Each week Mick Ciallela tries to make sense of MLB bullpens with his closer rankings and bullpen depth charts.
It took Edwin Diaz two days to lose a single game for the Mets. Mickey Callaway brought Diaz in to protect a two-run lead on Thursday night. Diaz blew the lead during a steady downpour. Umpires then suspended the game until Friday. Having some extra little rest did not benefit Diaz come Friday. He gave up the winning run in the 10th inning and suffered his fourth loss of the season. In the process, he fell out of the top spot on my closer rankings for the first time this season.
Diaz just has not been as good as he was last year. Perhaps that standard is a bit unfair. After all, Diaz had a season for the ages in 2018. He may just simply be a top closer and not the top closer. There is no shame in that. For now, Josh Hader moves to the top of my closer rankings. I also considered Kirby Yates for this most distinguished honor. Ultimately, I decided I would wait to see how Yates did in Coors Field this weekend. If Yates can pass that test, I may lean towards him a bit going forward. The Padres and Brewers face off this coming week. Perhaps Hader and Yates can spend those three days vying for my undying loyalty and affection.
To see where your favorite closer ranks, check out the rankings below. I have also included news and notes on all 30 bullpens around baseball. Each team’s bullpen depth charts are also here for review. These will become increasingly important to monitor over the coming weeks as the MLB trade deadline approaches.
AL 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 appears to have reclaimed his spot atop the bullpen depth charts in Baltimore. Miguel Castro got a save last Saturday, but that was only a day after Givens had pitched 1.2 innings against Houston. Givens was back to earn the save on Tuesday with a perfect inning. There still isn’t much to get excited about here. Baltimore still has the worst record in the league. Despite being the primary closer for most of the year, Givens has just six saves on the season. Even if he does have the job back, the upside is quite limited.
Just when you thought Boston’s bullpen depth chart couldn’t get any more confusing, Josh Smith gets a save on Thursday. The save was the first career save for Smith, who owns a career ERA of 5.35 and WHIP of 1.54. This was a one-off, and Smith has no fantasy value going forward. But it looks like Alex Cora is once again beginning to favor Matt Barnes in the ninth inning. Barnes got a save on Wednesday and has pitched in the ninth a few times over the last couple of weeks. I am going to reinsert Barnes as the closer on my Boston bullpen depth chart but this is still a committee situation.
The Yankees have lost eight of eleven games, so things have been relatively quiet for Aroldis Chapman. Chapman blew his only save chance of the week, but that did turn into a victory when New York won the game in extra innings. He is going to challenge for 40-plus saves this season as long as he can remain healthy. However, the seasons of triple-digit strikeout totals are likely a thing of the past.
Jose Alvarado has still not pitched following a stint on the bereavement list. He is dealing with a family issue and has not pitched in two weeks. The good news for his fantasy owners is that the Rays have not generated any saves lately and nobody has really taken advantage of Alvarado’s absence. Diego Castillo has pitched just 1.1 innings this month with no saves. Emilio Pagan did get a win on Friday but allowed two home runs on Tuesday. This still feels like a two-man show with Castillo and Alvarado leading the way whenever the latter returns.
Toronto placed closer Ken Giles on the Injured List with inflammation in his right elbow. It’s a tough blow for a pitcher who was already dealing with a bit of bad luck to begin with. Giles has been great all season long but has not gotten a lot of saves because Toronto has not been able to win many games. Giles has just four saves over the last eight weeks. Joe Biagini should slide into the closer’s role for now, but Giles is not expected to miss much time. Biagini has also had a couple of rough outings this month, so it’s hard to get too excited even if Giles is out longer than expected.
It will be interesting to see how Toronto handles Giles going forward. I have been speculating for a few weeks now that Giles could be on the trading block. This development could hamper those plans, especially given that the injury was allegedly caused by Giles pitching on back-to-back games. Contending teams may shy away from a pitcher they cannot rely on every day. If Giles takes longer than expected to heal and the injury affects him into July, that may also impact any potential trade talks. For now, owners of Giles will have to hold and hope that he recovers quickly and is back to closing games in a couple of weeks.
