Lucas Giolito is getting all the attention for his no-hitter on Tuesday night. The White Sox ace is not the only pitcher to complete nine hit-less frames. Josh Hader blew away the Reds Tuesday night in his ninth appearance of the season. He's navigated 9.1 innings and 34 batters without allowing a hit. The only blemishes are five walks (4.82 BB/9). Worth noting, Hader has needed 173 pitches to achieve this feat. Giolito was strikingly efficient by comparison.
Drew Pomeranz’s stay in the top tier was short-lived. After a bullish ranking as the second-best closer last week, it was announced the left-handed had a shoulder strain. Did he succumb to the curse of Saves and Steals? The Padres described this as a day-to-day injury but believed it merited a trip to the injured list. Pomeranz played catch yesterday. No other details have been released about his recovery timeline. Perhaps he’ll be back soon.
Only two closers managed to save three games in the last week – Taylor Williams and Brandon Kintzler. Eleven others – including off-list names like Jordan Romano, Matt Barnes, Emilio Pagan, and Daniel Bard – finished two saves. The overall season leader is Liam Hendriks with nine saves. Brad Hand and injured setup man Zack Britton have eight saves.
Tier 1: The Elite (4)
The Yankees didn’t have cause to call upon Chapman in the last week. Hendriks has the heftiest workload among closers, appearing in 15 of the Athletics 31 games.
Jansen blew a save on Tuesday via a solo home run. Although that was the first one he’s allowed this season, Janson had issues with big flies in 2018 and 2019.
Tier 2: Possible Top Performers (4)
This has turned into a weird tier. The Mets were forced to hand Seth Lugo a start during Tuesday’s doubleheader. He threw three perfect innings, compiling five strikeouts in the process. I’ve been saying for a long time that the Mets should return him to the rotation. Perhaps they’ll do just that as they attempt to address an utter death of starter depth. In any event, Diaz has at least two days as the uncontested closer. He still hasn’t earned a save since Opening Day. He’s allowed one run, six hits, and a walk in 7.1 August innings and fanned a ridiculous 19 hitters (20.52 K/9) in the same span.
Hand has some red flags this season, but he’s a veteran who is getting the job done. That sense of stability is more than most closers can offer in this crazy 2020. The Indians have already played half their schedule so there’s a good chance Hand will retain the role through the end of the season.
Iglesias has some statistical similarities to Hand. His biggest issue has been a high home run rate which is why he’s posted a 6.75 ERA despite shiny ERA estimators (2.03 FIP, 2.12 xFIP, 1.72 SIERA). Those stats like his 15.75 K/9, but we should expect some regression in the category moving forward.
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Tier 3: Stable Closers (7)
Trevor Rosenthal, Kansas City Royals
Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals
Taylor Williams, Seattle Mariners
Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves
I have some trepidation about Rosenthal’s success to date. He’s compiled a tidy 1.46 ERA with 12.41 K/9. Various basic ERA estimators suggest he should have between a 3.10 and 4.00 ERA. More complex projection systems expect between a 4.25 and 5.10 ERA going forward. I’m not quite that pessimistic. I think he can retain the gains he’s made to his strikeout and walk rates. That still leads me to expect rather ordinary production over the second half of the season. Aside from saves, he probably won’t overly help nor hurt any category.
Pressly seems to be trending in the right direction. He’s still getting excellent spin on his pitches, and his command appears to be back too. I’m not quite ready to declare him fully recovered, but we can start nudging him back up the tiers. Prior to his cold start to the season, he would have ranked between Hendriks and Jansen in the top tier.
Williams is also creeping up the tiers on the strength of 12.75 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, and a 3.00 ERA. There are some red flags to watch which will keep him planted firmly in this third tier until they’re addressed. Chief among them, he allows a lot of hard contact for a high leverage reliever. As a fly ball pitcher, either the contact needs to soften or his 0.75 HR/9 will balloon.
