Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings for Week 9
Welcome to the latest edition of my closer rankings and updated MLB bullpen depth charts. This week may not have featured the complete chaos that has been the norm in recent weeks, but there is still plenty to discuss. So let’s get right to the latest news and notes from bullpens around baseball.
MLB 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
The Orioles are 2-7 in their last nine games and Mychal Givens has no saves this week. He did finish both wins in the stretch, but Baltimore was up by four runs on both occasions. Shawn Armstrong pitched the eighth inning in both of those games. I have changed his designation to “next man up” in the Orioles’ bullpen depth chart. The rest of the bullpen is a mess. On Thursday, the trio of Paul Fry, Miguel Castro, and Richard Bleier combined to allow six runs in three innings, turning what was a close game into a seven-run loss. Givens is the only reliable arm in the Orioles’ pen. But a lack of save chances keeps his floor at a relatively low level.
Matt Barnes struck out five in two perfect innings in a no-decision on Tuesday. He was credited with a blown save on Wednesday but came into a bases loaded, no out situation in the seventh inning, so the odds were against him. Ryan Brasier’s struggles continued when he picked up the loss on Tuesday. Prior to Brasier entering the game, Brandon Workman pitched the eighth in a setup role. He gave up two runs and two hits but has earned a look toward the end of ballgames. He and Marcus Walden are not quite in the mix for saves yet, but they have been outstanding this season. The duo has combined for eight wins to go along with a 1.84 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 58 strikeouts in 44 innings. Barnes is still the best bet for saves, but his continued usage in high-leverage situations caps his upside.
Aroldis Chapman saved both ends of New York’s doubleheader sweep against Baltimore. Chapman now has 11 saves after a slow start to the season. He has upside that few at the position possess. He pitches for a team that should win a lot of games, and his strikeout potential remains elite. Chapman has even posted a career-low walk rate of 4.5 percent this season. Even if that number doubles going forward, Chapman should remain at the very top of the closer rankings in all formats.
Be careful what you wish for, right? For weeks I have lamented Jose Alvarado being passed over on multiple occasions for saves. Naturally, on Friday night (after I had already written my original Rays’ bullpen blurb, mind you) Tampa manager Kevin Cash called Alvarado into action to protect a two-run lead. He promptly served up a home run on his first pitch, and the floodgates opened from there. He gave up four hits and three runs and took the loss. Alvarado had allowed four hits, two runs, and no homers over his previous 12 appearances. Those numbers sound good, except that those 12 appearances netted zero saves. Alvarado has not had a save since April 7. April. Seventh.
Between this outing and Alvarado’s recent usage, I am putting Castillo in the lead chair on Tampa’s bullpen depth chart. I am keeping Alvarado in virtually every league I have him, and would advise others to do the same if possible. But he needs to be viewed as a high-upside reliever who may get saves rather than one who will get saves. As for Castillo, he certainly has the skills to pick up a bunch of saves, but so does Alvarado. When I was describing Boston’s bullpen a few weeks back, I said that owners of Barnes and Brasier should start both and hope for a save per week. That is essentially where we are with Castillo and Alvarado right now.
The Blue Jays are just 4-11 in May and are only ahead of Baltimore in the American League standings. Their poor record has prohibited Ken Giles from piling up saves, as he has just three in the last four weeks. But he is still having a tremendous season and has shown elite skills. If the Blue Jays can string some wins together, Giles should be able to make up for his recent slow stretch. Beyond Giles, there is not a ton of help. Joe Biagini has been a solid setup man and Sam Gaviglio has been used for longer appearances. Former Dodger Javy Guerra picked up his first save of the year on Friday night but there is nothing to take away from that. Toronto was up big and did not want to waste Giles or Biagini in a blowout.
AL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
The White Sox have won four games this week, with Alex Colome picking up a couple of saves in the process. His season total now sits at a respectable nine, and his ratios have been even more impressive. Colome sports a 2.00 ERA and 0.67 WHIP through Thursday’s games. He has distanced himself from Kelvin Herrera, who has a 12.00 ERA and 2.67 WHIP over his last seven games. Colome should continue to be a solid secondary source of saves for the foreseeable future.
