Two major events competed for the headline this week. First, the Rays traded Alex Colome to Seattle where he’ll serve as a setup man. I’ve been warning about this all season, although I did think we had until at least late June until it happened. The Rays bullpen is a tad sloppy, opening the door for speculative saves.
Felipe Vazquez’s spectacular three-outing meltdown may be the larger piece of news. He blew saves on May 20, 23, and 27. In that last appearance, he left the game holding his elbow. Panic ensued as fantasy owners rushed to grab shares of Edgar Santana, Michael Feliz, and Richard Rodriguez. The symptoms Vazquez described were ominous. He felt inner-elbow and forearm discomfort accompanied by a “little pop.” Additionally, he was unable to move his ring finger after the game. The team doctor pronounced it “minor forearm irritation” and prescribed no rest.
Amazingly, Vazquez returned to action yesterday. He worked a perfect three-out inning. It was the first time he averaged 100 mph with his fastball this season. The only other day he crossed the 98 mph threshold was on Sunday – the day he left with an injury. It’s nice to see his velocity ticking upwards. Unfortunately, the injury scare mixed with suspect command and meltdowns casts a pall on future expectations.
Five pitchers tied for the weekly saves lead. Kenley Jansen, Edwin Diaz, Sean Doolittle, Craig Kimbrel, and Shane Greene each closed out three games apiece. Diaz has jumped to the top of the seasonal leaderboard with 19 saves. Wade Davis (18) and Kimbrel (17) are nipping at his heels.
Now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Elite (2)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Both of our elite pitchers are firing on all cylinders. If Chapman has one fatal flaw, it’s wild pitches. Except even his wildest throws are producing outs. That’s the second time this season Sanchez has nailed a base runner on a rebound from the backstop – both times with Chapman on the bump.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Brad Hand, San Diego Padres
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Velocity watch remains in effect for Jansen. However, two things are working in his favor. First, he’s averaging 93 mph in most of his outings. Second, he hasn’t allowed a run since May 2. That span includes 12 innings, eight saves, zero runs, five hits, zero walks, and 14 strikeouts. It’s not quite a vintage Jansen performance – that would feature even more punch outs – but it’s quite close. One more week of this and he’ll rejoin the elite tier.
The Mariners are leaning heavily on Diaz. He’s pitched on eight of the last 13 days. Last night included a meltdown loss. Prior to the flub, he had tossed seven straight scoreless innings. Even the best pitchers have bad days.
Hand owners may have noticed he recorded a hold yesterday. Don’t worry. The Padres brought him in to work the final two innings of a 5-4 ball game. Then they scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth. With a 9-4 lead, Hand was no longer needed to finish the game.
Tier 3: The Core Performers (4)
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs
Ken Giles, Houston Astros
As some readers observed, I was slow to move Treinen up the tiers. Even now, he could be ranked higher based on his performance. I had two concerns. First, Treinen has flashed elite talent in the past only to turn pumpkin. This time feels different – probably because his command looks much improve. However, it would be foolish to completely ignore his personal history of streaky performance. My second complaint related to his usage. Early in the year, Oakland was frequently throwing Treinen for two innings. On one occasion, he tossed three frames. Lately, they’ve throttled back to three or four out appearances. That means fewer days of rest and reduced injury risk.
Knebel had an iffy week including a blown save on Friday. He allowed a solo home run on Sunday. The Brewers won both games so it’s no harm, no foul for now. He issued four walks across those two outings. If he continues to issue free passes, Knebel will end up sharing the job with Josh Hader.
Tier 4: Maybe Good? (5)
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Brad Boxberger, Arizona DiamondbacksBud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals
Vazquez was thoroughly covered in the introduction. The symptoms as described seemingly merit a month on the disabled list. Vazquez rested for one day. While I hope this works out well, I have a very bad feeling about where this is headed. I’ve bumped him down two tiers due to the poor recent performance, persistent command issues, and ominous injury concerns.
Just as Colome lost his job to a trade, so too will Herrera. He’s in the midst of a strong season headlined by zero walks in 20.2 innings. A greater willingness to risk a free pass might parlay to a better strikeout rate (7.40 K/9). I’m interested to see what he does for his next club. I expect a trade no earlier than late June. Bear in mind, the Colome swap taught us that anything can happen.
The other day, somebody asked me if they should trade a player for somebody like Sean Doolittle or Bud Norris. Let’s be clear, they’re not in the same asset class. While Norris’ current stat line reads like a poor man’s Doolittle, he’s working career best strikeout and walk rates. Regression will rear its ugly head. Additionally, Norris has chronic knee issues which served to obscure an otherwise strong 2017 season. The Cardinals have an unstable bullpen. Roles could mutate at a drop of the hat. Norris is a capable multi-inning reliever. If they grow to trust another late-inning fireman, the club may decide Norris is more useful in a flexible role.
Tier 5: Not Bad (5)
Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Fernando Rodney, Minnesota TwinsBlake Parker, Los Angeles Angels Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
Rodney’s scoreless streak came to an abrupt end. Fortunately, a solo home run wasn’t enough to halt his eight-appearance save streak.
