following a brief injury scare several weeks back. Those games put fears at ease. But that era of good feelings has proven to be short-lived. Treinen has been a mess since. In the last three weeks, Treinen has allowed six runs and 13 hits over 8.1 innings pitched. I have to wonder if he is still trying to power through some physical ailment. He was still hitting 97 MPH on the gun in his last outing, but his command has just not been there lately. Owners will just have to hope Treinen gets it together before it’s too late. At least there is no worry of a demotion anytime soon. Lou Trivino had an even worse week than Treinen, and Joakim Soria is still Joakim Soria. Oakland released Fernando Rodney this week, like a make-believe arrow headed towards obscurity. Quite poetic if you ask me.
This week’s contestant on “Who Wants To Be the Mariners’ Closer” is Anthony Bass. Bass comes to us from Dearborn, Michigan via Wayne State University. Fun fact: he is related through marriage to Eric Decker. Bass has bounced around the league for the better part of the decade and even spent the 2016 season in Japan. Now that you know a little bit about the man, let’s look into his fantasy prospects, shall we?
Cincinnati sent Bass to their Triple-A affiliate out of Spring Training. He had nine saves and a 2.21 ERA over 19 appearances. Bass opted out of his contract and signed with Seattle on May 21. He has pitched pretty well so far. Bass suffered the loss on Wednesday but has a 1.42 ERA and 0.63 WHIP in five games with Seattle. He has struck out six and has yet to walk a batter. Scott Servais has deployed Bass in pressure situations right away. Bass earned his first MLB save of the season on Friday and I would not be surprised to see him get more chances over the next few weeks. Hunter Strickland is scheduled to throw off a mound on Sunday. Strickland still looks like the best bet long-term, but Bass could be a nice pickup in the interim.
Shawn Kelley had a blown save and took the loss on Monday against the Angels. He bounced back to pick up the save on Wednesday and finished Friday’s game with a clean inning as well. I still expect Kelley’s run as closer to end shortly, with Jose Leclerc likely to get the job back. Leclerc also had a minor hiccup early in the week but also has responded well since. Leclerc has allowed just two runs and three hits over his last nine innings. More importantly, he has allowed only two walks during that time while striking out 19. I am setting the over/under at June 17 for when Leclerc once again becomes “Lecloser”.
Luke Jackson pitched a scoreless tenth inning on Sunday for his seventh save of the season. It was a positive sign for Jackson following two consecutive blown saves the week prior. Jackson’s FIP and xFIP are lower than his 3.00 ERA. His role should be pretty secure for the time being. That is, in part, due to Dan Winkler’s horrific week. His week was so bad that his ERA rose by over FIVE RUNS. Winkler allowed nine runs in just 1.2 combined innings against St. Louis and Washington. Jacob Webb is probably the best reliever besides Jackson in the Braves’ pen, but the rookie still has a ways to go before threatening Jackson.
Amongst all the chaos and blowups that have ensued over the last week or so, Sergio Romo posted his second straight multi-save week. Romo has a knack for coming back from the fantasy dead time and time again. He may be the cockroach of closers. In times like these, simply being “the guy” may be enough to warrant consideration, even as a flawed pitcher on a terrible team.
Edwin Diaz had an epic meltdown on Wednesday against the Dodgers. He retired just one of the seven batters he faced, and that resulted in a game-winning sacrifice fly. The Dodgers strung together four straight extra-base hits to start the inning. Prior to his blowup, Diaz had allowed just 15 such hits against 370 batters faced since the beginning of the 2018 season.
It is easy to overreact to a bad outing by a reliever, because they throw fewer innings, thereby magnifying these kinds of games. But Diaz has already given up five homers on the year, matching his 2018 total. His 2019 numbers (3.22 ERA, 4.00 FIP) look an awful lot like his 2017 numbers (3.27 ERA, 4.02 FIP). Diaz was still an elite closer that year, but he wasn’t head and shoulders above everyone else as he was last season. That distinction has me toying with removing him from the top spot in my closer rankings for the first time this season. I’m willing to give it another week, as a homestand against San Francisco and Colorado should cure some of his ills. Another outing resembling Wednesday’s, however, would rightfully generate some concern for Diaz owners.
Hector Neris only pitched once this week, but that was a perfect inning that resulted in a save on Tuesday. The save was Neris’ tenth of the year, and he has separated himself a bit from the pack. Neris has been really good all season long. His split-fingered fastball is among the best in the league, and he uses is frequently to induce lots of ground balls and strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .152 and slugging .191 against the splitter. The only thing really holding Neris top from joining the next tier of closers is that manager Gabe Kapler tends to be a bit random with his bullpen usage. Neris joins the likes of pitchers like Raisel Iglesias who are usually closers but are not always closers. Stuff-wise, though, Neris belongs in the upper echelon.
Sean Doolittle made some mechanical tweaks after watching some film from last season in an attempt to get that mojo back. The early returns were good, as Doolittle struck out the side to close out the Braves on Wednesday. One good outing does not put two weeks of garbage out of memory, but hopefully, it is a step back towards Doolittle being a top-tier closer once again. At the very least, he should have a fair amount of rope considering the JAGs that make up the rest of the Nats’ beleaguered bullpen.
