Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings for Fantasy Baseball – Week 5
As always, there is plenty of volatility in bullpens across the Major Leagues as we head towards Week 5. There are a couple of injuries to discuss, which could bring some potential waiver wire adds to the forefront. I will also touch on some usage concerns regarding certain relievers which have some owners (ok, mostly me) a bit worried at the moment. So let’s get right to it with my Week 5 closer rankings and bullpen depth charts for each team.
Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings for Fantasy Baseball
+ Injury Concern
* Part of Committee
NMU Rank = The potential rank if the Next Man Up becomes closer
AL East Bullpen Depth Charts
There are 71 pitchers who have a save in 2019. Baltimore “closer” Mychal Givens is not one of them. Once again, he was brought into the eighth inning on Thursday to get a five-out save. He blew the save and has now pitched more than an inning in four of seven appearances. This tendency will take away some chances on a team that already does not figure to generate many to begin with. The rest of the bullpen is uninspiring, but John Means could be a name to watch. Means got a win on Thursday, pitching two scoreless innings of relief in Tampa Bay. The left-hander has also made a couple of starts but should remain in the bullpen now that Dan Straily is starting. He is likely more of a long-relief option but may be an option at the back end at some point this season.
Ryan Brasier set up a potential save opportunity for Matt Barnes over the weekend, then blew a save on Tuesday. Even worse was the fact that he entered the game in the seventh inning. However, it was Barnes who set up Brasier on Friday. Both pitchers are solid, but this is a two-man show. If you own either, you basically have to start them each week and hope you get a save or two. Boston will get going soon enough, so the buy-low window on these pitchers is likely to shut in short order.
The saves have not really come yet for Aroldis Chapman, but there are some encouraging signs. Most notably, he has only walked one of 28 hitters thus far this season. It is a small sample size of course, but he has improved his first-pitch strike percentage and overall strike zone percentage by roughly 13 percentage points each. Chapman will pick up plenty of opportunities before all is said and done.
Jose Alvarado is basically Josh Hader Southeast. He has struck out 44.4 percent of batters, ranks second in xSLG (expected slugging) and seventh in xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average). The only issue with Alvarado is the same one that Hader faces. And that is the fact that manager Kevin Cash has elected to utilize Alvarado earlier in the game on more than one occasion, costing him a potential save or two in the process. Diego Castillo is the “1B” in Tampa, but he has struggled a bit of late. He took the loss on both Thursday and Friday. Castillo will grab a handful of saves here and there, but Alvarado should continue to get the majority of save chances.
Ken Giles missed an opportunity for a save on Monday with an illness. Joe Biagini filled in nicely and picked up the save. He looks like the handcuff to Giles. Giles was back in the next night and saved Toronto victories on Tuesday and Thursday. He also threw a clean inning in a non-save chance on Friday, which was a bugaboo for Giles in 2018. He should rack of plenty of saves for Toronto this year.
AL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
With closer Alex Colome unavailable on Wednesday, Kelvin Herrera had what can safely be considered “closer” usage, pitching the top of the ninth in a tie game. Nate Jones followed Herrera in that game and gave up the game-winning home run to Hunter Dozier. Colome gave up a run on three hits in a non-save chance on Friday, but that outing should not immediately impact the pecking order in Chicago.
Brad Hand took the loss in Kansas City on Sunday but has responded with back-to-back saves the next two days. The veteran is firmly entrenched as Cleveland’s closer. However, when the Indians needed a stopper on Wednesday, it was not Adam Cimber who got the call. It was Nick Wittgren who came on and earned his first big-league save. Prior to this season, Wittgren had spent his entire professional career in the Marlins organization. He was a decent pitcher in his tenure in Miami and could be in line for some more important work if he continues to pitch well in Cleveland.
Like Hand, Shane Greene had a recent hiccup, giving up his first two earnies of the season in an extra-inning loss against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Also like Hand, he responded with consecutive scoreless outings the next two days, including his AL-leading ninth save on Thursday.
Ian Kennedy and Wily Peralta look like they are once again the co-leaders of this middling committee. Kennedy has been stellar since blowing a save on April 2. In six games since, Kennedy has allowed just three hits in 7.2 innings, striking out 11 without allowing a run. Peralta has not been as dominant, so Kennedy may have a slight lead in this race. Brad Boxberger has pitched himself out of competition and is currently serving in mop-up duty.
Blake Parker has a firm grip on the closer’s role in Minnesota. He has four saves and pretty solid ratios, posting a 1.42 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. However, he does have five walks in just 6.1 innings. Parker has exhibited good control in his brief career, so this could be just noise. Minnesota has some solid options in their pen should Parker falter, but for now, his footing is safe.