Brad Hand continues to pitch at a high level and is tied with Aroldis Chapman and Roberto Osuna for second in the American League with 11 saves. Hand may very well post a career-high in saves for the third straight season. The lefty may fall short of a fourth consecutive campaign with over 100 strikeouts, but he is as steady as they come. Cleveland has not hit their stride yet as injuries continue to mount, but they will be in contention all year long and Hand should stand to benefit.
Those of us expecting the other shoe to drop for Shane Greene have been disappointed so far. Greene picked up two more saves this week and has allowed a grand total of one run in the last 30 days. In his four previous seasons in Detroit, Greene’s K-BB rate stood at just 12.2 percent. That number has nearly doubled this season, to 24.3 percent. Whether that number (along with the rest of his totals) holds up for the remainder of the season is up for discussion. But the results thus far are not. Greene has been great and is in no imminent danger of losing looks at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen.
Ian Kennedy had a disastrous outing on Thursday when he allowed three runs in just a third of an inning against Texas. The Royals lost the game 16-1, so Kennedy was hardly alone in his struggles. Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger were also ineffective in that game, which has become the norm for each. Jake Diekman would probably get a look if Kennedy truly faltered if manager Ned Yost wanted to deviate from Peralta or Boxberger. Scott Barlow has been the team’s best pitcher, but he has been used primarily in the sixth and seventh innings. He could be worth a look in deeper formats, but Kennedy is the only Royal I have sustained interest in at the current time.
The Twins continue to use Blake Parker and Taylor Rogers in sort of a “1 and 1A” capacity. Both pitched on Tuesday, with Rogers coming on in the eighth and Parker getting four outs to close it out. The game marked Rogers’ seventh hold and Parker’s seventh save of the season. The next day, Parker was brought in with two on and two out in the eighth with Minnesota up four. Parker struck out Shohei Ohtani to end the frame, but Trevor Hildenberger started the ninth. He nearly blew the game before Mike Morin came in and recorded his second career save. This is another scenario where Parker and Rogers are both viable starters in fantasy, but neither is likely to be elite as long as the other is around.
AL West Bullpen Depth Charts
The Astros have actually played too well for the good of Roberto Osuna, at least for fantasy purposes. Houston has won nine straight, but Osuna earned his only save of the week on Friday night in Boston. Houston had won their previous five games by an average of seven runs. Friday’s save was his eleventh of the season and he has still not allowed an earned run. He and Ryan Pressly continue to form a dynamic one-two punch at the end of games. The team is clicking on all cylinders, and Osuna could easily lead the league in saves when all is said and done this season.
Cody Allen is owned in 60 percent of leagues and Ty Buttrey is owned in 56 percent. The duo has combined for one save chance in the last three weeks. Fantasy owners are a stubborn breed, friends. The pitcher who is getting all of the save opportunities for the Angels (and has been converting them) is Hansel Robles, who is owned in just 35 percent of leagues. Robles recorded two saves and pitched three perfect innings this week. You might describe his recent performance thusly. Robles may not keep the job for the next four months, but the Angels clearly prefer Buttrey in high-leverage situations, and Allen has yet to regain manager Brad Ausmus’ trust. I would continue to ride Robles for as long as he continues to remain effective.
Blake Treinen blew a save on Saturday but picked up a win when the A’s rallied to score a run on his behalf. He has not pitched since. Treinen has not been as good as he was last season. Some regression was expected, of course. But owners were not exactly expecting a 13.1 percent K-BB rate either. He does have a 1.80 ERA and 0.60 WHIP since returning from injury, so perhaps he should be given the benefit of the doubt. His next few outings should provide further insight into whether he is still at the very top of closer rankings or a notch below.
