Jansen Surging

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Brad Johnson
·10 min read
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Jake McGee and Mark Melancon remain the league leaders with six saves apiece. No closer locked down more than two games in the last week. Managers are beginning to settle into regular usage patterns, helping fantasy managers to escape the doldrums of closer committees. Let’s hop straight into the action.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (4)

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

Hader’s velocity is trending towards his career-norms, but that’s just fine! He’s a monster whether he’s throwing 95 or 98 mph. The Brewers have supplied just two saves thus far. The top non-closer during draft season, Devin Williams, has lost a handle on his command. Milwaukee is using him in lower leverage situations until he’s back on track. The stuff is still there, it’s just much less effective when he’s handing out free passes like hotcakes.

Chapman and Diaz are also locked at two saves due to a lack of opportunities. They’ve pitched superbly. Hendriks is just ahead of the elite pack with three saves. He pitched both ends of a doubleheader on Sunday. The Sox brought him in for a one-out save on Tuesday.

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Tier 2: Strikeout Kings (5)

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Kimbrel was going to join the “elite” tier with another positive week. I have… changed my mind. The reason is a sudden uptick in walks – he’s issued five in his last 3.1 innings. These bouts of poor command are at least partially responsible for his struggles since leaving the Braves.

As hoped, Jansen is once again inducing whiffs. More excitingly, his velocity has surged about three-mph since manager Dave Roberts announced they’d more carefully manage his workload. This was expected after he spent the winter working in a pitch lab. Historically, Jansen's cutter has proven nearly untouchable any time it averages over 93.5-mph.

Tier 3: Core Performers (8)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

McGee had an unusual week. He blew a save on Saturday, went on the COVID-19 list, then returned on Tuesday in time to protect a four-run lead. He coughed up a solo home run to Rhys Hoskins. McGee’s velocity has bounced around this season. His outing yesterday included a season low velocity.

The Cleveland late-innings picture is becoming clearer. Clase is consistently pitching after Karinchak. Nick Wittgren seems to be in a seventh-inning role. While Karinchak would make for a better fantasy closer due to his gaudy strikeout rate, Clase is just as effective in a real sense. If this pattern continues, he’ll eventually settle in near the bottom of the second tier.

Most of the others in this tier had very little work this week. Castillo was an exception, pitching three scoreless outings (one save). Barnes also pitched three times. He allowed his first run of the season while protecting a four-run lead. Keep an eye on Smith, he walked three in Chicago last Friday and hasn’t appeared since.

Tier 4: Upside (7)

Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lucas Sims, Sean Doolittle, Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins

Reyes hasn’t allowed a run yet, but his 3.82 FIP and 5.90 xFIP hint at rough times ahead. The bigger concern is a drop in swinging strike rate and continued poor command. Gallegos is without question a better pitcher. Jordan Hicks will eventually reclaim this role. He’s having his own issues with command at the moment.

Diekman snagged his first save on Tuesday with Trivino earning the hold. Matchups dictated the reversed usage – a sign this may be something like a 70/30 split on save opportunities. Trivino will get the bulk of the activity.

Garrett’s ongoing struggles should temporarily remove him from high leverage consideration. Both Doolittle and Sims are pitching well and could be borderline second-tier closers. Sims offers more upside for fringe-elite output while Doolittle makes for a safer alternative to both fantasy managers and the Reds. They’ll probably continue to play matchups. Hunter Greene is pumping 105-mph heaters at the alt-site and could join the club in the near future. Nominally, he’s still a starting pitcher prospect, but we don’t have any examples of starters with this kind of velocity.

The Rangers recently go closer candidate Joely Rodriguez back from the Injured List. Kennedy has a pretty firm grip on the role, but it only takes a couple consecutive meltdowns to lose a job.

Bard coughed up a home run last Wednesday to Zach McKinstry then blew a save at Coors Field on Saturday. This is precisely why he isn’t ranked higher. Garcia temporarily secured his role this week by picking up a win and two saves. Both he and Floro are pitching well.

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (6)

Rafael Dolis, Toronto Blue Jays
Greg Holland, Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Stefan Crichton, Kevin Ginkel, Arizona Diamondbacks
Gregory Soto, Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers

On the surface, Dolis seems like he has a walk issue. Half of his six free passes were issued in his second outing. He’s allowed just two hits in seven innings. He’d rank between Melancon and Colome if Jordan Romano wasn’t expected to return very soon.

