Closing Time: Jeanmar Gomez leads sketchy closer parade

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Jeanmar Gomez, closer on the brink
Jeanmar Gomez, closer on the brink

I’ve been playing fantasy baseball for about three decades now, and my attitude has changed on saves.

Back in the early days, a mildly-committed owner could simply figure on beating other owners to the punch for the new saves. Not everyone had the willingness to hunt down fresh information; not everyone had an internet connection (or access to the AP wire, as I did in my newspaper days). There was no MLB Network, no MLB Extra Innings package, no internet streams, no social media. Heck, just reading the USA Today a few times a week essentially gave you an edge.

The general information advantage in fantasy baseball is just about kaput now (edges will always be attainable in deeper and more nuanced ways, but that’s a discussion for another day). There are a number of news-aggregating websites and Twitter accounts that keep even the weakest owners informed, for a modest time commitment. “Saves on a budget” might still be a workable strategy in a casual or neophyte league, but I wouldn’t suggest it if your pool actually has a pulse. In competitive leagues, I expect a knife fight over every juicy save situation.

With all that in mind, I’ve started to put a modest premium for saves on draft day. I don’t like paying for the top-end guys — though I see the case for them in some innings-capped formats — but I do see value in tapping the secondary tiers, guys with attractive skills and a reasonable leash. It doesn’t mean I won’t be meandering about for the new saves, like other engaged owners, but at least it feels like less of a mandatory rat race. It’s nice to turn the computer and phone off now and again; it’s nice to let the closing FAAB market come to you, not the other way around. I’m all for new handshakes, but I don’t want the tail to wag the dog.

Preamble aside, maybe I’m burying the lede. A number of designated closers and relief aces had their lunch handed to them on Sunday and Monday, as the 2017 season charged out of the gate.

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Sunday’s missteps might not be a big deal. Mark Melancon has a long leash with San Francisco. Seung-Hwan Oh is well regarded in St. Louis. Fernando Rodney, well, you knew the risks. At least he picked up a cheap win for his trouble.

Monday’s closing run wasn’t particularly fun. Jeanmar Gomez picked up a save, but wasn’t effective — and earned the ire of his manager, Pete Mackanin. Sam Dyson coughed up three runs in a tie game, ninth inning — standard work for any closer, since the save no longer applies at home — and his understudy, Matt Bush, allowed a tape-measure home run. Even teams that didn’t see a save situation had some newsy items — Mike Scioscia announced a closer-by-committee with the Angels, no matter that Cam Bedrosian was lights out in March.

Let’s start with Gomez, a sketchy closer that no one was particularly sold on entering 2017. A 4.85 ERA will do that for you. Gomez started the year with a loose closing endorsement, but the Phils have plenty of interesting alternatives, including strikeout ace Hector Neris and newly-acquired Joaquin Benoit.

Gomez picked up the save in Philly’s 4-3 win over Cincinnati, despite a Scooter Gennett two-run homer, but Mackanin still sounded the alarm. It’s an interesting play by Mackanin — not that Gomez isn’t a dodgy option, but often times a skipper will take an optimistic line after a win, no matter if the closer struggles. Not this time.

Here’s what Mackanin told Todd Zolecki from MLB.com:

“I’m concerned,” Mackanin said about Gomez’s shaky performance. “I had two guys up in the ‘pen in that ninth inning [Joely Rodriguez and Pat Neshek]. He’s just not getting the ball down the way he did when he was successful. I want to make sure that he gets opportunities, but at the same time, I don’t want to let games slip away.

“He has to execute. Like I said, for me, he’s earned the right to be the closer for right now. But he’s got to get the ball down.”

When someone named Scooter takes you deep, the natives get restless.

Neris is established as Philly’s eighth-inning man, and he was a lawnmower in his Monday appearance (clean inning, 1 K, 11 pitches). The eighth-inning guy doesn’t always inherit the ninth when changes get made, but that’s how I’d bet on this one. Neris was a ratio asset last year (2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 11.4 K/9) and could hold value in many leagues even if he never ascends to the big chair. Neris is unclaimed in 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.

How long is Sam Dyson's leash?
How long is Sam Dyson's leash?

