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Hendriks Returns

Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Filling in for Kenley Jansen, former Braves closer Will Smith was one of three relievers to tally three saves in the last week. Despite allowing only one hit and no runs, it wasn’t the cleanest week for Smith. He issued four walks in his three innings and had to work out of a bases-loaded jam on Monday. Tanner Scott and Scott Barlow also polished off three saves in messy fashion. More on them in a moment. As for Jansen, he hopes to return when first eligible on July 12.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (3)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Hader allowed an inside-the-park home run while defending a 1-1 tie on Monday. Then David Robertson blew the save and the Brewers eventually won. Brad Boxberger was the pitcher of record. Hader is in a pseudo-slump. He’s worked to a 4.00 ERA over the last month (nine innings), albeit with 17.00 K/9.

Hendriks returned from his forearm scare in a little under a month. He struck out the side. His fastball was missing nearly two-mph – just something to watch.

On Sunday, Diaz was brought into the game with one out in the eighth inning. He played his part by retiring the heart of the Astros lineup. Then Drew Smith proceeded to fumble the ninth. It’s interesting that the Mets tried to use Diaz as a fireman. It might be indicative of future usage. However, the failure of the plan in this attempt might dissuade the club from trying it again.

Tier 2: The Elite (7)

Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
Clay Holmes, New York Yankees

Clase, Romano, and Pressly had clean, effective weeks. Iglesias has held opponents hitless over his last seven appearances. He did issue one walk in the last week.

Although Helsley recorded his first loss of the season last Thursday, it’s increasingly clear that he’s handling save situations when available. He and Giovanny Gallegos tend to pitch on the same day so Gallegos isn’t even soaking up spare saves. Helsley has thrown more than one inning in 11 of 26 appearances which affects his availability.

Also last Thursday, Bednar allowed three runs while protecting a four-run lead. He’s since rebounded with a couple solid outings.

While I remain wary of Aroldis Chapman, it’s moderately encouraging that the southpaw didn’t immediately resume closing upon returning from the injured list. If not for Chapman, Holmes would rank adjacent to Clase. He’s at the bottom of this tier because I still believe there’s a 50/50 chance Chapman recovers some form of the closer role - even if it’s a job share of some flavor.

Tier 3: Reliable (7)

Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres
Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, Minnesota Twins
Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox
David Robertson, Chicago Cubs
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers

In recent seasons, Rogers has frustrated fantasy and real managers with periods of too many hits. He’s too unwilling to issue walks which can come back to bite him when opponents find a little luck. His last three appearances reflect this – he’s allowed four runs on eight hits in 3.2 innings. He’ll likely bounce back immediately. Since we’ve seen these mini-slumps extend for Rogers in the past, I’ve opted to move him into the third tier.

Barlow was probably a little overused last week, notching three saves and a loss in four appearances. He also allowed a pair of runs. A positive note – his average velocity has recovered to 2021-levels over his last six outings.

After missing the series in Toronto, Houck returned over the weekend and pitched twice. He allowed an inconsequential run. He’ll also soon have internal competition in the form of Garrett Whitlock. Both pitchers profile as able closers. Whitlock is probably more consistent.

Robertson coughed up a run on Independence Day. It was his third appearance in four days. Despite the poor result, it was a good demonstration of his health ahead of the trade deadline. Robertson is almost certain to find a new home this month.

Doval botched a couple outings, taking a loss in the process. Dominic Leone blew the save on Tuesday. Doval came in to clean up his bases-loaded mess and promptly allowed four more runs. Only one of those runs belonged to Doval. The rest were charged to Leone.

Tier 4: Uncertainty with Upside (5)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Seranthony Domínguez, Brad Hand, Connor Brogdon, Philadelphia Phillies

Kimbrel was able to avoid the injured list after being bonked in the back by a batted ball on Sunday. He was saddled with the loss. Of four batters faced, he allowed three runs on three hits and a strikeout. Dating back to mid-May, he has a 6.62 ERA (1.93 FIP) in 17.2 innings. He might be healthy, but his role is still endangered. Brusdar Graterol appears to be next in line. Or maybe Kimbrel will suddenly start pitching to his FIP.

While I remain internally convinced Bard will fall apart, the objective evidence for such a collapse isn’t especially compelling. What’s certainly true is that he’s been one of the best closers of the first half-season. He currently ranks ninth among pure relievers.