Roenis Elias earned a rare seven-out save on Tuesday, striking out five in the process. However, he also entered Saturday’s game in the third inning. Connor Sadzeck had been next on my bullpen depth chart, but he was relegated to mop-up duty in two appearances this week. Brandon Brennan now appears to be Elias’ primary competition for the job. I am not sure what it all means other than to say we will have to wait and see. None of the options in Seattle’s bullpen are must-adds.
Some fantasy owners panicked when Jose Leclerc was used as Texas’ opener on Friday. I think it is much ado about nothing. I don’t think it matters whether the Rangers use him in the first inning or the seventh. Their long-term plans are to get Leclerc right for an eventual return to closing out games. Those who have held Leclerc through this rough patch should not change course because of Friday night’s events. Having said that, I do think the upside is somewhat limited. Texas is not expected to contend, and Chris Martin has not had a save since May 8. Martin is worth rolling out for as long as he has the job, but I do not expect that to last more than a couple of weeks.
NL East Bullpen Depth Charts
Luke Jackson continues to fortify his standing in Atlanta’s bullpen. Jackson earned three saves this week, including two of the two-inning variety. Jackson throws his slider over 50 percent of the time, and it has been his best pitch. The pitch has good downward movement and has a whopping 35.6 percent whiff rate. I do not expect Jackson to relinquish the closer’s role anytime soon. He is still available in 38 percent of leagues and should be added where available.
Sergio Romo had not pitched in over a week when he was summoned into a non-save chance against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The outing did not go well. Romo walked four batters in the frame, although he did allow just one run. He responded by earning a two-inning save on Friday night against the Mets. The Marlins have won just three games this month, but Romo has saved all three. Romo has been average at best, but he is in no danger of losing his role due to performance anytime soon. The Marlins are simply devoid of better options.
Edwin Diaz has not pitched since last Saturday when he picked up a save against Miami. A repeat of last season’s 57-save campaign was never a realistic expectation. His current pace of 38 saves seems more in line with what we should expect. His FIP is over a run higher than his actual ERA, and he has a 100 percent LOB rate. He has also allowed runs in three of his last five games. Diaz’ role remains secure in a landscape where so few can make such a claim. But anyone expecting 40 saves or 90 strikeouts going forward is going to be left disappointed.
Hector Neris had been getting all of the save chances in Philadelphia prior to Monday when Pat Neshek picked up a random save. Maybe Gabe Kapler just had to scratch the itch of confusing and annoying fantasy owners. In any event, Neris was back in the role on Friday and closed out Colorado in short order. Neris now has six saves on the season and should continue to see the bulk of work going forward. Neris is strangely owned in only 59 percent of leagues. I can understand any skepticism because of Kapler, but he is the team’s best option. The Phillies have shut David Robertson down for a few more weeks after a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Robertson is still owned in 57 percent of leagues and can be dropped if you need the roster spot.
Sean Doolittle had two saves this week but did all he could to blow his last chance. He gave up two runs and allowed five baserunners in one inning of work. The fact that he got a save for that effort proves why the stat is flawed, but fantasy owners will gladly take it. The good news is that Doolittle is the man in Washington. Their bullpen allowed 11 runs and served up five homers in three innings on Friday night, including three to Kris Bryant. Manager Dave Martinez responded by saying, “This is the bullpen we have.” Well then… The Nats are a mess, but Doolittle should get whatever save chances arise going forward.
NL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
Cubs manager Joe Maddon announced that a committee would be used to replace the injured Pedro Strop. But so far, Steve Cishek has been the primary beneficiary. Cishek had two saves this week and has only been used in spots traditionally designated for closers. It certainly looks like Cishek is the reliever to own for now. Strop is not expected back before the end of the month, and he isn’t exactly bulletproof. Cishek has a puncher’s chance of keeping the job with a solid performance over the next couple of weeks.
Raisel Iglesias had three scoreless outings this week and has yet to allow a run since complaining about his usage. I do not think his usage will change, and he will still be used in high-leverage situations. Jared Hughes continues to be used too early in games for him to be considered the next man up at this point. I am adjusting the Reds’ bullpen depth chart slightly and moving David Hernandez into that spot. This is likely a fluid situation, and I still think Hughes is a better long-term option.