Tier 4: Messy Upside (8)
Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller, Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
Anthony Bass, Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Montero, Jonathan Hernandez, Texas Rangers
Peter Fairbanks, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Brandon Workman, Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Emilio Pagan, Cal Quantrill, San Diego Padres
Last week, it finally felt like we were getting some direction out of the many unstable closer situations. A slew of injuries and a trade have led to more confusing situations. That’s good news for those of you who need to find saves – confusion leads to opportunity.
Fantasy managers have long awaited the rise of Gallegos in St. Louis. Yet the Cardinals seem to take every opportunity to put a roadblock in his path. What do they know that we don’t? I’ve yet to suss out the answer which is why Gallegos will rank between Iglesias and Rogers if he ever gets a firm grasp of the job. Right now, he’s probably defeated Miller. Helsley, a pitcher the team took pains to hype during Spring Training, is about to return from the injured list.
Bass hasn’t officially lost the job in Toronto, but it’s strikingly clear Romano is their top guy. For now, it seems like they’ll emulate their division rivals (the Rays), and use Romano in the highest leverage situations. Bass doesn’t provide much punch for fantasy purposes – he’s a capable ground ball pitcher with a modest strikeout rate. Romano, on the other hand, uses a lethal slider as his primary pitch en route to 12.86 K/9 and a high ground ball rate to boot. He would comfortably rank in the second tier if not for Bass.
Kela is expected back from a short stint on the shelf for forearm discomfort. The Pirates doctors claim they reacted in time to prevent a more serious injury. They were correct when pronouncing a similarly miraculous recovery for Felipe Vazquez in 2018 so I’ll give their medical team the benefit of the doubt. Rushing back from forearm strains is risky business. The club may be trying to squeeze in an audition prior to the trade deadline, but I can’t imagine teams will be willing to offer much for the impending free agent.
Regression found Montero and took a big chunk out of his ratios. He’s still one of the best relievers available at the trade deadline, but he’ll probably be shipped into a middle relief role. Which, honestly, is the appropriate place to use him. I’ve listed Hernandez only because he’ll take over once Montero is sent packing. The formerly wild righty has greatly improved his command this season without sacrificing the efficacy of his stuff. He would rank adjacent to Rosenthal.
The Rays have lost Oliver Drake, Nick Anderson, Jose Alvarado, and Jalen Beeks to injury in recent weeks. Castillo isn’t pitching particularly well which is why I think Fairbanks will emerge with more saves – at least until some of the others return. Fairbanks has improved his pitch tunneling under the Rays instruction which has led to 15.32 K/9. He walks too many hitters (5.11 BB/9). You can bank the big strikeout rate, but the other categories could be perilous.
The Phillies bullpen remains a disaster. Upon acquiring Workman, he immediately blew a save. He bounced back to finish a game the next day, but he allowed another run in the process. The Phillies seem to have a clear preference to use their newest acquisition as the closer. However, I’m not ready to count out Neris just yet. He’s struggled in the past only to suddenly emerge as a top 10 reliever.
Barnes’ lovely strikeout rate (11.25 K/9) is offset by too many walks and home runs. He has a 6.00 ERA to go with a devilish 6.66 FIP. The Red Sox pitching staff is a blasted wasteland. Don’t expect them to cling to many close leads.
Pagan isn’t clicking. He’s lost a tick on his fastball and slider. More problematically, there’s a missing element to his command. He’s recorded career-worsts in strikeout, swinging strike, walk, and home run rates. The last stat has always been a thorn in his side, but he’s usually had success in the other categories. If Pomeranz is gone for long, you might want to stash Quantrill. His slider has developed more depth this season, and he’s using it more than ever.
Tier 5: The Leftovers (7)
Rowan Wick, Craig Kimbrel, Jeremy Jeffress, Chicago Cubs
Brandon Kintzler, Miami Marlins
Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles
Ty Buttrey, Los Angeles Angels
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers
Daniel Bard, Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies
Each of Wick, Kimbrel, and Jeffress recorded a save in the last week. The job still belongs to Wick, he just wasn’t available on the days the others finished games.
Sulser has walked five batters over his last 2.2 innings. He managed to escape those innings unharmed. Speaking of avoiding harm, Buttrey somehow has a 3.07 ERA despite only 3.68 K/9 and 3.07 BB/9.
