Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings for Week 12
The big news of the week was Craig Kimbrel signing a three-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. This signing will obviously have plenty of fantasy implications. I had left Kimbrel off of my closer rankings all season long because I was skeptical about when he would sign as well as his potential landing spot. Fantasy owners who drafted Kimbrel should be thrilled by the fact that he inked a multiyear deal with a team lacking an elite stopper. I still think it will take a few weeks for Kimbrel to get up to full speed, but he should be all systems go by the All-Star break. He should continue to climb up my closer rankings in the coming weeks as he ramps up his activity towards his inevitable return.
This news is obviously a death knell for the rest of the Cubs relievers for fantasy purposes. Brandon Morrow is still owned in 53 percent of leagues for reasons unknown. Anyone holding out hope there should have moved on already. The acquisition of Kimbrel is a tough blow for those who own Pedro Strop (64 percent) and just waited out his injury for a month. Strop and Steve Cishek (36 percent owned) could still grab some saves over the next few weeks, but their value will be sucked dry once Kimbrel gets acclimated to his new digs.
Kimbrel landing in Chicago will not only affect his own place in the closer rankings but those of pitchers on several other teams as well. Pitchers who may have been looking over their shoulders can perhaps now breathe a bit easier now that the giant domino has fallen. Many closers still have to sweat out the July 31 trade deadline, but get a bit of a reprieve for the time being. Let’s get right to the rankings along with my news, notes, and thoughts on bullpen usage from around the Majors.
MLB Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
+ Injury Concern
* Part of Committee
NMU Rank = The potential rank if the Next Man Up becomes closer
Baltimore’s only win of the week came in a game in which they nearly blew a seven-run lead in the ninth inning. So there is not really anything encouraging to note. Manager Brandon Hyde called on Josh Lucas to finish what appeared to be an easy win but that was not the case. Lucas allowed a batter to reach via error before walking the next two batters. Richard Bleier came in but only poured gasoline onto the fire. He faced five hitters and allowed four hits before giving way to Mychal Givens. Givens came in and struck out both hitters he faced to pick up his fifth save of the season. Even if this outing does swing the pendulum back in Givens’ favor, this is still a situation to avoid for fantasy purposes.
It looked to me as if Marcus Walden had gained a slight advantage in Boston’s bullpen heading into last weekend. However, Alex Cora asked Brandon Workman to close on Sunday night against New York. Workman was up to the task and picked up his second save of 2019. On Tuesday, Boston went with Walden in the seventh, Workman in the eighth, and Ryan Brasier in the ninth in a game Boston led comfortably. Thursday is when things got weird. Manager Alex Cora used Walden in the fourth inning and Brasier in the fifth. Barnes pitched the ninth and got the save, his first in a month. I am still listing Walden as the top option in my closer rankings, but this is clearly a very fluid situation as it has been all season long.
Aroldis Chapman has now had multiple saves in six straight weeks. I apologize to Chapman owners for bringing that up, because now there is virtually no chance of that streak continuing. Still, he has been outstanding for the New York Yankees this season. Zack Britton suffered a beatdown at the hands of the Blue Jays on Wednesday. But he had not allowed an earned run since May 3, so he was due for a blowup.
Jose Alvarado has been out all week due to a family emergency. Hopefully, all is well, and he is expected to return in the next couple of days. In the meantime, he did not miss much. Tampa won three games in a row from Wednesday through Friday, but no saves were there to be had, and three different relieves finished each game. Manager Kevin Cash is still using a committee approach, with Alvarado and Diego Castillo leading the way. Emilio Pagan appears to be a tertiary option for now even though he has been the most consistent Rays’ reliever this year. All three should be owned but it is difficult to expect more than just a random save here or there in any given week.
Ken Giles had another great week, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings while striking out eight. Once again, however, he has just a single save to show for his troubles. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings this season, Giles ranks sixth in ERA and xFIP, and third in FIP and K-BB percentage. Yet he ranks just 17th in saves despite his best efforts. That rank is staggering especially when you consider the number of committees being used throughout baseball. If teams like Boston, Tampa, and Minnesota used a single, full-time closer, Giles would be even lower on that list. Maybe Giles can find a home on a better team needing a closer in the coming weeks.
