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The Closer Catch-Up: A Familia Feeling

No one said pitching in the NL East was going to be easy, but this? Super tough weekend for all bullpens involved.

Putting the Mets’ surprising 14-6 record aside for one moment, you could argue this is the toughest division in baseball right now. The Marlins’ bullpen is a mess, and the Braves’ situation hasn’t looked much better, which really makes Jeurys Familia’s rise back to Top 5 closer stardom all the more impressive.

After 11.1 untouchable innings, though, Familia faltered over the weekend. Here we were thinking he might just scrape through April completely unscathed, but against his old kryptonite, the Atlanta Braves, Familia allowed his first earned runs of the season on Saturday.

Up 3-2, it was a game tailor-made for another Mets win, and following a typical Familia strikeout of Preston Tucker in the eighth, you’d bet the house he’d lock down the save in the ninth. Turns out Johan Camargo had different plans, because after a Dansby Swanson walk, he ripped a triple to center field to bring home the tying run. Things then went from bad to worse — Kurt Suzuki singled, Familia threw to first base a bunch of times, and after Ender Inciarte eventually laid down the walk-off bunt, for once we were left questioning Familia’s command.

It’s no surprise to see a division rival like the Braves trump Familia, and it’s certainly no shock to see Atlanta leading all teams in runs scored against the 28-year-old across his career, but Familia’s lack of command on Saturday was, well, different. His sinker consistently missed on the lower half of the plate. It’s way too early to even think of panicking, but if you’re counting on saves from any NL East pitcher, just expect the unexpected now and again.

Team  Closer  Next in Line  Plan C
 Arizona Diamondbacks  Brad Boxberger  Archie Bradley  Yoshihisa Hirano
 Atlanta Braves  Arodys Vizcaino  A.J. Minter  Shane Carle
 Baltimore Orioles (C)  Brad Brach  Darren O’Day  Richaed Bleier
 Boston Red Sox  Craig Kimbrel  Joe Kelly  Matt Barnes
 Chicago Cubs  Brandon Morrow  Carl Edwards Jr.  Steve Cishek
 Chicago White Sox (C)  Joakim Soria  Nate Jones  Hector Rondon
 Cincinnati Reds  Raisel Iglesias  Jared Hughes  Wandy Peralta
 Cleveland Indians  Cody Allen  Andrew Miller  Nick Goody
 Colorado Rockies  Wade Davis  Jake McGee  Adam Ottavino
 Detroit Tigers  Shane Greene  Joe Jimenez  Alex Wilson
 Houston Astros (C)  Ken Giles  Chris Devenski  Brad Peacock
 Kansas City Royals  Kelvin Herrera  Tim Hill  Brad Keller
 Los Angeles Angels (C)  Keynan Middleton  Cam Bedrosian  Blake Parker
 Los Angeles Dodgers  Kenley Jansen  Josh Fields  Tony Cingrani
 Miami Marlins  Brad Ziegler  Kyle Barraclough  Drew Steckenrider
 Milwaukee Brewers (C)  Matt Albers  Jacob Barnes  Josh Hader
 Minnesota Twins  Fernando Rodney  Addison Reed  Zach Duke
 New York Mets   Jeurys Familia  A.J. Ramos  Robert Gsellman
 New York Yankees  Aroldis Chapman  David Robertson  Dellin Betances
 Oakland Athletics  Blake Treinen  Santiago Casilla  Ryan Buchter
 Philadelphia Phillies (C)  Hector Neris  Luis Garcia  Adam Morgan
 Pittsburgh Pirates  Felipe Vazquez  George Kontos  Michael Feliz
 St. Louis Cardinals (C)  Bud Norris  Greg Holland  Tyler Lyons
 San Diego Padres  Brad Hand  Kirby Yates  Craig Stammen
 San Francisco Giants  Hunter Strickland  Tony Watson  Sam Dyson
 Seattle Mariners  Edwin Diaz  Juan Nicasio  Nick Vincent
 Tampa Bay Rays  Alex Colome  Sergio Romo  Jose Alvarado
 Texas Rangers  Keone Kela  Kevin Jepsen  Alex Claudio
 Toronto Blue Jays  Roberto Osuna  Ryan Tepera  Seung Hwan Oh
 Washington Nationals  Sean Doolittle  Ryan Madson  Brandon Kintzler

