Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings for Week 8
There is a lot to get to this week with regard to the reliever landscape and closer rankings. There are several injuries to some high-profile relievers and other relievers who are returning from injuries. We have demotions within individual bullpens as well as from an organizational standpoint. As a result, there have been plenty of changes made to both the closer rankings and bullpen depth charts. We have a lot to touch on, so let us get right to it. Here are my closer rankings and updated bullpen depth charts with notes on each team.
Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
+ Injury Concern
* Part of Committee
NMU Rank = The potential rank if the Next Man Up becomes closer
AL East Bullpen Depth Charts
Mychal Givens earned saves in consecutive games for the first time this season in victories over Tampa and Boston on Saturday and Monday, respectively. Givens has yet to allow a run in May and now sports a solid 3.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. There are still concerns regarding his usage in high leverage situations and a lack of save chances. Baltimore has the worst record in the American League and is only ahead of Miami overall. But Givens moves up in this week’s closer rankings due to sheer attrition. With all of the instability at the position, Givens is not the worst option. Just make sure you do not value him as a top-15 closer.
Ryan Brasier seemed to have the closer’s job in Boston all to himself, but his grip has loosened lately. Over his first two May appearances, Brasier allowed four runs and five hits in just one inning of work. He did earn a win with a clean inning in his last outing. However, the boxscore does not tell the whole story in this case. Brasier surrendered what should have been a walk-off home run, but Jackie Bradley, Jr. scaled the wall to rob Trey Mancini. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes seems to have supplanted Brasier as Boston’s closer. Barnes has six consecutive scoreless outings under his belt and has outstanding metrics. He ranks in the top-25 in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA allowed. The pendulum may swing back toward Brasier again in the coming weeks, so he is a hold. But for now, Barnes is the best Boston reliever to own.
Aroldis Chapman has saves in his last five games, bringing his 2019 total to a respectable nine. Chapman has struck out at least one batter in all 16 appearances this season. More importantly, he has kept his walks down. After walking 30 in 51.1 innings a season ago, Chapman has given up just three free passes in 14.2 innings. His K-BB walk rate sits at 31.6 percent, just above his career mark. Chapman remains an elite option in all leagues.
In the last 30 days, Jose Alvarado has allowed two earned runs and struck out 12 of 34 batters faced. But saves are a huge part of the game in fantasy baseball, and Alvarado has zero saves in that timeframe. Sigh. It pains me to drop him so far down in my closer rankings, but it has to be done. As skilled as he is, there is no way we can consider him a safe option at this point. I would not completely cut bait. After all, he is still in the mix, and Tampa will present plenty of opportunities. Owners should continue to roster Alvarado and Diego Castillo everywhere. At the very least, they should help stabilize ratios. But owners need to jump on the wire and add someone who is getting consistent save chances.
Ken Giles has been red hot of late. Giles has tossed perfect frames in each of his last five appearances. Over his last 11, Giles has a 17:1 K: BB ratio and has ceded just one run. Toronto’s recent struggles have limited Giles’ save potential, but he has been money in his first full season up north. He cracks the top-10 in my closer rankings for the first time this week.
AL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
Like Toronto, the Chicago White Sox have had a hard time stringing victories together. But Alex Colome continues to put up impressive numbers at the back end of the White Sox’ bullpen. The former Ray has allowed just six hits in 15 innings this season. His hold on the closing gig in Chicago is secure and he should continue to be a solid secondary option for the foreseeable future.
Brad Hand served up a walk-off home run to Matt Chapman on Friday night, ending his recent scoreless streak. Hand had pitched a scoreless inning in 10 consecutive outings since April 15. During that stretch, he had allowed just three hits and two walks, striking out 15. While giving up a game-winning bomb is never good, it does not change anything regarding Hand’s outlook. Hand is one of the few unchallenged closers whose role and usage give owners a sense of calm in these troubled closer waters.
Shane Greene has had a relatively quiet week through no fault of his own. He is just dealing with the typical ebbs and flows most closers have to endure. The Tigers’ closer has pitched just three times in the last 17 days through Friday. Greene sports a stellar 1.69 ERA and 0.75 WHIP as we approach the quarter-pole of the season. He remains on solid ground in Motown and should see a slight uptick in activity over the course of the next couple of weeks.
I started to finally talk myself into Ian Kennedy last week, just in time for him to give up a walk-off, three-run home run to Brandon Dixon of all people. Typical. But Kennedy has responded nicely since that effort. He retired six of seven hitters in his last two outings against Houston and Philadelphia. Though he did not earn a save in either game, his success is a positive sign. He also pitched the ninth with a lead against the Phillies, so the trust looks to still be there. The other options in Kansas City’s pen have proven unworthy time and again, so Kennedy should have a bit of rope to work with.