AL West Bullpen Depth Charts
Roberto Osuna leads all relievers in batting average and slugging percentage allowed, as well as wOBA and xwOBA. He also plays for a team who is 13-6 despite playing just six home games thus far. There is plenty to like here. I said back in February that Osuna was just as likely to lead the league in saves as any in the league, and I stand by that.
Cody Allen also took losses on Thursday and Friday, blowing up in spectacular fashion in the process. Allen retired just three of ten hitters during that span, allowing three walks and four hits, including two home runs. Allen now sports some ugly numbers, entering the weekend with a 4.91 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He also has a K-BB rate of just 8.8 percent. Ty Buttrey has the edge in ownership over Hansel Robles by a considerable margin (44 to 10 percent), but I think the latter is likelier to supplant Allen should he continue his downward spiral.
Oakland has one of the rare bullpens where the roles are easy to define. Blake Treinen is a dominant closer. Lou Trivino is an elite setup man. Joakim Soria and Fernando Rodney are both veterans who have gotten off to slow starts and may soon see their usage dip in important situations if these trends continue. This is one bullpen most fantasy owners do not need to sweat.
Seattle leads all of baseball with 15 wins. Quick – who leads them in saves? It’s not Hunter Strickland, of course. But it’s also not Anthony Swarzak. It is Roenis Elias, with four. That is more than Chapman, Sean Doolittle, and Raisel Iglesias, to name a few. Elias has pitched well, but he has also been the beneficiary of a bit of random variance, such as being used in games where Swarzak has been unavailable. Swarzak should lead the team in saves going forward, but Elias should be owned in way more than 32 percent of Fantrax leagues.
Jose Leclerc had some ugly outings last week but looks to have righted the ship a bit. The young right-hander has registered three saves this week, although he did allow a run in Wednesday’s effort. He also walked a batter and hit another in that game. He now has three of each to go along with seven hits allowed in 7.1 innings. Leclerc has upside, but also a fair amount of downside as well. Shawn Kelley has looked the best of the rest to this point.
NL East Bullpen Depth Charts
There are a couple of big injuries to report in the NL East, and none bigger than Arodys Vizcaino, who will miss the remainder of the season following surgery to repair his labrum. The good news for A.J. Minter owners is that this clears a path for Minter to get all of the save chances on a good Braves team. The bad news is that Minter has been, well, bad. Minter has allowed 12 of 29 hitters to reach base while striking out just five and allowing five runs and two home runs. His ERA is currently 7.94 and his FIP is even worse at 8.05. This is obviously a tiny sample, but the Braves may look to place a call to their closer from yesteryear, Craig Kimbrel before shoving all their chips in with A-J offsuit.
Sergio Romo nabbed his second save of the season on Friday. The trio of Romo, Drew Steckenrider, and Adam Conley all pitched without allowing a run in the contest. They also each lowered their ERAs to a shade under 8.00, so let’s not get too excited. They also play for arguably the worst team in the sport. My guess is that Romo mans the fort until he is traded to a contender in need of middle relief help. I don’t think Steckenrider or Conley needs to be owned until that happens unless you have plenty of room on your bench.
Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway announced this week that closer Edwin Diaz would not pitch more than one inning during the regular season. He also stated that he would not use his closer in a tie game on the road. If we are to take Callaway at his word, then Diaz owners should rejoice. Not only is this clarity, but it all but guarantees that Diaz will usually only be used when a save is imminent. As someone who owns Josh Hader and Jose Alvarado in multiple leagues and has zero invested in Diaz, I am truly jealous. Diaz may lose a potential win or two but should be in line for another 40-plus saves.
David Robertson was placed on the Injured List with a Grade 1 flexor strain. It sounds like it could have been a lot worse, and may explain why Robertson was struggling out of the gate in his first season in Philadelphia. Neither Robertson nor Seranthony Dominguez has recorded a save yet. Hector Neris, meanwhile, has gotten two and has looked good doing so. Hitters are just 4 for 29 with 13 strikeouts against Neris on the young season. Neris is also owned in just 39 percent of leagues, compared to 77 percent for Dominguez and 72 for Robertson. Neris is worth a short-term pickup and has the potential to stick in Philadelphia’s ever-changing bullpen, particularly if Robertson takes longer than expected to return.
Sean Doolittle still has more saves than wins and had a bit of a tough time handling the Giants of all teams. In Washington’s recent series against San Francisco, Doolittle allowed half of the ten hitters he faced to reach base, and also ceded his first run of the year. There’s nothing to worry about here, and Doolittle should be fine going forward. However, he will be in Coors Field to begin this coming week, so owners in daily leagues may want to avoid him for a few days.
