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A couple weeks ago, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman showed some worrisome trends. His velocity declined to around 97-mph for a couple outings. One of those, June 10th at the Minnesota, turned into a four-run, two-homer bloodbath. Chapman was able to temporarily alleviate concerns by recovering his velocity and pitching well over his next five appearances.
Since we last convened early on July 30, he’s coughed up seven earned runs in three appearances (1.1 innings). He’s again lost velocity. Damningly, he’s also issued 11 free passes over his last 4.1 innings. His most recent outing on Tuesday night came with an 11-run lead. He held the Mariners scoreless but not without allowing a hit and a pair of walks. His velocity was again consistently under 98-mph.
The good news for Chapman’s fantasy managers is that we’ve seen this happen before. He’s always bounced back relatively quickly to reclaim both his closer’s mantle and elite form. The Yankees haven’t formally demoted Chapman. However, we should expect Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga to receive some save opportunities going forward.
Now, shall we go to the tiers?
Tier 1: The Elite (5)
Besides Chapman’s meltdowns, this was an inconspicuous week for the remaining Tier 1 closers. Hader didn’t appear at all. Kimbrel faced one batter. Hendriks was used for two innings on Tuesday. Ryan Burr, Garrett Crochet, or Codi Heuer could be on tap for a pinch save. Diaz nearly fumbled a three-run lead on Monday. He allowed the first three Brewers he faced to reach base before buckling down.
Since getting his walk rate under control in early May, Jansen has thrown 21.1 truly elite innings. He’s allowed a 0.84 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 11.39 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9. He’s averaged a 94.6-mph heater and 93-mph cutter over this span – both would rate as career-bests if held over a full season. While his strikeout rate isn’t on par with other elite pitchers, he makes up for it by thoroughly preventing baserunners.
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Tier 2: Nearly Elite (5)
Pressly is on an impressive run. Over his last 12 appearances (12 innings), he’s allowed three runs, one run (none earned), and one walk. He also chalked up 21 strikeouts. He has a similar case to Jansen for belonging in the elite tier.
Barnes blew a save last Friday via a solo home run. The Red Sox were kind enough to immediately strike back, earning his fantasy managers a consolation win. He bounced back for a semi-stressful save on Independence Day. Although Barnes has a healthy 19 saves, teammate Adam Ottavino is up to seven saves while mostly serving as the primary setup man.
Chapman remains in the Top 10 closers despite a short-term threat to his status. That’s at least in part due to his track record which has included similar blips on the radar. He’s always recovered in the past, and it would be foolish to count him out now. He probably won’t be a true buy-low candidate until he formally loses the job.
Like Barnes, Smith was dinged for a solo home run last Thursday only to be bailed out by his offense. For the week, he locked down a pair of wins and a save. Not too shabby.
Iglesias was busy, firing 4.2 innings across four appearances. He tallied six strikeouts, two wins, and two saves but was also dinged for a pair of solo home runs – his only runs allowed. One of those led to a bailout similar to those experienced by Barnes and Smith.
Tier 3: Core Performers (8)
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
I explained in detail last week why Melancon has run into his ceiling atop the third tier. While he’s performed spectacularly this year, his profile has some fragility. He allowed two runs a week ago in a loss to Cincinnati. Fun with arbitrary end points: since June 17, he has a 7.56 ERA with 6.48 K/9, 4.32 BB/9, and a 1.80 WHIP. That’s not to say you should sell (or avoid buying), it’s just an observation of his mortality.
Reyes had a rough week, coughing up three runs on four hits and a walk in 1.2 innings. One of those was a loss at Coors Field. I always excuse those. He was overworked for his next appearance – another condition I usually excuse. For now, he’ll remain where he is though I will be monitoring closely for more signs of decline from his early-season miracle. One silver lining: he’s only walked two batters in his last six appearances – a span of 7.2 innings.
