A season of closer mayhem continues unabated. For months, I’ve warned about the eggshells upon which Brad Boxberger tread. As a homer prone reliever, a contending ball club can only take so many risks. Boxberger is out as the Diamondbacks closer, replaced by a committee. The damage is already done. They’ve fallen 2.5 games behind the NL West lead and will need a minor miracle to overtake the Rockies and Dodgers. An unstable bullpen won’t help matters.
In other contender news, a string of three bad outings from Bud Norris was all it took for the Cardinals to abandon ship. While I’ve been preparing you to use Jordan Hicks in a post-Norris world, Carlos Martinez is actually the man to own - except he was already owned in most leagues. Those who couldn’t bear to part with the borderline ace will at least salvage some saves.
From a real world perspective, the least meaningful closer change came in Washington D.C. Sean Doolittle is back in saddle again. This should put to rest the Nationals on-going ninth inning issues. When healthy, Doolittle is a top closer. He’s still in the process of recovering his velocity and shaking off the rust. He allowed a run during a save on Tuesday.
Roberto Osuna is the only reliever to lock down four saves over the last week. Two others – Martinez and Jeremy Jeffress – recorded three saves. Edwin Diaz’s seasonal lead is secure. He’s completed 54 saves. Wade Davis (39) and Craig Kimbrel (38) are next on the list with no hope of catching Diaz. He still has an outside shot at the record for saves in a season. Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 save 2008 season rates as the only campaign of over 60 saves.
Now, shall we go to the tiers?
Tier 1: The Elite (3)
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Diaz was handed a rare loss on Tuesday while defending a tied game. The Padres managed to string together three hits. Otherwise, our elite pitchers performed swimmingly.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
With the exception of Betances, our second tier pitchers had a good week. We did receive news that Jansen would require another surgery for his irregular heartbeat, but it can wait until after the season. Osuna, Vazquez, and Betances each allowed one run. In the case of Osuna and Vazquez, they still recorded the save. Betances happened to be pitching in a tied game and thus earned a loss. If he struggles his next time out, don’t be surprised to see David Robertson jump to the ninth inning role.
Doolittle still has to prove he’s healthy and can pitch normally. A full-strength Doolittle would be adjacent to Vazquez.
Tier 3: Core Performers (6)
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Iffy command and home runs have plagued Iglesias in recent weeks. A solo home run led to a loss on Sunday. He rebounded with a couple clean innings over the last two days. Expect him to be unavailable Wednesday night. Look for Jared Hughes to handle the ninth.
Jeffress and Smith are pitching well. Minter has suffered a few hiccups lately. They all have one thing in common – internal competition. Jeffress has to fend off former closer Corey Knebel who appears to have recovered from his earlier blip of poor production. Smith has Mark Melancon looming. Minter will need to fend off Arodys Vizcaino who’s scheduled to be activated on Friday. Vizcaino is probably at least a week away from a high leverage opportunity. Minter does have a 7.71 ERA in his last seven innings. Another meltdown could force the Braves’ hand.
Tier 4: Second Choice Closers (5)
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Brad Hand, Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays
Back in March, none of the five teams in this tier expected to be finishing the season with these guys as their closer. The lone exception is Strop who was potentially a part of the Cubs late-inning formula. As is often the case, Martinez’s stuff plays up in relief. He’s an imposing figure in the closer role. One word of warning – starters sometimes struggle when pitching multiple days in a row. We saw this with Seranthony Dominguez earlier this year.
Interesting developments are afoot in Cleveland where Allen may have regained the primary closer job. He recorded saves on Saturday and Tuesday. Hand had a shot for a save on Monday, but he blew it in a messy loss. He played setup man on Tuesday. Ultimately, the Indians will continue to use their late-inning relievers based on matchups. It could get messier with Andrew Miller back from the disabled list.
Giles is having a deeply weird season. His best slider is still AWOL. I’m not sure the Blue Jays will opt to tender him a contract. I probably wouldn’t in their place. Romo is perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. When the Rays pushed him into closer duty, I thought he was on his way out of a big league job. He had a 6.33 ERA at the time. Since the start of June, he’s posted a shiny 1.43 ERA in 37.2 innings with 18 saves.
Tier 5: Red Flag Club (4)
Blake Parker, Ty Buttrey, Los Angeles Angels
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Philadelphia Phillies
Mike Scioscia is at it again. Buttrey has the club’s two most recent saves. Parker had a chance at one on Monday, but he was relieved by Jose Alvarez after recording two outs and allowing a pair of baserunners. Alvarez got the one-out save. Buttrey pitched the eighth inning of that game. On Tuesday, Buttrey handled the final four outs with Parker working in the earlier portion of the eighth inning. For now, I’m calling this a committee. Buttrey is an interesting speculative add. He has a 96 mph fastball, a healthy ground ball rate, and two potent offspeed pitches. And at six-and-a-half feet tall, he looks the part of a closer.
