2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Week 8 Closer Report
Welcome back to The Fantasy Fix’s Closer Report for Week 8. We continue to have turn over as the Chicago White Sox have a new closer and the St. Louis Cardinals welcome back a former closer to the roster. Follow along to see where we are today.
Remember, we’ve moved the Fantasy Fix Closer Report Chart to its full time home right here.
As always, feel free to ask a question in the comments below or shoot me a note on Twitter.
Former closer Tommy Hunter hit the DL on Thursday with a groin strain. Hunter said the groin injury didn’t affect him earlier in the year. He’ll get some time to heal up and could be in the mix for saves in the second half. Zach Britton remains in the closer’s chair for now as further evidenced by the O’s usage of Darren O’Day in the eighth inning of a one run game on Wednesday. And O’Day was kind enough to give up a home run in that appearance.
Chicago White Sox
Matt Lindstrom suffered an ankle injury this week and will be on the shelf for the next three months. The Sox bullpen has been relatively successful over the last 30 days, but it looks like there is one man that will step to the head of the closer’s line.
Asked if he will be comfortable with Belisario stepping into Lindstrom’s role, Sox manager Robin Ventura said, “We’re going to have to.
“These are the guys we have, and I think Beli has pitched well enough to be that guy to step in and do it.”
Well then. A tepid endorsement if ever there was one.
However, you can see over the last 30 days that Belisario had been the most effective member of the bullpen (stats through 05/21/2014 and courtesy of Fangraphs):
Belisario isn’t a big strikeout guy (career 19.6% K% rate), but is a big groundball guy (career 61.2% and 65.8% this year). He can be effective is his infield defense is above average. Unfortunately, they are just average and that could end up hurting Belisario more than his own performance on the mound.
If you feel you need to speculate beyond Belisario I’d look at Daniel Webb, Scott Downs and Zach Putnam. Webb has the fastball velocity you’d like (average 94.8 mph this year, though down one mph from last year), but his control is awful so far (17.6% BB% this year) and he’s giving up more flyballs this year than he did last year which is extra awful when playing at US Cellular Field.
Scott Downs is probably no more than a LOOGY at this point (not that he’s ever been all that effective against righties in his career) and shouldn’t be seen as more than a matchup save play especially if he can’t get his walks (20.3% BB% this year) under control.
Putnam’s raw numbers look good, but he’s been a bit lucky (.192 BABIP) and has seen his velocity dip below 90 mph.
Remember, Ventura kept Matt Lindstrom in the role for almost two months. I expect Belisario’s leash to be just as long in no small part because there really isn’t any other attractive option in the pen.
The cracks in LaTroy Hawkins’ armor are beginning to show. He blew his first save Sunday and then gave up a go ahead double in a tie game on Tuesday. He’s given up runs in his last three appearances and his ERA has jumped to 4.41 (4.47 FIP, 4.64 xFIP). His ground ball rate continues to erode (61.7% in 2011 and then 56.8%, 48.4% and 43.8% so far this season) which is bad thing when you play half of your games in Colorado. If this trend continues, we could see Hawkins step down sooner rather than later.
Rex Brothers has always been seen as the heir apparent. However, he’s regressed this year as his BB% rate has climbed to 15.1% (with a career average of 12.7%) and his strikeout rate has sunk (19.8% this year down from 27.1% last year and a career 28.2%). His numbers look OK (2.70 ERA) until you dig a little deeper and see he has a .192 BABIP which can’t continue when half of your games are in Colorado. He doesn’t look like someone who is ready to take over the closer’s role.
Enter Adam Ottavino. Manager Walt Weiss noted that he “wouldn’t rule it out” when asked if Ottavino would be considered at closer for the Rockies. He’s been the most consistent performer in the Rockies’ pen this year and the Rockies certainly don’t seem sold on Brothers as the closer (they did sign Hawkins over the winter and installed him as the closer).
I still give the edge to Brothers, but it’s closer to 60/40 in favor of Brothers now than it was heading into the season.