• The Phillies aren’t expected to contend this year, so they don’t have to be rash with their closer situation. The same can’t be said in cities where teams have big expectations. The Rangers are a yearly contender, of course, so it will be interesting to see how patient Jeff Banister is with Dyson. (Is Sam Malone still in game shape?)

Dyson parlayed a sinker and an angelic ground-ball rate last year to 38 saves. Incumbent closer Shawn Tolleson was kicked to the curb early in the season. Dyson’s ground-ball tilt came tied to a mediocre 7.04 K/9, and for a pitch-to-contact guy, his control wasn’t great (2.94 BB/9). With Bush and Jeremy Jeffress in this bullpen, the Rangers have credible alternatives if Dyson encounters early turbulence.

Dyson allowed four hits to the six Indians he faced — en route to three runs — and he wasn’t even allowed to finish the inning. Only 13 of his 23 pitches were strikes. I suspect Texas will give him time to get sharp, but given how quickly Tolleson was displaced last year, this is a scouting situation I’d put on your highest priority list.

Banister didn’t earn any fantasy friends with his handling of Delino DeShields — despite a monster spring from Kid DeShields, Jurickson Profar received the start in left field, batting ninth. Profar went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, which probably means DeShields (or Ryan Rua) will get a shot soon enough. I know it’s frustrating if you made DeShields a priority pickup last week, but you need to give this some time to settle in.

Blake Treinen is another elite-sinker reliever, and his first assignment as Washington’s closer was a snap. Treinen worked a perfect inning against Miami, striking out two. Early assignments are key, sometimes critical, for freshly-minted closers, so we appreciated this stroll in the park. Washington’s glimmer twins came through in the victory — Bryce Harper homered, as he usually does on Opening Day, and Stephen Strasburg worked seven strong innings (6 H, 2 R, 0 BB), though he struck out only three.

• Oakland scored a tidy 4-2 victory in its home sewage opener, riding three homers (two from Khris Davis) to the victory. Potential sleeper Kendall Graveman was steady in the start (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K), then got scoreless support from four relievers (in order: Ryan Dull, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and finisher Santiago Casilla). It was interesting to see Madson work against the meat of the Angels order in the eighth, while Casilla had the easier draw in the ninth. Even with all the committee talk, this type of win often works as a role-solidifying thing, so Casilla becomes the priority add, if needed.

• The most predictable Monday result was the Dodgers hammering San Diego, 14-3. That’s what happens when Clayton Kershaw (7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) gets a home assignment against an Opening Day starter who isn’t even fantasy worthy, Jhoulys Chacin (9 ER). Every Dodger in the lineup figured in the scoring, with Andrew Toles flashing an interesting 5-1-2-0 line at the top. Yasmani Grandal hit a couple of homers, and even Yasiel Puig reached base three times (twice on walks; a fringe benefit to the No. 8 position).

As for the Padres, Ryan Schimpf hit a garbage-time homer. Our friend Mike Salfino would like you to know that he kinda believes in Schimpf. The Padre covers two infield positions, and is 31-percent owned at The Y. (Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs likes Schimpf too; I have no idea if he likes Salfino.)

Speed Round: Noah Syndergaard and Corey Kluber both battled blister issues; Thor’s next start will push back to Sunday . . . Dallas Keuchel threw seven bagels at the Mariners, collecting a bunch of ground balls (and making two superb fielding plays himself). Carlos Correa and George Springer homered off Felix Hernandez (5 IP, 2 R, 6 K); Hernandez eventually left with a groin injury. Ken Giles struck out three of four batters at the end . . . Andrew Benintendi homered and Rick Porcello worked into the seventh as Boston dispatched Pittsburgh. Craig Kimbrell needed 22 pitches in the ninth, putting two men on, striking out two . . . Greg Holland was tabbed to close for Colorado, dodging a walk at Milwaukee. Adam Ottavino had two walks and three strikeouts in a scoreless eighth . . . Byron Buxton is a curious fit for the No. 3 spot; he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts Monday. The rest of the Twins lineup picked him up, scoring seven runs on just eight hits, putting away Kansas City. The lone Royals run came on a Mike Moustakas homer; he’s back in the No. 2 slot again this year.