Romero had his worst outing of the season, allowing two runs on two walks and a hit. In terms of “worst outings,” that’s not a bad one. Even so, Romero needs to be nearly flawless to ensure the Blue Jays don’t replace him with the likes of Kennedy or Richard Rodriguez. Even if he pitches well, Toronto will be seeking late-innings relief help. It’s a shame because he’d be a high quality closer if he didn’t have to fight tooth and nail for every save opportunity.
Clase allowed the extra innings bonus runner to score on Sunday, ruining an otherwise excellent two-inning outing. He was brought back the next day and failed to record an out. He was handed the loss on both days. Karinchak was trending towards setup status. He might find a save appearance soon, especially if Clase tosses another clunker soon. For all their dramatic battling, they’re both having superb seasons.
The Rangers might need to put Kennedy on a regular schedule for showcase purposes. They used him once in a non-save situation. Graveman is still missing some of his pre-COVID velocity. He’s pitched well enough to merit a move up the tiers all the same. Paul Sewell and Drew Steckenrider saved games for the Mariners about a week ago. In both cases, Graveman was simply unavailable.
With the Phillies and Yankees potentially joining the Rays, Jays, and A’s in the hunt for high leverage relief help, there is more opportunity for Rodriguez to retain a closer role with a new club than originally anticipated. His production is similar to Melancon. He was ranked in the fourth tier only because a trade deadline demotion to setup work seemed all but certain.
Tier 4: Upside (6)
Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Diego Castillo, J.P. Feyereisen, Tampa Bay Rays
Tyler Rogers, Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Hansel Robles, Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Finally! Barlow has clearly been the Royals best reliever all season. Now he’s notched their two most-recent saves with Holland serving as a setup man. Josh Staumont continues to work through issues. Barlow, if he can improve his grip on the role, has the stats of a tier two reliever. He’s roughly comparable in value to Smith and Iglesias.
Anthony Bender is the latest reliever to pop up as a potential near-future closer. A classic fastball-slider guy with 97-mph heat and a slowish 85-mph breaking ball, Bender has recorded 11.62 K/9, 2.39 BB/9 and a 5.28 percent ground ball rate in 26.1 innings. That’s good for a 0.68 ERA and 0.72 WHIP. While his production to date is elite, he’s only recently made his way to high leverage work. That always entails more advance scouting by opponents. Garcia, despite a painful outing on Sunday, retains a firm grip on the closer role – at least until he’s traded. Bender could be next in line. If he’s free, consider picking him up. If a rival beat you to the waiver wire, don’t worry about it. And don’t offer to trade anybody you wouldn’t have cut for him in the first place.
Rogers and McGee are still sharing the ninth inning based on matchups and availability. The other Rogers (Taylor) has set up for Robles two most recent saves. However, Rogers (still Taylor) is pitching quite well while Robles is a hot mess (16.62 ERA in last five appearances).
Bard pitched thrice, earning a win, a save, and a loss. The latter came last night against the lowly Diamondbacks. He allowed a hit and two walks. He’s struggled with walks recently including 9.53 BB/9 across his last seven appearances.
Tier 5: Mess Hall (6)
Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
Jose Alvarado, Archie Bradley, Ranger Suarez, Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Paul Fry, Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles
Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Heath Hembree, Amir Garrett, Brad Brach, Cincinnati Reds
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Trivino seems to be the guy in Oakland. He’s at risk of losing his job at the trade deadline if not sooner. Sergio Romo has regained the trust of manager Bob Melvin. It’ll only take one rough outing from Trivino for Romo and Jake Diekman to re-enter the picture.
I still believe Neris will be closing for the Phillies when the dust clears. He does this every year. I’m still buying from anybody who’s looking to discard Neris in disgust. A key I should point out – leave him on your bench until he’s right. Alvarado is slumping and walks too many guys to close anyway. Bradley is pitching on fumes this season. He’s recovered his velocity in recent appearances, but it hasn’t come with an uptick in swinging strikes. Suarez has the club’s most recent save. He’s a ground-balling southpaw with long relief attributes.
