Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene is off to a surprisingly strong start. The “surprise” is two-pronged. Not only have the Tigers already supplied him with seven save opportunities – including four in the last week, Greene has also converted them all without allowing a run. If you find yourself holding Greene, now is your best opportunity to sell high. His velocity is down nearly two mph, and he was already a rather ineffective closer. Don’t buy into the hot start.
Elsewhere in closerland, Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, and Cody Allen tied for the second most saves over the last calendar week with three apiece. We’ll discuss them in more depth in a moment. Greene, Yates, and Josh Hader top the seasonal leaderboard.
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Elite (3)
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
The elite closers were scarcely used over the last week. Diaz and Jansen both recorded two saves while Treinen took the loss in his only opportunity. He walked four and allowed two hits while facing 10 batters. That makes three consecutive appearances with a walk. No need to panic yet.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Chapman’s velocity continues to sit around 96 to 97 mph. So, while his on-field results have been fine, I remain concerned about his health and overall effectiveness. At the moment, Adam Ottavino appears to be next in line should anything happen to Chapman.
Osuna probably isn’t available tonight after throwing three perfect innings over the last three days. He also allowed one-run last Friday en route to a save. Look to Ryan Pressly if the Astros need a closer today.
Hader’s perfect 2.2 inning appearance on Sunday is a sign of what we should expect this season. He’ll be cut loose to finish long outings, opening save opportunities for others as he rests for his next appearance. Teammate Jeremy Jeffress is scheduled to return on April 15. I don’t expect him to immediately jump into the ninth inning, but it shouldn’t take long.
Hand is also being used for more than one inning, a role he is accustomed to from past seasons. Righty-only specialist Adam Cimber might soak up a few cheap saves when right-handed hitters are scheduled to come to the plate. The rest of the Cleveland bullpen is… messy.
Yates earned a bump in the rankings with a hot start to the season. I expect him to bounce between the second and third tiers – his talent-level is right on the line. To date, he’s recorded 14.14 K/9 and 2.57 BB/9 with one run in seven innings. Keep an eye on his fastball velocity – it’s down over one mph. So far, it hasn’t affected his results.
Doolittle probably isn’t available tonight after squeaking out a win against the Phillies yesterday. He faced six batters. Kyle Barraclough has appeared on three of the last four days. None of those outings lasted more than three batters. If he’s also unavailable, which is unknown, then Justin Miller is the guy to own tonight.
Tier 3: Core Performers (5)
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Davis has walked a batter in all three of his appearances. Of greater concern is the Rockies failure to deliver a single save opportunity to date. His role is secure. Speaking of few opportunities, the Giants figure to seldom hand a lead to Smith. So far, he’s locked down all three chances.
The good version of Giles appears to be on hand. His fastball is showing typical life, and his slider is as sharp as it’s been in years. He’s going full late-career Brad Lidge mode, throwing 60 percent sliders.
A.J. Minter is back in the Atlanta bullpen. He hasn’t pitched well in three outings. His fastball is down two mph, and he’s shown poor command. That’s good news for Vizcaino’s job security.
Tier 4: Red Flag Club (4)
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Leclerc blew a save last night in embarrassing fashion by coughing up a rare home run to Jarrod Dyson. Although his fastball velocity is up, Leclerc isn’t inducing any whiffs. He’s a splitter specialist, a profile prone to temporary slumps. I suspect that’s exactly what’s happening. Historically, Leclerc was an effectively wild reliever. This season, he’s worked far to often within the strike zone. Be patient. He’ll probably iron out the kinks.
Hicks appears to have emerged as the Cardinals primary closer. Any speed bumps could cause a shift in role, especially with Andrew Miller and John Brebbia lurking in the wings. Hick is still averaging over 100 mph with his fastball.
Iglesias allowed a run in his only appearance last week, a 2.1 inning long relief outing. He was saddled with the loss. While that makes a run allowed in all three outings this season, it’s hard to blame Iglesias for faltering in his third inning of work.
Alvarado picked up two saves and a hold in the last week, suggesting he may be set to earn the majority of Rays saves. This is likely to remain a fluid bullpen.
Tier 5: Mess Hall Part 1 (6)
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
Anthony Swarzak, Seattle Mariners
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Braisier and Barnes will be used as stoppers, pitching whatever important innings arise. There seems to be a willingness to try Barnes as a multi-inning guy while Brasier will probably stick to single frames. As such, I expect more saves to float Brasier’s way.
Allen is working on a relief no hitter. Through five innings, he’s allowed one walk with no hits and four strikeouts. We’ve seen him go on dominant runs in the past. This one looks different. His fastball velocity is at a career low, and his swinging strike rate is half that of his career norm. I’m eagerly awaiting Ty Buttrey’s first chance to oust Allen.
Holland is also showing career-worst velocity. Since he relies so heavily on offspeed stuff, he could overcome another decline to his heater. For the moment, I would bet against him. Or at least prepare to roster Yoshihisa Hirano and Archie Bradley just in case.
With a fast start to the season, Greene’s job security has upgraded. Still, it will only take a couple bad outings to trigger his ouster. Detroit just hopes he keeps it together long enough for a team like the Red Sox to drop a middling prospect on him.
Tier 6: Mess Hall Part 2
The Mess Hall is so slovenly that we needed a second tier. While I still love the Phillies bullpen as a whole, they’re scuffling a bit in the early going. They’ll figure it out. In the meantime, Robertson, Dominguez, and Neris have all worked the late-innings with shaky results.
After using Rogers for their initial save, the Twins have twice turned to Parker. This continues to look like a true closer by committee. Although I hyped Trevor May entering the season, he’s struggling to induce whiffs. I still think he’ll emerge as the Twins best reliever – at least out of the trio we’re currently discussing.
Conley found himself a save on Saturday. Then he promptly squandered his opportunity to build a lead as the club’s closer by taking the loss on Sunday. Keep an eye out for Nick Anderson. He’s emerged as somebody who could quickly climb the depth chart.
Somebody is going to wander out of the steaming pile known as the Royals bullpen. Will it be Boxberger, Kyle Zimmer, Richard Lovelady, or a yet-to-be-identified player? I suppose it’s my job to tell you. Despite some recent command woes, my money is on Zimmer. Boxberger is the better near-term play. There’s no reason to think Kennedy can be effective in a relief role.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear)
Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers (shoulder)
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)
As noted above, Jeffress is nearing a return.