Despite a hiccup last Wednesday, I’ve seen enough from Parker to bump him out of the bottom tier. He was clearly Mike Scioscia’s original first choice to close. With the other options performing erratically, he could quickly gain a steady grip on the job. Buyers beware: Scioscia bullpens are known to spontaneously mutate.
The White Sox have produced shockingly few save opportunities this season. Going forward, Jones should receive more chances to supply some fantasy value. While a mid-3.00s ERA and 10.50 K/9 isn’t all that exciting these days, it’s definitely good enough from a cheap closer. As with Parker, his job isn’t the safest.
Tier 6: Unsettled (8)
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Brad Brach, Baltimore OriolesHunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays
Brad Ziegler, Miami MarlinsChaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays Jared Hughes, Cincinnati Reds
Of all the pitchers in this tier, Green is the least likely to lose the closer mantle. Alas, his ratios aren’t very useful. Detroit will have weeks when they don’t win a single game, let alone produce a save opportunity.
Neris has allowed irrelevant runs in his last two appearances. The Phillies actually called upon him in the eighth inning last night with a 4-0 lead. Ramos was in line to receive the save opportunity once Neris created it. Dominguez was unavailable after recording a four-out hold on Monday. In 11.2 innings, Dominguez has allowed no runs, no walks, and two hits to go with 13 strikeouts. The 23-year-old is well on his way to stealing the job. My irresponsible Edwin Diaz comps are starting to look less crazy.
Brach hasn’t allowed a run since May 1. He would be in the fifth tier if not for Zach Britton’s impending return. Brach still has maybe 10 to 14 days before Britton is back on the active roster. Then it may take another week or two before Britton returns to closing. In the interim, Britton could suffer a setback or perform poorly. It’s too soon to outright drop Brach. It even makes sense to buy low using a player you might otherwise cut. His long term prospects look bleak – for now.
Strickland had a tough week culminating in a loss at Coors Field. Don’t hold it against him. The bigger issue is the impending return of Mark Melancon. He’ll be activated any day now. While I haven’t changed my expectations about Strickland’s performance – he’s still a Tier 5 quality closer – he’s unlikely to hold the job for more than another two weeks.
Tyler Clippard blew another save last Wednesday, paving the way for Tepera to take the reins. Thus far, he’s picked up two saves. Neither appearance was without issue. Tepera projects to perform similarly to Greene – about a 4.00 ERA with over a strikeout per inning, 4.00 BB/9, and too many home runs. Toronto has a better bullpen than Detroit which means Tepera is on the hot seat.
Over his last four appearances, Ziegler has allowed seven runs in 3.1 innings. Kyle Barraclough and Tayron Guerrero are in the mix to snatch the job. Drew Steckenrider suffered a brutal slump in mid-May, but he could rebound.
Roe has a premium slider and a not-so-premium fastball. He’s a righty specialist, making him likely to share the role with Alvarado. He’s a hard-throwing southpaw. If you want to bet on just one guy getting the job, Alvarado is the smarter play. That said, I’ve come away unimpressed whenever I see him pitch. Presently, I see him as a good middle reliever or fringy setup man. Sergio Romo remains in the mix too - he even earned the save yesterday. For now, I assume they want him available to make one-inning starts.
Reds closer Raisel Iglesias needed a brief stint on the 10-day disabled list. He could return as soon as today. Until he’s activated, Hughes is an acceptable patch. The 6’7’’ giant features a bulky ground ball rate. His 6.53 K/9 is less useful.
Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants (forearm)
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles (Achilles, forearm)
Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (elbow – out for season)
***Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (administrative leave)
Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles (elbow)
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds (biceps)
Melancon is very close to returning. So too is Iglesias. Britton is expected to begin a rehab assignment today.
Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Greg Holland, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox
Alex Colome, Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays
Colome was traded out of his job just when he was getting comfortable. Clippard pitched his way out of the ninth inning.
The Steals Department
Only three runners managed three steals last week. It’s nice to finally see Jose Altuve appear among the weekly leaders. Ditto Christian Yelich. Ben Gamel was the third player to swipe right three times (from the runner’s perspective). Unexpected. Gamel previously had five steals in nearly 700 plate appearances.
The Rangers have a run of intra-division play ahead. They’re finishing a series against the Mariners before playing three with the Angels and two with the Athletics. Gamel may continue to use his newfound speed. Greybeard Denard Span still has legs too. The Angels lack freely available speedsters while Marcus Semien is the only Athletic available in shallow leagues.
The Nationals and Padres are next on the docket for the Braves. Trea Turner is an early favorite to steal the most bases this week. Michael Taylor is your best bet for free thefts. Juan Soto can run a bit too. The Padres have a couple great options. Travis Jankowski bats leadoff against right-handed pitchers. Manuel Margot is slumping. He bats eighth. Freddy Galvis has 20 steal speed too.
The Mets will host the Cubs and Orioles. They’re among the slowest teams in the league. Javier Baez and Ian Happ are the only Cubs who even think about running on a regular basis. You have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for Craig Gentry and Jace Peterson in Baltimore.
Look for Tigers and Yankees opposite the Blue Jays. Leonys Martin is far and away the best choice in Detroit. He bats leadoff. JaCoby Jones has some modest potential too. Yankees tend to carry high ownership rates. Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks are on the wire in some shallow formats.