Last year Cody Allen got off to a rough start. He finished the month of April with an ERA of 11.57 and walked a batter per inning. Allen eventually settled down to become a solid second tier closer, but he had put owners in a bit of a hole and never did emerge like I’d hoped.
During the preseason, Terry Francona took some of the heat for Allen’s struggles last year in a piece by Paul Hoynes on Cleveland.com:
“It was our fault,” Francona told reporters last month. “We talked to him a bunch about slowing down at the beginning (of camp) and, mentally, I don’t think he was quite where he wanted to be when the season started. And that’s our fault — my fault. He’s now pitched three years in the major leagues with pretty heavy use, and he’s shown that he can handle it. He’s in great shape, so we just said, ‘Hey, help us get you ready.'”
Look at this paragraph for a while though. On the surface it sounds ok for jock talk, but it doesn’t make much sense. It’s hard to believe Allen wasn’t bringing his best because Francona didn’t throw him for an inning in Dunedin. We should know by now: When we see the words “great shape” in the Spring time, we should probably discount much of what follows. But there was more to recommend Allen coming into the season than the usual spring training chatter. His K/9 had steadily risen over the past three seasons to last year’s most impressive 12.85. And he largely righted the ship last year, but he got off to an ugly start again this season. What’s going on?
Well, here’s part explanation, part mea culpa: In the past I’ve defended a high ranking of Allen in part because of Francona’s trust in him. Allen has been used very aggressively: he’s come in during tie games on the road; he’ll be called on to get one out with a 4-run lead – you name it. So that is a plus as far as job security goes. On the down side, I should have placed greater emphasis on the “heavy use” Francona referred to. In 2015 Allen pitched 70 games, the most of any closer in the American League except for Shawn Tolleson (and look what happened to him by the end of last season). The previous year he was tied for second in the AL behind his teammate Bryan Shaw, and he had sole possession of second in 2013 with 77 games. So Allen may have gotten a handle on this heavy workload, but even though he’s young his arm may be getting old. And we know relievers tend to expire quicker than most major leaguers.
From the way he’s pitched so far it looks like all those appearances have taken a toll. First of all, there is the 1.6 mph dip in velocity. This has caused his fastball to decline from a very good pitch to a hittable one. As rocky as last season was Allen only gave up two home runs – this season he has given up three. You don’t have to own J.J. Hoover to know this will not stand! Allen’s control was never excellent, but his walk rate has spiked to above four, something any closer can ill afford. And now he is striking out less that a better per inning.
Those of us who were looking to see Allen step up to the elite tier are probably out of luck. The good news is that, barring an injury, I feel like his grasp on the ninth in Cleveland is firm. I just won’t be getting the top 7 closer numbers I wanted.
Just about everything I wrote about Cody Allen applies to Jake McGee. Like Allen, McGee is suffering from diminished velocity which could make him prone to ugly outings like his 5-run blowup against the Dodgers a few weeks ago. Like Allen, McGee once boasted an elite K rate. However, McGee has struck out a mere 4 batters so far this year and his K/BB ratio is even. Fortunately for McGee that, just like Allen, he doesn’t have much competition and should be safe to own. 37-year-old Chad Qualls has closed games in the past but is hardly dominant. Boone Logan is better served facing lefties as needed. Miguel Castro might have been a threat, but I am concerned about his injury. In short, don’t expect elite numbers from McGee, but he might be more valuable than any piece you’d get for him in a trade.
Brad Ziegler had a rough outing against the Rockies last Saturday, but that was his only major hiccup this season. That said, he doesn’t have a track record for strikeouts, his control abandons him at times, and this season he has been very hittable. Further complicating things is that Daniel Hudson has been discussed as a future closer and has been lights out. Tyler Clippard has been solid as well and has closing experience. Ziegler is still safe but this is a situation to monitor since Arizona has a few different people to turn to in the late innings.
News and Notes
Aroldis Chapman should be returning to the Yankees on Monday. It is assumed he will step in to the closer role, but don’t be surprised if he is eased back in over the first few weeks.
Not all surprises in the ninth inning have been negative. Fernando Rodney totes an ERA of zero at this point of the season. Anyone who has visited this space before knows how much fun I had mocking Rodney last season. He can keep proving me wrong all year long, but he’ll never be on my team. If you own him, I’m guessing there are more people like me than there are people like you, so he will fetch little in a trade. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Jeanmar Gomez blew his first save of the season for the surprising Phillies. Gomez emerged from the collection of castoffs the Phillies assembled and has put together a nice run, but there is no reason for the team to stay loyal to him for a prolonged stretch. Hector Neris has been great and is clearly the next in line as he picked up a save when Gomez was resting. He boasts peripherals that Gomez will never match.
Tony Zych and his elite strikeout rate has been diagnosed with shoulder tendonitis and will be out at least a month.
Carson Smith returned for the Red Sox and may be popping up on the grid soon, but Junichi Tazawa has been too strong for me to just remove. I still expect Smith to have plenty of value in fantasy.
Joe Smith is the man in Anaheim with Huston Street out. He even grabbed a two inning save on Wednesday. Smith should be solid, but the job will go back to Street when he returns.
I am keeping Drew Storen and Brett Cecil on the grid for now, but man have they been bad in front of Roberto Osuna.
Zach Britton sprained his ankle last weekend. He has not been placed on the DL, but apparently he is progressing and could be back on the field by the time you read this. I expect Britton to pick up right where he left barring any setbacks.
Ross Ohlendorf was used in the ninth inning of a rare Reds win. It was not a save situation, but I think after all the drama he is your top bet. It’s not a bet I would make however; he is a journeyman and you don’t need saves that badly.
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.
Here are some relievers of interest and they’re possible return dates:
- Huston Street (oblique) – Street is eligible to come off the DL on Monday, but don’t hold your breath. Oblique strains can take anywhere from two to six weeks to fully heal. Once Street begins throwing we’ll know more.
- Glen Perkins (shoulder) – He has yet to resume throwing and is still strengthening his shoulder. Realistically don’t expect him back any time in May.
- Brad Boxberger (oblique) – Is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday. The plan as of now is for Boxberger to pitch in six games before returning. Since those games will most likely be spaced out, that would put him on track to return the final week of May.
- Will Smith (knee) – The news the other day is that Smith will be shutdown for the next six weeks. While he said he does not expect to need surgery to repair the torn LCL in his right knee, there is no guarantee.
- Joaquin Benoit (Shoulder) – Manager Scott Servais confirmed Benoit will throw a bullpen session next week when the team returns to Seattle.
- Adam Ottavino (Tommy John) – He has progressed to throwing breaking balls off the mound and will do so again next week. If everything is good at that point he will head to the Rockies spring training facility to continue his throwing program. He is still several months away, but making progress.
- Sergio Romo (Elbow) – Now throwing on flat ground from 90 feet. As long as there are no setbacks Romo could be back by the May 23rd series versus the Padres.
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