After the first week of the season, Jimenez was riding high. Now he’s on the cusp of losing his job after allowing seven runs in his last two appearances (0.2 innings total). His 12.46 ERA is an unmanageable burden in fantasy. Buck Farmer and Gregory Soto are the most obvious alternatives. Root for Soto to be given a shot. His 3.77 ERA, 11.93 K/9, and 2.51 BB/9 actually plays in fantasy. Using Farmer in the late innings is akin to giving up.
With Estevez and Diaz failing out of the ninth inning, the Rockies are moving on to Plan E (Wade Davis and Scott Oberg are injured). Bard notched saves on Monday and Tuesday. He’s allowed a run in four of his last six appearances so we shouldn’t expect a long leash. With an over-50 percent ground ball rate, 10.93 K/9, and 1.93 BB/9, I’d usually be more excited about a pitcher like Bard. Alas, between Coors Field and a hitter-heavy West silo, he’s frequently going to find himself in difficult situations.
Injured or Ill
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Kyle Crick Pittsburgh Pirates
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros (out for season)
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Oliver Drake, Tampa Bay Rays
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres (out for season)
Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres
Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
Jalen Beeks, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays can’t have nice things this year. They’re also missing Jose Alvarado and Colin Poche. Crick is nearing a return. The Jays hope to get Giles back within the next 10 days, but he’ll be limited much like he was last season.
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Jairo Diaz, Colorado Rockies
Trevor Gott, San Francisco Giants
Zack Britton, New York Yankees (Chapman returned)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
The Steals Department
Jose Ramirez has a thumb injury which might be affecting his hitting. His legs are fine though – witness his five steals in the last week as proof. Another familiar face, Whit Merrifield, swiped four bags. Six others stole three bases. Jon Berti stole his trio in one inning! The frisky week launched Jonathan Villar to the top of the seasonal leaderboard with nine steals. Ramirez and Berti are hot on his heels with eight apiece.
Through roughly half the season, we’ve had a lot of success in this section just from tracking the Mariners, Marlins, and Padres. The Rangers have also asserted a willingness to run the bases. Many of these same players remain widely available in Yahoo! leagues. We’ll continue to track them this week, starting with the league-leading Mariners.
A new runner is begging for attention in Seattle. Sam Haggerty is batting second in the lineup most days and already has three steals in just 26 plate appearances. Haggerty isn’t much of a hitter. He’s made up for a high swing-and-miss rate by being aggressive. If I’m able to notice it, the scouting report should already be adjusted. Projection systems believe him to be between 30 and 40 percent below league average as a hitter. Such batters don’t play for long.
The Mariners have the Padres, Angels, and Athletics ahead of them. The Angels have allowed the most stolen bases (30) in the league. However current starting catcher Jason Castro has caught 4-of-11 would-be thieves. Besides Haggerty, look for J.P. Crawford, Jake Fraley, Tim Lopez, and Shed Long.
The Marlins have the best ratio of steals to plate appearances. Remember, they missed a bunch of games earlier in the season. Besides Villar, only Berti, Miguel Rojas, and Magneuris Sierra play enough to be helpful. Rojas usually has to pick his spots as his foot speed is only average. Berti also seems to run in bursts. Sierra offers a more consistent speed profile, but he has a below average bat. After they finish up a series with the Mets, they’ll play the Rays and Blue Jays. Both clubs are below average at prevent steals.
The Padres are about to visit Coors Field so you might want to load up on the few available parts for other reasons. Teams tend to scale back their thievery in Colorado. It’s a general truism that the more runs a team expects to score, the less willing they should be to risk outs on the bases. Jake Cronenworth still has only one stolen base even though he’s one of their fastest players. Jurickson Profar (2) is also available.
Options abound in Texas where Nick Solak, Shin-Soo Choo, Danny Santana, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa all have varying levels of rostership. Even Todd Frazier and Derek Dietrich have joined the party. Solak is the prize of the group, not because of his speed but rather due to a well-rounded skill set. Santana would be the better play for pure compiling of steals, but he’s ice cold at the plate. They’re finishing a series with the A’s before hosting the Dodgers for four games.