Closing Time: Will Harris underrated in Houston

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OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01: Will Harris #36 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on May 1, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Houston Astros defeated the Oakland Athletics 2-1. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01: Will Harris #36 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on May 1, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Houston Astros defeated the Oakland Athletics 2-1. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Like many things in the Houston dugout this year, Luke Gregerson has been less than expected. He’s already blown three saves, and his 3.86 ERA is higher than expected. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate modestly down. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll be holding the Astros closing gig all season.

What the Astros might do if Gregerson needed a break, that’s open to question. Ken Giles is the big name because of what the team traded to acquire him in the offseason, but Will Harris has been the eighth-inning sheriff — and the much better pitcher this year. 

Let’s go to the stats. Giles is still stuck with a 6.61 ERA and 1.65 WHIP, though he hasn’t been scored upon in his last six appearances. Mostly, he’s been hurt by four home-run balls. His K/BB rate is starting to get where we want it, even with the occasional touch of wildness: 21 punchouts against seven walks. He’s still making the radar gun pop in the 96 mph range. 

Harris can’t match Giles on the radar gun, but he’s been a bagel parade for most of the last two seasons. Last year he posted a sparkling 1.90 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, and this year he’s given up a scant one run over 19.2 terrific innings (11 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 20 K). The Astros have used him as the eighth-inning guy, the bridge to Gregerson when the leverage situation is high.

There’s no singular rule of thumb with an eighth-inning wipeout reliever. Some teams prefer to keep that type of setup man in the eighth no matter what’s going on with the save chase, while other teams could view their eighth-inning option as the next closing choice should things go bad with the incumbent. Perhaps the Astros will give Giles a closing look later this year because they feel obligated to justify the expensive (and foolish) package they shipped to Philadelphia in the Giles trade. Perhaps the Astros will consider Harris’s success tied to a solidified and defined role, and not want to mess with it. 

I don’t have the Astros plan here, or their passwords. All I can say is this: Harris is owned in just 10 percent of Yahoo leagues, and that feels light to me. Even if he’s not closing, I want the quality innings. And Giles feels a bit bloated at 46 percent. I’m not ready to trust him in the short term, even if the long-term has a reasonable chance of getting sorted out. 

Your call, save chaser. Your call, innings chaser. What’s your take in Houston? 

Valencia ropes another (AP/Ben Margot)
Valencia ropes another (AP/Ben Margot)

• Oakland’s ballpark is well documented as a difficult place for hitters, but when someone like Khris Davis gets on a hot streak, the size of the yard doesn’t matter much. Davis conked another homer in Wednesday’s 8-2 victory (along with two walks), giving him six in his last nine games. He’s collected 33 home runs since last year’s All-Star break. His Yahoo ownership has finally pushed up to 57 percent, closer to where it belongs (though I’d like to see it move higher). 

It’s time to get Danny Valencia into that ownership tier, too. Valencia doesn’t have the raw power of Davis, but he’s probably a better hitter. He proved himself during last year’s .290/.345/.519 campaign, splitting time with Toronto and Oakland, and he’s posted a .357/.393/.607 slash when healthy this year. He’s been a monster since returning to action 11 days ago, homering six times and hitting .455 over 33 at-bats. He had three hits in Wednesday’s win, which is why we’re writing about him two straight days in this space.  

If you look at Valencia’s career splits, you’re going to find someone who looks like a platoon candidate. His OPS is .672 against righties and .882 against lefties. But at some point over the last two years, he’s learned how to hit against all kinds of pitching. Last year he slashed .285/.325/.556 against right-handers, and this year he’s been good against righties, unreal against lefties. 

Valencia is 31, so I understand why some owners might already have him filed and categorized. An older player taking on new roles, acquiring new skills, that can be a tricky thing. Just know the A’s like Valencia in the middle of their lineup, he qualifies at two Yahoo positions (third, outfield), and he’s absolutely crushing the ball right now. What’s not to like? 

• A few days ago on Twitter, I made an offhand remark about how I didn’t have a stake in the Cleveland offense. The Tribe made me regret that during a three-game demolition of the Reds, piling up 36 runs along the way. Cleveland is now the No. 9 club in runs scored — not a juggernaut, but at least ahead of the mean. They'll play the fourth game of the series Thursday. 

Veteran Rajai Davis has been the triggerman of late. He's scored nine runs this week, including a two-homer, one-steal game Wednesday. His ninth-inning clout off Tony Cingrani (aye, that Reds bullpen) forced extra innings, ultimately leading to Cleveland’s 8-7 victory. Given how difficult it is to find speed these days, Davis is worth owning for his nine steals alone. The four homers are merely a bonus. He trades at a modest 11 percent in Yahoo leagues. 

Teammate Jose Ramirez is a more difficult call, since he doesn’t offer any specific category juice. He’s only hit one home run in 104 at-bats, along with two steals in four attempts. Nonetheless, he’s on a .317/.372/.433 wave at the moment, and he qualifies at four Yahoo positions (every field spot but first base and catcher). Kick the tires for the Cincinnati finale, and then see if Ramirez can keep it going during the weekend series at Fenway Park. 

• Ryan Buchter is another reliever who might be lost in the fantasy shuffle right now. He’s a non-closing lefty for San Diego (he did pick up one rogue save earlier this month), which explains his low ownership tag. But look at the wipeout numbers: 19 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 10 BB, 25 K. I’ll make room for a guy like that. 

Buchter’s brief career shows the ability to get all hitters out — lefties are absolutely helpless against him, but righties are slashing a mere .179/.283/.308. Fernando Rodney hasn’t done anything wrong as San Diego’s closer, but if anything went awry, perhaps Buchter would enter the mix. He’s unclaimed freight in 94 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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