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Liam Hendriks
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Saves and Steals

Closers Crumble

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: August 12, 2020, 2:05 pm ET

Closers continue to crumble. There wasn’t nearly as much turnover at the position as last week – that fiasco might have been a record. However, late-inning relievers have continued to fumble leads and ruin fantasy ratios along the way. Just last night, five closers blew saves and a sixth had to be pulled to staunch the bleeding. At least a dozen are on the hot seat.

Zack Britton leads the league with six saves. Liam Hendriks and Joe Jimenez are nipping at his heels with five saves apiece. Six others have finished four games. The latest fast mover is Rafael Montero who has already polished off three scoreless saves since his season debut last Friday.



Closer Tiers


Tier 1: The Elite (1)


Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Hader is doing his usual thing through a scant four innings. He’s on pace to throw 16 innings over the entire season. Given their past usage, I honestly expected closer to a 30-inning workload. Devin Williams has emerged as the main setup man. He features a filthy changeup and 96 mph heat.


Tier 2: Reliable Rarities (3)


Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Minnesota Twins

Hendriks and Jansen are among the rare few closers who have returned value for the fantasy managers who drafted them. Rogers was saddled with a loss on Tuesday – his second in three outings. Even while allowing runs, he’s pitched well.


Tier 3: Possible Top Performers (8)


Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Seth Lugo, Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Kirby Yates, Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres
Nick Anderson, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Brad Hand, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals

Workman still has a walk problem. Otherwise, he’s right on par with his excellent 2019. Iglesias is also holding his own in an otherwise terrible bullpen. He’s recorded two strikeouts in all six appearances and hasn’t allowed a baserunner in his last 4.2 innings.

The Mets have serious rotation issues. Lugo represents a creative solution to what is sure to become a nagging problem. Even if Lugo doesn’t return to starting, Diaz has reeled off five straight scoreless outings in non-save situations – all with his typically ludicrous strikeout rate. He may yet finish the season as a top closer.

Yates has been sidelined with general soreness. Manager Jayce Tingler says he’s still the closer. If Drew Pomeranz happens to still be on your waiver wire (unlikely), you should grab him. Were he to get the job, Pomeranz would rank as either the third or fourth closer. He already has four saves compared to just a pair for Yates.

Until Tuesday night, Neris cruised along as the only decent reliever in a dumpster fire Phillies bullpen. Frankly, he didn’t entirely deserve two of the three runs he allowed to the Orioles on Tuesday. Jean Segura missed an infield fly after calling off Rhys Hoskins.

Hand remains the primary closer in Cleveland, but he’s walking a tight rope. Like Neris, he’s also dealt with some teammate-induced defensive drama. Karinchak, like Pomeranz, has elite closer potential if he’s ever given the opportunity.

With Oliver Drake landing on the IL, our old friends Alvarado and Castillo are back to fight over Rays saves. Shortening the pen will also give Anderson – possibly the best reliever in the game – a chance to finish more games. He pitched the ninth with a six-run lead on Tuesday.

The Orioles are doing a lot of damage to closers. They dinged Hudson for three runs and a loss last Saturday. He’s looked sharp in his other appearances.


Tier 4: Red Flag Vets (6)


Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Zack Britton, New York Yankees
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves
Rafael Montero, Texas Rangers
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers

Colome and Melancon have held opponents scoreless despite uninspiring strikeout numbers. If you’re doing alright in the category, you might consider selling high. The Braves have a deep bullpen in which Melancon is far from the best reliever. The same isn’t true for Chicago. They recently lost Aaron Bummer to the IL. He was the most obvious alternative to Colome.

As of last week, I was led to believe Aroldis Chapman would be back by now. He recently finished a 25-pitch simulated game. Britton may hold on for another week or so, especially as Chapman is eased back into action.

Montero came charging onto the scene to save a flailing Rangers bullpen. He took a step forward last season, but ERA estimators still think he’s roughly a 4.00 ERA pitcher. Edinson Volquez was on the list of possible Rangers closers last week so a middle relief quality right-hander with a strikeout per inning is a welcome upgrade.

Jimenez’s ERA took a blistering last Friday when he allowed three runs to the lowly Pirates. He responded on Sunday with a clean outing.


Tier 5: Mess Hall (12)

Trevor Rosenthal, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Taylor Williams, Matt Magill, Seattle Mariners
Rowan Wick, Jeremy Jeffress, Kyle Ryan, Chicago Cubs
Brandon Kintzler, Richard Bleier, Miami Marlins
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Anthony Bass, Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Toronto Blue Jays
Cole Sulser, Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Ty Buttrey, Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels
Trevor Gott, Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Jairo Diaz, Carlos Estevez, Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals (Team Sidelined)

With Rosenthal unavailable last Sunday, Barlow was called upon for a save. The Royals have a shockingly effective bullpen. Greg Holland and Ian Kennedy are barely even in the picture, and they’ve pitched well too.

