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The Closer Catch-Up: The Herrera We All Deserve

The Royals have played 14 games at home so far this season. Do you know how many they’ve won? Just three.

Saturday’s 5-2 win over the White Sox reminded me just how great Kelvin Herrera can and could be. Kansas City’s closer holds the lowest ERA among all relievers in baseball right now, but since the Royals have scored the fewest runs in the Majors, it’s a shame most of it’s going to waste in the saves column. Herrera tallied just his fifth save over the weekend, and if you weren’t paying attention, I’d forgive you for thinking he’s still a B-grade fantasy option. After all, he is owned in just 75% of leagues.

Over the course of his seven-year career, though, Herrera has been just average. He’s tallied 48 career saves and blown 19, and since he’s never been known as a high-strikeout pitcher, there hasn’t been a whole lot to swoon over when it comes the 28-year-old. That isn’t to say Herrera isn’t a great real-life baseball player. Posting an ERA under 3.00 for three consecutive years is rad, but I think I speak for the majority when I say that we’ve just been waiting for Herrera to show his sexy side.

Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that this could be the year Herrera gets freaky. I can’t sit here and say the Royals’ bats are about to heat up and in turn offer Herrera more save opportunities, but I can say we have every right to expect those K numbers to rise on up. The reason being? Herrera has reunited with his changeup, and yes, it feels so good. He’s throwing it 25% of the time, a seven percent increase from last season, and so far it’s allowed just one hit. Couple that with Herrera’s four-seamer, which has so far reached 99 MPH on the gun, and you’ve got yourself a pretty dandy duo.

For his career, Herrera’s changeup has been killer. He’s thrown it for a .192 AVG and 133 strikeouts, and given his swinging-strike rate is at a career high, I like what I see. Herrera has shown a tendency to give up hard contact at times, but the rest of his batted ball profile could spell serious punch-outs ahead.

Anyway, here’s everything else from the bullpens around the league…

The Big Board

Team  Closer  Next in Line  Plan C
 Arizona Diamondbacks  Brad Boxberger  Archie Bradley  Yoshihisa Hirano
 Atlanta Braves (C)  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  Nick Goody  Tyler Olson
 Colorado Rockies  Wade Davis  Adam Ottavino  Jake McGee
 Detroit Tigers  Shane Greene  Joe Jimenez  Alex Wilson
 Houston Astros (C)  Ken Giles  Chris Devenski  Brad Peacock
 Kansas City Royals  Kelvin Herrera  Brad Keller  Brian Flynn
 Los Angeles Angels (C)  Keynan Middleton  Cam Bedrosian  Justin Anderson
 Los Angeles Dodgers  Kenley Jansen  Josh Fields  Pedro Baez
 Miami Marlins  Brad Ziegler  Kyle Barraclough  Drew Steckenrider
 Milwaukee Brewers (C)  Josh Hader  Matt Albers  Jacob Barnes
 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  Yusmeiro Petit
 Philadelphia Phillies (C)  Hector Neris  Luis Garcia  Tommy Hunter
 Pittsburgh Pirates  Felipe Vazquez  George Kontos  Michael Feliz
 St. Louis Cardinals (C)  Bud Norris  Greg Holland  Jordan Hicks
 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  Chris Martin  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

  • The loss of Andrew Miller to a hamstring injury is already messing with the Indians. Nick Goody gave up the winning run last Thursday, and after Carlos Carrasco lasted just three innings on Saturday, Dan Otero’s two earned run display in the ninth against the Mariners was a mere footnote in a game Cleveland would like to forget. Miller is likely to return around May 2.
  • Ryan Buchter hit the DL for the A’s on Friday. It throws Yusmeiro Petit back into the setup role for the time being, but after Blake Treinen was drilled by a line drive last week (it’s just a bruised shin, relax), Oakland will be praying there’s no more bad news coming their way.
  • Stop what you’re doing and drop everything — Zach Britton update! Balls were tossed at Camden Yards last week, as he aims for a mid-June-ish return.

