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Saves and Steals: Fairbanks lands on injured list

Taking stock of the fantasy pitching landscape
Eric Samulski and Scott Pianowski assess the fantasy baseball pitching landscape and how managers should proceed in the wake of some high-profile injuries, such as Gerrit Cole's, in MLB.

Robert Suarez and Clay Holmes continue to get the job done, leading their respective leagues with nine saves. Jordan Romano has already locked down three saves since his return from the injured list last week. The Cubs are going in a different direction, moving Adbert Alzolay off the ninth-inning role. And Pete Fairbanks will be sidelined for a while after landing on the injured list. We break it all down and take a look at a rising second baseman in the latest Saves and Steals.

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Fantasy Baseball Closer Rankings

Tier 1: At the Top

Edwin Díaz - New York Mets

Díaz pitched the eighth inning on Saturday for the first time this season, facing the top of the Dodgers lineup. He recorded the hold while Reed Garrett got the save chance in the ninth. Garrett has been outstanding through the first month, striking out 21 batters across 10 2/3 innings. He could be in line for more high-leverage work and should be added in holds leagues. Díaz’s eighth-inning usage could periodically happen against tougher lineups but don’t expect it to be a regular occurrence.

Tier 2: The Elite

Emmanuel Clase - Cleveland Guardians
Evan Phillips - Los Angeles Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias - Atlanta Braves
Mason Miller - Oakland A’s
Craig Kimbrel - Baltimore Orioles
Ryan Helsley - St. Louis Cardinals
Camilo Doval - San Francisco Giants
Josh Hader - Houston Astros

Clase picked up three saves, giving him seven on the season. It’s early, but he’s missing bats closer to his 2021-2022 levels than his down year last season. He struck out the side against the Red Sox on Tuesday. Hunter Gaddis is on the rise as a high-leverage setup man with six holds and the highest strikeout rate in the Guardians bullpen.

Phillips worked around three walks and a hit on Tuesday, striking out two batters for his sixth save against the Nationals. The saves have come in bunches for Iglesias, who added two more this week to bring his total to seven. The early lack of strikeouts hurt him on Wednesday as three hits brought two runs in to score and tie the game against the Marlins, giving Iglesias his first blown save.

Yes, it’s time to put Miller at the top among the best closers. If his team context was a little better, he might have been listed up with Díaz. Still, the 25-year-old flamethrower is up to five saves with 20 strikeouts over 10 innings. He put on a show on Monday, striking out the side against the top of the Yankees order in New York.

Kimbrel continues his impressive run with the surging Orioles. He added three saves this week to give him 424 for his career, tying him with John Franco for sixth all-time and putting him one save behind Kenley Jansen. That’ll be an interesting race to watch all season.

Helsley allowed an unearned run in extra innings against the Brewers on Friday, then earned a win with a scoreless inning of work against the Diamondbacks on Monday. JoJo Romero and Andrew Kittredge have been excellent in setup roles behind Helsley, with seven holds each.

Doval and Hader remain among the top closers. Both have a firm hold on their role with solid underlying skills. Saves will come. Doval picked up his fourth Tuesday against the Mets. There’s a fair amount of concern around Hader’s 8.38 ERA, but his 25.6 percent K-BB rate and 2.39 SIERA indicate some early bad luck in this small sample.

Tier 3: The Solid Options

Clay Holmes - New York Yankees
Robert Suarez - San Diego Padres
David Bednar - Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Foley - Detroit Tigers
Jordan Romano - Toronto Blue Jays
Kenley Jansen - Boston Red Sox
Kirby Yates - Texas Rangers
Alexis Díaz - Cincinnati Reds

Holmes leads the American League with nine saves and has not allowed a run over 12 innings. What keeps him from joining the tier above is a strikeout rate of only 20 percent. The 31-year-old right-hander is elite at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting walks but provides very little in the strikeout department. Meanwhile, Suarez is your saves leader in the National League with nine after picking up three more for the Padres this week. Like Holmes, he doesn’t have much strikeout upside, but he’s getting the job done.

Bednar may be starting to come around after a rough start. He recorded back-to-back saves on Monday and Tuesday with two scoreless outings. Aroldis Chapman looked like he could push for some saves amid Bednar’s struggles but has taken a step back after a strong start, walking nine batters over his last five appearances.

Foley is up to seven saves as the Tigers’ new closer this season. He’s yet to give up a run across 11 innings. Perhaps it’s the higher stress of pitching in the ninth inning, but Foley is walking more batters than he did last season. Still, he’s kept the ball on the ground and generated a few more whiffs.

Romano has been busy since returning from the injured list, picking up three saves in one week. He’s probably not out of the woods when it comes to injury risk, but he’s still a solid closer when available. Chad Green hit the injured list with a shoulder strain, and Erik Swanson has been shaky since returning with Romano. Yimi Garcia has been the team’s best reliever in the early going and could be next in line to close in Toronto after recording two saves in Romano’s absence.

Jansen is also moving up the career saves leaderboard. He passed John Franco for fifth all-time with his 425th save. And it only took Yates one dominant week to move into this tier. The 37-year-old right-hander converted three saves and picked up a win since taking over as closer in Texas. He’s yet to give up a run with 11 strikeouts across 10 innings.

We’re not seeing anything different from the younger Díaz brother this season. Too many walks and just enough strikeouts to get by. What separates him from the following tiers is job security. He picked up three saves to give him five.