Alex Colome picked up two more saves this week as his impressive 2019 campaign continues. The right-hander now has 14 saves to go along with a minuscule 0.72 WHIP. He has had a couple of shaky outings this month but has been a reliable closer for the White Sox. Chicago is still at .500 and is just a couple of games out of a Wild Card berth. I still think they will become sellers, but they may want to stay the course and build on the momentum that breakout seasons from Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada have provided. I would not rush to sell all of my Colome shares just yet.
Brad Hand has continued his dominant stretch. The stretch has lasted over a month now, so calling it a “stretch” probably does not do Hand proper justice. He’s just flat out awesome. In the last five weeks, Hand has pitched 11 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and striking out 20 batters. He has a 40 percent strikeout rate on the season to go along with a 0.74 WHIP. Both of those numbers put Hand inside the top-10 among pitchers who have thrown at least 25 innings. He’s also fourth in baseball with 19 saves and should continue to dominate going forward.
Shane Greene keeps chugging along with another save and two more scoreless innings this week. Greene now has 20 saves which are tied for second in all of baseball. It’s quite remarkable when you consider that only three teams in the entire sport have won fewer games than Detroit has. The Tigers and fantasy owners alike would be wise to sell high on Greene. But the markets may be a bit cooler than expected for someone with Greene’s numbers. I think skepticism over the legitimacy of his staying power is going to make Greene a tough sell in fantasy leagues.
The Kansas City Royals have won a grand total of three games this month. The good news, however, is that Ian Kennedy has saves in all three wins. Kennedy has average numbers but is useful in a league with a whole lot of committees. He is clearly atop the bullpen depth charts in KC and should remain there. The volume will not always be there. But Kennedy’s 2.04 FIP suggests he has pitched pretty well and could provide solid fantasy value for the rest of the season.
I mentioned last week that it looked as though Taylor Rogers had squeaked ahead of Blake Parker. Each only made one appearance this week, but the gap may have widened a bit. Parker’s lone outing came on Wednesday. Rocco Baldelli summoned Parker in to keep the Twins’ deficit at one run. Three batters later, Minnesota was down four and Parker was pulled. On Friday, Rogers came in for the save against Kansas City and retired the Royals in order. I don’t think we have seen the last of Parker’s fantasy relevance, but I expect that Rogers will continue to get the majority of save chances for the foreseeable future.
Roberto Osuna has just one save in June despite the Astros sporting a 9-3 record for the month. Osuna has been rather pedestrian over the past few weeks, but some pullback was to be expected after an insane eight-week run to begin the year. I still believe that Osuna will lead the American League in saves at the end of the year.
Hansel Robles earned a pair of saves in the Angels’ two-game sweep over their crosstown rivals this week. Ty Buttrey picked up the win on Monday with a scoreless eighth inning. Brad Ausmus used both quite liberally again on Tuesday. Buttrey threw 34 pitches in 1.1 innings and Robles threw 35 in 1.2 innings. Following an off day on Wednesday, it was Cam Bedrosian who got the save on Thursday. I found this to be an interesting move that should excite those who bought into Robles. I think that Thursday would have been an ideal time to throw Cody Allen a bone and see if he could close out a game. But Brad Ausmus avoided using Allen. To me, that means that Robles is here to stay as the closer.
Lo and behold, Ausmus called on Allen in the seventh inning on Friday, and Allen suffered another massive meltdown. He allowed four runs, four hits, and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. Allen is still owned in 46 percent of leagues, while Robles is rostered in 47 percent. Those numbers blow my mind. Robles should be owned in every league. He is the closer for the Angels. He’s got seven saves since May 7. No other Angels pitcher has more than one. This is not a recent trend. Robles also has seven scoreless innings this month. Robles may not be the most dominant closer out there, but he has plenty of value. Allen, meanwhile, has none. Owners should rid themselves of Allen once and for all in all formats. He’s toast.
The Treinen and Trivino Trainwreck Tour made a couple of more stops this week for Oakland. Blake Treinen got two saves this week but allowed six baserunners and two earned runs in three innings. Trivino allowed seven hits in 2.2 innings. He pulled off the very impressive feat of allowing three hits without yielding a run on Wednesday. Both pitchers enter the weekend with WHIPs over 1.40. Trivino is only worth holding in case Bob Melvin pulls Treinen from the closer’s role, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
The good news is that Scott Servais gave Anthony Bass closer usage this week. The bad news is that Bass didn’t deliver closer production. He did luck into a win on Wednesday after serving up a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. That type of performance does not inspire a ton of confidence. However, closer Hunter Strickland suffered a bit of a setback in his rehab this week. Bass may have a little more time to curry favor in Seattle. Bass is owned in just three percent of leagues. There are worse fliers. An example would be Roenis Elias, who is still owned in 26 percent of leagues. Elias picked up the save for Bass on Wednesday, but the bloom has been off that rose for about two months now.
