The Closer: Underowned Middle Relievers

The Closer Logo 1A popular fantasy baseball axiom states, “Draft Skills, Not Roles.” This was frequently quoted in the preseason when we are not sure about who is slated to get the saves for a team as the season begins. If there is some uncertainty, go with the player who has shown the superior skills. So don’t be concerned that Roberto Osuna hasn’t been named the closer by the beginning of March; you know he is a strong pitcher who has displayed impressive skills. Chances are an impact role will present itself, and Lo and Behold, Osuna is pitching well and getting saves for the Blue Jays. This logic would also have led you to draft Ken Giles, but that’s not important right now.

We can usually go with skills over roles, and most times it pays off, but in one case we have our blinders on. The one role we exalt above all others in fantasy baseball is starting pitcher. Sure, in the preseason we know enough not to chase after sexy win totals, but week to week we will roll with just about anyone if we think they can grab us a W. Meanwhile, those starters frustrate us with ratio damage and frequent losses. Meanwhile far more valuable pitchers sit on the waiver wire.

Look at what acclaimed pitchers like Adam Wainwright and Sonny Gray have done to your team so far. Or promising arms like Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino. Even fantasy aces like David Price and Zack Greinke. You would have been better off rolling with David Phelps and Darren O’Day. I’m not suggesting that you should drop any of these guys for Phelps or O’Day – well, I probably would recommend doing that with Severino and a couple of others, but the point is almost every starting pitcher is over-owned. James Shields 79%, Jose Berrios 58%, Juan Nicasio 49% … I could go on, but it’s painful to do.

Today I offer you 3 pitchers owned in under 10% of Yahoo! leagues that have been better that many of these starters already, have elite skills, and may even pick up saves in the near future. Dropping a third starter for one of these guys might make you gag, but your team may be better off in the end.

Trevor May

I have written a fair amount about Glen Perkins in this space, and while he has had strong stretches over the past few seasons, he has proven to be a little brittle. He went down with a shoulder injury in mid-April, and as history as shown us, shoulder injuries are tougher for pitchers to recover from than other injuries. While he is scheduled to throw off a mound on May 23, “Injury prone pitcher regains form after early season shoulder injury” seems an unlikely headline to me. Meanwhile Kevin Jepsen has had a rough go of it since taking over in the ninth, with 4 losses and 3 blown saves. Minnesota is a pretty poor team. and Jepsen isn’t worth holding for the occasional save if he’s going to pitch like this.

On the other hand, May might be worth keeping in your lineup even if he isn’t getting saves. He has become a much more effective pitcher since moving to middle relief and has been lights out this year after some initial struggles. He has stuck out 27 men in 19 innings; you don’t have to be a math whiz to recognize that is a strong ratio. He has been making more and more high-leverage appearances of late. With Jepsen’s ineffectiveness and Perkins’s health concerns, May leading the Twins in saves is not an unlikely scenario.

Will Harris

I’ve said that Luke Gregerson does have the ability to hold the closing gig for the year, but there have been some chinks in the armor now that the calendar has turned to May. He gave up a three-run double to a resurgent Robinson Cano to take the loss last weekend and blew his first save against the Indians on Wednesday. In the meantime, Will Harris has taken over the eighth inning from Ken Giles and has been retiring batters like clockwork.

He boasts and ERA and WHIP well under 1.0 and has only walked a single batter this season. Giles has not righted the ship to date and cannot be trusted to keep runs off the board right now. Harris proved to be quite a find last season for the Astros, and he has continued his success this year. Should the need arise he would be the man to take over the ninth inning, and even if he doesn’t, he is so stingy with the runs that he could give your ratios a boost.

Daniel Hudson

I would describe myself as stubbornly uncertain about who would get the saves in the Arizona bullpen should Brad Ziegler falter. Most pundits were saying it would be Hudson, but I had Tyler Clippard nagging at me. Hudson doesn’t have “closing experience” but he is a “veteran” and sometimes that is enough for a retro organization like we have in Arizona.

Since the season started, I feel like one of those managers that I have a propensity to make fun of, like Matt Williams. I really should have moved Hudson up in the pecking order a week or two ago. He has been great and has a firm grip on the 8th inning. As you know Ziegler does not have strikeout stuff, so he might be prone for a bad stretch. He can ill afford one because if Hudson were to get a shot in the ninth, he probably would not give it back.

