Romano's Distressing Outing

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Tuesday wasn’t kind to Toronto’s Jordan Romano. The Yankees cracked him for three runs via an Aaron Judge walk-off home run. Romano also issued two walks in the inning, both of whom scored on the blast. A bad outing is one thing, but the bigger concern is a sharp drop in velocity. Romano hadn’t appeared since May 4 so there’s no obvious explanation for his fastball averaging just 95-mph. He usually sits around 97-mph. His signature pitch, a slider, was missing nearly four-mph – enough to greatly affect the behavior of the pitch. No wonder he issued two walks and a dinger. Romano has a history of forearm, ulnar nerve, and knee injuries, any and all of which could explain the alarming outing. Keep a close eye on his next appearance.

Liam Hendriks and Daniel Bard led the way with three saves in the last week. Hendriks had a shot at a fourth save and blew it. More on him in a moment. I remain extremely wary of Bard as a fantasy asset. A Rockies hurler basically has to exist as two distinct pitchers – the one who works at altitude and the other guy who pitches at sea level. Bard himself has had a Jekyll and Hyde career. He hasn’t pieced together a fully successful season since his 2010-2011 peak. While I think he’s a ticking time bomb, there’s no question my advice to avoid him has not worked out to date. I’ll continue to monitor Bard as a potential source of lessons learned. For the season, Romano leads the league with 12 saves. Josh Hader and Taylor Rogers are nipping at his heels. They both have 11 saves.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (2)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox

When we drafted Hendriks this spring, the implicit understanding was we’d be rewarded with an elite ERA and WHIP. After another blown save on Monday, Hendriks is now sitting on a 4.61 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. I’ve uncovered no reason to believe anything is wrong with Hendriks. Just last season, he had a 4.82 ERA through his first 9.1 innings before spinning a 2.19 ERA over the balance of the season (61.2 innings). I considered demoting him to the second tier because he’ll need roughly 15 consecutive scoreless innings before he’s back to where we had him statistically projected. He’s capable of doing so. In fact, he had six scoreless, hitless innings leading up to his Monday meltdown.

In the end, this column is about the future, and Hendriks’ future remains bright. Consider buying if his manager is frustrated. My advice – don’t go straight in with an offer. Open a dialogue and complain about some underperforming players on your own roster. See if they offer a gripe about Hendriks then casually turn the discussion to trade talks.

Tier 2: The Elite (6)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays

Clase pitched five times over a six-day period – not exactly ideal usage for maintaining pitcher health in the max-effort meta. His first four outings were perfect. He allowed the Manfred Man to score in the fifth appearance, but the Guardians rewarded him for his hard work by pulling out a victory.

While I’m deeply concerned about Romano, it’s also just one outing. Rogers allowed his first run of the season on Tuesday. Fortunately, he was protecting a two-run lead. Jansen had a similar outing on Saturday.

Tier 3: Possibly Elite (7)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays
Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

Kimbrel and Chapman both appeared just once in outings that can be described in one word as “effective” and in two words as “merely adequate.” While both have pitched impressively from a run-prevention perspective, they’ve also curated a panoply of red flags. I’m waiting for a dominant week so I can promote them to the second tier. Or a poor week so I can upgrade these “flags” to full-blown “issues.”

Speaking of red flags, Pressly returned from the injured list this week. He appeared twice, picking up a save and a vulture win after allowing a couple runs via a homer. His velocity is trending in the right direction, but there’s cause to be concerned about his knee – at least until he puts together a few good outings.

Kittredge had his first blown save in a long while. He was attempting a two-inning save while defending a 1-0 ballgame. Abraham Toro got to him with a solo dinger. The M’s eventually won in extras.

After pitching last Wednesday, Knebel was part of an ugly loss to the Mets on Thursday. He allowed three runs on four hits. He’s since rebounded with a clean outing.

For now, Doval is “the guy” in San Francisco. His production merits a higher ranking within this tier, but I’m also hedging for manager Gabe Kapler. Doval has poor command and such pitchers are prone to hot and cold streaks. We already know Kapler is happiest with a fluid bullpen so it won’t take much to nudge him back to using the likes of Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, and others.

The story is similar for Gallegos. He’s closing for the moment, but this is a club that has historically avoided using Gallegos as a full-time closer. Perhaps new manager Oliver Marmol prefers a traditional closer. The main issue for Gallegos isn’t his stuff or performance – it’s that Ryan Helsley is on the shortlist for best reliever in the league. Perhaps that’s also why the club is open to using Gallegos as a traditional closer.

Tier 4: Cromulent (8)

Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Seattle Mariners
David Bednar, Chris Stratton, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Soto, Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Emilio Pagan, Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins

Diego Castillo has temporarily pitched his way out of high leverage opportunities. That’s good news for fantasy managers who followed my ardent insistence that they should roster Sewald and Munoz. They’re two of the Top 10 relievers in the league. Sewald has the only recent save. Individually, they’d rank near the top of the third tier with room to move up. Erik Swanson’s also in the mix as a third-choice.