Jose Leclerc took another step backward in his journey back towards the top of the Texas bullpen depth chart. He allowed runs in consecutive appearances on Sunday and Tuesday. The only saving grace for Leclerc owners this week was that Shawn Kelley blew a save and gave up four hits in his lone outing. Chris Martin and Drew Smyly picked up saves for the Rangers this week, but they were purely circumstantial. Kelley is still the closer for now, with Leclerc being groomed to grab the role back in the near future.
NL Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
Luke Jackson is the proverbial box of chocolates. You just never know what you are going to get. Jackson has pitched in 10 games in the last four weeks. He has given up hits in all 10 and runs in six of them. But he also has 21 strikeouts in those 10 games, with multiple strikeouts in six of them. Jackson hasn’t been shaky enough to lose the job, but he hasn’t exactly been a stabilizing force either. The Braves recalled A.J. Minter from the minors this week, which could have Jackson owners on edge. Minter was supposed to share closer duties before ineffectiveness got the better of him. He could work his way back into some save chances if he pitches well over the next couple of weeks.
Sergio Romo had a brutal blown save on Sunday against Atlanta. Romo allowed four runs including a game-tying, three-run home run. Romo has not pitched since, and the Marlins have won just once this week. Unfortunately, that is going to happen on occasion, so owners will have to just take it on the chin this week.
Hector Neris was obviously inspired by Sergio Romo’s blown save against Atlanta and wanting to try it for himself. Neris gave up three runs on Friday night which allowed the Braves to complete a comeback from five runs down. With the Philadelphia pen being a group of walking wounded, I would not put a ton of stock into one bad effort, especially against an incredibly hot Braves team. However, this is still Gabe Kapler we are talking about. He does not always need a reason to vacillate between closers. So the fact that Neris may have given him a reason by losing Friday’s game is a bit worrisome. I would pay close attention over the next few games to see if Kapler changes anything around regarding the use of any members of his bullpen.
Sean Doolittle was the lone NL East closer to not have a bad week. He didn’t really have a good week, per se, either. He had one save and allowed a walk and a hit in 1.1 innings. But considering how he left off last week after a brutal end of May, owners will gladly take a small victory. Washington is in the midst of an 11-game homestand, then face the Marlins and Tigers to finish the month. Doolittle could be in line to gain some steam heading towards the end of June. However, this homestand does include a three-game set against Atlanta. The Braves have been closer killers of late. Hopefully, Doolittle can avoid that fate next weekend.
Pedro Strop needed just one pitch to get a save last Sunday night against St. Louis. The Cubs have not generated a save chance since. Joe Maddon used Strop for a third of an inning on Friday to get him some extra work. Chicago has more or less relegated Steve Cishek to eighth-inning duty following Strop’s return. Once Craig Kimbrel joins the big club, I would expect them to use Cishek in the seventh, Strop in the eighth, and Kimbrel in the ninth. Kimbrel is scheduled to throw live batting practice and then should head to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate for what is effectively his Spring Training. He should be Chicago’s primary closer by the All-Star break.
Raisel Iglesias picked up his 13th save of the season with an impressive outing in Philadelphia on Sunday. However, his next appearance was not so good. Iglesias suffered his sixth loss of the year in Cleveland on Tuesday. Iglesias retired the first hitter he faced, but allowed the next four to reach, including the winning run. I am curious to see if David Bell goes back to the high-leverage well with Iglesias in the coming week. Cincinnati squares off against Houston and Milwaukee next week. I have a sneaky suspicion that Bell will be less preoccupied with saves and more with having Iglesias face the likes of Christian Yelich and Alex Bregman regardless of what inning they hit in. We have seen Iglesias struggle in these situations already this season.