Taylor Rogers earned Minnesota’s last save because… actually, I have no idea why. Rogers and Blake Parker have both been very good this season. However, neither has pronounced splits thus far in 2019. That tends to take away from the theory that this is simply a lefty/righty thing. Rogers has been way more dominant this season (25.4 K-BB rate compared to Parker’s 6.7) but has also been way more hittable. Hitters are batting .281 versus Rogers compared to .154 against Parker. So far, Parker has six saves to Rogers’ four. This might be the dynamic all season long, making both pitchers viable choices, but neither an elite option for fantasy purposes.
AL West Bullpen Depth Charts
Roberto Osuna picked up three saves this week and pitched four scoreless innings. Osuna has held hitters to a .089 batting average and has yet to allow an extra-base hit this year. Osuna has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game this season. One of his primary competitors for that mantle is teammate Ryan Pressly. Pressly has not allowed a run or a walk in 17 innings this season. Pressly and Osuna make for a lethal one-two punch at the end of ballgames. In many cases, it would be better to start Pressly each week than a volatile closer.
Cody Allen has returned from his stint on the Injured List and has finished the two games he has pitched since coming back. However, neither was in a save chance. Hansel Robles still looks like the preferred closer at the moment, but the ice appears thin. Ty Buttrey has been more effective than both, but he has largely been used in high-leverage situations and to set up Robles. Allen will get another shot at closing at some point, but the timing still seems to be in the air. For now, I would rank them Robles > Buttrey > Allen in standard leagues, with Buttrey getting the edge in leagues which count holds.
Blake Treinen put a scare into owners when he was unavailable last week and went for testing to determine the cause of his elbow discomfort. No structural damage was found, and Treinen was back in action this week. He tossed two perfect innings on Wednesday and repeated the feat on Friday. I think it is safe to say he’s back. Treinen remains among the very best closers in all of baseball. Setup man Lou Trivino has been eased back into action this week following an injury of his own. He should also be fine moving forward.
This past Tuesday likely marked the final nail in Anthony Swarzak’s closer coffin. Despite blowing saves in two of three chances while allowing runs in five straight appearances, Swarzak was tasked with holding a two-run lead against the Yankees. It did not end well for the journeyman. Swarzak allowed three straight hits, including a game-tying home run before being pulled and saddled with the loss. His next appearance came on Friday in the fifth inning with Seattle down 6-0. He could not even get through a mop-up appearance without allowing yet another home run. Welcome to Droptown. My guess is Roenis Elias is the next man up with Connor Sadzeck potentially factoring in as well. Each is worthy of a pickup for those looking to speculate.
Chris Martin and Shawn Kelley were expected to split closing duties following the demotion of Jose Leclerc. But the Rangers placed Kelley on the IL with an infection this week. That leaves Martin in the catbird seat. Martin may not have an elite pedigree or be a long-term option, but he has the job for the time being. As such, he needs to be owned in much more than 15 percent of Fantrax leagues. That is his current ownership rate. I would expect a handful of saves from now until the end of the month, at which point he will probably be replaced by Leclerc or Kelley.
NL East Bullpen Depth Charts
It would take longer for me to write an article about the rise and fall of A.J. Minter than the rise and fall of A.J. Minter actually took. The Braves sent Minter to the minors on Thursday, a mere six days after the second of two flawless ninth innings for the young left-hander. Luke Jackson is the reliever to grab in Atlanta. Jackson converted two of three save chances this week. I thought it was a very good sign that he was called upon to close Friday’s game after blowing a save on Thursday. Jackson responded with a perfect inning including two strikeouts. Jackson’s swinging strike rate has improved in each season with the Braves, but he needs to improve his control if he is going to stick at closer. He is still available in 65 percent of Fantrax leagues and needs to be added in all formats.
Sergio Romo has pitched just three times over the last two weeks. News flash: save chances are few and far between in Miami. The good news for those who have rostered the crafty veteran is that Drew Steckenrider is hurt and Adam Conley has been patently awful. Nick Anderson and Tayron Guerrero are names to keep an eye on down the road and in deeper formats. Romo should be safe through the rest of the spring at the very least. Just don’t expect multiple saves in any given week.
Edwin Diaz walked the tightrope on Tuesday but held on for his ninth save. Diaz has allowed a run in three of his last four appearances. However, there is no need to hit the panic button. Diaz is still atop my closer rankings and should remain there barring anything unforeseen. Owners have nothing to worry about here.
Hector Neris had not pitched all week before getting some work in on Friday. He walked two in just two-thirds of an inning, but he was probably just rusty. Neris should continue to get the save chances in Philadelphia while David Robertson continues to rehab. Neris had walked just three of 58 batters faced prior to Friday. Robertson began a throwing program on Friday, but a return before June is not expected. Neris may be able to cement his spot at the back end of the bullpen if he can continue to pitch at the level he did before Friday’s effort.
Washington has had a rough go of it in 2019. They enter the weekend ahead of only the Marlins in the National League standings and have gone into the tank of late, going 2-6 on their current 10-game road trip. Sean Doolittle has just five saves on the year despite a 1.06 ERA. Owners do not have much recourse other than to remain patient and hope Washington turns it around. If they do, a windfall of saves for Doolittle is likely to follow.
