Closer Rankings and Bullpen Update: Week 2
Keeping track of all the bullpen moves around the league is hectic in a full year as it is. Things have just gotten more crazy in this short season. I’ve got you covered, though, with my weekly bullpen updates and closer rankings. In this week’s edition, six teams are affected by COVID, injuries galore, and committees make my head spin. Let’s get to it.
MLB Closer Rankings and Bullpen Update
+ indicates injury
* indicates committee
After Hunter Harvey started the season on the IL, the closer role was up in the air for the Orioles. Cole Sulser has been the guy, and he’s made the most of it, completing a two-inning save Sunday against the Rays for his third of the season. While he’s got only four strikeouts in six innings, Sulser sports a 16.3% swinging-strike rate and has walked only one batter. So the 18.2% strikeout rate has plenty of room to go up. The Orioles may not be very good, but Sulser is the man to own if you need saves.
Brandon Workman got his first save chances in back-to-back days, Wednesday and Thursday, converting both opportunities. After what’s been just an absolute mess of a week for closers, Workman might just end up being one of the more reliable ones out there. His setup man, Matthew Barnes, was expected to be one of the more prominent middle relievers, especially for strikeouts. But he’s only got four strikeouts in four innings along with four walks and four runs allowed. Barnes’ pitch velocities are down across the board from last year along with his swinging-strike rate. It’s early, but something to monitor if you roster Barnes in holds leagues.
Zack Britton picked up his third save, working the ninth inning in Aroldis Chapman’s absence. Chapman will be throwing a bullpen session Tuesday or Wednesday and be evaluated from there, so he’ll be returning soon along with his spot near the top of the closer rankings.
One of my favorite middle relievers, Tommy Kahnle, will miss the rest of the season with a UCL injury and undergo Tommy John surgery.
Last week it looked like Oliver Drake was the one to own for saves in Tampa Bay. Then, of course, in Rays fashion, they showed us that we really don’t know anything about the situation. Drake pitched the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game and then the tenth on Saturday. Drake took the loss in both outings.
Nick Anderson pitched the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, and Diego Castillo pitched the ninth. So, any of these relievers could be used in the ninth on any given day. Theoretically, Anderson should provide the best ratios and strikeout rate. While it looks like he’ll be used in the highest leverage situations regardless of inning. Ryan Thompson began the ninth inning on Tuesday with the Rays up by four. With the bases loaded and one out, Nick Anderson came out to strike out two and get his first save.
The Blue Jays resumed play Tuesday after missing a series. While Ken Giles is out, Anthony Bass will be closing out games. Though Giles is expected to be back sooner than later. We saw Giles deal with arm issues last season, which led to Toronto limiting Giles. Bass could still get a share of save chances, and a re-injury to Giles wouldn’t be surprising. Jordan Romano has been excellent in four innings with six strikeouts, two walks, no runs allowed, and a 66.7% ground ball rate.
Alex Colome continues to just get the job done. He picked up his second save of the season Monday in Milwaukee and has not allowed a run yet. Aaron Bummer is looking great as the setup man with 10 strikeouts in 4.2 innings.
James Karinchak allowed two hits and struck out three in the eighth inning of Sunday’s contest against the Twins. Given how each of them has looked so far, Karinchak’s time to close could be coming sooner than later. Tuesday, after 7.2 strong innings from Shane Bieber, Karinchak came in to finish the eighth, striking out Nick Castellanos. Brad Hand did get the save but did not strike out a batter. I’d be picking up Karinchak everywhere now.
After Joe Jimenez converted four saves to start the season, he was called upon in the seventh inning of the first doubleheader game against Cincinnati on Sunday. He allowed three straight hits that scored the winning run. The seventh inning was the final inning with the new shorter game rules with doubleheaders this season. Buck Farmer has not allowed a run in five innings but has only struck out one batter. Meanwhile, Tyler Alexander struck out 10 of the 12 hitters he faced Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers keep him in long relief or let him pitch in high leverage situations.
Another situation that makes me want to throw my hands in the air and say, “who the hell knows?”. Trevor Rosenthal did get the last save for the Royals on Thursday. It appears he might get more save opportunities than Ian Kennedy and Greg Holland based on their usage, seldom as they might come.
Sergio Romo got the first save for the Twins, and everyone panicked on Taylor Rogers. Since then, Rogers has converted three straight saves and got the win Monday after pitching a scoreless ninth. And all is right in the world. Rogers appears to be one of the more reliable closers in the crazy 2020 landscape and rising in the closer rankings.
One of the most consistent closers, Roberto Osuna, was placed on the injured list with elbow soreness. Because we can’t have anything go right this year. Osuna will, unfortunately, miss the rest of the season. Ryan Pressly could be the reliever to own if he’s given the closer job. Pressly was dealing with a finger and elbow issue, but he should be good to go. Andre Scrubb got the last save for the Astros on Friday. Bryan Abreu would be another name to watch.
It’s been a rough start to the season for Angels’ closer Hansel Robles. Robles gave up three runs and two homers Saturday against Houston. With Robles unavailable Sunday, Ty Buttrey was called upon for a two-inning save but blew the chance after giving up a run. Felix Pena has been the best reliever for Los Angeles so far with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings and no runs allowed. He could be a decent speculative add.
Liam Hendriks is showing that last year was no fluke, picking up two more saves for three on the year and striking out seven in 4.1 innings. Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit have done a great working behind Hendriks, and the Athletics own the fourth-best bullpen ERA at 1.79 in 40.1 innings.