NL Central Bullpen Depth Charts
Despite Joe Maddon’s many idiosyncrasies, we cannot question his status as a closer-friendly manager. That may not appear to be the case considering Pedro Strop has just two saves on the year. But that is more a reflection on circumstance and not usage. On Friday, Maddon brought on Brad Brach to close out a 5-0 game. However, Brach was not up to the task, allowing three hits and retiring just one batter. Maddon immediately summoned Strop once a save chance was at hand, and Strop responded in kind. Strop has pitched just 5.2 innings and has not pitched on anything less than two days’ rest this year. This is a result of Maddon not wanting to overextend him in non-save situations. I think Strop will be fine for at least as long as Brandon Morrow remains sidelined.
Cincinnati continues to use Raisel Iglesias when the game is at stake, regardless of whether a save is on the line. This is a great strategy in real life. Iglesias was called upon to face the heart of San Diego’s lineup in a tie game on the road on Friday night. Iglesias struck out the side in a game the Reds would eventually win. However, Iglesias did not factor into the decision. Because of his high-leverage usage, Iglesias has totaled just three saves, which equals his number of losses. But he has struck out 36.8 percent of batters and is still the best reliever in Cincinnati’s bullpen. Just don’t expect north of 30 saves.
Josh Hader allowed a game-winning three-run homer to Kike Hernandez on Friday night. The cherry on top was that the blast occurred in the eighth inning and not the ninth, as the Brewers continue to insist on Hader pitching multiple innings. Even if Hader got Hernandez out and avoided the blowup, he will not have been able to pitch the ninth inning after throwing 34 pitches. He will also likely not be available on Saturday. Jeremy Jeffress has returned from injury and should figure into the mix once he is back up to full speed. I hate to do it, but I dropped Hader one spot in this week’s rankings, a trend that may continue if the current climate continues.
Felipe Vazquez continues to dominate. Vazquez has struck out 39.1 percent of hitters faced heading into the weekend and remains a top-notch option. But we may be seeing a changing of the guard behind him. Keone Kela was credited with his fourth blown save of the year on Tuesday. That game was Kela’s fourth straight game having allowed a run. We have not seen Kela since, despite there being a number of setup chances. Instead, Nick Burdi and Richard Rodriguez have pitched in front of the flame-throwing lefty in Pittsburgh’s last two games. This will be a situation to monitor over the next few days.
Jordan Hicks has really found his groove of late and has removed any doubt that he is the Cardinals’ closer. Hicks has not allowed a run in April, permitting just one hit in the process. He is well ahead of Andrew Miller at this point in time, and that does not figure to change anytime soon. John Gant and John Brebbia have looked way better than Miller and are probably stiffer competition to Hicks than Miller is. I would have no issue cutting Miller depending on your format and category needs. He is still owned in 67 percent of leagues.
NL West Bullpen Depth Charts
I hesitated to mention the advanced analytics that paint pitchers like Jose Alvarado and Roberto Osuna in such a good light. The reason for my hesitation is this – Greg Holland ranks in the top-five in the following categories: batting average against and xBA against; slugging percentage against and xSLG; wOBA and xwOBA. I cannot believe that Greg Holland is suddenly a dominant closer. It is much easier to fathom that these numbers are the result of a very small sample size. Having said that, so far, so good for those who took a flier on Holland at the tail end of drafts. I can’t imagine this lasts all season, but owners should enjoy it as long as it lasts. With Holland unavailable on Thursday, Yoshihisa Hirano got the save. Archie Bradley seems stuck in the high-leverage role, so Hirano could pick up a few more saves here and there.
Wade Davis has not given up a run this season. However, he also has just one save to his credit. Both of those numbers should regress toward normal levels in the near future. Davis is a good buy-low if you can stomach the expected ratio damage. Seunghwan Oh seems to be the preferred setup option, though Scott Oberg has pitched better so far.
Kenley Jansen swaps places with Josh Hader in this week’s rankings. The move is purely usage based. Jansen has saves in each of the last three days. Hader will probably never be afforded that opportunity. Jansen’s cutter is being thrown at a career-low 92.03 MPH and opponents are hitting the pitch at a clip of .257, the best hitters have fared against the pitch in any season. But a couple of vintage outings from Jansen would reverse those trends. He has earned the confidence of the Dodgers’ brass over the years and his spot is as secure as any closer in the game.
Kirby Yates has not recorded a save since last Saturday but is also on very safe footing in San Diego. Yates leads the National League with nine saves and sports an 0.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts following Friday’s action. Craig Stammen suffered his first loss of the year, giving up two runs in the Padres’ Friday night loss. But he is still second in command behind Yates in San Diego’s bullpen. Yates should be a steady source of saves for as long as the Padres remain in contention, which may very well be all year long.
Will Smith has not had a save in over a week, entering just one game in that span as the Giants have lost four of five. Smith is still the man to come by, but dry spells such as this should be expected in San Francisco. Sam Dyson filled in for Smith on Saturday and is the logical choice to take over for Smith long-term if Smith were to get traded later in the year. Veterans Mark Melancon and Tony Watson are also in the conversation.
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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