Hader's Season For The Ages

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For most of the 2021 campaign, we were fortunate to dodge mass injuries to major closers. Three fairly notable names hit the skids in the last week: Andrew Kittredge, Jake McGee, and Gregory Soto. All three provided incredible value to their fantasy managers this season. Kittredge was arguably the best non-closer of the first half, and he rewarded those who bought in with a smattering of second-half saves. McGee was perhaps the top value closer in the league, recorded 31 saves with a strong ERA and WHIP despite going virtually undrafted. Soto remained wild and talented. He successfully built on his 2020 breakout by nearly doubling his slider usage this season. We’ll discuss their replacements as they appear in the tiers below.

Michael Fulmer (Soto’s replacement), Giovanny Gallegos, and Jordan Romano led the week with three saves apiece. The seasonal lead still belongs to Mark Melancon (37). Liam Hendriks and Kenley Jansen each have 34 saves and an outside chance to catch Melancon. Just 12 days remain in the season.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (7)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Hader is in the midst of one of the finest reliever seasons in memory. He hasn’t allowed a run since July 28. In fact, he’s only allowed six hits over his last 16 appearances (15.1 innings). Over the same span, he’s struck out 27 of 61 batters faced. He very much belongs in a tier of his own. For organizational purposes, we’ll continue to call him merely “elite.”

The rest of our elites performed nearly flawlessly this week. The two exceptions were the Los Angeles-based closers. Jansen surrendered a solo home run while working with a four-run lead on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Iglesias allowed one of those goofy extra-innings phantom runners to score.

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Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

Romano worked three of the last four days, all of which were scoreless, hitless performances. The lone fly in the ointment came Tuesday night when he worked around three free passes. Tim Mayza and Julian Merryweather are save-candidates today. Gallegos has also pitched three of four days. The Cardinals have leaned heavily on their best relievers. Look to Genesis Cabrera or Andrew Miller in the ninth tonight.

On Friday, the Braves fought back from a 2-4 deficit in the top of the ninth against the Giants. Protecting a 5-4 lead, Smith gave up yet another solo home run – a year-long problem for him judging by his 1.45 HR/9. It was a costly mistake; the Giants eventually won the game. Smith returned two days later and locked down a clean save. Over 20 percent of his hits allowed have gone over a wall.

Tier 3: Core Performers (4)

Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Trevor Rogers, San Francisco Giants

Barlow’s only outing this week was a mixed bag. He locked down a save and a couple strikeouts at the cost of a solo home run.

Melancon picked a bad time for a mini-slump. I don’t think there’s anything wrong. It’s not entirely unexpected for him to have four-game spans where he allows multiple hits and at least one run. While the first three appearances didn’t cost the Padres anything, his failure on Tuesday cost them a loss they couldn’t afford.

Fulmer is a surprising entrant to the core performers group. In his first full season as a reliever, he’s recorded 9.50 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, and a 3.12 ERA. He’s also constrained his previous home run problem. While he lacks a standout category, he also doesn’t have an apparent weakness. Pitching in relief has allowed him to recapture the velocity he had during his successful early-career seasons.

This could be too high of a ranking for Rogers. First, it’s not clear he’ll actually receive the bulk of the save opportunities in Jake McGee’s absence. Dominic Leone and Tony Watson are also in the mix depending on the situation. Rogers also records a painfully low strikeout rate. It’s up to you to judge the importance of punch outs in your league title pursuits. For some of you, you’ll be better off betting on a Matt Barnes type. Others will need to gamble on Rogers’ apparent opportunity to lock down more saves.

Tier 4: Acceptable Saves (10)

Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Ian Kennedy, Philadelphia Phillies
Chris Stratton, Pittsburgh Pirates
Mychal Givens, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins
Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs
Tyler Clippard, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kyle Finnegan, Washington Nationals
Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies

Much of this tier has characteristics in common with Rogers. They’re first up for saves, but there’s some potentially fatal flaw we’ll need to dodge.

Kennedy picked up two wins and two saves for his fantasy managers. The clutch performance was made possible by a blown save vulture win last Wednesday and an extra innings victory on Tuesday. Home runs (2.06 HR/9) remain an ever-present threat.

After notching a win and a save earlier in the week, Stratton blew a save on Sunday. He allowed one run on two hits and a walk. Floro had a similar week with a win, save, and blown save. In fact, Stratton’s blown save was only possible because Floro first blew his save.

Michael Lorenzen stole a save on a night Givens wasn’t available. While I’ve seen some touting Lorenzen, he won’t have enough time to prove he’s a better option than Givens.

Wick, Clippard, and Finnegan had shaky weeks. Clippard’s was the least concerning – two of his three runs allowed were unearned. Wick and Finnegan were both dinged for six runs. Wick managed only 1.2 innings while coughing up five hits and five walks. Finnegan at least can partially blame Coors Field. He allowed seven hits, three walks, and two home runs in 3.1 innings including a clean save on Sunday.