Of the walking disasters, Pressly has the most potential to rebound. We’re dealing with a small five appearance, 3.2 inning sample. He’s shown reduced velocity, whiff rates, and pitch movement. The one area where he still rates well is spin rate – every one of his pitches are at or above their norms. His curve is the second spinniest in the league behind only Garrett Richards. Perhaps he just needs a few more appearances to recover his velocity and swagger. There isn’t much left behind him in the bullpen. A struggling Josh James and Enoli Paredes are among the options.

The return plan for Keone Kela is scheduled to be updated on Wednesday. Rodriguez has been the club’s best reliever but they aren’t producing many late-inning leads with a 3-13 record.

Bass was one of the relievers to stumble on Tuesday night. He’s not inducing any whiffs – 3.86 K/9 and just 6.0 percent swinging strikes. Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis could be needed for a save on Wednesday.

Sulser has predictably struggled to finish games, possibly opening the door for Givens. The former closer has held opponents scoreless with 14.40 K/9 through five appearances.

Buttrey is a high-risk fantasy closer. He’s allowing ludicrous quantities of hard contact and getting away with it. While the situation is temporarily stable, another meltdown in Los Angeles is predestined.

Of the Tuesday night walking wounded, Diaz was the only one to avoid blowing a save. That’s because Daniel Bard was needed to record the final out. Diaz hasn’t looked sharp lately, and it should come as no surprise those outings happened at Coors Field.

The Cardinals hope to begin playing again on Friday. It’s still uncertain. Gallegos represents the most obvious closer on the roster, although I suppose we shouldn’t count out Andrew Miller, John Gant, Alex Reyes, or others. Ryan Helsley and Carlos Martinez are on the COVID list. Kwang Hyun Kim has joined the rotation. Gallegos, if he wins the job, would initially rank somewhere around Hudson or Bradley.


Injured or Ill


Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Kyle Crick Pittsburgh Pirates
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros (out for season)
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Chapman and Kela are close to returning. Giles will be examined on Wednesday to see if he can resume throwing.




Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets


The Steals Department


Shockingly, Austin Slater has joined Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham atop the stolen base leaderboard. They’ve swiped five bags apiece. More surprises await among the six players with four steals. Adalberto Mondesi leads the league with seven attempts, but he’s been caught three times (4-for-7). Catcher eligible Isiah Kiner-Falefa is rewarding fantasy managers who eschewed powerful catchers like Mitch Garver and Gary Sanchez. Mike Tauchman and Tim Lopes are among the other unexpected names. Trevor Story and Luis Robert represent the guys we expected to find in the top 10.

If you’re trying to find steals on the waiver wire, there’s really only one tried and true method this season – roster Padres and Mariners. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rangers await San Diego. They’ve already run wild over the DBacks. The Rangers start Robinson Chirinos, one of the least effective backstops at containing the running game. Wil Myers and Trent Grisham are finally rostered in most leagues, but Jake Cronenworth is still on the wire. Think of him as a faster Adam Frazier with a better supporting cast. Jurickson Profar is also running more than expected. He competes with Cronenworth for playing time.

The Mariners have one more game with the Rangers before visiting the Astros and Dodgers. A bevy of Seattle hitters are freely available. Dylan Moore is on a tear. As a bonus, he’s eligible at practically every position. His swing is one of the quickest I’ve seen which helps him to untap outsized power. He’s also prone to strikeouts. Lopes, J.P. Crawford, and Shed Long offer a more limited skill set – they don’t provide much category juice outside of stolen bases. Crawford is solid for OBP formats. Mallex Smith, the ultimate in stolen-base-or-bust, is down to 49 percent rostered on Yahoo!

A few players with speed have recently found their way into more playing time. We touched briefly on Tauchman and Lopes already so let’s move on to some fresh names.

Robbie Grossman benefits from Ramon Laureano’s brief suspension. He’s been playing most days anyway but now has less competition for reps. He fits best in OBP leagues where he can contribute to multiple categories. Stolen bases are a secondary category for him – he’s only maybe a 10 or 15 steal guy over a full season.

Andres Gimenez is playing daily for the Mets. He’s already swiped three bases in 43 plate appearances. Speed is his only carrying trait at this early stage of his career. In the pure burner category, Myles Straw is getting more action than expected as a defensive replacement. He isn’t hitting enough to force a larger role. With three steals already, he could be among the elite few who swipe more than 10 bags this season. If you play in a deep daily format where you occasionally have fallow roster spots, you can do worse than spotting in Straw. The Royals have a new player, Nick Heath, cut from the same cloth. He’s an infield defensive replacement who already has two steals in just seven plate appearances.