Both Fry and Sulser pitched once this week. They were both tagged with a loss. We’re no closer to clarity in Baltimore. In the most predictable development ever, Hunter Harvey has hit the injured list with a strained lat.
Michael Fulmer should soon return to the Tigers bullpen. Per doctors, his neck discomfort is not a symptom of a shoulder injury. Soto has proven inconsistent in his absence. He nearly blew a four-run lead on Sunday. Cisnero was needed to record the last out… and the save.
Hembree, a journeyman middle reliever, locked down saves on Friday and Saturday. He wasn’t available when Garrett was called upon for a save on Sunday. It was Brach’s turn to play closer on Tuesday. He flubbed the opportunity – a costly error was partly to blame. Hembree then allowed the Royals to tie the game – again an error came into play. With the game tied, Garrett showed up in time to allow the game-ending run. The game was a microcosm of the Reds closer situation – they’ll all disappoint you.
Soria was finally handed a save opportunity which he duly converted. Since mid-June, he has a 1.23 ERA with 8.59 K/9 and 3.68 BB/9. It’s too bad the Diamondbacks don’t have enough pitching to win games.
Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (neck strain)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
The Marlins are reportedly engaged in extension talks with Marte. If they can’t come to terms, don’t be surprised if he’s traded. He’s also a Qualifying Offer candidate so any trade offers would need to clear that modest bar. Since returning from injury in late May, Marte is batting .280/.393/.424 with 13 steals in 141 plate appearances.
Baddoo is probably the most interesting player to appear here if only because the Rule 5 pick remains a somewhat unknown quantity. He’s strikeout and soft contact prone. He does have solid raw power with a batted ball profile that could one day support 20 home run potential. For now, his quality of contact is too inconsistent to count on more than empty speed. Since he’s the Tigers leadoff man, he’ll also chip in a health runs total. His passable .268 average depends on a fluky-looking .367 BABIP.
I’m not sure we need say much about Tatis Jr. and Albies. They’re both superstars. Tapia might be a trade candidate if he played for any other team. The Rockies front office has reportedly gone dark. They aren’t returning messages to other clubs. When manager Bud Black announced on Tuesday night that the Rockies would not be trading German Marquez, that was the first some rival teams were hearing of it. In any case, Tapia is a solid patch for batting average, runs, and steals if those are categories you need. He won’t offer power or RBIs.
Among the double-steal crowd was last week’s Speed Spotlight, Jake Fraley.
The Rays surprised a few analysts, namely me, when they promoted Wander Franco before Vidal Brujan. It’s not that Franco wasn’t an upgrade to the active roster. Rather, Brujan was already on the 40-man roster and had more upper-minors experience. A specific need at shortstop helped Franco to skip the line. Brujan, meanwhile, has performed decently at Triple-A. His .259/.344/.471 batting line with nine home runs and 15 stolen bases in 216 plate appearances rated as solidly above average. It’s also not the sort of output that screams “promote me!” By comparison, Franco hit a robust .315/.367/.586.
Brujan is, as of this writing, on the roster as the 27th-man for today’s doubleheader. It’s possible he’ll be immediately demoted. However, an injury to Manual Margot seemingly ensures he’ll have a role after today. He’s batting fifth in his debut and playing second base. Speed is his most bankable trait, and we’ll soon have sprint speed data to back that up. However, he also features above average plate discipline, contact skills, and sneaky pop. Although he might seem small when looking at his listed 5’ 10’’ 180 pounds, he’s built like an action figure. There’s real power in his compact frame.
In the short term, i.e. this season, the likeliest use for him is as a frequently used utility man, bouncing between second base and the outfield. Trade deadline acquisitions could even push him back to Triple-A. While he has the potential to deliver batting average, on base percentage, and home runs, I wouldn’t count on much more than stolen bases. If he sticks in the top half of the lineup, he’ll also have run production opportunities. Long term, Brujan has the makings of a five-category monster. He should be pursued in deep keeper and dynasty formats.