Sewald seems to have the upper-hand on saves in Seattle. Lopez is in the midst of an ill-timed slump. After holding opponents homerless through 37 innings, he’s allowed three home runs over his last three appearances (1.1 innings). I thought the Orioles should have already traded Lopez to avoid just this scenario. If he stumbles another time or two in the upcoming weeks, contenders will look at him as a middle reliever rather than a late-inning weapon and pay accordingly.

The Phillies played matchups on Friday. Dominguez pitched the eighth against the heart of the Cardinals order. Hand faced a couple left-handed bats in the ninth. They both appeared the next day with Hand handling the eighth. Dominguez entered with two outs to retire Paul Goldschmidt, but he was caught for a solo home run in the ninth. It was just the second home run and sixth run Dominguez has allowed this season.

Tier 5: Usable Scamps (8)

Tanner Scott, Miami Marlins
Lou Trivino, A.J. Puk, Zach Jackson, Oakland Athletics
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Will Smith, A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
Colin Poche, Jason Adam, Brooks Raley, Tampa Bay Rays
Hunter Strickland, Cincinnati Reds

The Marlins have leaned heavily on Scott, using him four of five days since the beginning of July. The hard-throwing southpaw continues to battle an elevated walk rate (5.45 BB/9).

Trivino grabbed two saves and also lost a game without recording an out. Even if nobody is fooled into thinking he’s a true high-leverage reliever, the Athletics have every reason to showcase him as their closer ahead of the trade deadline.

As I’ve said all along, Rainey does closer-ish things and looks the part. When the dust clears, something always goes wrong. Since May 8, a period of 19 innings, Rainey has a 5.21 ERA (5.69 FIP) mostly due to an elevated 5.68 BB/9 and 2.37 HR/9. Even with a normal home run rate, he’d be a below average closer (4.39 xFIP). He allowed four runs on two home runs over his last two innings. He’s issued a walk in five consecutive appearances.

Barlow is in the process of losing the Rangers closer gig. They just don’t have anybody clamoring to replace him. Dennis Santana, Brock Burke, and José Leclerc are among the candidates. Of those, Santana has pitched the best. His modest 6.75 K/9 doesn’t scream “closer!” Jonathan Hernández is currently battling command issue while on rehab assignment.

Adam has the Rays most recent save. He’s my current pick to lead the club in saves over the remainder of the season – at least among players already on the roster. They’ll be spread all around.

Strickland is probably still unusable. However, he’s pitched decently enough over his last seven appearances to risk rostering him – if you’re sufficiently desperate for saves. He’ll probably hurt your ERA and WHIP.

Injured

Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves (irregular heartbeat)
Dany Jiménez, Oakland Athletics (strained shoulder)
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays (TJS – out for season)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (bulging disc)
Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins (back)

Steals Department

Ronald Acuña Jr. flashed the wheels with a four-swipe week. Teammate Michael Harris was among the three-theft runners. Acuna already has 17 steals, tying his total from 2021 in 140 fewer plate appearances. So much for him taking it easy on his recently-healed ACL. Whit Merrifield, Randy Arozarena, and Jon Berti also nabbed three bags. Berti is currently battling tightness in his lower extremities. Berti currently leads the league with 25 steals. Julio Rodriguez (21), Jorge Mateo (20), Tommy Edman (19), and Arozarena (18) round out the top five.

Speed Spotlight

Entering the season, fantasy touts were talking about a certain Detroit outfielder as a discount Arozarena. The Rays outfielder is having a fine, albeit unexceptional season. He’s roughly earned his preseason ADP. The other guy, Akil Baddoo, dug his fantasy managers a deep hole and hasn’t appeared in a big league game since May 8. That’s going to change soon.

While there hasn’t been any specific news about an impending promotion, his numbers are doing all the talking necessary. Since June 11, a span of 83 plate appearances, he’s hitting .352/.434/.634 with three home runs, seven doubles, and two triples. He’s also swiped four bases in six attempts to go with a 12 percent walk and 16.9 percent strikeout rates.

If Baddoo’s bat is working enough to get him on base, he profiles as a 25-steal threat per 600 plate appearances. Per Statcast, he has the 27th-fastest 90-foot sprint this season. That’s slightly better than Myles Straw and Tommy Edman. His top sprint speed ranks in the 87th-percentile. Most importantly, he’s willing to run. He stole 18 bases in 22 attempts last season