The Closer: Opening Week Overreactions

The Closer Logo 1This is the time of year where every notable fantasy baseball writer preaches patience, but when it comes to the back of the bullpen we can’t help but react with superlatives. The phrase “epic meltdown” is overused and “epic” should not describe any actions taken up by a mediocre reliever. Likewise, we like to talk about who has “marked his territory” by pitching a clean ninth inning. I prefer not to have a visual of Luke Gregerson taking a leak on the pitcher’s mound, but maybe that’s just me.

While the purple prose gets me flummoxed, I appreciate the intent. If there is an area where overreacting in April is appropriate, it is the back of questionable bullpens. Like a scummy banker, we are desperate for “certainty” before the season starts, reacting and voicing our disgust and distrust when a manager declines to label one pitcher as “the guy“. Then we are thrown into panic in the ensuing days once the season starts.

Which closer taken late in the draft has taken a firm hold of his job? Which seemingly safe pitcher is in trouble? Is there anyone we can drop yet? Does it make sense to answer these questions after only one series? Actually, I think it does. Let’s take a look at this week’s happenings and jump to some conclusions.


I said that Ken Giles owners needed to grab Luke Gregerson if they could, and I really hope they did because A. J. Hinch said Gregerson was the “primary closer” on Monday. That means he’s getting the saves, folks, and he’s fully capable of holding the job all year. In the first game of the season, Giles gave up a home run in the eighth while Gregerson pitched an uneventful ninth. Then on Thursday Giles gave up a tie breaking home run to Mark Teixeira. Giles should not be dropped in mixed leagues yet, but he did himself (and fantasy owners) no favors this week as far as getting saves.


As we discussed last week, Roberto Osuna was named the closer in Toronto. I praised Osuna’s skills and noted it was important for him to start out strong to solidify his position; that’s exactly what he did on opening day. He then followed up with a clean save on Monday. If you were holding on to Drew Storen, you can drop him in standard leagues.


There was discussion earlier in the week about whether Tampa would turn to Alex Colome or Danny Farquhar in the ninth inning. Farquhar was actually summoned to pitch in the 6th on opening day. Later in the series, Colome pitched the eighth and came back out in the ninth after the Rays took the lead. The next day, the same situation arose for Erasmo Ramirez of all people. I’m keeping Colome at the front of the line, but this seems like a true committee. Farquhar hasn’t gotten the high leverage innings but has pitched well. Could Ramirez be more of a factor here than we expected? Kevin Cash said he might be and appears to be a man of his word. Even Xavier Cedeno could grab the odd save on occasion. Keep in mind Brad Boxberger returns in mid-May so don’t break the bank for any of these guys.


K-Rod was called on to protect a 3-run lead in Detroit’s opener against the Marlins. He failed, allowing hit after hit until a Dee Gordon double tied the game. The Tigers went on to win the game, but there’s no denying this was an ugly blown save. In this case, fantasy owners and pundits alike voiced concern. It read to me as hyperbolic noise, and I am recommending for K-Rod owners to sit tight. His 2-year contract gives him some security. He has been very good in four of the past five seasons.  His velocity is down, but that is not uncommon at this time of the year. Mark Lowe is not a compelling replacement, and unless someone else steps up in the coming weeks there really are no other options in the pen. Tigers fans have earned the right to be anxious about the late innings, but this is a case where overreacting is not appropriate. On the other hand . . .


I had mentioned that I was nervous about Shawn Tolleson as the season began, and while he picked up one clean save this week he also gave up 5 runs without recording an out. The Rangers bullpen was supposed to be a strength but looked shaky at times so far. However, Sam Dyson has looked okay, cleaning up someone else’s mess in the seventh on Wednesday before pitching a scoreless eighth. I understand why fantasy owners want Keone Kela, but it’s clear manager Jeff Bannister prefers Dyson. I think Dyson will be getting saves before long and would grab him where I could.


Atlanta had a rare lead when Arodys Vizcaino was called on in the eighth, and he did a fine job. Jason Grilli came on in the ninth, and unfortunately he did not. Fredi Gonzalez noted that Vizcaino is his preferred choice to close games; he just pitched the eighth to face the heart of the Washington batting order. Fredi Gonzalez: innovative thinker — who knew? Vizcaino has good stuff, but I wouldn’t want him as anything more than a third closer.


Abandon all hope, ye who enter here . . . After pointing out the over-reliance on cliches like “epic meltdown” and “marked his territory” I am going to be guilty of using another one. This pen is a “dumpster fire”. Manager Peter Mackanin said before the season started that he could use five different guys to close out games. I don’t think he wanted to run through all of them in one week though.

