You’ve probably read a fair bit about the Yankee bullpen coming into the season, and this is the one aspect of the team that is looking spectacular. As I write this Andrew Miller has yet to give up an earned run and has 15 strikeouts in 9 innings. Dellin Betances finally gave up an earned run this week, but has been his usual dominant self. And I don’t need to remind you that Aroldis Chapman will be back soon. But it’s not just the marquee names; they’ve even gotten solid performances from young Johnny Barbato and Tampa Bay Rays cast-off Kirby Yates.
This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Over the past few seasons, the Yankees have had numerous pitchers come out of nowhere to post very good years. Very often, these players will be shipped off after they emerge with the Yankees. The Yanks usually get something of value in return. For example: Barbato came over for Shawn Kelley in a trade with the Padres. If I were Chasen Shreve, I wouldn’t go shopping for that Manhattan apartment yet.
But it’s not as if the pitchers will fade into obscurity once the Yankees part ways with them. Many of them have taken on important roles with other teams. And many of them may be a source of fantasy value. No matter what type of league you are in, there is a Yankee cast-off for you!
I doubt even the Reds thought Caleb Cotham would be a saves candidate when he came over in the Aroldis Chapman deal, but here we are. The team has been losing lots of games, but when the next save opportunity comes it could very well be Cotham who gets the chance. He’s been used while the Reds are trailing lately, but the games have been close. Meanwhile J.J. Hoover has been demoted, Tony Cingrani has blown leads, Blake Wood has been torched, Jumbo Diaz has been banished to the minors – there isn’t anywhere else to turn. I don’t know if Cotham will be as good as he has been so far, but even iffy closers on bad teams get their fair share of saves.
When offseason darling Carter Capps went down due to injury, the race to take over the high-leverage innings in front closer A.J. Ramos was pretty wide open. David Phelps was widely ignored early on, but he has since become the clear choice in the eighth inning for Miami. He was used in a variety of roles in the Bronx: a spot start here; a single batter there; some mopping up when needed. However, Phelps has been used in only short relief stints this season, and we have seen his velocity go up a couple of ticks. This has made his fastball a more valuable pitch than it has been in the past and we can see the results. If he holds the velocity gains, he’ll be a great addition to your team in leagues that count holds and could ably step in for Ramos if need be.
I have Shawn Kelley next in line for saves behind Jonathan Papelbon in Washington, though there is an argument for Blake Trienen. Either way, it looks like Papelbon is solid again so there are few saves for anyone else in the immediate future – barring an injury. The presence of Trienen suggests that he may not be the best choice for holds. However, in leagues with an innings cap, Kelley can be a hidden gem thanks to his ability to get whiffs whether the innings are high-leverage or not. Once he went to the Yankees in 2013 Kelley’s K/9 jumped to the 11-12 range, and it has stayed there ever since. He’s older than you think, and he is a health risk, but he can be a big help for this year. You probably know that starting pitchers with a mediocre K rate will do you more harm than good in leagues with innings caps, so you are better off with a guy like Kelley over a fringe guy like Mike Leake.
A Stab in the Dark
I have been a K Rod supporter in this space from day one, noting that he is kind of a lightning rod for controversy. I think he will close for the duration of the season, but let’s face it. He has been shaky so farm and he is a little older so it’s not impossible that he falters. Mark Lowe is next in line, but he has not been especially effective this season. On the other hand, Justin Wilson has taken a step forward in an otherwise ugly bullpen. Wilson has not allowed a run, and has walked one batter against eleven strikeouts. He has been pitching in higher leverage situations so he could prove to be a good source of holds this season. He’s a lefty so he could grab the odd save here of there no matter what happens. If you are in a deep league he makes a nice speculative add.
News and Notes
- Craig Kimbrel gave up a game-tying home run to Colby Rasmus this weekend, and I can’t justify ranking him in front of a guy like Zach Britton who is looking elite with every outing. Kimbrel got off to a rocky start last year and should turn things around soon enough.
- Last week I thought about putting Miguel Castro next in line for Colorado, but there were rumblings of a sore shoulder and the Rockies did in fact place him on the DL last weekend with shoulder inflammation. Fortunately for the Rockies they think he will return soon, which is good news for them and for those of you who picked up the former Blue Jay in holds leagues. Speaking of the Rockies pen, I would be remiss if I did not mention Jake McGee’s failure to hold a 3-run lead on Sunday. I’ve been touting McGee in this space, but he needs to be bumped down a bit in the rankings after such an implosion. I’m hoping that his velocity will pick up as the season goes on.
- I told you to keep an eye on Hector Neris last week; this week you will find him in the grid, next in line in Philadelphia. Jeanmar Gomez hasn’t faltered yet, but I think he will. When he does, Neris should pick up the pieces and could have the kind of impact that Ken Giles had in Philadelphia last season.
- I still don’t like Shawn Tolleson, but a rant for another day. Setup man Sam Dyson might not be next in line for long if Jake Diekman keeps it up. He’s been racking up holds and is being used aggressively by Jeff Bannister in close games.
- Kevin Jepsen is still the temporary closer in Minnesota but he has not distinguished himself. Trevor May hasn’t necessarily been used like we’d hope a closer in waiting would be, but I am still keeping him at next in line for now.
The Closer Grid
The Closer Grid tells you who is getting saves, how secure they are, and who is next in line. For security rankings, 1 = Rock Solid, 2 = Secure, 3= Shaky, and 4 = Worrisome. Have a look and let me know your thoughts on the Grid or anything else in the comments.
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