NL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
The Chicago Cubs placed closer Pedro Strop on the IL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain. This is typically a multi-week injury, and owners should plan on being without Strop for the remainder of May. Manager Joe Maddon has stated that he will take a committee approach to close out games. For now, it looks like Steve Cishek will lead this group effort. Cishek has not allowed a run in his last six outings. He is owned in just 23 percent of Fantrax leagues and should be added in most formats. The Cubs have the second-best record in the National League, so Cishek could see a decent number of chances in the coming weeks.
Fantasy players like me have lamented the recent trend of using closers in high-leverage situations as opposed to strictly save situations. But it appears we are not the only ones who do not like it. Reds closer Raisel Iglesias recently stated that he is being used in a manner he described as “horribly wrong”. I do not expect his comments to change how manager David Bell employs him, but I do wonder if this type of reaction will occur more often as this trend continues. Ballplayers are creatures of habit, and I would imagine that coming into games earlier than expected would be unsettling. Fantasy owners just need to keep rolling him out there knowing that he will lose some save chances here and there.
Josh Hader has recorded saves in each of his last five outings. But early-season concerns about his usage still exist. Hader pitched two innings in two of the five games in question, making him unavailable the following day. He also had to be nearly perfect in order to save both of those games due to pitch count concerns. Even though he loses the occasional save chance, Hader’s numbers are straight out of a video game. He has struck out 59.4 percent of hitters and has a 25.2 swinging strike rate. Even with the issues concerning his usage, Hader is tied for fifth in all of baseball in saves. I would expect his rank in that particular category to dip a bit, but he is still a top closer in fantasy.
Felipe Vazquez has been lights out all season long. The flame-throwing lefty has allowed just one earned run in 16 appearances, racking up 11 saves in the process. He has a 32 percent K-BB rate and is among the very best at the closer position. The Pirates placed setup man Keone Kela was placed on the IL this week with right shoulder discomfort. Kela was nothing more than Vazquez insurance, so he can be dropped in most leagues with this news. Kyle Crick has stepped in but does not have any standalone fantasy value at the moment.
The well has run a bit dry for Jordan Hicks recently. The Cardinals’ closer has yet to see a save chance in May. It has been a bit of bad luck for Hicks in that department. St. Louis has mostly either lost close games or won blowouts. Hicks is fine and should get plenty of chances in the near future.
NL West Bullpen Depth Charts
It may not be midnight quite yet for Greg Holland, but the veteran has struggled recently. Holland has allowed runs in three straight, including blowing a save on Wednesday and allowing a go-ahead homer on Thursday. The home run was the first he has allowed this season after surrendering just two last year. But Holland’s suspect control has been a factor in his recent poor performances. His walk rate currently sits at 14.6 percent. That number has also been above 10 percent in every season since 2015. Holland is not in any danger of losing the job, but owners might start thinking about contingencies in case the bottom falls out.
I warned last week that Wade Davis’ strand rate was likely to normalize, and unfortunately, that was indeed the case on Thursday. On the bright side, Davis still earned a save and did not walk a batter in the outing. There are going to be bumps like this in the road due to his lack of command and his ballpark. His 2.13 ERA is more likely to double than it is to hold steady moving forward. Still, he should at least rack up a decent amount of saves and strikeouts throughout the season.
At the risk of trying to make excuses for a closer giving up a four-spot and losing a game, Kenley Jansen’s loss on Sunday was not your typical blowup. He allowed a leadoff single to Eric Hosmer. Following that, both Manuel Margot and Wil Myers reached via bunt singles. Jansen recorded two outs but grooved a cutter to Hunter Renfroe, who promptly deposited the pitch into the seats to win the game. I think Jansen will be fine going forward, but he does drop a bit in this week’s rankings. Julio Urias has picked up two saves this week, while Jansen has not pitched. This does not signify a changing of the guard by any means, but owners need to keep tabs on Urias. He may have been dropped due to concerns about his role, but the skills are there for him to thrive if given the opportunity.
Kirby Yates was the victim of a couple of tough-luck losses last week, but he picked up the save in San Diego’s most recent victory on Wednesday. Yates has struck out an incredible 43 percent of hitters, including 14 strikeouts over his last five innings. His K-BB rate is among the top-10 for all pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings. He should be a top-notch closer all season long. Craig Stammen earned a save on Monday and would likely be the next man in line should something happen to Yates.
The Giants have allowed 60 runs over their seven games. So the fact that Will Smith has converted two saves during that time with little damage inflicted is a very good sign. Smith has posted solid if unspectacular numbers to this point in the season. Owners will gladly take what Smith has given them so far. He has nine saves, which is fine, especially when considering the Giants are in last place in the NL West. Smith has some upside when factoring in the gains he has made over the last couple of seasons. If he can tap into that, he should continue to climb in the closer rankings.
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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