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Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: OK, So Maybe Kopech Is A Closer…

Remember last year?  A period of relative bullpen stability and easier Saturday mornings writing this piece for me?  I recall it fondly.

Well, that peace is over 15 games into 2024. Bullpens are already crazy and it’s not even Tax Day yet. Let’s jump right in and take a look.

Feel free to message me @mdrc0508 with questions, comments, and concerns. This is just my take on what is happening around MLB bullpens, and I am not always correct in my assertions. I love talking this stuff and welcome the conversation!

Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report

AL East

Craig Kimbrel earned a save and a win this week and is firmly entrenched in Baltimore.

Veteran Chad Green has gotten the save chances in Toronto while Jordan Romano recovers from elbow soreness. In an injury update, Romano is out on a rehab assignment with AAA Buffalo as of Thursday.  If all goes well, we could expect an activation in the next week or so. Green has a win and two saves in the first two weeks of the MLB season, despite a low 18.2K% in a limited sample size.

Tampa Bay: Pete Fairbanks continues to close here, supported by his top setup guys. Jason Adam and Colin Poche.  But, the Rays got saves from Poche and Shawn Armstrong this week.  And do not sleep on Phil Maton, who has three holds this week as he rounds into shape after a tough start. As usual, there are good options here if you need holds.

AL Central

Maybe it is Kopech? The Chicago White Sox have won only two games on the young season but Michael Kopech saved both of them. This week, he pitched two innings against the Cleveland Guardians and struck out four batters. The metrics below show a great fastball, but buyer beware again: the walk rate is 16% so far. Kopech has thrown the fastball a whopping 79% of the time and continues to throw a slider as his secondary. The results so far: 38.7K% and an increased velocity from 95.2 to 98.5 MPH out of the bullpen. Kopech is finally back where he belonged in the first place, but the results could be spotty despite the early success.

The Detroit bullpen, once an object of question and scorn, has been terrific to start the 2024 season. Jason Foley has been a revelation with two wins and three saves in the early going. He’s featuring a 70% groundball percentage based on his exploding sinker and has a 36.8K% thus far, which represents a huge jump in a small sample size. Of some concern: the 10.5 BB% is something to watch. Right now Foley is the hot guy but Alex Lange and Shelby Miller are lurking too, especially if Lange can limit the free passes.  He gave up three to the White Sox on Opening Day but has only two since then. Miller has three wins in five appearances and appears to have found solid footing after years of injury woes.

Minnesota awaits the return of Jhoan Duran and continues to be a timeshare between Giffin Jax and Brock Stewart. Of course, because they are in a timeshare, Steven Okert got his first-ever save on Wednesday night. In that game, Stewart got the seventh, Jax the eighth, and Okert the ninth in a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Good friend and injury expert Dave Funnell reports that Duran threw a bullpen session yesterday in Detroit and reported no setbacks. Durna reported no pain and seems to be nearing a rehab assignment…we will see.

AL West

In Los Angeles, closer Carlos Estevez is off to a good start with three saves. He’s about to have company in the bullpen as free agent acquisition Robert Stephenson is set to begin a rehab assignment this weekend in AAA Salt Lake City. The Angels want to see him pitch once on Sunday and again on Tuesday before evaluating the next steps. Stephenson was having shoulder trouble all spring.  He will be a boost to the bullpen when he returns, and it will be intriguing to see how the Angels use him. Many see him as a threat to Estevez, and that could be the case. Either way, Stephenson figures to have a high-leverage role when he returns to the active roster.

We suggested earlier in the spring that Mason Miller was an electric arm who could get save chances for Oakland. He was pure filth on Thursday night, striking out two Texas Rangers hitters in a perfect ninth. He’s likely off the market in deeper leagues, but earmark him in shallower leagues as his role develops this year.

Good news in Seattle where relief ace Matt Brash appears to be going out on a rehab assignment in the next week. Ryne Stanek got a second save this week even as Andres Munoz remains the top option.

Jose Leclerc won the closer job in Spring Training but had been shaky to begin the year. David Robertson is in the mix but also blew a save this week. Don’t laugh, but Kirby Yates is part of this mix right now too. Know it’s a one-game sample, but on Friday night, Leclerc came on in the sixth in relief of starter Dane Dunning, Robertson pitched the eighth, and Yates the ninth in a 12-8 victory over the struggling Houston Astros. It looks like Leclerc could be out of a job.

NL East

Watching the situation in Miami with interest.  Tanner Scott earned his first save this week but it was another tightrope walk with three walks and a hit in an inning-plus of work. It’s unknown how long of a leash he will have but if the control and command issues continue to plague him, the Marlins have other options in Andrew Nardi and Anthony Bender to close. Don’t count out a return to the bullpen for A.J. Puk, who you may recall had 15 saves last year. He’s had three mostly forgettable starts this season.

Philly situation looks like a committee in some important ways.  We suggested early on this spring that while at times dominant lefty Jose Alvarado would get the bulk of the save chances, he would not get all of them. Case in point: this week he earned a hold while lefty Gregory Soto got his first save.

NL Central

David Bednar‘s rocky start to the season has Pittsburgh fans on the edges of their seats. Two blown saves this week have fantasy players concerned, as Bednar was one of the most solid options during draft season. Meanwhile, veteran lefty Aroldis Chapman is racking up holds with a whopping 57.1K% thus far. Rookie Hunter Stratton has been good, and the team welcomed back Colin Holderman from the IL this week.  Sit and watch this one for now. The team will likely give Bednar every opportunity to work through the struggle, but they will have other options if they have to use him in a lesser role for a bit to work things out. Bednar did earn a save on Friday night against Philadelphia.

NL West

Kevin Ginkel seized the opportunity in Arizona, but it appears that Paul Sewald might be back earlier than expected, per Dave Funnell again. It looks like Sewald will be throwing a bullpen session in the coming days as he recovers from an oblique injury. It would be fulfilling to get some good injury news for once…

In Colorado, it appears that manager Bud Black is using a committee approach. I still think that Justin Lawrence gets the bulk of the chances here, but others, specifically Nick Mears, Tyler Kinley, and Jake Bird could also get chances as this bullpen sorts itself out. Veteran Daniel Bard will have flexor tendon surgery and be out for the rest of the 2024 season. Bird had a save and a blown save this week. Not sure how many are looking to this bullpen for help, but I think Lawrence will correct the 11.57 ERA thus far and claim the job. Stay tuned.

Evan Phillips’ continued success in Los Angeles is not a surprise. Phillips now has four saves to go with his tidy 1.35 ERA and .75 WHIP. The 24 K-BB% is a beautiful thing.  Yes, there are other arms here that could compete with him should he falter, like Daniel Hudson and later in the season Blake Treinen, but he has given no reason to think any shake-up would be imminent. Of note to me below as well is how Phillips limits hard contact:

Robert Suarez continues his early surprise in San Diego with a win and four saves in six outings. I’m watching his walk percentage, which is 11.1% right now, and if that goes in the wrong direction, others could get a chance.  However, with Yuki Matsui not missing many bats even as he has been effective, look for Suarez to continue in the top job here.

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