News and Notes

Like a bad car wreck, the bullpen situation in Cincinnati is not something I want to look at, but I can’t turn away. Tony Cingrani has picked up the last two saves, but I believe that Ross Ohlendorf still has the inside track on the majority of the saves. The other night Cingrani blew the lead in the eighth and Ohlendorf blew the tie in the ninth. View them as 1 and 1A. I have Caleb Cotham listed as a lurker, but he has been awful since he was touted in this space a while back. Really, Jumbo Diaz should be back soon and has a chance to get some saves as the year goes on.

Not that he would make them much better, but I bet the Reds miss Aroldis Chapman right now. I’m sure their fans do too. Chapman returned this week, already hitting 100 mph, and notched his first save.

Last Week we spotlighted Cody Allen and discussed a little bit of Jake McGee as well. Both pitchers saw their velocity go up a little bit so they might actually be good buy-low targets.

A.J. Ramos was pulled from the ninth inning after walking three Brewers on Monday, but he bounced back  to get a save on Wednesday. This isn’t a high alert situation, but it is worth noting that Ramos has walked 11 batters in his first 14 innings. Control has never been his strong suit, and it looks like Ramos is giving back some of the gains he made last year. David Phelps is next in line.

Sam Dyson picked up a save for the Rangers, giving an overworked Shawn Tolleson a break. Tolleson has been better, but is still prone to blowups which makes Dyson worth holding on to if you are speculating for saves in shallow leagues.

I am moving Fernando Rodney up in the rankings – though I do so with gnashed teeth. This is not a recommendation nor an endorsement. He is still Fernando Rodney. Nevertheless, he has been great so far.

As noted last week, Drew Storen and Brett Cecil have been awful for Toronto and John Gibbons has turned to Gavin Floyd of all people to pitch the eighth inning. While this turn of events is unlikely, Floyd has been effective so I would ride the streak while it lasts and cut him quickly when it ends.

The Closer LogoThe 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.

  Team Security Closer Set Up Lurker
1 Dodgers 1 Kenley Jansen
Pedro Baez
Chris Hatcher
2 Royals 1 Wade Davis Joakim Soria Kelvin Herrera
3 Orioles 1 Zach Britton Darren O’Day Mychal Givens
4 Yankees 1 Aroldis Chapman Andrew Miller Dellin Betances
5 Red Sox 1 Craig Kimbrel Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa
6 Mets 1 Jeurys Familia Addison Reed Jim Henderson
7 Cardinals 1 Trevor Rosenthal Kevin Siegrist Seung-Hwan Oh
8 White Sox 1 David Robertson Nate Jones Matt Albers
9 Pirates 1 Mark Melancon Tony Watson Neftali Feliz
10 Cubs 1 Hector Rendon Pedro Strop Justin Grimm
11 Blue Jays 1 Roberto Osuna Gavin Floyd Drew Storen
12 Nationals 1 Jonathan Papelbon Blake Treinen Shawn Kelley
13 Indians 1 Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Zach McAllister
14 Tigers 1 K Rod Mark Lowe Justin Wilson
15 Dbacks 1 Brad Ziegler Daniel Hudson Tyler Clippard
16 Astros 2 Luke Gregerson Will Harris Ken Giles
17 Marlins 2 AJ Ramos David Phelps Kyle Barraclough
18 Athletics 2 Ryan Madson John Axford Sean Doolittle
19 Brewers 2 Jeremy Jeffress Tyler Thornburg Michael Blazek
20 Mariners 2 Steve Cishek Joel Peralta Nick Vincent
21 Giants 2 Santiago Casilla Brad Osich Hunter Strickland
22 Rockies 2 Jake McGee Chad Qualls Boone Logan
23 Padres 2 Fernando Rodney Brandon Maurer Matt Buchter
24 Rays 3 Alex Colome Xavier Cedeno Erasmo Ramirez
25 Rangers 3 Shawn Tolleson Sam Dyson Jake Diekman
26 Braves 3 Arodys Vizcaino Jim Johnson Jason Grilli
27 Angels 3 Joe Smith Fernando Salas Jose Alvarez
28 Phillies 3 Jeanmar Gomez Hector Neris David Hernandez
29 Twins 4 Kevin Jepsen Trevor May Fernando Abad
30 Reds 4 Ross Ohlendorf Tony Cingrani Caleb Cotham


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Michael Zakhar

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Michael lives in New Jersey with his beautiful wife Virginia and his adorable son Johnny. We enjoy going to see the Lakewood BlueClaws, who play 20 minutes from home. In addition to baseball, Mike loves reading, music and professional wrestling.