Welcome to the latest edition of my closer rankings and bullpen depth charts. Here you will find news and notes from around the league as well as my thoughts regarding bullpen usage and how it affects the closer landscape. Roles are constantly changing and there is much ground to cover, so let’s get right to it.
AL Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
Baltimore has lost 10 in a row and is easily the worst team in the league. One of this week’s losses came in a game where Mychal Givens blew a save by giving up four runs against Boston. I don’t think we need to dive too deep here. The team stinks and their relievers stink, Givens included. You want zero parts of this bullpen.
Ryan Brasier picked up Boston’s only save of the week as Alex Cora continues to toy with our emotions. The save was Brasier’s first since April, so it is not as if the save is a sign of anything evenly remotely permanent. Matt Barnes is probably still the best pitcher in this bullpen. Brandon Workman and Marcus Walden each have six wins this season. All four pitchers are worth owning depending on format and league depth. But trying to figure out which Red Sox reliever will be called upon when a given save chance arises is proving to be a fool’s errand.
The New York Yankees have won seven straight games and Aroldis Chapman had three more saves this week. He is now tied for the American League lead with 21 saves. This hardly seemed possible when Chapman entered May with just five saves. But it is another example of remaining patient when a pitcher on a good team with a firm grip on the job is not getting saves. Saves are often fluky and come in bunches. Chapman was a bit unlucky in the save department in the early going but that has clearly reversed itself.
Diego Castillo had a nightmare week for Tampa Bay. Castillo barely escaped with a save on Sunday after allowing two runs against the Angels. He then suffered an epic meltdown on Thursday when he allowed four runs including a walk-off home run. Castillo also walked two batters and threw a wild pitch in the outing. Kevin Cash called on Emilio Pagan to save Friday’s win. Pagan hadn’t had a save since April, so it is hard to read too much into it. However, with Castillo pitching as poorly as he has and Jose Alvarado still a few days away, Pagan could be worth a flier. He is third in the league in xwOBA allowed, so he can contribute even if he does not get a bunch of saves. Just keep in mind he will not get much work this weekend as he has pitched three days in a row.
Toronto activated Ken Giles from the Injured List this week and Giles pitched a perfect inning in his return to action on Thursday. Giles should go back to closing right away. If you picked up a Toronto reliever as a stopgap, you can safely cut them. Toronto will not provide Giles with a ton of save opportunities, but he is far and away the best option they have. Giles leads the league in FIP and trails only Josh Hader in swinging strike percentage. He would be an elite option on a better team.
Alex Colome keeps chugging along for the Chicago White Sox. The right-hander pitched three more scoreless and hitless innings and recorded two more saves this week. He now has 16 saves this season and is showing no signs of slowing down. Colome leads the league with a 0.68 WHIP. That number is sure to rise, but Colome remains a solid mid-range closer in all formats.
Brad Hand finally gave up his first run in over a month on Friday night but still picked up his 21st save. Hand has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season. He is third in ERA and barrels allowed per plate appearance, fourth in FIP, and seventh in WHIP. Hand also has a 32.5 K-BB rate, good for sixth in the league. By nearly any measure, Hand has been an elite pitcher this year and deserving of a spot near the top of my closer rankings.
Detroit has won just once this week, but naturally, Shane Greene earned a save in that game. He has saved 21 of Detroit’s 26 games. That is a rate that is totally unsustainable, except for the fact that Greene has sustained it for nearly half a season now. It remains to be seen how long Greene remains in Detroit. But as long as he does, expect more of the same and enjoy the magic carpet ride.
Ian Kennedy is taking a page from the Shane Greene playbook. Kennedy has saves in six of Kansas City’s seven June victories. The veteran has gone under the radar in fantasy, but his recent hot stretch has bumped his ownership percentage up a bit. It’s still not high enough. He is still unowned in over half of leagues, and that needs to change. Believe it or not, Kennedy has the sixth-best FIP in baseball. The Royals can go on an extended losing streak at any time, but Kennedy is their closer and has proven he can get the job done this season.
Taylor Rogers has vaulted ahead of Blake Parker as the closer for the best team in the American League. Yet Rogers is still owned in just 59 percent of leagues. I can understand wanting to hold onto Parker (56 percent owned) given Rocco Baldelli’s fickle nature, but I would not do so at the expense of Rogers. Rogers has earned the trust of fantasy owners. He has five saves this month compared to just one for Parker. It certainly seems as if Baldelli has settled on his closer, but the picture should become clearer in the weeks to come.
Houston enters the weekend on a season-long six game losing streak. Roberto Osuna did not help matters when he blew a save on Wednesday, leading to a walk-off win for Cincinnati. Osuna has just one save this month, but I don’t think owners need to panic. I think this is another case where we need to be patient. Osuna is a solid closer on a good team that is in a minor funk. The pendulum will swing back in Osuna’s favor soon enough. He can easily tally a handful of saves between now and the All-Star break and this dry spell will be more or less forgotten.