Manager Joe Maddon has continued to give Steve Cishek the job in Pedro Strop’s absence. Cishek blew a save last Friday but came back to nail down Chicago’s win in Houston on Wednesday. Cishek has been solid if not dominant in the role. It will be interesting to see if Maddon gives Strop the job immediately upon his return. Cishek has been just as good as Strop, if not better. And it’s not as if Strop has years of closing experience under his belt. Strop still holds a 61-41 percent ownership advantage on Fantrax. I am inclined to hold Cishek wherever possible on the chance they either ease Strop in or decide to just roll with Cishek instead.
It has been a slow week for Raisel Iglesias despite the Reds going 4-3 this week. Unfortunately, their wins this week were not close. Iglesias pitched just one inning, a scoreless ninth in a game Cincinnati was trailing 7-1. That’s how it goes sometimes. Owners will just have to hope the tide turns in the closer’s favor soon.
I was quite upset when Josh Hader was taken in the fourth round of my NFBC Second Chance league. I really wanted to nab the guy I’ve been touting for months as having the upside to be the game’s best reliever. Even though I didn’t get him, the fact that he was taken second among closers (and in the fourth round, no less) proves that my preseason praise was warranted. Craig Counsell continues to use Hader freely. Hader has pitched in multiple innings in four of his last five appearances. That type of usage will cap his save total, but he is still on pace for 36. That number is plenty given Hader’s utter dominance in every other category.
If you think Edwin Diaz or Kirby Yates was the first reliever taken in the draft I just mentioned, you would be wrong. That distinction belongs to Felipe Vazquez. It is not what I would have done, but different strokes for different folks, I suppose. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with Vazquez. He ranks in the top-10 among closers in saves, ERA, and strikeouts. His role is secure and well-defined, which is increasingly important these days. It’s certainly a bold call, and I give the guy in my league props for making it.
Jordan Hicks had a busy week with a few peaks and valleys along the way. He posted a clean inning for a save on Sunday but gave up a three-run lead without retiring a batter the next day. Mike Shildt trusted Hicks with the club’s next chance, and Hicks responded in kind with another perfect frame. On Friday, Hicks pitched two scoreless and hitless innings and picked up the win when the Cardinals walked it off against the Cubs. The faith restored in Hicks following a couple of recent poor showings proves that Hicks is the closer with a capital “C”. The 22-year-old will probably hit some bumps along the way, but he should continue to get the large majority of save opportunities in St. Louis.
Well, Greg Holland survived a four-game series in Colorado with nary a scratch against his record. That’s probably because he didn’t pitch, as Arizona lost all four games. But sometimes not losing is winning, amirite? After all, we often complain about closers being used in non-save chances. Torey Lovullo has shielded Holland’s usage in non-competitive situations more than most managers do with their closers. This is a wise strategy considering Holland likely has a finite number of bullets in his chamber. Holland has only thrown 18.2 innings this season. That limited exposure will hopefully curb the rough patches Holland is likely to encounter as the season rolls on. Still, one save in four weeks won’t cut it. Hopefully, Arizona can get back on the winning track in short order.
Following wins in back-to-back appearances against Baltimore last weekend, Scott Oberg pitched three scoreless innings in the aforementioned series sweep against Arizona. Unfortunately, Oberg picked up a single save in the process. But he has pitched quite well with Wade Davis sidelined. Davis has begun throwing and should be back in a couple of weeks. Barring a setback as he ramps up his rehab, Oberg will be nothing more than a stopgap.
Kenley Jansen pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and nabbed three saves this week. 11 of Jansen’s 17 saves have come at home, where the Dodgers have an MLB-best 23-7 record. There is a fine line between a closer having that magical run of dominance and being “just” a solid RP1. (See Diaz, Treinen, Doolittle, et al.) Jansen is not what he was, and he may never be that guy again. But he is an established closer on a great team who will be afforded every opportunity to work through any struggles he may encounter.
Kirby Yates was immune from the blowups this week, as he has been all season long. Yates picked up two more saves this week, increasing his league-leading total to 22. He is basically looking like this year’s version of Edwin Diaz or Blake Treinen and showing no signs of slowing down. There is nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest that any of this is unsustainable. It just looks to be one of those special seasons where the stars align and everything breaks right. San Diego is just beginning a ten-game homestand, so Yates should have plenty of chances to pad his stats in the next week or so.
Will Smith has dominated the competition despite flying a bit under the radar this season. Smith ranks fourth among all pitchers in xwOBA allowed, ahead of every closer not named Josh Hader. His 1.99 xFIP trails only Hader’s 1.90 and Yates’ 1.97 among full-time closers. And Smith does have 13 saves to his credit despite San Francisco scuffling. It’s not as if we are talking about Matt Barnes (three saves) here. Tony Watson has been getting the eighth inning work, so I am moving him ahead of Sam Dyson on the team’s bullpen depth chart. However, If I had to pick up one Giants’ reliever as a speculative play, my preference would be Dyson. I still think he would get the first chance to close in the event of a trade involving Smith.
Also check out Mick’s Rest of Season Rankings for 2019 Fantasy Baseball.
Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.
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