Taylor Willilams picked up his second save of the season on Friday and owns a 2.25 ERA with five strikeouts in four innings. Dan Altavilla has a save as well, but Williams has been the better reliever. He should get more opportunities to close out games going forward.
This situation could get messy with Jose Leclerc on the injured list. Jonathan Hernandez pitched two scoreless innings Sunday against San Francisco. Then, Edinson Volquez pitched the ninth with the Rangers up by four runs. The two of them could form a committee while Leclerc is out.
Mark Melancon converted two saves last week then pitched the ninth on Sunday with the Braves up by four runs to the Mets. He’s been doing just fine as the Braves’ closer while Will Smith is out. And could continue to hold the job through this shortened season. Smith is continuing to rehab from COVID-19 and could return in the next week.
The Marlins played their first game since opening weekend Tuesday. Brandon Kintzler avoided the injured list and should be good to go.
Edwin Diaz tried to explain his struggles on too many days off between outings. The days of him as the traditional closer in New York could be done. Diaz followed starter David Peterson and pitched the seventh inning of Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, Seth Lugo came in with two men on in the eighth on Friday and allowed a walk and bases-clearing double to Travis d’Arnaud. Lugo got squeezed on the pitch before the double. Regardless, the Mets just keep Metsing. Lugo and Diaz could share save chances going forward with Jeurys Familia in the mix as well. I’d expect better days ahead for Lugo and would still call him the reliever to own in New York.
The Phillies were one of the teams that were shut down for the week after playing the Marlins. Hector Neris might just move up the closer rankings by attrition.
After last week’s closer rankings, Daniel Hudson did indeed get the first save chance for the Nationals. Hudson appears to be the full-time closer going forward. If he’s available in your league, he’s an immediate add. The Nationals were shut down for the weekend but will resume play Tuesday.
Craig Kimbrel has retired only four of the 11 batters he’s faced, zero by way of strikeout. Yikes. Kimbrel is toast. Rowan Wick was used Monday for a four-out save against the Royals and might just run with the job.
After back-to-back rough outings for Raisel Iglesias to start the season, he’s come back strong his last two outings. Iglesias struck out two batters Monday and notched his first save of the season. Michael Lorenzen pitched the seventh, followed by Nate Jones in the eighth. Tyler Mahle has moved into the rotation after Wade Miley was placed on the injured list.
The Brewers were another one of the teams affected by the COVID postponements this week. Brett Anderson was reinstated from the injured list and started Monday’s game against the White Sox. This meant moving Freddy Peralta back to the pen while Corbin Burnes pitched in long relief Monday. Burnes could still make his start at the end of the week. Josh Hader has only two appearances so far, striking out two batters in two innings. Expect him to get in some work soon, regardless of the situation.
Nick Burdi remains the closer in Pittsburgh while Keona Kela is out. Burdi pitched the ninth inning of a tie game Monday against the Twins and allowed the game-winning run. I wouldn’t bail on the Burdi train just yet after one loss, but the situation will be worth monitoring. Hold him until Kela returns. Kela will reportedly slot back into the closer role once he returns.
The Cardinals haven’t played since the last closer update due to a COVID outbreak on the team. St. Louis has already had its series against the Tigers postponed but could play at the end of the week if they can get the situation under control. Giovanny Gallegos appears ready to go when their games resume. I would expect the Cardinals to keep rolling with Kim until he blows a save or two before opening the door for Gallegos or anyone else in the ninth.
Archie Bradley picked up a save in his lone appearance this week, giving him two on the year. Bradley has struck out seven batters in 3.2 innings. While his 10.5% swinging-strike rate is slightly higher than his career norm, it’s not enough to warrant a 43.8% strikeout rate. Regardless, Bradley should continue to be a safer source of saves for the rest of the season. Safe is relative this year.
In last week’s closer rankings, I noted that Wade Davis had yet to pitch at home. Well, he did, and it didn’t go well. Davis walked two and gave up two home runs Friday against the Padres. Davis hit the injured list after the game with a strained shoulder. Jairo Diaz will be closing for the Rockies for now. He locked down the save Monday despite giving up two runs to the Giants in Colorado.
Kenley Jansen has officially returned as one of the best closers in the game. There aren’t many you can trust this year, but Jansen is one of them. He converted his second save Sunday, striking out two batters against Arizona. The Dodgers bullpen has logged 45.2 innings going into Monday’s games and owned the second-lowest bullpen ERA at 0.99. The only other team ahead of them are the Cardinals, who have only 18.1 relief innings. Expect the Dodgers to put Jansen in plenty more save situations all year.
Kirby Yates has gotten off to a slow start this season. That continued Friday when he allowed three singles, two walks, and a hit batsman in Colorado. Drew Pomeranz eventually closed the game out, and he’s been fantastic. Yates did come back on Monday and allowed a leadoff home run to Cody Bellinger before striking out the next three batters to earn the save. Pomeranz has been lights out for the Padres, though, and could find himself closing for San Diego at some point this season should Yates continue to struggle or be traded.
The Giants have not had a save opportunity in the last week, but Trevor Gott does have the only two saves for San Francisco so far. Trevor Gott pitched the eighth inning on Saturday with the Giants up by three runs. San Francisco added an insurance run in the bottom of the frame to put them up by four, and Sam Selman finished the game. This could be more of a committee going forward with Gott receiving the higher share of save chances.
If you liked Jorge’s closer rankings then you need to head on over and check out Jake Devereaux’s Starting Pitcher Rankings.
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