Relief prospect Corey Knebel was recalled on Wednesday and should make his major league debut this week. Knebel is a deep league play – he’ll probably start off in the sixth or seventh inning, but could end up in higher leverage situations if he’s successful. With Joe Nathan signed through 2015 and Bruce Rondon hopefully coming back healthy next year, he probably won’t have impact in fantasy leagues until 2016.
Chad Qualls is solidifying his spot as the closer for the Astros, but Josh Fields hasn’t given up a run in his four appearances since his recall. He’s struck out nine batters and giving up one hit and two walks over those 4 1 /3 innings. I don’t think he’s going to usurp Qualls, but if he continues pitching like this he could be a useful part after Qualls is dealt at the deadline. The key for Fields is keeping his walk rate down. He’s not there yet (two in 4 1 / 3 innings isn’t great), but he’s getting better.
New York Mets
Jenry Mejia picked up another save this week and it looks like he’s going to be the closer for the foreseeable future.
Sean Doolittle is the closer. And Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson have both struggled recently. Doolittle may never give the gig up. He just signed a four year deal that keeps him in Oakland for next to nothing. And if you recall from earlier this year, Doolittle doesn’t have any discernible lefty/right splits so just because he’s a lefty don’t dismiss him as a viable long term option for the role.
San Francisco Giants
Setup man Santiago Casilla hustled down the line to first base to attempt to beat out an infield hit. It will cost him four weeks on the DL. I’ve moved Jeremy Affeldt into the handcuff option for the Giants whenever Sergio Romo’s elbow falls off from all those sliders.
St. Louis Cardinals
Off of a successful rehab stint, Jason Motte is back in the Cardinals bullpen following Tommy John surgery last year. Trevor Rosenthal had back to back clean appearances and perhaps more importantly didn’t walk anyone. Motte offers a viable alternative to Rosenthal that no one else in the Cards’ pen has so far this year. I’ve moved Motte into the handcuff role with Rosenthal.
Tampa Bay Rays
Grant Balfour must have pictures of someone somewhere. Maybe they are afraid of his truck. He’s now walked 18 batters in 18 1/ 3 innings. He blew a save again on Thursday night against the A’s. It was only his second of the season but he’s been truly awful this year with a 5.89 ERA (5.95 FIP, 5.89 xFIP, 5.90 SIERA and any other ERA estimator you like). And now he’s calling out the fans? Things aren’t going well.
Where would the Rays go if Balfour needs to take a break? I still like to believe that Jake McGee would be the one to get the next shot at the gig. Even though he’s a lefty, he’s shown a reverse split in his career so he’s more like a right hander. He’s also been a pretty effective reliever for much of the last three seasons. He is clearly the future of the position in Tampa.
Joel Peralta is the veteran presence who might get in the way of the McGee dream. Peralta was awful early in the season, but has righted the ship as of late. I could see Maddon going with Peralta because he’s old. I could also see the front office telling Maddon to go with Peralta to keep the price on future McGee contracts down. I could see lots of things that I don’t like.
It’s probably 50/50 between McGee and Peralta right now, but I’d lean to Peralta getting the first shot, though I don’t think it’s the best option.
Juan Carlos Oviedo has quietly been the second best pitcher (just behind McGee) in the Rays’ pen over the season. Oviedo has closing experience back when he was another man picking up 92 saves over three seasons. He’s certainly one to be monitored in the coming weeks.
2014 Closer – The current closer
Handcuff Option – This is the guy who I believe will step into the closer role if the current closer loses his job.
Other Option – Another arm in the pen who could close if the manager chooses to go a different route. And to clarify – this may be the lefty specialist who steps in for match up saves along the way.
Dark Horse Option – If all hell breaks loose in the pen, this guy could get a shot this year.
2015 Closer – This guy should be in the closer’s role on Opening Day 2014.
And if you are looking for the chart, we’ve moved it to its permanent home right here. Updates will be made daily so be sure to check back each day to see any movement.
Thanks as always for reading.