Bednar had a good week. He picked up two saves and seven strikeouts in four innings. He’s emerging as the most-days closer, though Stratton isn’t entirely out of the picture yet. Soto is in a similar situation in Detroit. As for the Royals, they’re splitting the opportunities between Barlow and Staumont.

Barlow is possibly in the midst of a breakout. He has an elite 18.1 percent swinging strike rate. He’s also a fly ball pitcher who has allowed a lot of hard and barreled contact in the early going. He’s a volatile fantasy play with a ceiling in the third tier and a disastrous floor.

My initial “hands off” advice might prove prescient with Lopez. Over his last seven innings, he has 3.86 K/9 and 6.43 BB/9. Small sample warnings apply, but it’s rare to find seven inning samples with such poor peripherals from any reliable closers. Miraculously, he hasn’t allowed a run during this span in part because opponents are making limp contact against him.

It’s only a matter of time before the Twins accept the inevitable and depose Pagan. The veteran is pitching poorly despite a 2.08 ERA. He’s issued 10 free passes in only 8.2 innings. No high leverage pitcher has benefitted more from pure, unfiltered, good luck. Duran did cough up a couple solo home runs last Thursday, but he’s still one of the most imposing relievers in the league.

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Tier 5: Assorted Leftovers (7)

Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks
Lucas Sims, Art Warren, Cincinnati Reds
Anthony Bender, Anthony Bass, Cole Sulser, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Dany Jimenez, Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
Matt Barnes, Hansel Robles, Jake Diekman, Matt Strahm, Boston Red Sox
Mychal Givens, Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs

Melancon doesn’t induce strikeouts and the Diamondbacks don’t produce huge save totals the way the Padres did for Melancon last season.

Sims and Warren both have talent, but there’s no question they’re tossing up shuddersome fantasy stats. Bender is much the same. Every time it looks like he’s going to get a shot to close, he melts down. His most recent appearance came in the sixth inning. Cole Sulser later blew the save. Bass might be next. Floro is back from injury but needs to prove he’s well. He’s missing two ticks of velocity.

Rainey had his first meltdown of the season on Sunday. It was a familiar appearance – his command deserted him so he resorted to missing over the middle of the plate to avoid walks. This is why he keeps failing despite excellent swing-and-miss stuff.

Jimenez has hopefully taken the closer’s mantle from Trivino. The latter pitched the ninth with a four-run lead on Tuesday, but that’s only because Jimenez worked the previous two days – or so I figure. Trivino could walk right back into the picture. The Athletics have incentive to make him look tempting to trade partners.

Givens and Wick won’t have long to nab a save or two. They’re both pitching well despite walk issues. The Boston bullpen is all-hands-on-deck. The most recent save belongs to John Schreiber, a generic middle reliever. On Saturday, Robles blew a save and Barnes took the loss.

Injured

David Robertson, Chicago Cubs (COVID)

Pressly and Melancon returned as expected. Robertson should be back within a few days.

Steals Department

Another week, another tepid performance in the Steals Department. If this was a corporation, they would sell this division. Manuel Margot led the week with four swipes. He had a huge week on the whole, dropping a .500/.550/1.000 triple slash with three home runs in 20 plate appearances. Ronald Acuña, Jace Peterson, and Kyle Tucker all nabbed three bags. The seasonal lead belongs to Julio Rodriguez. He’s the only one with 10 steals. Jorge Mateo is on the cusp. He’s taken nine bases. Four others have seven thefts – Tucker, Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, and Myles Straw.

Speed Spotlight

Rather than focusing on one name, we’ll touch on a few players who have limited windows to carve out bigger roles.

Carlos Correa might have avoided a broken finger, but he didn’t dodge a brief stay on the injured list. Former first overall pick Royce Lewis is filling in at shortstop in his absence. Once Correa returns in about five days, Lewis could potentially maintain a role as a utility man. Better plate discipline seems to have fueled a .310/.430/.563 triple-slash in 107 Triple-A plate appearances. Included in that performance were three home runs and eight steals. Thus far, he has three hits and two strikeouts in 13 plate appearances. The good news is he doesn’t appear to be overmatched, portending further potential for a regular role going forward.

Old friend Jonathan Villar is back in the daily lineup after Nick Madrigal landed on the injured list. Madrigal isn’t expected to be shelved for long due to lower back tightness. He’s off to a miserable start so this might, in part, be an excuse to give him a minute to clear his head. As for Villar, he’s been an average or worse sprinter for several seasons. He still attempts plenty of steals. If he doesn’t hit well during this opportunity, he risks being designated for assignment. Perhaps he’ll catch some friendly winds at Wrigley Field. This is the time of year they start to shift towards blowing out.

The Tigers shipped Akil Baddoo to Triple-A to get him going. In his absence, Derek Hill will start in center field most days. Hill changed his swing over the offseason and performed decently during Spring Training. He’s struggled in limited action during the regular season. Hill’s most effective tool is his speed. If he can figure out how to reach base with any regularity, he could offer Jorge Mateo-like output. Be careful using him for more than the odd Thursday start.