Josh Hader pitched two innings this week and totaled just one strikeout. I didn’t physically watch either game, so I can only assume he was throwing right-handed. Hader still boasts an insane 56 percent strikeout rate this year. With upcoming off days on Monday and Thursday, expect Hader to pitch more than one inning on multiple occasions this week. Jeremy Jeffress has not seen any late-game work of late and remains an afterthought. Jeffress is currently rostered in 51 percent of leagues, whereas Junior Guerra is owned in just 25 percent. Those numbers should be reversed. Guerra has finished the eighth or ninth inning in his last six appearances.
Felipe Vazquez had a minor hiccup on Friday, allowing two runs in San Diego. It should be nothing more than a mere blip on the radar. Perhaps Vazquez let up a little after losing a save chance in the top of the ninth. His 96.9 percent LOB rate was due for a bit of regression anyway. Either way, there is nothing really to see here. Kyle Crick earned his seventh hold in the game and has shown elite Statcast metrics all season long. He has a chance to stick in the setup role even when Keone Kela returns from his shoulder injury.
The Cardinals have really struggled and are just 4-12 this month. As a result, Jordan Hicks has not yet recorded a save in May and has pitched just two innings. The team’s four wins have come by an average of 8.5 runs, leaving Hicks out in the cold. St. Louis should be able to turn things around shortly so this could be a buy-low opportunity for those looking to get Hicks at a discount. Hicks could be in line to bunch some saves together if and when the Cardinals get hot again. Carlos Martinez is expected to join the bullpen this weekend. I do not expect him to threaten Hicks, but he is someone whose usage is worth monitoring.
NL West Bullpen Depth Charts
If you told a Greg Holland owner two months ago that he would be the Diamondbacks’ full-time closer and have a 1.80 ERA through the middle of May, they would have been ecstatic. However, he has just eight saves to show for it. He has joined the Jordan Hicks bad luck club of late. Holland has not had a save in two weeks despite Arizona having a winning record this month. Holland owners have little recourse other than to hope that the save gods throw a few more chances Holland’s way in the near future.
Wade Davis took the loss last Saturday, allowing a run in the top of the ninth against San Diego. He rebounded to earn a save on Tuesday and is fine going forward, some potential ratio damage aside. I have adjusted the bullpen depth chart in Colorado a bit. Bryan Shaw and Carlos Estevez have moved ahead of Seung-hwan Oh. I do not expect either to challenge Scott Oberg for the setup role. There is really no reason to roster a Rockies’ reliever other than Davis, but they could be names to monitor down the line.
Kenley Jansen has posted five consecutive seasons with at least 36 saves and is on his way to a sixth, having already tallied 14. But he may be beginning to tread into dangerous territory. Jansen has a 3.98 ERA which is pretty well supported by a 3.65 FIP and comes on the heels of last year’s 4.03 FIP. There were health issues last year of course. And it is not as if he has completely fallen off a cliff. However, it remains to be seen if he can get back to his pre-2018 level of dominance. A potential erosion in his skills is mitigated somewhat by his status as the unquestioned closer on one of baseball’s best teams. His ERA is more likely to hover around 3.00 than 2.00 going forward, but he should be among the league leaders in saves all season long.
Kirby Yates padded his impressive resume with two perfect innings this week. He leads the majors with 17 saves and is showing no signs of slowing down. The only thing that can stop him is me moving him up in my relief pitcher rankings. Challenge accepted! There isn’t much more Yates needs to do to be considered a top closer. He has a 35.3 K-BB rate and has yet to blow a save this season. Yates should continue to post elite numbers going forward and is among the very best at the position.
Will Smith has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season in San Francisco. The veteran picked three perfect innings this week and saved the two games that the Giants won. Smith remains unchallenged for saves in San Francisco. Sam Dyson and Tony Watson have made a solid bridge, but are simply not as good as Smith. Reyes Moronta is a potential replacement down the line, but had a rough week, allowing five runs in four innings. Smith should continue to get all of the looks for at least the next several weeks.
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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