So much for Holland starting hot. The Rays dinged him for three runs on two homers. Staumont or Barlow could be in line for a save today. They’re also on a shortlist to replace him. Wade Davis keeps giving up precisely one run. He’s still missing velocity.

Here’s my weekly note about Valdez – he’s perhaps my favorite pitcher in the Majors and undoubtedly more talented than this ranking. However, as a gimmick pitcher, his job security is entirely based on the Orioles continued inability to uncover a consistent reliever of a more traditional sort. Baltimore’s coaching staff is very well-regarded so it’s only a matter of time before comes along.

Graveman’s fastball is up to a career-best 96.5-mph. He’s allowed only one hit and two walks in 7.2 innings. Although he’s still not what I’d consider an obvious high leverage reliever, this new version of Graveman has some potential. By comparison, Montero still looks miscast in the late-innings. He allows far too much hard contact to hold the job against any competition. Graveman set up for him on Monday but also picked up two of the three most-recent saves.

I groan whenever it’s time to writeup Crichton. There’s nothing new to report. He’s the poster child for mediocre middle reliever. Ginkel exhibits more promise and has kept a lid on the walk issues which plagued him last season.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks (calf strain)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Chris Martin, Atlanta Braves (shoulder inflammation)
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays (elbow)

Barring a setback, Romano will be activated on Saturday. Soria is nearing a rehab assignment of his own. Martin is playing catch and will progress to long toss and mound work next. Merryweather is believed to be out for at least a month.

Deposed

Anthony Bass

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Trea Turner, Washington Nationals, 3 SB (4 SB total)
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox, 3 SB (3 SB total)
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, 3 SB (4 SB total)
Eddie Rosario, Cleveland Indians, 3 SB (4 SB total)

The Indians picked on the White Sox and Reds on the basepaths. The funny part: Rosario isn’t even fast. He’s a league average runner on a good day. Both players are off to BABIP-sapped slow starts. As more balls in play fall for hits, they’ll have additional opportunities to run. We’ll keep an eye on the White Sox (Yasmani Grandal) and Reds (Tucker Barnhart) to see if they’re suddenly exploitable.

It’s good to see Anderson off to the races after a brief stint on the Injured List. He’s also back to his usual habits at the plate. He has an extremely aggressive approach. Since the start of 2019, his .394 BABIP is tops in the league among qualified hitters. Only Yoan Moncada (.374 BABIP) is in the same stratosphere. Anderson typically underperforms on the bases. He has the inputs of a 40 or 50 steal threat – including the fourth-highest sprint speed in the league - but has only once exceeded 20 thefts.

With Juan Soto heading to the shelf, it’ll be interesting to see where Turner bats in the lineup. There’s a case for him to move to second or fourth which would be a slight hit to his stolen base potential. His fantasy managers should still welcome a move – a temporary buff to his RBI could seal a Top 1 season.

Speed Spotlight

Our target last week, Tim Locastro, promptly landed on the Injured List. Let’s see if we can find a little more luck this time around. Second baseman Nick Solak is mostly known for contact skills, plate discipline, and terrible defense. Typically, these traits are associated with a flat-footed plodder. Instead, Solak ranks ninth in sprint speed, tied with Ronald Acuna and slightly ahead of Shohei Ohtani, Myles Straw, and Amed Rosario. Shocking, huh?

Solak is 11-for-13 on the base paths in 442 career plate appearances. He took a more aggressive tact since the start of last season (9-for-11 in 307 PA), setting a pace of about 23 steals per 650 plate appearances. Taken in tandem with his hitting skills, he has the potential to be a five-category compiler. He’s currently 75 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues, meaning you’ll need to turn to the trade market to acquire him. Given his current hot-hitting you’re liable to encounter one of two approaches. A rival will either want to ride the wave or “sell high.” Sometimes, selling high really isn’t all that high.

To help in negotiations, you might point out his 13.9 percent swinging strike rate and 28.4 percent strikeout rate. Both of these numbers are extremely elevated compared to his norms. There’s no apparent change to his swing, launch angle, or power. He’s been slightly more aggressive at the plate. It’s not enough to explain the change. I am betting on regression leading to more walks and fewer strikeouts. I’m also hopeful he escapes the purgatory of batting fifth or sixth. He’s more properly a leadoff, second, or cleanup hitter in that mediocre Rangers offense. Those roles would entail more stolen base opportunities.