I began playing fantasy baseball in my hometown head to head league in 2002; if you are a loyal reader, you might recall my complaints that the first closer I drafted was Bob Wickman. I drafted him early – and he stunk. Saves were a struggle and I couldn’t get going, but in the end I prevailed in the saves chase. Francisco Cordero, Damaso Marte, and Jason Isringhausen are not just people that you saw in a boxscore and thought, “Wow, that guy is still in the league?” In 2002 they gave me the late-season push I needed to get over the hump. In fact my opponent in the finals had dropped Izzy when the St. Louis Post Dispatch had declared him out for the season, but he returned in the last handful of games and grabbed a few saves.
So if you are bummed because you missed out on Arodys Vizcaino or Alex Wilson during the rush for closers around the trade deadline, I’m here to tell you that you are not out of luck just yet. You need to be attentive to each team’s closer situation and proactive in going to get the guy who will garner those precious saves late in the season when you need them most. This past week has seen two situations that have developed in unexpected ways, and they will not be the last.
In Boston, Koji Uehara has been rolling along until he was hit be a line drive over the weekend. The Red Sox indicated that Koji would be fine, but we know that while Koji’s numbers are stellar, his durability (and age) keeps him from being truly elite. And so he was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured wrist. Junichi Tazawa had been handling eighth inning duties for Boston and was the presumed replacement and a popular add after the injury. Meanwhile Jean Machi pitched in the ninth inning of a 7-2 Red Sox win, and the fantasy world was nonplussed since this was not a save situation. Until, manager John Farrell announced that Machi will be seeing save ops going forward.
Naturally then, Tazawa was granted the first save opportunity -and he blew it.
I guess that means Machi will actually get the next shot; at least he had Farrell’s endorsement at some point. So where’d he come from? Some of you may know the answer is San Francisco: Machi was designated for assignment by the Giants a few weeks ago and the Red Sox took a flyer on him. Make no mistake, Machi’s full season numbers are fittingly ugly. However, he has been a valued contributor for the always competitive Giants team for a few years, and if you look at his lifetime stats before this season you’d see a good pitcher. He declined slightly from 2013 to 2014 before falling off the cliff this year, but maybe the change of scenery will be good for the once useful middleman. If you have some flexibility with your roster and need saves, I think Machi is an interesting addition.
Edward Mujica was actually the closer for the Red Sox as the season began, but he did not distinguish himself and was eventually shipped off to Oakland. When Oakland traded Tyler Clippard, it was “The Chief” who was tabbed to take over ninth inning duties. Last week I basically said, “if you feel you must because you need saves, then hold your nose and pick him up.” We I hope your save situation wasn’t too bad because Mujica has not done well and melted down against the Astros. The Athletics don’t have anyone with a stretch of closer-like dominance ready to step in right now, though my guess is Drew Pomeranz gets the next shot. However, if you are in a league where Sean Doolittle is sitting on waivers, now is the time to go get him. He is on a rehab assignment and Oakland has no real reason to keep him from the ninth inning when he gets back. Well, one reason is that his velocity might not be back to where it was. Nevertheless, the arms in Oakland are not enough to hold him at bay. If you asked me who gets the most saves for the Athletics from here on out, my answer for you is Doolittle.
A couple of other bullpen situations that may give you some waiver wire saves before the year is out:
Speculating on the Rockies pen is a scary proposition sometimes, so much so that you can usually find their closer out on the wire. Tommy Kahnle he has been successful so far for Colorado and he might actually be available in your leagues. If he is I would add him over Tazawa or Machi, and even over the established Doolittle – if only because he has more time to put up numbers.
Santiago Casilla is still making me nervous in San Francisco. I would probably grab Sergio Romo to back him up, although he hasn’t been great either. I don’t see Hunter Strickland taking over just yet, though with his performance this year you’d think he will be closing soon. If you are truly desperate (or perhaps truly savvy) and a save or two means points in the standings, then you might want to pick up Javier Lopez who could grab one or two of those one-out saves against lefties that will make you smile and irritate your leaguemates.
CHICAGO and TAMPA BAY
The Cubs and the Rays have been uneasy all year and that will not change as the year continues. On Tuesday we had saves from James Russell for Chicago and Xavier Cedeno for Tampa Bay, names that you would not have seen on the closer grid. I can’t even give you a mea culpa on this as both of these were out of nowhere. I didn’t see any reason to think of them as lurkers, and I still don’t. I might recommend Russell in a similar manner to Lopez to get an irritating save or two, but Hector Rendon has done nothing wrong. Of course, that hasn’t prevented Joe Maddon from replacing him before; still I need to see more before I bump him down. Likewise, the Rays have had their bumpy periods with Brad Boxberger with Jake McGee backing him up, but those are still your top two save options. I am keeping Steve Geltz on the grid as he has been used aggressively by Kevin Cash and has performed well. I think he could continue to be used in interesting key spots when the whim strikes again.
The CLOSER Grid
Now let’s have a look at the grid. For first-timers, closers are ranked from best to worst and we’ve included ratings for job security:
1 = solid, 2 = secure for now, 3 = shaky, and 4 = worrisome.
- Jumbo Diaz has allowed one earned run in the past 30 days (12.1 innings), and is sporting an ERA & WHIP below 1.0 during this time with a K/9 above 9.0.
- Apply the numbers above from Jumbo to Brad Branch. He has been just as good during recently and his season numbers are more reliable.
- Hunter Strickland has given up only one earned run total (a home run) for the months of May, July and August (23.1 innings). That home run was the only one allowed all season. Did I mention a K/9 over 9.0?
- The last time Liam Hendriks allowed an earned run was on July 8th, and he has only allowed earned runs in two games since the beginning of June.
- Joakim Soria has 3 holds and zero earned runs since arriving in Pittsburgh, and his last earned run allowed was on July 10th.
- Hidden behind Zach Britton and Darren O’day is Brad Brach; he has allowed only one earned run since June 21st and is striking out a batter an inning. No holds but great ratios.
- Over the past 30 days, Phillies relievers Ken Giles, Hector Neris, Jeanmar Gomez, Elvis Araujo and Luis Garcia have allowed just 5 earned runs covering 51.1 innings (0.88 ERA).
- Carter Caps is a few bullpen sessions away from a rehab assignment. With 58 strikeouts in 31 innings he is vastly under-owned. He could steal some saves from A.J. Ramos in September.
Need more closer news, waiver wire picks, 2-start pitchers, prospects and general fantasy baseball goodness, head on over to Fantasy Rundown.