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Lopez Thriving in the Bullpen

Jorge Lopez

Jorge Lopez

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Hader led all closers with four nearly flawless saves last week. However, the guy we need to talk about is Jorge Lopez. Last week, I had him dead last in the closer tiers. An adjustment is forthcoming, though I do still believe my initial reasoning to be sound. The Orioles are not a team that will win many games. Last season, we saw they weren’t able to produce enough save opportunities to even bother with a late-inning plan. Their would-be closers were frequently unavailable when a chance presented itself. Moreover, Lopez was utterly ineffective as a starter despite throwing 96-mph heat. This wasn’t a times-through-the-order problem – he was bad in any situation against any opponent. Although he added another couple ticks on the radar gun this spring (98-mph), I saw no reason to believe it would lead to dramatically better results. After all, his heater has historically played way down due to poor spin.

Well, so far, Lopez has pitched impressively. He’s recorded a 2.00 ERA, 13.00 K/9, and 4.00 BB/9 in nine innings. His strikeout rate is backed by an above average 13.2 percent swinging strike rate. Let’s not get carried away just yet. Fastball spin is still a glaring problem for Lopez. He’s also yet to allow a home run, a career-long problem that’s unlikely to completely vanish overnight. The new dimensions at Camden Yards might help his home run rate more than any changes to his velocity or pitch usage.

Lopez is still available in 39 percent of Yahoo leagues. This might be an opportunity to turn nothing into something. Pick him up, see if he can keep it together for a couple weeks, and reevaluate. You might find yourself holding a useful sell-high candidate to grease the wheels of a blockbuster trade. Or you might even want to hang onto him for your own save needs. I caution against trading for him, unless the cost is somebody extraneous to your roster.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (2)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox

White Sox manager Tony La Russa seemingly forgot how to manage a bullpen on Sunday. A day after throwing 16 pitches, Hendriks was brought into the eighth inning, pitched fine, then was asked to finish a second frame. That’s a tough workload in a two-day span. Hendriks wound up with the loss and a case of back spasms. He’s still day-to-day. Despite early blips, Hendriks’ peripherals point to better days ahead.

Tier 2: The Elite (5)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians

I’m considering moving Iglesias into the top tier. My only reservation is a longstanding issue with home runs. He’s allowed 1.41 HR/9 or more in each of his last three full seasons (setting aside this year and 2020). Otherwise, he has all the ingredients of a bullpen monster.

Jansen doesn’t seem to be battling the same command problems he struggled with early last season. His cutter remains one of the most effective pitches in the game.

Diaz picked up saves on Monday and Tuesday. Look for Trevor May or Seth Lugo to close today. The early results for Clase aren’t inspiring, but I don’t see an obvious issue. His command might be a little less sharp than normal. This could be a buy-low opportunity.

Tier 3: Possibly Elite (5)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays

Kimbrel has appeared in just four games, making my job of evaluating him rather difficult. He hasn’t experienced one of the dramatic flops we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him in recent years nor has he utterly dominated the competition as he did with the Cubs last season. He’s still missing a tick of velocity.

Chapman is still battling errant command including two walks on Tuesday while protecting a four-run lead. It’s the sort of situation where everyone is yelling “don’t give them anything free!” That Chapman couldn’t fire fastballs down the chute against a bad Orioles club is worrisome. The Yankees bullpen includes a half dozen pitchers who can match his projected 3.00 ERA even if their stuff isn’t nearly as nasty.

For the moment, Knebel appears to be the last “good” reliever with a firm hold on saves. Kittredge will live in this tier for now. There’s a good shot he’ll build on his excellent 2021 season in which he was a Top-15 fantasy reliever while recording only eight saves. Ryan Thompson notched the Rays latest save. He works from an uncomfortable, almost-submarine arm angle. Jalen Beeks, J.P. Feyereisen, and Brooks Raley are also in the picture.