The Worry Warts

Minnesota Twins: Does everyone have that one drawer in their kitchen they just keep cramming junk into, knowing full well it’s a complete mess, but you’re too lazy to do anything about? I always hope that drawer will sort itself out, which is a lot like the Twins and this whole Fernando Rodney situation. The dude is 41, so sooner or later we had to expect this, but after blowing his third save in cringeworthy fashion last week, what do the Twins do now?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s wrong with F-Rod. To keep it simple: He’s throwing his sinker heaps more, and his changeup heaps less. Apparently, Rodney’s 18% decrease in changeup usage is due to the weather and the fact he thinks hitters will be late to his fastball — looks like he’s forgotten Gary Sanchez’s walk-off homer already. But for you poor fantasy saps, good news, Rodney was in this exact same position last season. He sucked his way to a 12.60 ERA through April, only to turn it around the rest of the way and somehow finish with 39 saves.

Speaking of saves, Rodney picked up his third on Saturday, although it wasn’t pretty — he walked two, failing to record a single strikeout. On the bright side, he did throw his changeup four times, so hey, great success! What’s likely handcuffing you, and the Twins to Rodney, though, is that very elusive save tally he accumulated last season in Arizona. He’ll give up the odd homer and walk here and there, but he’ll still close out ball games, and in tight situations, too — that .165 AVG allowed in high-leverage situations last year is hard to ignore.

Prior to Rodney’s save on Saturday, the Twins’ eight-game losing streak is the real scary thought here. The starters have thrown 110 innings so far this season, placing enormous strain on a pen that has pitched 80 innings themselves. Addison Reed has allowed seven hits and four earned in his 13 appearances, so there’s no guarantee there, and although Ryan Pressly has 10 strikeouts in the last seven days, he’s nowhere near a save candidate yet.

Can owners rely on save opportunities going forward with Minnesota? I’m about as confident on that as I am Rodney going forward.

Middle of the Pack

A.J. Minter: Thank god Brian Snitker finally addressed his bullpen situation late last week. Minter was given his first career save opportunity against the Reds on Thursday, and although Snitker didn’t go as far as using the “C” word after the game, it looks as though this is a committee from here on out. I wouldn’t get too carried away, though, as Arodys Vizcaino took the mound with a three-run lead over the Phillies on Saturday, striking out the side on his way to his third save. Viz’s 1.54 ERA and 24% K-rate might make this whole “committee” thing look like a dumb decision, but there’s no getting past the eight walks he’s allowed in 11 innings.

Chaz Roe: I guess you could say, he’s Chaz-tising the league. Okay, not my best, but Roe is among the Top 10 holds leaders through April, and he needs your attention. He’s allowed four earned runs in 10 innings pitched, but Roe also has 12 strikeouts next to his six hold total. I’m not suggesting there’s any value here in anything other than holds leagues, but any Rays pitcher that can string together consecutive multi-innings is worth a brief mention. Oh and by the way, don’t forget to check out his nasty slider here.

Carl Edwards Jr.: This guy really needs to matter more. His 0.77 ERA is unworldly, and so are his strikeout numbers: 21 in just 12 innings pitched. One day he might actually be a useful fantasy asset, and when that day comes, rest assured he’ll be the real deal. Edwards Jr. has faced a tough Brewers lineup six times now this year and has allowed just three hits. Come to think of it, that’s probably part of the reason why the Cubs have the fourth lowest bullpen ERA in the league.

Everything Else I’ve Seen

  • Best of luck if even one of your closers is facing the Yankees in the ninth inning. Keynan Middleton was Friday’s victim, as his lucky number seven save opportunity turned out to be, well, awful. He walked Gary Sanchez to lead off the frame, and after a Miguel Andujar double and a Brett Gardner flyout, Middleton then saw Sanchez cross home-plate five minutes later to tie the game. It was Middleton’s first blown save of the season, but if it makes you feel any better, at least Blake Parker was slapped with the loss following Didi Gregorious’ game-winning homer in the 10th.
  • So Brandon Morrow’s stats are pretty weird. He’s giving up hard contact on 40.9% of the hits he’s allowing, but also has a career high groundball rate of 55%. Either way, whatever he’s doing is working — Morrow hasn’t allowed an earned run through 10 innings, notching his sixth save of the season against the Brewers on Friday. ICYMI, his standoff with Ryan Braun ended pretty quickly and painlessly…

