As was prophesied, trouble has found Angels closer Cody Allen. His last five appearances lasted just 3.1 innings with five runs, six hits, and six walks. He also allowed three home runs. Two issues plague Allen – a multi-season declining fastball velocity and an inability to throw his curve effectively for strikes. Allen has thrown more curves than fastballs this season in an effort to hide his horrific heater. Instead, it’s led to walks.
A reckoning is coming for Allen. When the dust clears, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge with the closer role. This column has regularly recommended stashing Ty Buttrey. He is quite clearly the best reliever in this bullpen. He’s also working in the fifth to seventh innings. Instead of Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Noe Ramirez, and Luis Garcia are the ones most frequently pitching the seventh and eighth innings.
Of those, Robles looks like the guy to own. Although typically plagued by walks, he’s avoided them in 11.1 innings this season (2.38 BB/9). Meanwhile, he’s posted a career-best 12.71 K/9 backed by an increase in slider usage. A fly ball pitcher with a history of home run problems, I don’t see Robles as a long-term impediment to Buttrey. In the short term, he’s probably next in line. Don’t sleep on Justin Anderson as a dark horse candidate. He was recently recalled from Triple-A.
Five closers tied for the weekly lead with three saves apiece: Raisel Iglesias, Shane Greene, Ryan Brasier, Kenley Jansen, and Jordan Hicks. Greene and Kirby Yates are tied at 11 saves for the seasonal lead.
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Elite (2)
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
The main update from the elite tier is the Mets rumored interest in Craig Kimbrel. He would be used as a non-closer. Diaz’s job is perhaps the safest in the league.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (5)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
A taxed Yankees bullpen twice turned to Zack Britton to work the ninth inning. Don’t worry, Chapman’s role isn’t in jeopardy. While the opportunities went to Britton, Adam Ottavino is actually next in line. Jansen’s velocity is creeping upwards, and he’s actually throwing a few sliders too. Weird.
Jeffress is still easing back into action in early-game appearances. The Brewers will use a “stopper” model bullpen. They’ll turn to the most appropriate reliever for each situation as it arises. Expect Hader, Jeffress, and several others to receive save opportunities. Jacob Barnes is their next-best reliever.
Tier 3: Reliable Relief Aces (4)
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
You’ll notice I split the old second tier in half. The bottom of the group had a distinct great-not-amazing vibe to them. Hicks joins this group. He’s making progress towards the gaudy strikeout rates we expect from a pitcher with his 100.7 mph fastball and dirty movement. The stuff is undeniably elite, we’re just waiting for the fantasy results to match.
Hand is having a nice season. Beware a sharp 1.7 mph decline in his velocity. It could be an early season blip or a sign of trouble ahead. His 4.63 xFIP (an ERA estimator) suggests things might go sideways if and when he starts to allow a normal home run rate.
Yates job isn’t in any immediate danger. In fact, he’s pitching very well. My concern is more of a long-term worry related to Yates’ previous home run issues and a deep pool of alternatives in the San Diego system. He’s thrown three of the last five days so he might be off today. Trey Wingenter may be next in line.
Doolittle threw 20 pitches yesterday while recording four outs. Don’t be surprised if Kyle Barraclough gets the call today.
Tier 4: Core Performers (5)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Neris is a familiar face for late-game outs. His elite splitter remains a vicious weapon. He’s recorded 13.97 K/9 and just 1.86 BB/9. The low walk rate hides occasionally poor command. Every season, Neris has temporarily lost feel for his splitter. It will probably happen again this year. There’s also risk of somebody else stepping forward in this crowded bullpen.
A warning light is blinking over Giles. Now may be the time to sell. Over his last seven outings, he’s combined to throw 6.2 innings with 10 hits, five walks, and nine strikeouts. A .474 BABIP accounts for much of the trouble, but shaky command is mildly concerning from a pitcher who greatly struggled last season. On the plus side, his job security couldn’t be better. There really isn’t anybody else on the current roster who can capably handle the late innings.
Tier 5: Red Flag Club (6)
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Alvarado and Castillo are plenty talented. It’s their usage that has them ranked down here. Emilio Pagan recorded two saves this week.
Iglesias put together an excellent just in time to save his bacon. He’ll climb back towards the third tier with another strong week. Strop’s job security improved. Brandon Morrow suffered a setback. Holland has yet to allow a run. I have my doubts about the sustainability of this early performance.
Similarly, Greene continues to shut down opponents despite middle reliever quality stuff. The other shoe will eventually fall. Joe Jimenez is no longer next in line. The best Greene handcuff is Victor Alcantara.
Tier 6: Mess Hall (8)
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins
Anthony Swarzak, Seattle Mariners
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
The Twins might be settling on Parker as their regular closer. He’s not actually pitching all that well despite a 1.23 ERA. A 6.14 BB/9 isn’t going to cut it. He looks like a 4.00 ERA reliever.
Leclerc has yet to find his splitter in 2019. The Rangers feature a bad bullpen, and I have some faith he’ll eventually rediscover his top offering. When he does, he’ll transform into a high quality closer. Until then, consider benching him.
Swarzak is another pitcher with good results hiding questionable peripherals. In his case, a .154 BABIP has helped him to overcome some home run issues. He also experienced homeritis last season. The good news is his 13.50 K/9 and 3.68 BB/9 play as closer-quality rates. Overall, I’m betting against him. Brandon Brennan may eventually ascend to the role.
It’s only slight hyperbole when I say the Royals seem to be using relievers at random. Barlow is the latest name to flit across the screen. He’s a better candidate to stick than Peralta.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear)
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves (shoulder inflammation)
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain)
Morrow suffered a setback of undetermined length.