Fulmer's First Saves

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·10 min read
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Mark Melancon and Tyler Rogers were the only pitchers to record more than two saves. Strangely, they did it while recording very few strikeouts. Melancon managed just 3.86 K/9 in his 4.2 innings while Rogers checked in at an equally absent 4.50 K/9. This doesn’t represent a chance of regime in San Francisco. Jake McGee was unavailable to pitch in two of the games Rogers saved. McGee checked in for another save Tuesday night. Nine pitchers checked in with a pair of saves including Michael Fulmer who we’ll discuss more below.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (3)

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox

Chapman is one of just three pitchers with more than 10 innings pitched and zero earned runs (he allowed an unearned run on May 8). The southpaw has recaptured his peak velocity as evidenced in this Pitching Ninja GIF. Hader is nearly matching the Yankees fireman. Notably, he’s yet to allow a home run after struggling with deep flies in past seasons. Hendriks remains the third wheel in this tier – an undeniably elite pitcher who nonetheless can’t catch up to his left-handed rivals.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros

Diaz has worked three days in a row. He stumbled on the first of those before firing a couple clean outings on Monday and Tuesday. Of their late-inning relievers, Miguel Castro is the only one who hasn’t pitched two or more days in a row.

Kimbrel ran into error-assisted trouble on Saturday. He was saddled with the loss. He’s since rebounded. Barnes also was tagged for a loss. His came on Sunday via a two-run home run. Amazingly, he’s still bucking career-long walk issues. His 1.33 BB/9 is Hendriks-caliber, and he hasn’t issued a free pass since April 23.

Tier 3: Core Performers (9)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

A general programming note: I’ve reshuffled the dividing line between the second and third tiers. Home runs are all that keep Iglesias from remaining in the second tier. In three of the last four seasons, he’s allowed 1.50 HR/9 or more. The outlier is 0.39 HR/9 in 2020. A 23-inning season hardly counts. Iglesias still projects for positive production in all four reliever categories.

The Cleveland pecking order bears watching. Last Thursday, Clase issued three walks in the ninth before Bryan Shaw bailed him out of the jam. He’s now walked six batters in his last 2.2 innings. Karinchak was called upon to lock down a save on Tuesday even though Clase was available.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve addressed my tepid-seeming ranking of Melancon. To be clear, I like him as a reliable source of saves, ERA, and WHIP. His meager 7.32 K/9 is less of an issue this year than in seasons past because starting pitchers are fueling the bulk of strikeout production. Secondary relievers have proven to be a minefield. The low strikeout rate still caps his contributions to three categories. Any reliever is subject to slumps – even Chapman and Hader. If Melancon runs afoul of a bad stretch, he doesn’t have a big strikeout total to fall back upon.

Castillo coughed up a solo home run in his lone appearance since returning from injury. Although I’m not concerned – his fastball sat at a season-high 96.5-mph – it’s prudent to keep an eye on their bullpen deployment.

Hand kicked off the season with 10 shutout innings before coughing up four runs over a 2.1 inning span. He caught a couple losses in the process. These sorts of setbacks are part of the process. We need to keep an eye on his strikeout and walk rates. Both are career-worsts since joining the bullpen full time in 2016. It’s not a bad idea to investigate selling. The Nationals have sparse competition for saves. It should be noted that Daniel Hudson is pitching well.

Smith failed to protect a tied game. Tomas Nido hammered a solo home run. That’s his fourth loss of the season compared to just seven saves. He’s pitched reasonably well despite the poor results. Still, we need an eye on Chris Martin. He’s only pitched twice since returning from injury. He’s an atypical reliever, and I need more data to determine if he’s all the way back.

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Tier 4: Upside (7)

Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles

Along with Chapman, Graveman is the other closer who has yet to allow a run. He’s recorded 9.18 K/ and 1.62 BB/9 while stifling hard contact. There is potential for strikeout growth as he learns to use his repertoire in a short-burst relief role. His 13.1 percent swinging strike rate is on par with much better strikeout relievers.

The Twins bullpen might be drifting into a committee situation. Hansel Robles earned a save on a night Rogers appeared to be available. Alex Colome has pitched well since his demotion and is now working the seventh inning. We might see him return to the ninth before long.

Reyes has allowed one run in 22 innings this season. In past years, I’ve fallen into a trap of going against my analysis as success continues. I remain convinced Reyes is in for a world of hurt at any moment. Just in the last week, he’s issued another four walks in three innings. He’s now at 11.45 K/9 and 8.18 BB/9 on the season. His 0.00 HR/9 and .178 BABIP won’t save him forever.