  • I’m going to miss Greg Holland. Did you know he was born on the same day Don Mattingly won the AL MVP in 1980? November 25 was also the same day Bill Scott, the legendary voice of Rocky and Bullwinkle passed away. To quote the great man: “There’s always room for one more! … blown save, that is.” Holland blew his first save of the season against the comeback kings last week (that’s the Pirates). All he had to do was protect a three-run lead in the ninth, but instead Holland allowed two doubles and three runs (two earned) to send the game to extras. I know Mike Matheny is in love with the 32-year-old, but after Bud Norris pitched a clean eighth inning, sooner or later he won’t be able to justify these daily cliffhangers.
  • I like to give closers a mulligan where ever I can, especially young ones. After his three-run blowup against the Mariners last week, Keone Kela deserved a second chance at your trust, and so far he hasn’t let us down. Sporting a 3.12 ERA, Kela earned his fifth save in as many pitches against the Jays on Friday. Despite last week’s hiccup, he’s been a rock in a bullpen that has been asked a lot of in the last month. If he keeps tempting hitters to swing at his fastball 40% of the time, things shouldn’t change.
  • Can we make “Davvino” a thing? Wade Davis and Adam Ottavino put in work against the Marlins, combining for four strikeouts, a hold and the save. If you combine their strikeout totals (42), they’ve struck out as many batters as Clayton Kershaw so far this season. Life might not be so easy with trips to Wrigley and Citi Field next week, but here’s to the new power couple in Colorado.
  • All eyes on Tommy Hunter and Justin Anderson, please. Hunter has now pitched two clean innings of one-hit, no-run ball in front of Hector Neris, also earning his first hold of the year last week. Speaking of holds, how about Anderson forcing his way back into middle relief for the Angels? He’s earned three holds over the last seven days, against … wait for it, the Yankees and Astros.
  • Tough time for Kyle Barraclough. A death in the family caused him to miss some time last week, but he returned to the Marlins on Saturday, striking out the side to earn his first save of the season. Still looks like Brad Ziegler is the man in Miami after nailing down his third save on Sunday, though. Despite a pair of strikeouts, Ziegler has allowed at least one hit in 10 of the 11 innings he’s pitched, so I don’t know about you, but that’s a pen I want nothing to do with.
  • Really, again? Welcome back Alex Colome, everybody. The Rays were riding a nice eight-game win streak prior to Sunday’s game, then Colome took over the eighth. The inning started with a J.D Martinez line drive to right field, who later scored thanks to Sandy Leon’s ground ball. Again, it’s a lot of contact stuff from Colome, which isn’t that alarming, but if you add up the three earned runs he’s now allowed against Boston this season, you have to sit him next time Tampa faces the Sox.
  • To wrap up, Saturday was such a weird day. Bartolo Colon caught a crazy comebacker, and Pablo Sandoval pitched the ninth inning in garbage time against the Dodgers. You know things are looking bleak in San Francisco when Panda received the biggest roar AT&T Park has seen all season, but I’ve gotta give it to him — killer curveball. Coming back to Colon for a second, that curve reached around 80 MPH, which was Bartolo territory. I look forward to seeing these two on the cover of MLB The Show next year.

Buy: Yoshihisa Hirano

If holds aren’t a scoring category in your league, go ahead and ignore the rest of this article. For the rest of you, look no further than Hirano, the Japanese strikeout buzzsaw. The 34-year-old has racked up six holds already this season, and although I thought his K-rate would hover around 19.6%, just like it did last year in Japan, here he is striking out 27.9% of batters. Hirano has been surprisingly solid since his transition to the Majors, walking just two batters all year, and it looks as though manager Torey Lovullo loves him. Another popular name being thrown around in the holds department lately is Rays lefty, Jose Alvarado. It’s a small 43-inning sample size, I know, but that two-seamer is very, very nasty.

Need help with your fantasy bullpen? Follow Ryan Cook on Twitter @RyanCook13 and ask away!

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