Injuries, role changes, and PEDs. It was a busy week in the closer community. The top 10 remain in situ, but there was turmoil among the bottom 20. Expect to see new names vying for saves today.
A couple of the top base stealing threats ran wild last week, but the rest of baseball has been conservative with the steal attempts. Players have stolen a total of 112 bases in 150 attempts for a 74.7 percent success rate. For now, few obvious targets lurk on the waiver wire.
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Tier 1: Elite (3)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, San Diego Padres
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
The Elite Tier did nothing to shake our confidence this week. Chapman pitched five innings with seven strikeouts, three hits, and two walks. He picked up a win and two saves. I wouldn't mind if the Reds took it a little easier on their relief ace.
Kimbrel picked up two saves in three appearances and Holland grabbed three saves. Regarding Holland, his velocity remains down. He's still averaging 94.5 mph, so there's no need for alarm. He throws a ton of sliders, so he may not even need the velocity to remain a top closer.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)
Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
On the surface, Miller and Dellin Betances are still in a job-share. Don't be surprised if you see Betances pick up a save or two in the next couple weeks. Miller has the Yankees only two saves. He's struck out six and allowed two walks in 3.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Betances has been downright shaky. He's somehow yet to cough up a run despite allowing nine base runners in 3.1 innings. His control is an issue with six walks and three strikeouts. His velocity is down to 94.5 mph. I worry that he might be hurt. Loss of velocity and control are leading indicators of many arm injuries. However, he's also had bouts of wildness in the past.
Allen made his 2015 debut last Wednesday with a two strikeout save. His encore performance on Saturday was a disaster. He walked three and allowed three hits while recording just two outs. He's another guy whose velocity is down in the early going. Unlike some of the others we discussed, I'm not sure how well he'll pitch with an average heater of 94 mph. Let's give him some time before reacting.
Robertson may be the top reliever 10 days into the season. He threw four innings last week with eight strikeouts, a hit, and a walk. He struck out the side twice en route to two saves. My previous concerns about his arm health can be dismissed.
Pull out your red flags and affix them to Melancon. He's working around 89 mph this year after averaging 93 mph in recent seasons. He imploded on Monday against the Tigers with four hits, three runs, and a rare home run.
I'll hold him in the second tier for now. His excellent command and control should produce solid results even with diminished velocity. Tony Watson is next in line for the Buccos. If Melancon holds the job long enough, Arquimedes Caminero is a dark horse candidate for saves. He's throwing harder than Chapman so far.
Tier 3: The Upside Crowd (6)
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves
Rondon appeared four times without allowing a run, but he was not dominant. He allowed four hits and struck out three while picking up two saves and a win.
It's time to keep an eye on the Marlins ninth inning. Cishek has pitched just twice. His lone appearance since our last update was a one inning blown save. I suppose A.J. Ramos is next in line for saves. Perhaps Bryan Morris. Long term, I'm watching Carter Capps. His plus fastball, invisible slider, and leaping delivery offer big upside.
Even though he's still viewed as a temporary closer, I nudged Boxberger up to Tier 3. So long as he holds the job, he's a good source of strikeouts. He appeared four times in the last week with three saves and a one-run loss. Kevin Jepsen picked up the save last night while Boxberger rested.
Anybody who was concerned about Jim Johnson sniping Grilli's saves can breathe easy. Grilli picked up three saves in three outings with five strikeouts, two walks, two hits, and a run.
Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (8)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Joakim Soria Detroit Tigers
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
The Twins haven't given Perkins a chance to save a game yet. He's pitched in two games. His velocity is down a couple mph from his 2012-2013 prime, but his slider remains potent.
Soria appeared in five games and locked down three saves. He should run away with the job while Joe Nathan is on the shelf with a mild elbow strain. He has three strikeouts, two hits, and a run in 3.2 innings.
Street continues to truck along despite failing many of the closer smell tests. He picked up three perfect saves in three innings with five strikeouts.
The Nationals are a team who could purchase a reliever upgrade midseason. Storen is adequate, but he lacks domineering stuff. As teams learn again and again in October, an unhittable bullpen is an excellent asset. Storen grabbed two saves last week while allowing one run.