Tier 4: There’s Upside Here

James McArthur - Kansas City Royals
Andrés Muñoz/Ryne Stanek - Seattle Mariners
Jose Alvarado/Jeff Hoffman - Philadelphia Phillies
Kevin Ginkel - Arizona Diamondbacks
Carlos Estévez - Los Angeles Angels
Kyle Finnegan - Washington Nationals
Jason Adam - Tampa Bay Rays

After giving up four runs over his first three outings, McArthur has looked fantastic, making eight scoreless appearances while converting six saves since taking over as the Royals closer. It doesn’t look like he’ll be relinquishing that role any time soon.

Muñoz has taken a fall down the list. There was really no reason to have him higher than Alvarado, as they’re both in similar situations seeing similar usage. Muñoz has made half of his appearances in the eighth inning, splitting saves with Stanek based on matchups. Matt Brash has been throwing in extended spring training and could be close to a rehab assignment. He could step into the role Stanek is holding but carries a much higher strikeout upside. It’s a good time to stash him in deeper leagues. It’s the same story for Alvarado in Philadelphia. He’s in a matchup-based committee with Hoffman in the late innings.

Ginkel’s time as the Diamondbacks closer may be coming to an end. Paul Sewald began a rehab assignment as he works his way back from an oblique strain. He could be activated in the coming days. Ginkel has stepped in for four saves in Sewald’s absence. I’d wait and see how Sewald does in his return before dropping Ginkel.

Estévez struck out two batters in a clean inning against the Orioles on Tuesday for his seventh save. He’s been solid so far, with two runs allowed over seven innings while striking out seven and not walking any batters. It’s early, and the sample is small, but the improved control is encouraging.

No saves for Finnegan this week, but he did earn a win with a scoreless outing against the Astros. He remains at seven saves and has gotten the job done despite poor underlying numbers, including a 7.9 percent K-BB rate.

The Rays placed Pete Fairbanks on the 15-day injured list this week with a nerve issue. It likely explains his early-season struggles, giving up seven runs with eight walks to ten strikeouts over seven innings. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, but Adam is the most likely to lead the team in saves as long as Fairbanks is sidelined. He converted 12 saves in Fairbanks’ absence in 2023. But the team could also opt to go with a committee. Adam was used to pitch the seventh and eighth innings on Wednesday against the Tigers, while Garrett Cleavinger got the ninth for the save. Colin Poche could also factor into the saves mix.

Tier 5: Just Getting By

Tanner Scott - Miami Marlins
Joel Payamps - Milwaukee Brewers
Michael Kopech - Chicago White Sox
Hector Neris/Mark Leiter Jr. - Chicago Cubs
Griffin Jax/Brock Stewart/Steven Okert - Minnesota Twins

Scott has the most upside in this group, given that he could hold the closer role all season. After some early struggles, he came back this week with back-to-back saves against the Cubs with no walks. The 29-year-old left-hander remains incredibly volatile on a Marlins team that has won only six games.

Payamps picked up his third and fourth saves, taking the team lead in Devin Williams’ absence. While it appears that Payamps has taken over in the Brewers committee, there’s no certainty he’ll hold the role until Williams returns. Uribe could get back in the mix, and Trevor Megill could be a factor.

Kopech might’ve been in line for a save chance on Tuesday. He took the mound in the eighth inning with a three-run lead over the Twins for what was likely a two-inning save. He allowed two runs with two strikeouts and did not return for the ninth.

The Cubs are moving away from Adbert Alzolay in the ninth inning, for now, after he was charged with his fourth blown save. Manager Craig Counsell hasn’t indicated who will step into the role. Yency Almonte converted a save on Tuesday, recording the final four outs with a five-run lead. Neris makes the most sense as the next-in-line, given his closing experience with 90 career saves. He got the chance on Wednesday against the Astros, giving up one run on a solo homer but holding on for the save. And Leiter Jr. could be in the mix. He’s had an impressive start to the season with 12 1/3 scoreless innings. Jax converted two saves this week for the Twins, giving him three on the season as he leads the Minnesota committee.

Tier 6: If You Must

Tyler Kinley/Justin Lawrence - Colorado Rockies

Injured

Devin Williams - back
Jhoan Duran - oblique
Paul Sewald - oblique
Pete Fairbanks - nerve issue

Steals Department

Thought to be one of the riskier picks in the first few rounds, Elly De La Cruz is silencing critics in the early going with an incredible start at the plate. The 22-year-old shortstop is slashing .313/.412/.651 with seven homers, 23 runs scored, and 18 RBI across 97 plate appearances. He’s taking full advantage of his opportunities on the bases, swiping three on Wednesday to give him 15 to lead all of baseball. De La Cruz is bound to cool off, given his 32 percent strikeout rate and .422 BABIP, but he’s set to provide first-round value at this pace. Among players who could be widely available to help in fantasy leagues, Luis Garcia Jr. has been hitting well in Washington. The 23-year-old second baseman is something of a post-hype breakout candidate. He debuted at 20 years old for the Nationals in 2020 and hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. But Garcia Jr. is displaying some real growth in his fifth season, posting a 47.3 percent hard-hit rate and 12.7 percent barrel rate as he’s slashing .314/.351/.457 with one homer, 10 RBI, and five steals across 74 plate appearances. He’s been more aggressive on the bases of late, with four steals in the last week. And his success at the plate has brought him higher in the lineup of late, batting in the heart of the order. While he may not bring any one overwhelming tool to the table, Garcia Jr. could be a solid pickup for production across the board at second base.