I made the mistake of saying nice things about Alex Colome in last week’s column. To the surprise of no one, he responded by allowing a walk-off home run to Trea Turner this week. I wonder if I can write these without ever saying anything positive about any relievers. It would probably lower their collective ERA by at least half a run. Anyway, back to Colome. There really isn’t much to see here. He has a much better chance of losing his job due to being traded than he does based on poor performance. Colome is arbitration eligible after this year. It is possible that Chicago may want to unload him before he is due for what would likely be a raise from this year’s $7.325 MM salary. But I think he is at least relatively safe for the time being.
Brad Hand has been a steady force in what has been a tumultuous season for Cleveland. Hand has been flat out dominant of late. He had four saves this week without doing any damage to his ERA or WHIP. Hand did hit a batter in Tuesday’s outing. I’ll still never understand why hit batters don’t count against WHIP but intentional walks do. But I digress. Hand has leapfrogged several pitchers in saves over the last two weeks and is now tied with Shane Greene for the lead in the Junior Circuit. The Tribe still has 32 games remaining against the Tigers and Royals, so Hand has a pretty good shot to string some more saves together.
Shane Greene has now gone five weeks without allowing an earned run. His ERA is all the way down to 1.08. He may not be as dominant as that number suggests, but he has been a reliable reliever all year long. Greene has not seen a ton of save chances with Detroit predictably fading. But he has been great when called upon. It is widely assumed that the Tigers will trade Greene and anoint Joe Jimenez as their next closer. Except that Jimenez has done little to earn that acclaim. Jimenez allowed more earned runs since Tuesday than Greene has allowed this year. I think Greene still has an outside chance to stay in Detroit this season. That scenario would likely be better than a trade because he would almost certainly be relegated to setup duty on another team.
Ian Kennedy pitched two scoreless innings this week and picked up his fourth save of the year on Friday. That was the only game Kansas City won this week, which is part of the problem with relying on Kennedy for fantasy purposes. The Royals have won just 20 games this season. They are currently battling the Orioles for the first pick in next year’s MLB Draft. As for Kennedy, I think his job is more or less secure. Just don’t expect much volume.
This was not a good week for the Blake Parker crowd. On Sunday, Parker entered in the seventh, with Taylor Rogers pitching the ninth and getting the save in impressive fashion. Then on Wednesday, Parker again pitched the seventh and got smoked, allowing two homers en route to three earned runs. Rogers then tossed a two-inning save on Thursday. Parker did salvage his week a bit with a save on Friday. But I suspect that was mostly based on Rogers being unavailable from pitching two innings the night before. I think Rogers is going to get the next save chance. He is talented enough to excel in the closer’s role if he is given a real opportunity to do so.
Houston endured quite the rarity on Thursday when Will Harris, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna, and Hector Rondon all allowed an earned run in the same game. Despite the anomaly, the Astros still won the game because they are amazing. Osuna and Pressly have each been the victim of some regression over the past few weeks. But both are firmly entrenched in their roles in one of the best and deepest bullpens in all of baseball.
Angels manager Brad Ausmus allowed Ty Buttrey, arguably his best reliever, to labor through 43 pitches in Los Angeles’ 10-9 victory on Wednesday. Buttrey is already not being used in save situations, so I would have reservations about even rostering him at this point. Hansel Robles is still the reliever to own, and he bounced back from a bad week. Robles recorded a win and save while pitching three scoreless innings this week. I really think he sticks as the Angles’ closer all year long barring a trade.
Blake Treinen had two saves this week without allowing a run. Good news, right? Well, not exactly. Treinen allowed seven baserunners including five to reach via the free pass. Treinen’s K-BB rate is a dismal 10.4 percent. That is 2015-2016 decent middle reliever Blake Treinen territory. Treinen could be in trouble if Lou Trivino hadn’t been even worse. Trivino has given up 13 earned runs in the last 30 days. Liam Hendriks has probably been Oakland’s best reliever and has seen some eighth-inning work of late. He is someone worth monitoring if Treinen’s struggles continue.
Anthony Bass only pitched once this week. He allowed a run and four baserunners in two innings and was on the hook (sorry, I had to) for the loss before the Mariners scored in the bottom half of the frame. On the bright side, the usage was a good sign that Bass is still the leading candidate for saves. The bad news is that Hunter Strickland is nearing a return and should start a rehab stint very soon. I don’t know if Strickland will close right away, but I imagine he will by the end of the month barring a setback. Bass’ stint as Seattle’s closer is probably going to be short-lived.