Though Josh Hader got his 16th save of the year on Sunday, he also failed to strike out a hitter in Wednesday’s game. That was just the second such occurrence in 26 outings for the lefty. Hader’s walks have begun to creep up a bit of late. He has walked four batters over his last 4.1 innings. That is a concern especially given his propensity to allow home runs. However, his K-BB rate is still higher than everyone else’s K rate except for Kirby Yates, so it’s hard to complain too much. Hader is as dominant as they come and should continue to post elite numbers for Milwaukee.
The Pirates lost seven straight prior to Friday, so Felipe Vazquez did not get much work. His lone appearance came in the sixth of those losses, but not in his usual role. Clint Hurdle brought Vazquez in with the score tied in the eighth inning. Atlanta had the top of their lineup due up, and Hurdle wanted to keep the game tied. It sort of worked. Vazquez retired the side, and Pittsburgh scored a run in the top of the ninth. But Kyle Crick gave up the lead and the Pirates lost in extras. Hurdle has rarely used Vazquez outside of traditional closer usage, so this game raised my eyebrows a bit. Vazquez should thrive regardless, but selfishly I would prefer it if he only pitched in save situations.
The demise of Jordan Hicks has been greatly exaggerated by yours truly. Hicks got two more saves this week, raising his 2019 total to 14. Mike Shildt avoided going back to Hicks in Friday’s game after he saved the suspended game which had ended earlier in the day. Instead, Shildt had John Gant pitch a third inning in what ended up being his sixth win of the year. Gant has responded from a rough outing last Saturday and is certainly worth rostering, but Hicks is still atop the bullpen depth charts and the reliever you want to own in St. Louis.
Greg Holland had an ugly outing in a non-save chance in Philadelphia on Monday. He allowed two home runs in a game which featured a Major League record 13 long balls. Holland redeemed himself when he pitched a perfect ninth against the Phillies on Wednesday and picked up his 10th save. That number is insanely low, but Holland just hasn’t had a lot of save luck this year. His numbers compare favorably to someone like Shane Greene, and Arizona is 12.5 games better than Detroit. Yet Greene has twice as many saves as Holland. Sometimes you have to just chalk stuff like that up to the baseball gods. Hopefully, Holland can go on a nice run soon.
Coors Field is still Coors Field. That fact was highlighted once again on Friday night when the Rockies lost to San Diego 16-12. Wade Davis had an ugly blown save, but he was far from the only culprit. Mike Dunn preceded Davis and allowed four runs in a third of an inning. What I found interesting was that Bud Black did not bring Davis in to face Hunter Renfroe, who ended up homering off Dunn. I am not sure if Davis simply wasn’t ready yet (Colorado entered the ninth with a six-run lead) or if Black was waiting for a save chance to materialize before calling Davis in. Either way, the plan failed miserably on all accounts. Davis allowed a homer the day before in a non-save, so it has been an ugly week all around, and yet another example of why I will never own Rockies’ pitchers.
For a few weeks, I talked about how Kenley Jansen was no longer the Kenley Jansen of old. Well, he has been lately. Over the last three weeks, Jansen has six saves and has allowed just two baserunners over 6.1 innings with 11 strikeouts. Jansen is now up to 20 saves, which is tied for second in all of baseball. The Dodgers already lead their division by double digits in games, and Dave Roberts has no reason to overextend Jansen. But Jansen should continue to rack up the saves over the rest of the year while gearing up for another playoff run.
Kirby Yates gave up his first home run of the year on Friday but escaped without further damage. Yates leads all closers in saves, xSLG, and xwOBA, and trails only Hader in xBA. It is hard to poke too many holes in the veteran’s game. The only recent issue has been San Diego’s scuffles. The Padres have won just four of 13 games this month. This has led to Yates registering just a single save in June. Following this week’s series against Milwaukee, the Padres have winnable series against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That may help Yates get a few more chances before the end of the month.
It’s hard to believe that smart fantasy players including myself (hey, this is my column – I’ll include myself if I want to) avoided drafting Will Smith because we were worried that Bruce Bochy would turn to Mark Melancon to close out ballgames. All Smith has done over his last 18 outings is post a 1.00 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, and a 41.5 percent K-BB rate to go along with 11 saves. A potential trade threatens to take the air out of the balloon, but it is also possible Smith finds himself atop the bullpen depth charts on a better team. If Smith ended up in Boston, Atlanta, or Texas, he could see an uptick in value over the second half of the season.
Have you found Mick’s Bullpen Depth Charts useful? For more great analysis check out his full archive.
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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