Fantasy Baseball

The Closer: First Half Wrapup

The Closer Logo 1With Michael Zakhar on hiatus this week, I’ve been called out of the bullpen to close things out this week.  I’m no stranger to closing; I took over the 9th inning duties last season after Paul Hartman struggled and thrive in pressure situations.  Maybe if I do a good enough job this week I can close for the Cubs or Mariners next week.

I’m sure you all have heard the news by now; Jason Grilli is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.  This was a harsh blow to some fantasy owners considering Grilli was tied for 6th in the league for saves (24) and was posting an elite strikeout percentage (32.1%).  While he vows to return, his replacement should be immediately rostered. 

Jim Johnson is a name we all know, but I’m sure he has left a bad taste in the mouths of some fantasy owners after his abysmal 2014 season.  Johnson struggled in April (3.97 ERA) but has come around since posting an ERA of 2.19 in May and 1.35 in June.  You’re not going to get the same strikeout rate that you would from Grilli so don’t expect much more than the 6.49 Johnson is currently averaging.  You should however expect the saves to continue as the Braves (somehow) continue to keep games close.  If for some reason Johnson should falter, things get a little cloudy. 

David Aardsma has posted respectable numbers so far and does have closer experience (69 saves between 2009 & 2010).  Brandon Cunniff could be another option.  While you would want better than a 4.23 ERA from a closer, don’t forget that Cunniff had a 1.80 ERA before allowing 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning against the Giants on May 28th.  Since that game he has allowed 5 earned runs over 12.1 innings (not great but not bad) along with 16 strikeouts.  A wild card in this what if scenario would be recently demoted Mike Foltynewicz.  He has a blazing fastball and there was speculation when he was in Houston whether he would be better suited as a reliever long-term.  Foltynewicz wouldn’t be the first starter to find success in the bullpen so keep him in the back of your mind if Johnson reverts to his 2014 form. Arodys Vizcaino has also been mentioned, but I see him as a long-shot at this point given he did not pitch in 2012 and 2013 and his innings last season and this year have been limited.

Huston Street had his bullpen session pushed back to today.  If all goes well he should be back this weekend, but groin injuries have a tendency to flare up so keep an eye on the news today.  Joe Smith would be the man to own should Street need more time or aggravate the injury further so keep him on your short list and be ready to jump (just in case).

Trevor Rosenthal owners should keep a close eye on their closer.  He has been complaining of general soreness and while that isn’t a cause for concern, things like this can escalate into something bigger at the blink of an eye.  Rosenthal gave up 4 earned runs over his last two outings before the break and did not record a strikeout in either game.  Hopefully the rest this week did him some good, but add Kevin Siegrist to your watch list just in case.  Siegrist has a 11.51 K/9 along with a 91.3 LOB%.  He has had an ERA below 2.0 in every month except May (2.25) and the WHIP has been 0.95 since the calendar turned to June.  His strikeouts and ratios make him rosterable even without the saves.

While Jason Motte is the flavor of the month in Chicago, we could see a change (again) soon.  Rafael Soriano had 5 scoreless innings in AA and has been promoted to AAA.  As long as Soriano has that same success in AAA (or close to it) we should see him back in the majors in a matter of weeks.  Once that happens all bets are off in Chicago.  Joe Maddon removed Hector Rondon from the closer role for no reason whatsoever leading me to believe that the same can happen to Motte.  If you are desperate for saves then a speculative add of Soriano could be warranted, especially if you play in a league where the top set-up men are rostered in anticipation of future saves.  Worst case scenario would be if Maddon decided to use Motte, Soriano and Rondon in a rotating closer role which would negate all of their values. 

The Closer LogoCloser Grid
Time to look at the closer grid. I moved Familia into the top 10 where I believe he belongs, demoted Soria and gave Jim Johnson a tentative ranking of 25 (he can earn his way up). I opted to leave the rest of Zak’s rankings as is, but I’m sure I’ll have some additional changes should he be away from the team for an extended period.

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.

