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Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Update: Adjust or Lose

Happy Memorial Day weekend.  I know many people are traveling to see family and friends this weekend, but please take a moment to quietly reflect on what this day and this weekend is for: a day to remember those men and women who served and died in our armed forces.  Enjoy your barbecue and pool day, but remember those lives lost in conflict to be able to give you the right to be free and have this day.

A fun little statistic I am looking at weekly: there are now 110 pitchers with at least one save as of 5.27.23.

It points directly to the difficulty we face when selecting what could be argued as the most volatile position in baseball in closers. The constant shuffling and reshuffling, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, can be mind-boggling.  Some fantasy players adapt quickly to shifting landscapes while others of us (read: me) struggle to adjust to these changes.  It’s important to understand trends as they develop in our game, and one thing is certain: pitcher deployment has changed annually for many years, and in fantasy baseball, it’s adjust or lose. It’s the big reason we have this piece: looking at who is shuffling in and out of these premium roles.

More great fantasy baseball advice and analysis: Waiver Wire & FAAB Recommendations | Daily MLB Injury Report | MLB DFS Picks | Line-up Analysis | Dynasty Rankings and Strategy | MLB Bullpen Updates | MLB Player Props | Prospect Rankings & Analysis | Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers

Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Depth Charts

AL East

MLB Bullpens 5-27 AL East

Yennier Cano continues to excel in his role here as a setup guy for the electric Felix Bautista.  Important to note though that Cano has moved into the co-captain’s chair and will get the opportunity to get saves on nights when Bautista is unavailable.  What a revelation Cano has been, and as my friend Alex Fast pointed out, he may have the nastiest changeup in the game right now.  Cano’s line so far: 1-0, 0.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, four saves, and 29 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.  A paltry .105 batting average against that changeup with 21 strikeouts of 38 batters facing that change.  Both brutal and beautiful!

The Boston Red Sox moved Corey Kluber to the pen with the return of Garrett Whitlock.  I do not see Kluber having any value to fantasy players in that role. I was slightly surprised; even though Kluber has struggled this year, I thought management might move Tanner Houck back to the bullpen, where he feels better suited to me.  That said, Boston also has guys that can kind of do the multiple-inning role down in the bullpen already in Nick Pivetta and Kutter Crawford.  This will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks.

AL Central

Liam Hendriks threw live batting practice yesterday and it seems all went well.  Manager Pedro Grifol had mentioned Hendriks in his presser earlier last week, mentioning that the velocity was back on the fastball as was the bite on the slider.  It’s looking like Hendriks is close to activation.  Interestingly, the White Sox bullpen has been really good as of late, led by sometimes closer Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly.

Can the Sox claw back from the depths of April despair?  T.S. Eliot once wrote that April was the cruelest month, and for the White Sox this year, it was.  Kelly has a win and earned a save this past week and has been spotless in May. Graveman has been spotless as well and has four saves in May. With the return of Hendriks looming, this bullpen could be nasty in a hurry with everyone bumping down into a more comfortable role, including Reynaldo Lopez and the recently returned Garrett Crochet. Hendriks could return to a lower-leverage role initially.

AL West

Happy to report that Trevor May is back in Oakland after his bout with anxiety and should slot back into a hapless closer role there.  What a mess in Oakland, not only with the team but their potential move to Las Vegas.  May was interviewed on MLB radio this week and opened up about his struggles.  Having worked in the mental health field for almost 30 years, I salute May for sharing his struggles and using his platform to shine a bright light on mental health.

NL East

Last week I wrote of a possible concern in Atlanta after a couple of tough outings for AJ Minter and Raisel Iglesias.  Well, Iglesias came on and got the save on Thursday night and only gave up one walk and one hit this week in four outings.  Iglesias continues to hold the top spot in Atlanta.

NL Central

I have mentioned this before, but St. Louis is an interesting bullpen to watch right now. Ryan Helsley has looked human this year after an otherworldly 2022, where he was arguably the best reliever in the game. Yet Helsley’s Statcast numbers are still blood red.  His whopping K% of 39.3% for last year is “down” to 31.8%, and the walk rate is a bit up, 10.2% versus 8.4% last year. Helsley has six saves on the season, three in May, so he’s still been quite good. Giovanny Gallegos has five saves, four in May.  So the issue here is not that Helsley has not been good, but that the Cards seem to not want to use him two days in a row; he’s only done that three times thus far in 2023. Trying to predict saves here has become a tough activity, but I am calling this a timeshare.

NL West

Not too many probably saw it coming, but Arizona has not only been an interesting team to watch, but so has their bullpen.  It looked like Scott McGough would close at the beginning, and then we saw Andrew Chafin get the bulk of the work.  A dark horse all along was Miguel Castro, who appears to be distancing himself from McGough and Chafin for saves in the desert. Both Chafin and Castro have been excellent, so for now, I am calling this a timeshare.

Dateline Colorado: Pierce Johnson has turned into a nightmare at closer.  The 10 saves are nice, but the peripherals are not: a 6.59 ERA and a Little Leaguish-1.89 WHIP.  Daniel Bard, who I always unabashedly root for, has been excellent since his return from the IL in his ongoing battle with anxiety. Perhaps the Rockies turn back to him?  If not, maybe they try Justin Lawrence? Lawrence has a win on the season to go with a 2.33 ERA and 30 punchouts in 27 innings.  One to watch for sure.

Staying in the NL West, things have gotten more interesting in Los Angeles. Would-be closer Evan Phillips pitched in the fifth inning the other night, leading to Brusdar Graterol getting the save.  For a team as good as the Dodgers, their closer situation has been mind-boggling since they let Kenley Jansen go.  Is this a timeshare?

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