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The Closer Catch-Up: Breaking Brad

What a start to the season for the Brads of baseball. Closers Brad Hand, Brad Boxberger, and Brad Brach all rank inside the top 10 in saves after three weeks, and since they’ve allowed just four earned runs between them, you’re staring at three of the most dominant closers to start the season.

Boxberger and his 37% strikeout rate has been particularly impressive, whiffing at least one hitter in each of his seven one-inning appearances. That’s come with a 2.54 K/BB ratio, and, more importantly, Boxberger has accomplished all of this during some serious high-leverage outings. The Diamondbacks now have four one-run wins on the year, with Boxberger showing some poise and strong command in all of them.

Goodbye spring doubts, and hello one of the strongest bullpens in all of baseball.

The Big Board

Team  Closer  Next in Line  Plan C
 Arizona Diamondbacks  Brad Boxberger  Archie Bradley  Yoshihisa Hirano
 Atlanta Braves  Arodys Vizcaino  A.J. Minter  Jose Ramirez
 Baltimore Orioles  Brad Brach  Darren O’Day  Mychal Givens
 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  Danny Farquhar
 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  Justin Grimm  Tim Hill
 Los Angeles Angels   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  Chris Hatcher
 Philadelphia Phillies (C)  Hector Neris  Pat Neshek  Adam Morgan
 Pittsburgh Pirates  Felipe Vazquez  George Kontos  Michael Feliz
 St. Louis Cardinals  Greg Holland  Bud Norris  Jordan Hicks
 San Diego Padres  Brad Hand  Craig Stammen  Jordan Lyles
 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 Worry Warts

Dellin Betances: Betances says this is the best he’s felt in years, but, um, think again Del, because there’s a little thing called statistics. Betances’ outing on Friday against the Tigers was cringe-worthy, as he allowed three runs on five hits, including a home run to some guy named Jeimer Candelario. Owned in as little as 40% of leagues, Betances’ drop rate has grown significantly to start the season, and it all boils down to one thing: the fastball. It’s averaging just 95.1 mph, down three ticks from the past two seasons, which could be why he’s throwing the curveball 64%, up 10% over last year. It’s tough to know just how long Betances’ leash is, but losing the setup role to David Robertson was inevitable. With games against the Marlins and Blue Jays ahead this week, we might have more of an answer next weekend.

Alex Colome: I fully expected Colome to start fast, but it just hasn’t happened. Friday’s appearance against the Phillies was a schmozzle, when the righty allowed Scott Kingery to turn an 0-2 count into an easy double, which eventually became the tying run in the ninth. The Rays were ahead 1-0 in the game, and although Colome (somehow) walked away with three strikeouts, this looks like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Friday marked Colome’s second blown save of the week, and even with the Rays assuring us that this isn’t a mechanical thing, it’s hard not to get wandering eyes and consider stashing, I hate to say it… Sergio Romo.

Middle of the Pack

Adam Ottavino: Looks like the lack of save opportunities has kept a few owners at bay, but let this be your last invitation to the Ottavino party. Behind only Bruce Rondon, Ottavino holds the highest strikeout rate of any reliever (66.7%), and his outing against the Nats on Friday was nothing short of fire emoji. So far what I’ve enjoyed about this whole Ottavino resurgence is his guessing game. He struck out Howie Kendrick with a high heater last week, and then completely embarrassed Ryan Zimmerman with a slider on the outside part of the plate two batters later. It’s a complete 180 from a guy who used to rely a lot more on his fastball, but this slider/sinker side of Ottavino is working a treat. If you haven’t bought in already, do so now — he’s rising through the Rockies’ bullpen like the Yodel Kid’s YouTube views.

Bud Norris: Turns out the Cardinals liked what they saw from Norris last week — he’s now leapfrogged Dominic Leone for the setup role behind Greg Holland. It was interesting to see manager Mike Matheny opt for Norris ahead of Holland during the Cardinals’ 5-3 win over the Reds on Friday. Norris ran into a little trouble on the way to his second save of the season, but he still went on to strike out the side. Norris’ high fastball has been particularly effective, allowing just a .167 AVG vs. the six batters he’s thrown it against. As far as fantasy relevance goes, don’t buy into Matheny’s wacky decision too much, but it’s worth noting Holland didn’t even warm up in that game against the Reds. It seems St. Louis is taking the cautious approach with the 32-year-old, making Norris a name to watch.

Joe Jimenez: Just watch as Joe makes a 12.32 ERA vanish in the matter of one season! OK, small sample size, but this is encouraging from one of 2016’s most highly touted prospects. Through 6.1 innings, Jimenez has allowed just one hit and struck out four, and as long as he keeps proving himself in high-leverage situations, the Tigers, as well as owners, should really begin to trust him.

Everything Else I’ve Seen

  • The ‘Stros bullpen continues to fascinate. Chris Devenski is making Ken Giles owners sweat, while Brad Peacock has run into a few problems in the swingman role himself. He coughed up three earned runs on Saturday against the Rangers including two home runs, one of which came against Joey Gallo. Similar to the Cardinals’ situation, Devenski saw a save opportunity over Giles late last week, but this looks like a committee situation to me, even if A.J. Hinch doesn’t want to call it that.
  • I’m convinced the Mets’ nine-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday because Jeurys Familia was unavailable. It was a horrid outing from Matt Harvey vs. the Brew Crew, but after locking down his seventh save a day earlier, Familia earned some rest. He’s been terrific in high-leverage situations, allowing just one hit and striking out five. I’ll beat this drum till I’m blue in the face — this is a top 5 reliever, everybody.
  • Aroldis Chapman is two-for-two in save situations, nailing down the Tigers for an 8-6 win last week. His four-seamer has topped out at 100.8 mph this season and is still giving hitters fits. He made Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, and Miguel Cabrera all look basic on low fastballs down in the dirt to strike out the side on Friday.
  • If you’re wondering who Felipe Vazquez is, that’s Felipe Rivero post name-change. He earned his fifth save of the year on Saturday after the Pirates scored on a bunt pop-up in the top of the ninth to go up 1-0. It’s not often I say baseball is boring, but this game was pretty ordinary. The fact Vazquez didn’t record a single strikeout makes it even more Plain Jane.
  • Just as a final note, keep an eye on the Reds. They’re striking out nearly 25% of the time and have hit just nine home runs all season, making them the perfect team to stream relievers against if you’re short on saves, as was the case with Norris last week.

Sell: Arodys Vizcaino

Atlanta chose to rest Vizcaino on Saturday, instead trusting the rest of their bullpen in a 10-5 game heading into the eighth. That was the Braves’ first mistake, because after Luke Jackson allowed Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella to fire up the Cubs’ rally, it was all downhill from there. Jose Ramirez replaced Jackson moments later, loading the bases and eventually giving up a double to Javy Baez to tie the game at 10-10.

But wait, there’s more! Sam Freeman came in to then load the bases for a second time, eventually walking in two runs to give the Cubs a 12-10 lead. Chicago went on to win 14-10 in perhaps one of the worst bullpen implosions I’ve seen in the last two years. Vizcaino owners probably breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t involved in this fiasco, but with no real dependable arms behind him to protect comfortable leads, Viz becomes a pretty favorable “sell” candidate right now.

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