We were so close, you guys. Jose Leclerc had just come off a stretch of 3.2 perfect innings with six strikeouts over three games. Manager Chris Woodward said Leclerc was close to regaining the closer role. Then the time came. Friday night. Ninth inning. Tie game. Leclerc enters. It was the moment owners have been patiently anticipating for six weeks. Except Leclerc gave up a game-winning, two-run home run to Marcus Simien. Why can’t we just have nice things? I don’t think Friday’s move was temporary. However, Leclerc’s performance makes things unclear. Maybe Leclerc was only in because Shawn Kelley pitched Wednesday and Thursday. For now, I’m going to leave Kelley as the closer and list him in the closer rankings. However, I do think Leclerc is on the cusp as long as he can avoid another hiccup like the one he incurred on Friday.
Those who jumped on Luke Jackson several weeks ago had to be thrilled when Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs. Jackson should be the unopposed closer in Atlanta going forward. Jackson’s save potential may be a bit limited because he is one of those pitchers that is being used to get more than three outs on occasion. But his 27.9 percent K-BB rate and 2.01 xFIP should play quite nicely for the Braves, who are fighting with Philadelphia for first place in the NL East. Jacob Webb had a rough week, and no other current Braves reliever stands out as a significant threat to Jackson.
Sergio Romo has no saves this week, but not for the reasons you might expect. Not only did the Miami Marlins start this week with four consecutive wins, but they did so by a combined margin of 42-9. No, seriously, they did. You can look it up. Miami has now won 13 of their last 20 games. I still can’t imagine Romo making it through the season in Miami, but for now, he is, dare I say, a relatively safe closer option.
Edwin Diaz looks to have put last week’s blowup behind him and remains on top of my closer rankings. Diaz struck out six over 2.1 scoreless innings this week. Unfortunately, he did not get a win or save in either of his two appearances. Following this coming Wednesday, the Mets have no days off for the remainder of the month. It will be interesting to see if Mickey Callaway keeps Diaz fresh during that stretch or tries to limit the number of non-save appearances Diaz makes.
The Phillies bullpen continues to be a MASH unit. Seranthony Dominguez was diagnosed with damage to his UCL. That is likely a precursor to Tommy John surgery. Dominguez was just starting to gain some traction following a few scoreless outings. Dominguez joins David Robertson, Pat Neshek, and Victor Arano as injured relievers without a timetable for return. Former starter Vince Velazquez pitched the eighth inning on Friday and could be used in the setup role. The good news is that there is no doubt who Philly’s closer is. Not only is Hector Neris basically the last man standing, but he has also pitched great as well. Neris has three saves since Tuesday, striking out two hitters in each performance. I would expect Neris to get the rest of the weekend off, but he will be an important piece going forward if the Phillies want to hold off the Braves for the division crown.
Sean Doolittle picked up three saves and a win from Saturday through Wednesday, tossing four scoreless innings in the process. The decision to use him on Wednesday was interesting considering that he had pitched three of the previous four days. On Friday, he was unable to shut the door in San Diego. He gave up two runs and three hits, including a walk-off single. Doolittle seemed to have turned a corner before Friday, so hopefully, this was a mere blip on the radar.
Say what you will for analytics and for the practice of utilizing your best reliever in high-leverage situations. But Raisel Iglesias has been outstanding over the last 30 days. That is right around the time that manager David Bell began using him as more of a traditional closer. Baseball is such a mental game that I do not think this is a coincidence. (Also see Alvarado, Jose.) The Reds are still in last place, but this is not a team without hope. Believe it or not, the Reds have the fourth-best run differential in the National League this season. They could still make their way into playoff contention, which would benefit Iglesias greatly. I do wonder if he might get stretched out a bit in the coming days. Cincinnati has off days Monday and Thursday of this week.
