McGee Whiz

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Brad Johnson
·12 min read
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Giants closer Jake McGee ruled the week. He was the only pitcher to record three saves. He and Mark Melancon are tied for the season lead with five saves apiece. Quite a few closers have yet to allow a hit or a run. We’ll talk about them in a moment. Shall we dive 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 has pitched a paltry 2.2 innings, already earning a pair of wins and a save. His fastball and slider velocities remain at career-high levels. Chapman has retired 12 of 14 batters, 11 via strikeout. In Chicago, the White Sox aren’t providing many save opportunities for Hendriks to convert. He botched the one he did get by allowing a solo home run to Carlos Santana. Aside from the mild case of early-season homeritis, Hendriks is pitching well. So too is Diaz despite a lack of results to date. He’s sitting at a career-high 98.6-mph but has struggled to induce whiffs in 2.2 innings. It has the look and smell of a small sample fluke.

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Tier 2: Strikeout Kings (6)

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

Like Diaz, Pressly also isn’t getting his accustomed whiffs or save opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with his stuff – the swinging strikes will come. Kimbrel is making a case to rejoin the top tier of closers for the first time since he debuted with the Cubs. He’s allowed just one walk and no hits through six innings.

Hand returned from the COVID-19 list this week. His velocity has rebounded to 2019 levels which, while better than 2020, is still below his career norm. Hand didn’t need the extra zip last season anyway. Iglesias turned in a perfect outing in his only appearance. He’s average two strikeouts per inning in the early going.

Julian Merryweather left an outing on Tuesday with hip irritation. Given his long history of injuries, the Blue Jays don’t want to take any chances with him pitching through a core injury or lower body injury. They’ve placed him on the injured list with what they’re calling a left oblique strain. Romano gets a boost in the short term. Scoop him off waivers if you still can. The right-hander has retained the knockout stuff he developed last season, but he’s struggled with command. He’s also allowed the hardest hit ball of this young season – a 120-mph single to Giancarlo Stanton.

After calling upon Jansen to pitch on back-to-back days last Tuesday and Wednesday, the Dodgers announced they would manage his workload going forward. He looked especially flat in that Wednesday outing. He rebounded with a vintage appearance on Sunday. There will be stray saves to absorb in Los Angeles, but it’s not yet clear who will receive the opportunities. Blake Treinen is the eighth-inning guy, but he hasn’t been sharp. Corey Knebel recently picked up a save and has yet to allow a run. Victor Gonzalez is rather talented as well. Right-hander Brusdar Graterol is expected to be activated any day now.

Tier 3: Core Performers (9)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners

Melancon has allowed just one hit and no walks in six innings. He’s tied with McGee for the league lead with five saves. The Giants closer is off to a similar start. He’s allowed no hits and two walks through 6.1 innings. His 12.79 K/9 teases upside over Melancon, but he should be considered a more volatile choice.

A bevy of injuries has left the Rays without an alternative to Castillo in the closer role. Even though his velocity is down, he projects for over a strikeout per inning with a mid-3s ERA.

Over in Boston, don’t get too enthusiastic about Barnes. He’s thrown six hit-less innings with one walk and 12 strikeouts. We know he can miss bats. It’s the low walk rate that comes as a surprise. His approach is unchanged. He throws oodles of curve balls out of zone, preferring walks to throwing hittable pitches. The free passes will return.

Neris and Colome blew saves in their most recent appearances. On Tuesday night, Neris couldn’t dodge a bat, allowing three hits and a walk while recording just one out. When he gets into trouble, he throws more fastballs which tends to only get him into more trouble. Jose Alvarado and Connor Brogdon should be added for speculative purposes. Similarly, the deep Twins bullpen doesn’t need to settle for a slumping Colome. However, I think it’s more likely Colome simply had an uncharacteristic bad outing. There aren’t any red flags to report.

Smith already has two losses and probably isn’t even the best left-handed reliever in the Braves bullpen. Tyler Matzek in particular has developed an imposing mound presence to go with his upper-90s fastball.

Jordan Hicks showed why the Cardinals are bringing him along slowly. He’s having issues with controlling his bowling ball 100-mph sinker. It’s a shame because St. Louis already needs to be thinking about proactively ousting Reyes as the closer. Although he has three saves in four appearances without allowing a run, he remains a fly ball pitcher with insufficient command. Reyes looks like a decent bulk reliever, but he’s miscast in a high leverage role. Gallegos has pitched masterfully. If it were up to me, he would have been closing uninterrupted since his breakout in 2019.

Montero vultured a win on Tuesday night via a blown save. The Mariners fought back. Kendall Graveman shut the door for his first save. As I’ve all too often pointed out, Montero is a fairly typical middle reliever. So is Graveman. These sorts have fantasy value when they’re unchallenged.

Tier 4: Upside (7)

James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren, Cleveland Indians
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Sean Doolittle, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins

True to their word, the Indians have shared the wealth. Clase picked up two saves in the last week and blew a third attempt. Karinchak closed the door Tuesday night while Wittgren answered the call last Wednesday. For now, it seems Clase might have a slight advantage – assuming he rebounds in his next outing.

Prior to the A’s signing Trevor Rosenthal, Trivino looked like the closer-apparent in Oakland. He finally earned his first save of the season last night. The farm is stocked with a couple potentially superior options including James Kaprielian and Wandisson Charles. For now, Trivino is both relatively unchallenged and sufficiently talented to provide palatable fantasy numbers. Expect around a 4.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and over a strikeout per inning.