Team Security Closer Set Up Lurker
1 Reds 1 Aroldis Chapman J.J. Hoover Ryan Mattheus
2 Dodgers 1 Kenley Jansen Yimi Garcia J.P. Howell
3 White Sox 1 David Robertson Zack Putnam Zach Duke
4 Padres 1 Craig Kimbrel Joaquin Benoit Brandon Maurer
5 Yankees 1 Andrew Miller Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
6 Nationals 1 Drew Storen Casey Janssen Aaron Barrett-(DL)
7 Orioles 1 Zach Britton Darren O’Day Tommy Hunter
8 Twins 1 Glen Perkins Blaine Boyer Casey Fein
9 Royals 1 Greg Holland Wade Davis Kelvin Herrera
10 Mets 1 Jeurys Familia Bobby Parnell Jenrry Meija
11 Angels 1 Huston Street Joe Smith Fernando Salas
12 Cardinals 1 Trevor Rosenthal Kevin Siegrist Seth Maness
13 Indians 1 Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Zach McAllister
14 Tigers 1 Joakim Soria Joba Chamberlain Bruce Rondon
15 Phillies 1 Jonathan Papelbon Ken Giles Luis Garcia
16 Red Sox 1 Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa Alexi Ogando
17 Pirates 1 Mark Melancon Tony Watson Arquimedes Caminero
18 Marlins 2 A. J. Ramos Carter Capps Steve Cishek
19 Rangers 2 Shawn Tolleson Keone Kela Tanner Scheppers
20 Brewers 2 Francisco Rodriguez Jeremy Jeffress Will Smith
21 Astros 2 Luke Gregerson Pat Neshek Will Harris
22 Dbacks 3 Brad Ziegler Daniel Hudson Enrique Burgos
23 Giants 3 Santiago Casilla Sergio Romo Javier Lopez
24 Athletics 3 Tyler Clippard Drew Pomeranz Sean Doolittle-(DL)
25 Braves 3 Jim Johnson David Aardsma Brandon Cunniff
26 Rockies 4 John Axford LaTroy Hawkins Rafael Betancourt
27 Rays 4 Brad Boxberger Jake McGee Kevin Jepsen
28 Blue Jays 4 Roberto Osuna Steve Delabar Brett Cecil
29 Cubs 4 Jason Motte Pedro Strop Hector Rendon
30 Mariners 4 Fernando Rodney Carson Smith Mark Lowe

Bullpen Notes:

Carter Capps has 48 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.  This time last year Betances and Davis were widely available as fantasy owners were slow to roster them. Don’t make that mistake again, pick up Capps.

Speaking of Wade Davis, his ERA is half of what it was last year at the halfway mark (0.46).  The strikeouts are down from last season, but he is holding steady or has shown improvement everywhere else.  His last home run allowed was on August 24th, 2013 – coincidentally, that was his last game as a starter.

Will Harris has an ERA and WHIP under 1.0 and a BAA of .116 through 41.1 innings. Add on a K/9 just over 9.0 and you’ve got a middle reliever almost as valuable as Capps.  Harris also replaces Josh Fields as the lurker in the rankings above.

Darren O’Day is someone I have recommended in my waiver wire report, and with good reason.  Through 33.2 innings he has a 1.07 ERA and 0.80 WHIP along with a K/9 of 12.03.  Players like this can be an asset regardless of whether you play points, roto or H2H.

Yankees reliever Justin Wilson has allowed only 1 earned runs since the beginning of June, a span covering 17.1 innings.  He has 19 strikeouts over that time.  While Wilson has zero chance of displacing Dellin Betances as Andrew Miller’s primary set-up man, he can have value in mixed leagues; I’m looking at all of you that have decided to punt saves.

Hidden behind Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith in the Brewers bullpen is Michael Blazek, the best reliever on the team so far with numbers that rival closer Francisco Rodriguez.  Through 45.2 innings, Blazek has a 1.58 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, 5 wins and 41 K’s.  I would not be surprised if he stepped into the closer role should Rodriguez get traded.

Dodgers lefty specialist J.P. Howell has 21 strikeouts over 25.2 innings and has allowed only one earned run all year (0.35 ERA).  There is no fantasy value here, just acknowledging his accomplishments since he has pitched very well since 2013.


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By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.