Josh Hader did Josh Hader things this week. He struck out eight batters in two appearances. However, doing “Josh Hader things” also includes allowing a go-ahead home run. Manager Craig Counsell brought Hader into the game after Jeremy Jeffress had allowed the tying and lead runs to reach base with nobody out. He struck out his first hitter, but Starling Marte tagged him for the three-run shot. Hader has now given up six jacks this season, which is the only flaw in his game. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, Hader ranks first in K/9, first in xFIP, and second in WHIP. He is still in the top-5 of all three categories if you lower the threshold to 20 innings.
It has been a rough week for Felipe Vazquez. He did record a save on Thursday, but there were some iffy moments. Vazquez allowed a hit and two walks in the outing, though no runners scored. What is a bit worrisome is that it was the only scoreless appearance among the three Vazquez made this week. In the game in which Starling Marte gave Pittsburgh the lead against Milwaukee, Vazquez blew it just as quickly. He gave up a game-tying home run in the ninth, and Pittsburgh would eventually lose in extra innings. Vazquez is not in any imminent danger, but he will need to regain his previous form rather quickly.
There is some cause for concern surrounding Cardinals’ closer Jordan Hicks. He entered Sunday’s game to protect a 2-0 lead against the Cubs. He struck out Javy Baez, then allowed a walk and a single. Manager Mike Shildt yanked Hicks in favor of John Gant. Gant induced two groundouts to pick up his third save in 2019. I thought the quick hook was a bit odd. Then again, Hicks had allowed five runs over his last five games. It is possible that Shildt saw the writing on the wall and launched a preemptive strike. Regardless of the reasoning, the move was made, which should make Hicks’ owners a bit nervous. It also worked, which should make them even more nervous.
The good news is that Hicks was called upon for a save on Thursday and came through unscathed. But Gant has been a godsend for St. Louis this year. The fourth-year Major Leaguer has pitched exclusively in the bullpen after going back and forth between the pen and the rotation throughout his career. Gant has flourished in this steadier role. Gant leads all pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings in ERA, WHIP, and batting average allowed. Shildt may prefer Gant in a high-leverage role. But he also may use Gant in the ninth inning more often if Hicks cannot put his recent woes behind him.
Greg Holland pitched two more perfect innings this week but again did not record a save. Both appearances came in tie games in the ninth inning. Arizona won both games but did so in extra innings, so Holland was not a beneficiary. Holland has pitched great this year and his usage has been what we look for from closers. The opportunities just have not been there. Holland has one save in the last five weeks despite a 2.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in that stretch. Arizona just never seems to generate save chances for whatever reason. Most thought Holland would disappoint due to performance this season. That has not been the case. He has just been very unlucky in the save department.
Colorado activated Wade Davis from the Injured List on Friday. If there was any doubt as to whether he would be eased in following an impressive stint from Scott Oberg, it was quickly removed. Oberg pitched the eighth inning on Friday and Davis the ninth. Oberg filled in beautifully while Davis was out, but he can now be dropped in most formats. Davis has also been a bit unlucky with save chances this season. Hopefully, that trend reverses itself going forward.
Kenley Jansen picked up his 18th save this week in his lone appearance. Jansen has now gone a month without allowing an earned run. He does not need to be the vintage version of himself in order to be a top fantasy closer. The Dodgers will afford Jansen plenty of chances. Outside of Pedro Baez, the rest of the bullpen has been a trainwreck. Jansen is about as safe an option as there is.
Trey Wingenter and Craig Stammen could not hold the lead on Wednesday against the Phillies, allowing a combined five runs in two innings. They rebounded nicely on Thursday as they set up Kirby Yates for his league-leading 23rd save. With the trio unavailable on Friday after working back-to-back days, it was Adam Warren who pitched the last two innings in what was a tie game. Warren allowed a run in the top of the ninth but got the win when the Padres walked it off against Washington’s Sean Doolittle. San Diego does have a four-game set in Colorado next week. I don’t like to throw relievers in Coors. But Yates may be the exception to that rule with the way he has pitched this year.
Will Smith pitched two more perfect innings this week and earned his 14th save on Friday. Smith has been as good as any pitcher in the game, and that’s not hyperbole. He has the lowest xwOBA in all of baseball. Smith’s biggest issue has been a lack of opportunities on a Giants team that currently sits 16 games behind the Dodgers despite beating Los Angeles on Friday night. Unfortunately for Smith, he may be among the current closers whose rest of season value could be tied to his next landing spot.
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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