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Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Suprises Already?

Remember last season, when bullpens were fairly consistent and easy to understand? Well, we are just a few games into the 2024 season, and things are already kind of messy in many bullpens around major league baseball. If the first few games are any indication, we could be in for a rollercoaster ride this season when it comes to forecasting who is getting saves and holds. Let’s recap the first few games of the season here and take a look at tackling these bullpens.

If you have questions or want to banter, my Twitter/X handle is @mdrc0508. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a question or want to register a complaint with me. Much of what I do here is reading the usage patterns and seeing what happens, but remember, bullpens are often pure speculation and subject to change on a whim per a manager’s fancy. We will get through it together! Let’s go find some saves, holds and ratio helpers for you.

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Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report

AL East

True to his word, Kenley Jansen was ready for Opening Day, and earned his first save, getting two punchouts while surrendering one walk. Isaiah Campbell, who earned his first one Thursday, is an interesting name to watch here for holds.

Clay Holmes worked around three hits in his season debut to earn his first save over the Houston Astros. Manager Aaron Boone went to Jonathan Loaisiga for two innings in relief of Nestor Cortes and then turned to Ian Hamilton in the eighth inning before giving way to Holmes. As pointed out earlier this spring, a healthy and resurgent Loaisiga would be huge for this bullpen. A return to his former usage as a multiple-inning weapon would significantly help the Yankees.

Our good friend Dave Funnell, who covers injuries for Fantrax, has good news on Toronto’s Jordan Romano. He is progressing well from right elbow inflammation and could be looking at a minimum stay on the IL. That could put him back in the closer role by mid-April. Top setup man Erik Swanson will need a little more time.  In the short term, look for Yimi Garcia to get the save opportunities here.

AL Central

Emmanuel Clase finished off the Oakland Athletics on Friday night to earn his first save. Scott Barlow got the eighth inning as we thought might happen but gave up an earned run and two walks before escaping with his first hold. Barlow should be the top setup guy here.

Eyebrows raised some when Jason Foley came on to finish the Detroit Tigers’ 1-0 Opening Day victory over the Chicago White Sox. Many concluded that Alex Lange would get the save opportunities here. Foley struck out both batters he faced to close out the game on Thursday.

We guessed that the Minnesota job would be split between Griffin Jax and Brock Stewart due to the oblique injury of Jhoan Duran. On Opening Day, Stewart got the eighth inning and Jax the ninth. Manager Rocco Baldelli suggested earlier in the week that he would lean toward using Jax more in the highest leverage situation, which would not necessarily be the ninth inning. Jax got the heart of the Kansas City order. This will be one to watch this first month with Duran expected to miss several more weeks of action.

AL West

Andres Munoz earned his first save of the season on Friday night for Seattle. Gabe Speier came on in the seventh and Ryne Stanek got two outs in the eighth before Munoz came on to close out the Boston Red Sox, striking out the side in the process. Munoz should be the clear-cut closer here until Matt Brash returns from injury, in which case, things could get interesting.

NL East

Jose Alvarado was torched for five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning on Friday. I am grateful that I had forgotten to put him in the lineup. Interestingly, Alvarado was brought in the eighth inning of what was then a tie game in relief of Matt Strahm, who had given up two runs in the seventh inning. Alvarado will bounce back and we know bad outings happen to every pitcher in the game.

NL Central

As my friend Doug Dennis mentioned on X yesterday, these are just facts before anyone gets too riled up: Abner Uribe did earn the save for the Milwaukee Brewers in their opener Friday afternoon over the New York Mets. This will be one of the most watched bullpens in baseball as the Brew Crew hopes for the possible return of Devin Williams at some point this summer. Pundits will speculate on the saves here; will it be Uribe, Trevor Megill, or Joel Payamps? Well, Megill was called on in the seventh yesterday to face the heart of the Mets’ order and got through it, despite surrendering a walk. Payamps got the eighth in his customary setup role. Uribe then pitched a clean ninth inning. We need to let this one breathe a moment before making any roster decisions for our teams. My best hypothesis: Payamps stays in the familiar eighth-inning role, and Megill and Uribe both get chances early on to sort through this. However, it may be important to realize that manager Pat Murphy might use Megill in the highest leverage situation, which we all know, may not be in the ninth inning.  Stay tuned.

The Pittsburgh Pirates won an extra-inning marathon with the Miami Marlins on Opening Day. Lefty Jose Hernadez earned his first career save.  Do not read too much into it as this game became a war of attrition. Top setup guys Carmen Mlodzinski (on the IL with elbow inflammation) and Colin Holderman (illness) were both unavailable. Closer David Bednar is on the roster but was also unavailable due to continued issues with a lat muscle; manager Derek Shelton made it sound like Bednar was day-to-day. This bears watching because if he should suffer a setback or be slower to return, Aroldis Chapman might be a good waiver wire addition in your league, depending on your league context. Chapman did pitch the ninth on Thursday. Lefty Josh Fleming got a three-inning save Friday; don’t read too much into the situation.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald will miss two months with an oblique issue. Kevin Ginkel is the guy to roster here in the meantime. Ginkel should easily step in and be a quality choice for saves. Miguel Castro and Scott McGough are the top options for holds right now. Old friend Joe Mantiply has had success in the past, and Kyle Nelson and Ryan Thompson should continue to get middle innings and holds.

Veteran lefty Ryan Yarbrough got an odd save, pitching three innings in relief of Tyler Glasnow, coming on in a 5-1 game before the Dodgers scored two more later. Yarbrough is sneaky in that he could get several saves in this fashion in 2024, even though Evan Phillips is the closer in Los Angeles. Philips got his second save on Friday night and was set up by Ryan Brasier in the eighth.

San Diego’s Robert Suarez earned his second save in three games in beating the San Francisco Giants on Thursday. He did surrender a home run to Michael Conforto but was able to work around it. Yuki Matsui came on in the seventh inning, going 1.2 innings and earning his first major league victory in the process. Many pundits are watching this bullpen closely to see how things shake out, as Matsui was a top closer in the Nippon Professional Baseball League before coming to MLB this season.

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