If there's an award for the most well-traveled reliever within the confines of these rankings, it belongs to Rodney. The Mariners stopper had a busy week with a three out save followed by a four run vulture win and a two run blown save. Keep tabs on Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, and Dominic Leone.
Welcome back Uehara. He pitched a three batter, two strikeout save in his first day off the disabled list. Of course, he very nearly allowed a home run in the process. The long ball plagued him late last season, hence why he's not ranked higher.
Tier 5: Questions (6)
Tyler Clippard, Oakland Athletics
Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
Clippard's velocity is at a career low, which could affect the deceptiveness of his changeup. He appeared four times and notched only one strikeout. He allowed a home run to Nelson Cruz and walked three. The A's might be eager to see Sean Doolittle return.
Familia is sort of a poor man's Zach Britton. He induces a lot of ground balls, but he rarely stifles the competition. He picked up saves in each of the last three days, so look for somebody else to handle the ninth inning today. It could be Carlos Torres. Familia has six strikeouts in 4.2 innings, but I expect him to post around 8.00 K/9.
Velocity watch continues with Feliz. Presently, he's averaged just under 93 mph. We're looking for him to reach back for 96 mph heat. The Rangers are a mighty mess, so we can count on a midseason trade if he's pitching well enough to warrant it.
K-Rod is already back to his old tricks. He took the loss against the Rockies last Wednesday when he allowed a home run. He's a solid pitcher when he's not giving up gopher balls. Unfortunately, it's an all-too-common occurrence.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (3)
Joel Peralta, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ottavino has looked impressive in the early going with 10 strikeouts in 5.1 innings. He picked up his first save of the season last night. Betancourt recorded a save on Monday. It's unclear if one of them is the primary closer. It might be a committee situation. Long term, I think the role eventually falls to prospect Jairo Diaz. However, Ottavino could run with it if he can improve his platoon splits.
The Jays have a baffling bullpen. They stood pat over the offseason despite an obvious need to upgrade. Instead, they're trying a combination of hard throwing 20-year-old Castro and Cecil. Castro took the loss yesterday while allowing an earned run. His stuff is impressive, but he looks like a Rule 5 pick out there. He might be ready for this role in July or August, but the Jays really need to get somebody else on board for the ninth inning. Cecil could reclaim the job.
I thought Chris Hatcher would be the Dodgers temporary closer. He received the opportunity, but a couple clunkers will likely preclude him from future ninth innings. Peralta is a successful reliever, although he's quite unexciting from a fantasy perspective. He has four strikeouts in 4.1 innings.
Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies
Nathan joins the ranks of the injured with elbow inflammation. He's expected to return in a few weeks, at which point he may be listed among the deposed.
Mejia is now sidelined for 80 games due to a PED violation. The others have no experienced any setbacks.
Hawkins' run as the Rockies closer appears to be at an end. As we discussed, the Blue Jays seem to have a closer by committee situation on their hands. Maybe Cecil's lost his job, and maybe he'll reclaim it at any time.
The Steals Department
Last Wednesday, Wil Myers led all of baseball with two stolen bases. He still has two stolen bases. This week, the leaderboard is more familiar. Billy Hamilton owns the top spot with eight swipes followed by Dee Gordon with six. Surprisingly, Joey Votto has two stolen bases. He used to take about 10 bags a year.
Looking around the league, a few names stand out as potential picks. Dalton Pompey should be on everybody's radar while he bats second for the Blue Jays. I worry about his high whiff rate, but he's aggressive enough to overcome that problem. He doesn't profile well as a two-hole, so expect him to be ousted once Russell Martin goes on a streak.
Anthony Gose is off to a hot start for the Tigers, but I'm not jumping on the bandwagon. His strikeout rate is insane for a pure speed guy. He should be batting tenth in the lineup, not first. His performance has been saved by a .615 BABIP. He'll regress to somewhere around a .230/.310/.300 triple slash. He's struck out in 39 percent of his plate appearances.
Despite my negativity, Gose has a use for fantasy owners until Brad Ausmus comes to his senses. The Tigers have so many good hitters, but none of them are prototypical leadoff men.
Owners in deep, two catcher leagues might want to take a look at Christian Bethancourt. He's generally good for about 10 stolen bases a year at a position where zero steals are common. Of course, he can't hit worth a lick. Let me reiterate – the league has to be deep. I would take Bethancourt right around Carlos Corporan.