The Tigers have no reason to bother demoting Greene. Still, it’s not good in a real or fantasy sense to allow nine runs over five innings (seven appearances). I don’t see anything specifically wrong with him; he’s always been a middle reliever miscast as a high leverage guy.
The Phillies committee is turning into a huge mess. I still think Hector Neris is their best reliever, but he’s mostly been used to keep close deficits within reach. It hasn’t helped that the club isn’t winning many games.
Tier 6: Mess Hall (6)
Yoshihisa Hirano, Jake Diekman, Andrew Chafin, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jace Fry, Chicago White Sox
Trevor Hildenberger, Minnesota Twins
Drew Steckenrider, Miami Marlins
Robert Gsellman, New York Mets
Wily Peralta, Kansas City Royals
It’s discouraging to see so many teams limp to the finish line with committees. Arizona will mostly rely on Hirano for ninth inning duty. He’s a splitter specialist with an unimpressive strikeout rate. Although the results to date are solid – including a 1.88 ERA – I see him more as a 4.25 ERA pitcher going forward. He allows too much hard contact and doesn’t induce enough whiffs.
Fry theoretically has some competition in the form of recently activated Nate Jones. Although stashing Jones makes sense, be wary about instantly inserting him into your active lineup.
Gsellman has allowed six runs in his last 4.1 innings (five appearances). Seth Lugo is inching closer to getting a chance. Anthony Swarzak is still around too, although he’s not exactly pitching well. Steckenrider continues to struggle too.
Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (elbow – out for season)
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves (shoulder)
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (bicep)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (knee)
Kelvin Herrera, Washington Nationals (Lisfranc tear – out for season)
Morrow plans to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday which may determine if he returns this season. Vizcaino is due back on Friday. Chapman threw from 90 feet without issue. The next tests are long toss and mound work. Any sort of delay will push his return back into October.
Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Greg Holland, Washington Nationals (signed)
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
Alex Colome, Seattle Mariners (traded)
Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks (traded)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Sam Dyson, San Francisco Giants
Jeurys Familia, Oakland Athletics (traded)
Zach Britton, New York Yankees (traded)
Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays
Joakim Soria, Milwaukee Brewers (traded, injured)
Brad Brach, Atlanta Braves (traded)
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates (traded)
Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins (injured)
Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays
Fernando Rodney, Oakland Athletics (traded)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
Hector Rondon, Houston Astros
Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals
Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks
Welcome Norris and Boxberger. Your respective clubs will need you if they have any hope of postseason success. I’ve removed Allen from this list. I’ve also chosen to not re-add Hand quite yet.
The Steals Department
The number of fantasy owners who used Terrance Gore over the last week probably numbers in the 10s. Yet he led the league with four steals despite recording only one plate appearance. Eight other players swiped three bases. The season lead is still in the hands of Trea Turner (37). Whit Merrifield (33), Jose Ramirez (32), Mallex Smith (31), and Starling Marte (31) round out the top five.
Tier 1: The World Beaters (5)
Since taking over as the Rays leadoff hitter, Smith has stolen nine bases in 11 attempts over a span of 112 plate appearances. That’s an attempt about once every 10 plate appearances which would put him on a pace for about 49 steals given his current success rate. Notably, his success rate has improved throughout the season. He’s gotten better at picking his spots. Smith will be a top stolen base target next season.
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (4)
This tier consists of the three best hitters in the league and Cain. He’s no scrub at the plate either. His .401 OBP is actually better than Ramirez.
Tier 3: Still Speedy (6)
Villar’s binge continues. He’s one of the guys who stole three bags. Since joining the Orioles, he’s batting .291/.361/.454 with seven home runs and 12 steals in 14 attempts over 159 plate appearances. Anybody who bought low at the time of the trade has profited handsomely.
Tier 4: Some Flaws (5)
Although I still worry about Mondesi’s dreadful .299 OBP, there’s no denying he’s improved as a hitter. The obvious comparison is an early-career Baez. Although Mondesi doesn’t have the same raw power, he still has 20 home run pop. It’s too bad he shares Baez’s terrible plate discipline and extreme swinging strike rate.
Gore has a really big flaw – he’s a one category fantasy asset. If he records more than five plate appearances between now and the end of the season, I’ll be shocked.
Tier 5: Not Slow (6)
Rosario keeps showing signs of life. In 158 plate appearances since the start of August, he’s batting a decent .291/.329/.432 while showing some extra base pop. He also has nine steals in 13 attempts. That represents half his seasonal steal total in just a little over a month’s worth of work. It would be nice to see him run more often next year. Notably, prior to this hot streak, he was just 9-for-15 on the base paths.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Quinn lost his place in the tiers after breaking his toe. Even though he can play through the injury, he probably won’t overdo the running.