** C=closer by committee. Red=unstable bullpen. Blue=stable bullpen. Green=elite bullpen **

The DL D-Low

  • White Sox set up man Danny Farquhar suffered a brain aneurysm during Friday’s nights game against the Astros. He remains in a critical condition. All of our thoughts and prayers go out to Farquhar and his family.
  • Corey Knebel threw off the mound during a bullpen session on Saturday, so there’s some good news on the hamstring front. It’s highly doubtful we see him before mid-May, which also goes for Mark Melancon, who is scheduled to resume throwing sometime this week. Other than that, Jose Ramirez hit the 10-Day DL with right shoulder stiffness, but since you probably don’t care about that, keep an eye on Ken Giles and the Astros situation. That stiff back has reportedly “gotten a bit worse.”

The Worry Warts

Brad Boxberger: I’d like to talk some owners down from the ledge here. In the space of 48 hours, Boxberger earned his sixth save of the season and his second loss of the season, so I guess you can see why some owners are freaking out. Friendly reminder: it’s only April, and Boxberger’s three-run blowup on Friday did come after three straight days of pitching (something he hasn’t done since 2015). His two losses, one against the Padres and one against the Giants two days earlier, also came in non-save situations, an area where Boxberger stands a perfect six-for-six on the season. I also watched Friday’s ninth-inning meltdown and was instantly reassured that none of it mattered. The three hits he allowed were weak contact singles, while Boxberger also went without Archie Bradley an inning earlier in the setup role. In a nutshell, don’t sell on Boxberger just yet.

Fernando Rodney: You must be new here if you were shocked by Friday’s fiasco against the Rays. This is Fernando Rodney in all of his glory: crooked cap and as unnerving as hell. Last season was much the same. He’ll walk a guy and give up a lazy single, and although he’ll blow the odd game or two, he’ll still wind up with more converted saves than blown ones. Don’t get me wrong, Rodney certainly shouldn’t be your first choice at closer, but don’t pretend like he didn’t come with a warning label. Last season’s 4.25 ERA says it all, and so does his 1.80 WHIP so far through these first three weeks. But thanks to the unpredictable beast that is Fernando Rodney, you can’t help but get lost in that 10.8 K/9 and hope for the best. It’s easier said than done, but you really have to know your matchups when it comes to owning Rodney. Then again, if he can blow up against the Rays, the worst offense in baseball, good luck ever figuring him out. Just don’t complain when every now and then the gamble doesn’t pay off.

The Braves: I touched on the difficulties each and every NL East bullpen has faced so far this season, but the Braves took it to a whole other level on Friday. To set the scene, Atlanta was tied 3-3 against the Mets entering extra innings, and after Arodys Vizcaino tossed a perfect frame in the 10th, the Braves decided to roll with Josh Ravin in the 11th. On this occasion, the 30-year-old veteran ran into trouble, putting runners at first and second but eventually ending the inning on a Tomas Nido strikeout. But then … doom. The Braves threw Ravin and his command issues back out there for the 12th, and things turned cringe in a hurry. Robert Gsellman was hit by a pitch and later scored thanks to a Yoenis Cespedes single, and the Mets went on to win 5-3. Manager Brian Snitker was limited in the “arms” department with A.J. Minter pitching earlier in the game, but it was a perplexing decision to allow Ravin to pitch two consecutive innings, especially after a close call in the 11th. I guess that’s why the Braves’ bullpen has managed just one save all month. Oh, and in case you missed my memo last week, sell high on Vizcaino ASAP.

The Middle of the Pack

Robert Gsellman: Lost in the chaos of Friday’s extra-inning game were Gsellman’s three strikeouts. He earned his second win of the season thanks to two lockdown innings of one-hit ball, and although he still looks unownable, Gsellman’s strikeout numbers and multi-inning ability make him a versatile option to keep an eye on. He may not become as involved in a swing role as, say, Brad Peacock, but if he does start to see an increased workload and the odd save chance or two, Gsellman could become the next multi-inning, must-own at middle relief.