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (7)

Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, Tyler Chatwood, Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Sean Doolittle, Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Stefan Crichton, Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daniel Bard, Mychal Givens, Robert Stephenson, Colorado Rockies

Fulmer’s fastball plays up to 96-mph in relief. He’s running a luck neutral 3.34 ERA with a career-best 13.0 percent swinging strike rate. His 8.49 K/9 aren’t overly impressive. There’s room to grow. I don’t expect any carrying categories. The total package could help managers in fantasy leagues of all depths.

Diekman allowed home runs in two straight outings. Trivino has performed well outside of a five-run disasterpiece on May 5. Both are better used as middle relievers and thus have to be carefully managed.

Neither Dolis nor Romano are pitching as well as they did in 2020. Walks and reduced strikeout rates are to blame. Chatwood is flat out-pitching them and could leapfrog them at a moment’s notice.

Similarly, Staumont appears to be in the driver’s seat for Royals saves, but his stuff has backed up since last season. Meanwhile, Barlow has improved incrementally and looks to be the superior reliever. Greg Holland is still kicking around too.

Antone and Sims are being used in two-inning roles. Garrett has pitched decently since his demotion. Doolittle has an advantage in picking up saves – he’ll be available more often because he’s usually used for one or fewer innings. However, Antone appears to be first choice when available. I still think the club prefers not to use him as closer for fear they’ll lose him as a potential starting pitcher.

Crichton, aka the world’s least interesting reliever, has a 5.84 ERA, a 5.08 xFIP, and projects for a 4.30 ERA. He’s missing velocity and whiffs this season – I think he’s actually even worse than his performance to date. A high ground ball rate is his only saving grace. Soria pitched well in his two most recent appearances.

After a really rough stretch, Bar has regained full control of the Rockies closer role.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Trevor Story, 3 SB, 7 SB total
13 Others, 2 SB

While it wasn’t a prolific week on the basepaths, the collection of two-steal players includes a number of interesting names. Last week’s Speed Spotlight, Adolis Garcia, was one of the 13. The Mets (Francisco Lindor and Jonathan Villar), Phillies (Nick Maton and Brad Miller), and Tigers (Akil Baddoo and Niko Goodrum) were especially active. Others include 2020 fantasy star Dylan Moore, Cavan Biggio, Tommy Edman, Ha-seong Kim, and Victor Robles. Eight of the 13 are best described as utility players.

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Speed Spotlight

Dodgers super-prospect Gavin Lux is on is third try in the Majors. Based on the full-season production, it’s going about as well as the first try – a .252/.298/.369 batting line with two home runs, one steal, and modest run production. For a player who was supposed to fill all five categories in abundance, his performance has proven greatly disappointing for his fantasy managers. Many are ready to move on to fresher targets – even in dynasty leagues.

We have a couple reasons for optimism. An injury to Corey Seager will ensure he receives regular starts – mostly as the shortstop. He’ll also bat slightly higher in the lineup. He’s also in the midst of a hot streak. Since May 2, Lux is batting .346/.404/.519 with both his home runs. His whiff rate has declined dramatically over the span. While his .381 BABIP implies modest good luck, he’s a ground ball hitter with an all-fields approach. There’s no reason he shouldn’t post an above average BABIP. Due to his batted ball profile, Lux is especially valuable to fantasy manager when facing fly ball pitchers. More and more pitchers – especially relievers – are working up in the zone.

The speed angle is a harder sell. This is the Speed Spotlight after all. He hasn’t stolen more than 13 bases in a season since 2017 when he was a 19-year-old in Single-A. In the Majors, he’s swiped four bags in as many attempts – a pace of about 10 steals a season. He has the wheels for more. His 29.1 ft/sec sprint speed ranks 18th in the league, tied with Nick Senzel, Nick Heath, and Akil Baddoo. Some players he’s outrun include Fernando Tatis Jr., Jazz Chisholm, Luis Robert, and Trent Grisham. Sprint speed isn’t everything when it comes to steals, but it’s the most important element.

One hold up is the Dodgers lineup. He often hits seventh or eighth. There’s an emphasis on “turning over the lineup,” which includes avoiding boneheaded outs on the bases. Let Mookie Betts and friends do the work. With Seager temporarily out of the way, he should make more starts in valuable lineup situations. Stealing second with two outs and Clayton Kershaw at the plate is nonsense. It’s an entirely different matter if Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, or Will Smith are the batter.

Lux will probably continue to steal less often than we’d like. Based on past trends, I expect about 12 more attempts over the summer months. However, it’s no longer clear that the Dodgers will cruise to any easy first place finish. They’re in third place in the NL West and missing two of their best hitters. There might come a time when it’s time to stop counting on the home run and start creating pressure on opponents in other ways.