Tier 4: Committees Featuring Useful Relievers (5)

Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
Camilo Doval, Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
David Bednar, Chris Stratton, Wil Crowe, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Soto, Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals

A costly mistake by Nolan Arenado led to five runs (four earned) in Gallegos’s latest outing. He hasn’t quite looked himself in the early going. After further review, I believe he’s just had some poor luck with regards to inducing strikeouts. In other words, he should be fine. Helsley is pitching like a top reliever and could supplant Gallegos without warning. In 5.1 innings, he’s allowed just one hit and no walks while recording 11 strikeouts.

Doval is beginning to emerge as “the guy” in San Francisco. McGee did pick up a save in the last week, and we shouldn’t rule out more opportunities for him or Tyler Rogers. Doval isn’t inducing whiffs like he did late last season, and he’s prone to free passes.

Just when it was looking like Stratton’s goose was cooked, his fastball has crept back into his normal velocity range. Bednar set him up last Thursday and Friday, though they swapped roles on Sunday. It remains a committee.

A circus play set up by Soto’s shaky command led to a loss for the Tigers on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Fulmer has yet to allow a run and almost never suffers from bouts of wildness. A shift in role could be imminent.

The Royals flat-out aren’t using a closer. Both Barlow and Staumont have appeared in the seventh or eighth innings of recent games. They’ll probably accrue most of the saves between them. Amir Garrett, Dylan Coleman, and Collin Snider are dark horses for spare saves.

Tier 5: Cromulent (6)

David Robertson, Chicago Cubs
Lucas Sims, Art Warren, Cincinnati Reds
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks
Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins
Hector Neris, Houston Astros

Hey look, a temporary new tier! Most of these guys currently have a firm grasp on saves but lack a special something needed to rank higher. For Robertson, it would be nice to see more than 7.1 innings of success, especially since his strikeout and walk rates aren’t encouraging at the moment. Melancon has career-worst velocity and only 2.57 K/9. As we discussed in the intro, Lopez plays for a bad club and should be handled with caution. Ryan Pressly is already nearing a return. Neris might be demoted back to setup work before he can notch one save.

Sims is a little different. He recently returned from injury. He picked up one save in two appearances over the weekend. Warren has settled into the role of setup man, but I have little doubt he’s the superior reliever. Still, Sims is an acceptable if volatile fantasy closer.

We’ve been talking about Dylan Floro working his way back since prior to Opening Day. The latest reports have him missing three-mph on his fastball. Bender recently recovered from a sore hip. His fastball velocity is up a tick, but he’s not having success inducing whiffs or strikeouts. Floro’s slow recovery should give him a little leeway. Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser are also in the mix.

Tier 6: Assorted Leftovers (6)

Diego Castillo, Andres Munoz, Drew Steckenrider, Paul Sewald, Seattle Mariners
Emilio Pagan, Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Joe Barlow, Matt Bush, Texas Rangers
Matt Barnes, Hansel Robles, Jake Diekman, Boston Red Sox
Dany Jimenez, Oakland Athletics

Steckenrider hasn’t pitched well of late, including a blown save. Sewald is currently on the COVID list. He could be activated today. Club personnel are talking up Castillo, and he’s probably the preferred choice for this brief moment in time. The long-term play remains Munoz, a pitcher who shows all the telltales of an elite reliever. Others of similar build and effect - think Clase, Diaz, Duran, and Brusdar Graterol – rate among the most intriguing relievers in the league.

Speaking of Duran, he’s in line for a save opportunity today after Pagan struggled on Tuesday. Minnesota’s efforts to give Duran time to adjust to the Majors before throwing him into high leverage work are quickly evaporating. Pagan is better cast as a middle reliever. Once Duran gets the job, he’ll shoot up into the third tier – if not higher!

Rainey is finally showing a pulse. He’s pitched five shutout innings with one walk and four strikeouts. The most encouraging bit is his 18.7 percent swinging strike rate, though it should be noted whiffs have never been his problem. Keep an eye on his command. If and when this goes wrong, it’ll be because he can’t hit spots. Victor Arano, a slider specialist, is emerging as a potentially superior alternative.