Hansel Robles is finally the most owned reliever on the Angels. But he is still rostered in just 60 percent of leagues. As I mentioned last week, there is nothing to suggest that Robles is not the team’s full-time closer. In fact, everything that has occurred over the past seven days has only strengthened my stance. First, Los Angeles released Cody Allen in what was a move long overdue. Allen was never a threat to Robles. Ty Buttrey is allegedly a threat, but he gave up a walk-off homer Thursday and has exactly one save in the last seven weeks. Robles, meanwhile, pitched three perfect innings en route to two more saves this week. He has six saves since Buttrey’s last save. Hansel Robles is the closer in Los Angeles and I do not see that changing anytime soon.
In the Tampa blurb, I discussed the blown save suffered by Diego Castillo. Well, that scenario only presented itself because Blake Treinen was terrible once again. Treinen failed to record an out and allowed three runs in that game. Treinen has given up nine earned runs in the last 30 days. He allowed seven earned runs all of last season. He is simply not the same pitcher as he was in 2018. As I suspected last week, Liam Hendriks is starting to get some looks in the eighth inning. These are two pitchers trending in opposite directions. Hendriks could begin to get ninth inning looks should Treinen’s troubles continue.
Scott Servais is giving Roenis Elias another shot to close games, and Elias has responded well. Elias earned three saves this week, while Anthony Bass looks to have been essentially demoted to an eighth-inning option. Fantasy owners can feel free to drop Bass in all formats, and Elias should be added as needed. He is probably not long for the job, as Hunter Strickland is due back at some point. But Elias should be the lead candidate for saves in Seattle until the All-Star break.
While we keep waiting on what we think is Jose Leclerc’s inevitable return to the closer’s role, Shawn Kelley keeps getting the saves in Texas. Kelley got two more this week and now has nine on the year. However, he has struggled a bit of late. The veteran has allowed a run in four of his last six appearances. Leclerc served up a solo home run on Monday but otherwise has not allowed a hit in his last four outings. It is still yet to be determined when Leclerc will close, but I have to imagine it will be sooner rather than later.
NL Bullpen Depth Charts and Closer Rankings
Luke Jackson blew another save last Saturday against Philadelphia. He responded with a clean inning in a non-save chance on Wednesday. A.J. Minter has only allowed one hit in four innings since being recalled from the minors but has also walked four batters. Anthony Swarzak has been lights out since being acquired from Seattle last month. Swarzak has a 0.66 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 13.1 innings in Atlanta. However, his control has been suspect as well. I still think Jackson is the guy, but I think his leash is shorter than most full-time closers.
It was a fruitful week for Sergio Romo, as he picked up three saves. In fact, he has pitched four days in a row dating back to Tuesday. I would suspect the veteran gets some rest this weekend. Tayron Guerrero and Nick Anderson have also pitched quite a bit this week and both struggled on Thursday in their most recent outing. I would not be in a rush to add either, even in daily leagues.
Edwin Diaz converted both of his save opportunities this week, though last Saturday’s performance was a bit sketchy. Diaz allowed a run and three hits in a game that ended with pinch-runner Jack Flaherty getting thrown out at the plate on a bloop double. Diaz returned to form with a perfect inning on Friday afternoon. He is still one of the best in the business and is in no danger of losing his spot in New York’s bullpen.
It was incredibly encouraging to see Gabe Kapler go right back to Hector Neris a day after Neris’ implosion last weekend. Neris responded with his 15th save in what has turned out to be the last game Philadelphia has won. The Phillies have also dealt with consecutive rainouts this week, which has made their bullpen usage a bit wonky. But Neris remains atop their bullpen depth chart. He has struck out over a third of batters faced and has a WHIP under 1.00 this season. There is no reason to think he will not remain the closer in Philadelphia. Despite the club’s rough week, they are right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Neris should be in line for plenty of save chances going forward.
Washington has won five straight including a three-game sweep against the Phillies and gotten right back into the playoff race in the National League. The Nationals enter the weekend just 2.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot. This recent stretch should quell fears of Washington become sellers at the trade deadline, which is good news for Sean Doolittle owners. Doolittle saved Wednesday’s and Thursday’s games and now has 16 saves on the season. Wander Suero continues his ascent in the pecking order and picked up his first career save with Doolittle unavailable on Friday. Suero is a bit of a high-wire act, but it looks as if he is next in line for saves in Washington if something were to happen to Doolittle.
Pedro Strop saved last Saturday’s win, but gave up a game-winning home run to Eloy Jimenez on Tuesday and has not pitched since. Steve Cishek finished Wednesday’s game and got the save on Thursday. Both are essentially just keeping the seat warm for Craig Kimbrel, who should be up with the Cubs any day now. I would advise keeping Kimbrel on the bench for another week in fantasy, but he should be closing by the end of the month.