Kyle Barraclough/Junichi Tazawa: With Brad Ziegler earning a rest, the Marlins made a mess of Saturday’s game against the Brewers. Barraclough ran into trouble in the eighth, walking two and allowing the tying run to score. Still tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Tazawa then entered, engaging in a crazy 13-pitch at-bat against Jesus Aguilar, which of course resulted in a walk-off home run deep to right field. Fantasy wise, this means nothing, but whatever little hope we had for a bright post-Brad Ziegler situation in Miami now looks rather bleak. It’s a shame to see Tayron Guerrero’s 21 strikeouts in 11 innings go to waste, but allowing seven earned runs in 11 innings makes it tough to see any upside.

Everything Else I’ve Seen

  • The Royals and the Tigers played a doubleheader on Friday, which meant we received a large dose of Shane Greene. After calming down from his Week 1 woes, Greene blew the save in the second game, even though a lot of it wasn’t entirely his fault. Once again the Tigers’ defense made life difficult, as an Abraham Almonte bloop single to center field turned into the tying run at home plate. Two pitches later, Jon Jay hit a liner to Niko Goodrum that was dropped, giving the Royals a 3-2 win. Not that anyone in this bullpen is worth owning, but collectively, the Tigers’ pen has now tallied five losses on the year.
  • So Kyle Crick replaced Felipe Vazquez on Saturday. The Pirates’ closer took over in the eighth, only to allow hits to Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, and Aaron Altherr while giving up an earned run in the process. You still have the right to argue Vazquez is a Top 10 reliever, but with fewer strikeouts on the year than guys like Pedro Baez and Drew Steckenrider, he needs to pick up the pace in a hurry.
  • Edwin Diaz has quietly been closing up a storm. He sits second behind Wade Davis in saves, but did you know about this 14% walk rate? On the way to his eighth save, Diaz issued three free passes against the Rangers on Saturday and also allowed his first earned run of the season. Normally, you could blame command for such a crooked walk number, but Diaz’s contact rate is way down, and his swinging strike rate sits at a career-high 19.6%. Diving deeper, it appears the fastball is the culprit here. Diaz is throwing his four-seamer for a ball 33% of the time, which is edging very close to last year’s numbers. I’m not saying we’re in for another 4.66 BB/9 kinda year, but well, there’s nothing to say that we aren’t, either.
  • If you’re not a fan of something, what are you? A Hader! That’s right, the Brewers are finally rolling with Josh Hader, and I was loving every minute of it on Sunday. After the Marlins bullpen (again) allowed runs in middle relief, Hader finished with three strikeouts and the save after two brilliant innings in the 8th and 9th. With Knebel still a while away and Hader leading all relievers in strikeouts (26), it makes perfect sense for the Brewers to ditch the Matt Albers/Jacob Barnes experiment entirely and trust him going forward.
  • In terms of panic, Alex Colome had the majority of owners on amber alert last week. I was advocating for patience, though, because despite the Rays’ lack of options behind him, a lot of Colome’s hits were either unlucky defensive errors or weak contact grounders. Fortunately, things have come good this week, as Colome picked up his second win of the season on Sunday. Chasing wins with closers isn’t what we’re about, but chasing strikeouts is, and Colome’s trio of Ks against the Twins should tell you things are going to be okay. Despite those mid-April struggles, try to find solace in the fact that Colome has allowed only one homer all year, and currently sits with a career-high 60% ground ball rate.

Buy: Keynan Middleton

Keynan Middleton looks to have secured the Angels’ closer role. He held down a 4-3 lead for his fifth save against the Giants on Saturday, striking out Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford and Nick Hundley convincingly. Owned in just 50% of Fantrax leagues, Middleton has nailed down all five of his save chances, and he’s been brilliant to watch. He’s allowed just one home run in 12 innings pitched, which, compared to last season, is a drastic improvement for the Angels’ pen as a whole. Through the entire month of April last season, they gave up 16 bombs to opposing hitters. But more importantly, it’s nice to finally have some clarity at closer, even if Mike Scioscia decides to mess it all up again in the near future.

1 Comment
  1. Eric says

    Braves – Biddle – Mark it.

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