David Hernandez was asked to protect an eighth inning lead on opening day, but he allowed three baserunners without recording an out. He and James Russell conspired to allow 5 runs. Dalier Hinojosa was presumably next in line, but he blew the game on Wednesday. Now Mackanin says that Jeanmar Gomez will get the next save chance, and he probably is the best pitcher in the pen, but not a pitcher you want to rely on. Also, don’t forget Andrew Bailey is still lurking in the minors.

Congratulations Phillies bullpen, you are even lower than Fernando Rodney on the grid. Hopefully fantasy owners can avoid playing waiver wire roulette here.

News and Notes

  • Wade Davis had velocity issues and did not look like himself on opening night against the Mets, but you all know better than to panic, right?
  • Those of you in hold leagues should note that Neftali Feliz was handling the eighth inning for the Pirates while Tony Watson handled the seventh. It was coincidental that the Cards sent their tough lefties to the plate in the seventh. I have to think Watson is still next in line, but I am moving Feliz onto the grid. He replaces Arquimedes Caminero who has been dialing up the heat but appears to be behind both in the pecking order. If ratios and Ks matter and holds do not, take Caminero over Feliz.
  • Sean Doolittle gave up a run in a tie game earlier this week and also was unable to pitch three days in a row. Ryan Madson picked up the save if there was any doubt who’ll be the next line. Madson should be owned in all but the most shallow leagues, as Doolittle’s health could fail at a moment’s notice.
  • With Will Smith injured, Jeremy Jeffress was a clear choice to get the first save for the Brewers. He pitched well and could be nice second closer for cheap.
  • Jake McGee was my second closer of choice this spring, and while he gave up a home run, he held on to the lead for his first save. There are some interesting options in the Rockies pen, but none have the upside that McGee does.
  • This has little fantasy impact, but may be of interest for those of you in very deep leagues. Shane Greene and Ivan Nova each recorded saves this week. Greene will start for Detroit, but he was called on to pitch the 11th in an extra-inning win. Meanwhile Nova spun 4 scoreless innings against the Astros.
  • Some persuasive commenters convinced me to nudge up Brad Ziegler in my ranks. He probably is more secure than I gave him credit for, but the lack of Ks bug me. I might be overemphasizing, but there are more big strikeout closers than ever and I want to compete with the big boys there.

The Closer Grid

The Closer LogoThe 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 Chris Hatcher Yimi Garcia
2 Royals 1 Wade Davis Joakim Soria Kelvin Herrera
3 Red Sox 1 Craig Kimbrel Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa
4 Orioles 1 Zach Britton Darren O’Day Mychal Givens
5 Indians 1 Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Zach McAllister
6 Mets 1 Jeurys Familia Addison Reed Hansel Robles
7 White Sox 1 David Robertson Nate Jones Jake Petricka
8 Cardinals 1 Trevor Rosenthal Kevin Siegrist Seung-Hwan Oh
9 Pirates 1 Mark Melancon Tony Watson Neftali Feliz
10 Cubs 1 Hector Rendon Pedro Strop Justin Grimm
11 Nationals 1 Jonathan Papelbon Shawn Kelley Blake Treinen
12 Rockies 1 Jake McGee Chad Qualls Adam Ottavino-(DL)
13 Blue Jays 1 Roberto Osuna Drew Storen Brett Cecil
14 Marlins 1 AJ Ramos Craig Breslow Bryan Morris
15 Angels 1 Huston Street Joe Smith Fernando Salas
16 Dbacks 1 Brad Ziegler Daniel Hudson Tyler Clippard
17 Tigers 1 K Rod Mark Lowe Justin Wilson
18 Twins 1 Glen Perkins Kevin Jepsen Trevor May
19 Yankees 2 Andrew Miller Dellin Betances Aroldis Chapman-(Susp.)
20 Astros 2 Luke Gregerson Ken Giles Pat Neshek
21 Giants 2 Santiago Casilla Sergio Romo Hunter Strickland
22 Brewers 3 Jeremy Jeffress Michael Blazek Will Smith-(DL)
23 Braves 3 Arodys Vizcaino Jason Grilli Jim Johnson
24 Mariners 3 Steve Cishek Joaquin Benoit Tony Zych
25 Athletics 3 Sean Doolittle Ryan Madson John Axford
26 Rangers 3 Shawn Tolleson Sam Dyson Keone Kela
27 Reds 4 JJ Hoover Jumbo Diaz Tony Cingrani
28 Rays 4 Alex Colome Danny Farquhar Brad Boxberger-(DL)
29 Padres 4 Fernando Rodney Brandon Maurer Kevin Quackenbush
30 Phillies 4 Jeamar Gomez David Hernandez Dalier Hinojosa

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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.