Three pitchers who were expected to get a bunch of saves in 2016 returned from injuries this week: Will Smith, Brad Boxberger, and Huston Street. Some of you may have taken the potential saves to the bank, but I hope it was not all of you. As always, we’ve learned once again that not all injury returns are created equal.
In Milwaukee Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress were in an open competition before the season started, with Craig Counsell being annoyingly noncommittal even as we got deeper into the spring. Fantasy pundits regarded Smith as the favorite until a knee injury derailed those plans. Jeffress started the season in the closer role and impressed, and it seemed like Jeffress had built up a fair amount of security to the point where the competition would be a distant memory and he would run away with the job.
But there may be more here than meets the eye. Smith made it back this week, and Counsell almost immediately talked about how he’d feel comfortable about using him in save situations. Meanwhile, Jeffress wasn’t lights out on Thursday and gave up runs in each of his three prior appearances. Even worse for a closer who now appears on shaky ground, he allowed two home runs in that span. The leash here is not long, and those of you who need saves should give Smith a speculative add.
Preemptively adding the next closer in line is one thing, but dropping someone who has held down the role for a while can be quite another. We’ve been Brad Boxberger skeptics in this space since before he went down with an injury to his core muscle. I didn’t expect Alex Colome to perform like the high-end option he’s been so far this season. In spite of this, the Rays kept saying that the role was going to be Boxberger’s when he returned; an odd commitment to make for a pitcher with one season of closer duties under his belt, and not an especially impressive one at that.
As Boxberger’s return became imminent, we finally got word out of Tampa that he would be “eased” back into the closer’s role. This is not uncommon; Even established closers who return from injury will pitch in the middle innings of a blowout for their first appearance back. However, it is best if this appearance is clean. Boxberger’s was not. He gave up a couple of runs and it turned out he suffered an oblique injury. Boxberger is going to be out beyond the All-Star break, and this is looking more and more like a lost season. On the other hand, Colome’s grip has gotten stronger, and owners who grabbed him early can continue to reap some rewards provided he is healthy.
Injuries are the main concern owners have when they draft Huston Street. In fact, a DL stint is almost a given. But when he is pitching he is as safe a bet for saves as all but the very best closing options. Like some other unsexy pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez), Street doesn’t get gaudy strikeout numbers and his ratios are not usually high-end, but he has a nice saves total at the end of the year and that’s all that matters. This year will be no different. Joe Smith is capable, but even a flawless performance in Street’s absence would not have led to a change in role.
As we’ve noted in the past, Luke Gregerson is good enough to turn things around when he hits a rough patch, but not so established that he can afford a lengthy one. Gregerson blew a 3-run lead earlier this week, and this combined with his uninspiring performances not too long ago has him back on the hot seat. The key question centers around who takes over should Gregerson falter. While Will Harris has been awesome in the eighth inning and done nothing wrong, I think saves speculators should add Ken Giles. While his overall numbers are unsightly, he has been better of late. Plus, he got the save when Gregerson needed a break last week.
News and Notes
If you are a fan of bad managerial tactics, you probably have some memories of Ron Gardenhire’s stint with the Twins. My personal favorite move would take place when Minnesota had a day game after a night game, and Joe Mauer would take a seat on the bench. Rather than move Justin Morneau up or reshuffle the lineup so that Torii Hunter would hit third, he’d simply trot out the same lineup and bat light-hitting backup catcher Mike Redmond in the third spot.
When managerial stupidity emerges Ned Yost pays attention, and on Thursday night Yost made a similar move that cost his team the game. Luke Hochevar has has done an excellent job pitching in the 7th inning for Kansas City, and the same can be said for Kelvin Herrera who has been pitching the 8th. With Wade Davis unavailable, one would think Herrera would close and Hochevar would take the 8th. Instead Yost left them alone and turned the game over to the less effective (ah, but more experienced) Joakim Soria. Soria gave up two runs and blew the game. Yikes! I’m keeping Soria off the grid, and am hoping, hoping, hoping that Yost keeps Soria away from the ninth.
Cubs closer Hector Rondon is dealing with a balky back and is day-to-day. Those of you who are desperate for a save or two might want to grab Pedro Strop.
Sean Doolittle grabbed a save that was matchups-dictated, and while Ryan Madson hasn’t been as great as he was a few weeks ago, I still think Madson is the safe bet to get more saves going forward. However, Doolittle could swipe a few and has been much better lately, so he is worth owning in mixed leagues.
Since bringing in a former closer from the NL East worked out so well when Toronto acquired Drew Storen, they have now brought in Jason Grilli from Atlanta. Grilli can pitch well for stretches, but he is not a threat for saves.
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. If you think someone was ranked higher or lower than they should be, share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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