Tier 5: Mess Hall (5)

Pete Fairbanks et al, Tampa Bay Rays
Hansel Robles, Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes, Garrett Richards, Boston Red Sox
Cole Sulser, Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles
Drew Steckenrider, Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Andrew Chafin, Sergio Romo, Oakland Athletics

Some of the pitchers in this tier and definitely better than those in the fourth tier. However, with so little season remaining, we don’t have time to sort through committees. By all means, throw a dart at the better arms like Fairbanks, Sulser, Chafin, and Sewald. Just don’t be surprised to come up empty.

Fairbanks might get first crack at saves with Kittredge sidelined, but we also know the Rays will spread the love. Collin McHugh and David Robertson seem likely to get in on the action. J.P. Feyereisen was working high leverage earlier in the season and has a couple holds in the last week. Nick Anderson is back in action. His stuff is much-diminished including a 2.3-mph drop in velocity and a miniscule whiff rate.

The Red Sox have decided to divest Ottavino of closing duties. He hasn’t pitched for the last week. Meanwhile, Richards picked up the only save, although he’s worst of the candidates. Robles is widely expected to get the next opportunity. It’s not as if he’s a particular talented reliever either. The best outcome would be for Barnes or Ottavino to step up over the final 12 days.

Sulser is a legitimately good pitcher who has just two saves since the start of August. Again, if I could play a long game, I’d bet on him outperforming the likes of a Kennedy or Wick. With so little time remaining, we can’t count on another save chance. One reason is because Wells has three saves since the start of September. Included is an Orioles win on Monday in which Sulser set up for Wells.

Steckenrider still seems to be receiving the most ninth-inning appearances. They’ve been close to evenly dispersed between him and Sewald in recent weeks. They’re just using whoever is best and rested any time late-and-close situations come into play. With their playoff odds dwindling, they might actually get less desperate in their bullpen management.

Last and probably not truly least are the Athletics. They’ve been counting on Chafin and Romo to blow leads over the last week to save the club from chilly October baseball.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (out for season)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (finger)
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates (oblique)
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants (oblique)
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays (neck tightness)
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers (fractured finger)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Kendall Graveman, Houston Astros (via trade)
Yimi Garcia, Houston Astros (via trade)
Richard Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves (via trade)
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox (via trade)
Joakim Soria, Toronto Blue Jays (via trade)
Brad Hand, Toronto Blue Jays (via trade)
Hansel Robles, Boston Red Sox (via trade)
Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies (promoted to rotation)
Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Heath Hembree, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox (via trade)
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Adalberto Mondesi, 5 SB (13 SB total)
J.T. Realmuto, 3 SB (13 SB)

Mondesi accomplished in 100 plate appearances what took 501 plate appearances for Realmuto. Of course, Mondesi is a noted speedster while Realmuto is merely “fast for a catcher.” This represents a career-best for Realmuto who otherwise had a modestly disappointing season, especially in the power department. They’re tied for 35th-best in the league. Assuming Mondesi stays healthy, I’d bet on him finishing with 18 swipes which would currently rank 17th-best.

Speed Spotlight

With so little time and nobody new to grab from the wire, let’s focus our attention on an old standby – exploitable catchers. This season, the highest totals of stolen bases allowed belong to Will Smith (68), Omar Narvaez (61), and Christian Vazquez (54). Among current semi-regulars, the worst caught stealing rates were those of Kevin Plawecki (3-for-36 CS), Austin Nola (4-for-30 CS), Max Stassi (11-for-52 CS), Victor Caratini (9-for-54 CS), Gary Sanchez (9-for-52 CS), Tom Murphy (9-for-52 CS), and Kyle Higashioka (5-for-31 CS).

A couple patterns should be apparent. Teams run on the Dodgers because they feel like they have to create opportunities to win. It’s good to be good. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Padres have a tandem of poorly-performing catchers; a sign their pitchers are at least partly to blame. Narvaez shows up on this list every year. Stassi and Murphy are having rough seasons too.

Starting Friday, the Yankees play the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays. The Sox have scarcely any speed and the Jays faster players are rostered stars. You could probably find the likes of Brett Phillips, Manuel Margot, and Joey Wendle sitting on the waiver wire for that final series.

The Sox will face the Yankees, Orioles, and Nationals. Brett Gardner is widely available. Gleyber Torres is out there in some leagues too. The Nationals have a team of plodders, though Lane Thomas sometimes catches opponents sleeping. Cedric Mullins will have a chance to build on his 30 steals. He’s the only Oriole who runs.

The Padres have big series against the Braves, Dodgers, and Giants incoming. Now we’re talking. Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Adam Duvall are the speediest Braves. Too bad they’re tough to find. Duvall is a no-OBP all-or-nothing power bat who rarely gets to show off his sneaky speed. Mookie Betts will probably take it easy on account of his hip though Trea Turner should run wild. Gavin Lux is playing regularly of late and performing well. He has only three steals despite 20+ steal speed. The Giants use a hodgepodge of players. Some of the bench outfielders like Austin Slater and Steven Duggar are the likeliest to attempt steals. We’ll have to wait to see if any are playing in the final series.

The Brewers have the division on lockdown so they’ll give Narvaez frequent rest ahead of the postseason. Even so, you might try sniping some Cardinals or Mets with speed. Jonathan Villar, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, and Harrison Bader will find themselves in good situations. Of those, Villar and Bader are sometimes there for the taking