Despite stating otherwise, the Pirates seem satisfied for now with Rodriguez. He gets by on deception more than classically nasty stuff. His career 3.32 ERA and 10.32 K/9 are good benchmarks for what to expect. Since the Pirates won’t be winning many games and likely plan to trade him to a contender, Rodriguez’s fantasy value plays below his expected output. Keep an eye on David Bednar.

Doolittle likely hurt his chances of joining the high leverage brigade by allowing a two-run home run to Evan Longoria yesterday. Garrett has a 15.00 ERA and hasn’t pitched since last Friday. Sims was handed the most recent save opportunity – a one-out appearance on Monday. He also pitched in middle relief on Tuesday. This has an all-hands-on-deck feel to it. Cam Bedrosian is in the mix too.

Kennedy’s fastball velocity is in freefall. He debuted on April 4 with a 95.4-mph heater. By his most recent appearance last Sunday, he was down to 92.8-mph. He allowed a solo home run. Keep an eye on rehabbing southpaw Joely Rodriguez.

Anthony Bass was kicked from the ninth inning after clunking through two of his first three outings. He’s since turned in a couple clean appearances. Garcia has stepped up in his place after thriving in a small sample last season. Familiarity may create an opportunity for him, but he’s not likely to hang onto it for long. Floro has a similar profile to Bass but with better stuff and consistency.

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (4)

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Stefan Crichton, Kevin Ginkel, Arizona Diamondbacks
Gregory Soto, Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers

In four appearances (4.1 IP), Holland has a win, a loss, a save, and a hold. Jesse Hahn was pushing for Holland’s job, but he’s now on the injured list. Josh Staumont has the best stuff, Scott Barlow is perhaps most reliable, and Wade Davis should not be discounted.

Valdez is perhaps my favorite pitcher in the entire league, but one has to be realistic about these things. Gimmick pitchers like Valdez aren’t trusted as closers. The Orioles will look to replace him at every opportunity.

Ginkel has only one walk in five innings. If he can continue to limit free passes, he has the makings of a decent closer. Crichton is exceptional in his mediocrity. The Tigers situation is almost an exact mirror. Soto has genuine closer attributes but suffers from poor command. And Garcia simply isn’t a good pitcher.


Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks (calf strain)
Julian Merryweather (oblique)
Chris Martin (shoulder inflammation)

Rosenthal had surgery and will be reevaluate in eight weeks.


Anthony Bass

Bass is the first deposed closer of 2021 – in part because several clubs still haven’t minted a closer in the first place. He may yet recover the job in short order.

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics, 6 SB (8 SB total)
Garrett Hampson, Colorado Rockies, 4 SB (4 SB total)
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 3 SB (3 SB total)
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals, 3 SB (3 SB total)
Myles Straw, Houston Astros, 3 SB (3 SB total)

Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano is off to the races. With eight stolen bases, he’s doubled the output of second-place thief Garrett Hampson (4). Laureano isn’t especially fast – his sprint speed only rates in the 78th percentile. Compare that to Hampson who is legitimately one of the five fastest players in the league.

Put another way, Hampson covers 29.8 feet per second. Laureano only manages 27.7 ft/s. It doesn’t sound like much, right? Think of it this way: let’s imagine they both take a 10-foot lead from first. When Hampson reaches second base, Laureano still has over five and a half feet to cover.

Of course, reality is more complicated. Statcast sprint speed is a top-of-the-line measure. Some guys reach their top gear faster than others, helping them to play up on the basepaths. Others have a better knack for good jumps or can lull pitchers to sleep. One thing we can be sure of though – pitchers are going to pay close attention to Laureano in the coming weeks.

The other four weekly leaders are all very much expected base thieves. Merrifield is the “slowest” with 93rd percentile sprint speed (28.5 ft/s). Straw and Hampson both could fall afoul of platoons. The Astros seem certain to trade for a center fielder at the deadline – if not sooner. Chas McCormick might even begin to rob starts. Meanwhile, the Rockies have finally given Hampson some runway at the top of the lineup. They won’t let him bat first for long if he continues to hit .237/.326/.289. He’s presently bouncing between center field and second base, both positions where they have superior options available (Sam Hilliard, Brendan Rodgers, Ryan McMahon).

Speed Spotlight

The fastest player in the league is Trea Turner. He covers an incredible 30.8 ft/s. That’s over 21-mph. Checking in just behind him is Diamondbacks outfielder Tim Locastro. An old friend of this column, Locastro is a perfect 29-for-29 on the basepaths over his career. He first appeared in the Majors in 2017 with the Dodgers. It wasn’t until 2019 that Arizona gave him some opportunities to display his talents in a semi-regular role. Since his hitting profile lacks standout traits besides his blistering footspeed, he hasn’t been given many opportunities to play every day.

Perhaps that is changing. Even though Kole Calhoun has returned to the lineup, manager Torey Lovullo has found room to start Locastro as the leadoff hitter for each of the last six games. He’s rewarded the team with a six-game hitting streak. While isn’t much of a home run threat, he’s shown a general aptitude for reaching base. He also has sneaky gap pop.

The new role has brought attention with it. He’s up to eight-percent rostered in Yahoo leagues. Unlike other pure runners like Billy Hamilton, Mallex Smith, and possibly Myles Straw, Locastro’s ability to work counts, hit for line drives, and occasionally sting a ball marks him as a modest threat to opposing pitchers. There’s potential for a 10-home run, 45-steal pace to go with a tolerable batting average and plenty of runs scored. Not bad for an undrafted waiver-add.