The Cincinnati Reds have won six in a row, all against teams with winning records. Despite the success, Raisel Iglesias did not record a single save. Instead, it was Michael Lorenzen who grabbed a pair of saves against Houston. Many people were shocked to see this and mistakenly saw it as a changing of the guard. If you read this column, however, you were probably less surprised. Here is what I said last week:
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.
Iglesias came into Monday’s game with one out in the eighth. He recorded three outs but had already thrown 21 pitches by the time he retired – wait for it – Alex Bregman. Bell then called on Lorenzen to get the last two outs of the ballgame. The next night was almost a carbon copy. After Bregman homered to cut Cincinnati’s lead to one, Iglesias again came in with one out in the eighth. Iglesias struck out both batters he faced and gave way to Lorenzen, who pitched a clean ninth.
Lorenzen’s ownership percentage has tripled in the past week because of the two saves. I think new investors are in for a rude awakening. I still fully believe that Iglesias is still the closer in Cincinnati. Yes, he will be “leveraged” out of saves from time to time, and Lorenzen looks to be the beneficiary on those occasions. But that is not something we can rely on. Prior to this week, Lorenzen’s last save came on May 1.
Josh Hader pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts on Sunday as he earned his 17th save of the year. That was Hader’s last outing as the Brew Crew has not won since. Expect Hader to get some work in this weekend as Milwaukee tries to turn things around. They are in the midst of a 10-game homestand so Hader should have plenty of chances to pad his stats in the coming week.
Felipe Vazquez totaled three saves this week. Even more encouraging was his ability to go without allowing a walk in all three games. His ERA is back to under 2.00 and he remains one of the top closers in all of baseball. Kyle Crick is still Pittsburgh’s primary setup guy, but he has been up and down of late. Crick has walked 12 batters over his last nine appearances spanning 9.2 innings. He has also hit two batters in that stretch. People may be nervous about Vazquez becoming a potential trade candidate because the Pirates have fallen into the cellar in the National League Central, but I don’t think Vazquez is going anywhere.
Jordan Hicks threw four perfect innings this week but has nary a save to show for his efforts. That’s just the way the closer cookie crumbles sometimes. John Gant picked up another win in relief on Wednesday, his seventh (!) of the season. Gant has been great this year, but it goes without saying that the win total is incredibly lucky. Carlos Martinez earned a save on Sunday and pitched the final 1.2 innings on Friday night. However, I think those outings were a bit circumstantial. I think Hicks is the guy barring a major meltdown in the near future.
Arizona is another team on a considerable losing streak heading into the weekend. The Diamondbacks have lost five straight and now sit in fourth place in the NL West. One of the losses came at the expense of closer Greg Holland. Holland was unable to close the door in the ninth on Thursday and Arizona lost in extra innings. Holland has been a bit shaky of late but does not appear to be in any danger of losing the closer’s job. Yoan Lopez has yet to allow an earned run in June but is not an overpowering pitcher by any means. Both his FIP and xFIP are more than three times greater than his current 1.24 ERA.
The sharks may be beginning to circle around Wade Davis in Colorado. He has struggled mightily since coming off the Injured List a couple of weeks ago. Davis has posted a 13.50 ERA and 2.63 WHIP in six June appearances, converting just two of four saves in the process. Meanwhile, Scott Oberg has been outstanding dating back to his brief stint as closer while Davis was sidelined. Oberg has a 0.90 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in June with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. Bud Black has used Oberg to get more than three outs in three straight appearances and may prefer him in that role. But if Davis continues to scuffle, Oberg may earn a bigger piece of the saves pie at some point.
Perhaps this is my warped perception as a non-Kenley Jansen owner, but it feels like he backs into more saves than any other closer. Los Angeles entered the ninth inning on Thursday with a five-run lead. Three batters later, Jansen was in to pick up his 22nd save of the year. All in all, it was not a great week for Jansen, who allowed a run in Thursday’s game and blew a save against Chicago on Sunday. Jansen had been lights out for several weeks prior, so I would not read much into this week’s results. Jansen will still get a ton of saves for a Dodger team that has baseball’s best record.
Kirby Yates padded his league-leading save total with saves in three straight games from Sunday through Tuesday. The right-hander now has 26 saves on the year. I am running out of superlatives to describe how dominant Yates has been all season long. Andy Green called on Craig Stammen to close Wednesday’s game with Yates unavailable. This has happened on occasion, and Stammen was up to the task. Stammen now has three saves this season. He has pitched better of late after struggling mightily at the beginning of the month.
Will Smith converted both of his save opportunities this week. He did give up his first run in nearly a month last Saturday, but that came via a home run to Christian Yelich, so it’s hard to judge Smith too harshly for that. Smith continues to put up ridiculous numbers for a Giants team with the second-worst record in the National League. Smith would be much higher on my closer rankings if he was on a better team or if I felt confident he would be closing somewhere all year long. Still, he has provided an excellent return on investment for those who waited and grabbed him late in drafts.
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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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