Barlow is believed to be the closer in Texas. No committee, no fluid bullpen. It’s the clarity we, as fantasy managers, crave. Nevertheless, Bush recorded the Rangers most recent save. Apparently, Barlow spent too much time warming up the previous game so he wasn’t available. Bush pitched ahead of Barlow on Monday.

Garrett Whitlock appears to be joining the rotation. He also happens to be the best closer candidate on the roster. The current triumvirate of Barnes, Robles, and Diekman are all performing poorly. Robles fell apart on Saturday. Diekman dropped a couple stinkers on Sunday and Tuesday. Barnes is supposedly the preferred closer, but he isn’t producing swinging strikes.

Jimenez will be out of a job in a couple days when Lou Trivino returns from the COVID-list. Those looking ahead to a post-Trivino future will note Jimenez picked up two saves in his absence. Trivino is both a mid-season trade candidate and an ever-present risk to melt down. Domingo Acevedo and A.J. Puk are also in the mix.

Tier 7: Do Not Roster (1)

Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies

Alex Colome netted the Rockies most recent save. I wouldn’t roster him either. Bard hasn’t appeared since April 19 due to a sore back.


Ryan Pressly, knee
Lou Trivino, COVID

Dusty Baker praised Pressly’s velocity and command after a recent bullpen session.

Steals Department

Jazz Chisholm and Jorge Mateo led the way with four steals apiece over the last week. For Chisholm, this was an inhalation after a shaky start to the season. He’s now up to four home runs and four steals in 55 plate appearances. An aggressive plate approach promises volatility. As for Mateo, his bat is proving incapable of sustaining a starting role. The one thing working in his favor is a lack of competition. On the Orioles farm, Jahmai Jones is ready for promotion but Terrin Vavra is currently banged up. Jones could replace any of Mateo, Rougned Odor, Chris Owings, or Kelvin Gutierrez. None of them belong on a Major League roster.

Three others – Sheldon Neuse, Tommy Edman, and Harrison Bader – swiped three bags. We expect such outcomes from Edman and Bader, both of whom are regular runners. Neuse’s performance was a surprise. He’s been passed back and forth between the A’s and Dodgers in recent years. He’s drawing regular starts at third base while Kevin Smith recovers from injury. Neuse makes enough hard contact to tease potential for a league average batting line. He ranks in the 33rd percentile of sprinters. In other words, this looks like a fluky week on the speed front. He’s only relevant in very deep formats.

More Sprinters

Last week, we checked in on the Statcast Sprint Speed leaderboard. More players have joined the list as they’ve recorded enough sprints to qualify. Eli White is playing regularly against left-handed pitchers, of which there are a decent number in the AL West. Although an elite runner, White doesn’t have enough bat to rate as more than a fantasy streamer for steals.

Adam Engel deserves a longer look and might just get it with Eloy Jimenez sidelined. Since the start of 2020, he’s hitting .264/.332/.460 with 10 home runs and 10 steals in 265 plate appearances – roughly a 25/25 pace. Of course, that success includes careful usage and a weird COVID season. It should also be noted he’s off to a slow start this season. Engel’s still worth monitoring in any league deeper than 12-team mixed.

Guardians infielder Andres Gimenez remains an intriguing prospect. His third attempt at the Majors – he’s still just 23 – has looked much the same as previous experiences. He flashes decent pop and double-plus speed, but it’s offset by terrible plate discipline and a high whiff rate. That’s a pernicious combination. Aggression is frequently a response to poor contact rates. And poor contact rates are often related to poor discipline which can exacerbate whiff rates, leading to more aggression. You see where I’m going, right? Better discipline could produce a breakout. Or it might lead to a total collapse of the profile. One thing is clear, there’s physical talent here, but the baseball skills are lacking. Like others listed here, he’s worth a flier in deep leagues.