Stop me if you've heard this one before: Just because a manager doesn't declare a closer doesn't mean he won't have one. There's a misconception among the most impatient of us that something like half the bullpens in baseball rely on closer committees just because the manager isn't forthright about his intentions.
But stop me if you've heard this one before: Actions speak louder than words. In due time, perhaps after getting a feel for his personnel, a manager's preferences will emerge, and roles, albeit maybe not as firm as in the past, will inevitably develop
From where I sit, three teams arrived at that place over the past week, plainly elevating one reliever over the others in the so-called committee. Yes, I'm now willing to declare that the Athletics, Royals and Pirates indeed have a closer -- or as close as we can get to one in 2022, anyway.
The Athletics have stayed the course with Dany Jimenez even with intended closer Lou Trivino back from a bout with COVID-19. Trivino may have sealed his fate by giving up five runs in his return appearance on May 3. None of his five appearances since then have come in a save chance while Jimenez has two saves during that time. It's definitely looking like an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it situation.
Scott Barlow was the presumptive favorite for saves in Kansas City coming into the year, but Josh Staumont had two -- in back-to-back chances, no less -- before Barlow even recorded his first. Then, Barlow notched one, and the story became that the two would split chances going forward. It's been 3-0 in Barlow's favor since then, including two more over the weekend. Their other numbers have diverged, too, with Staumont now sporting a 3.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, so I'd say it's about a done deal.
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When's the last time you were excited about a Pirates closer? Because Bednar deserves that kind of enthusiasm, especially now that we can (sort of) confirm he is indeed the closer. He and the inferior Chris Stratton were presented as a tandem at the start of the year, with Stratton actually claiming two of the team's first three saves. But it's been all Bednar since then -- and justifiably so, given their disparate performances. He has actually been a top-10 reliever so far and is still available in about a third of CBS Sports leagues.
I wanted to get those three closer scenarios out of the way so I could stick to my usual format of highlighting the 10 most in flux, because there are 10 worth discussing beyond them. Granted, no others where a clear favorite has emerged, but several where a clear runner-up has.
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
The Tigers surprised by turning to Will Vest for a save chance Friday, but it was less surprising once you looked at the numbers. The right-hander's 1.17 ERA, 0.46 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 are clearly the best in that bullpen so far, as they would be in most bullpens. Manager A.J. Hinch reiterated after the game that left-hander Gregory Soto is still his closer, and Soto has indeed converted both of the team's save chances since then. But he often has trouble finding the strike zone and isn't especially stable in the role. Vest looks like a better fallback than Michael Fulmer, whose velocity has lagged all year.
The Diamondbacks thought they were shoring up their closer role by signing Mark Melancon to a multi-year deal this offseason, but he has so thoroughly imploded in May, giving up 10 earned runs in his past five appearances, that they now at least have to entertain the idea of a change. As of now, manager Torey Lovullo seems pretty committed to getting him right and plans to give him a mental break, thinking he pushed him too hard coming off a bout with COVID (Melancon had a 1.08 ERA before then). Ian Kennedy has the most closing experience otherwise, but left-hander Joe Mantiply also got a couple saves while Melancon was sidelined.
Dylan Floro's return from a shoulder injury last week has only brought more chaos to a bullpen that's seemingly been in flux all year. Of course, I say that, but Anthony Bender has six of the team's nine saves so far. He also has two blown saves and three losses, which is why we keep expecting manager Don Mattingly to mix it up, but he has shown no such inclination to this point.
Could Floro's return change that? Well, he's been pretty shaky himself so far, giving up five earned runs in three innings, and his velocity is a little off. It doesn't help that the Marlins' last save chance was May 4 -- one that Bender blew. Twice since then he's been asked to work prior to the eighth inning, much less the ninth, so we really need more information here.
With another one Sunday, Emilio Pagan has taken a commanding lead of the team saves tally with five, but there are other factors to consider. Rookie Jhoan Duran is clearly the superior pitcher with 25 strikeouts to three walks in 16 2/3 innings, his triple-digit fastball inspiring oohs and aahs from the crowd every time he enters. Pagan, meanwhile, has 10 walks in 11 2/3 innings and has long been vulnerable to the long ball. I wouldn't get too attached if I were you.
No sooner did he come back from an elbow than Lucas Sims was right back on the IL with a bulging disc in his back. OK, so there were six appearances in between, but they were ugly, preventing him from securing the closer role he was never promised in the first place. So does he really deserve to be No. 1 in the pecking order? Well, who else is there? Art Warren and Tony Santillan, who have each converted a save already, both have an ERA over 6.00. Alexis Diaz's stands at 0.55, but the Reds have refrained from using him in high-leverage situations. I'm leaning Warren's direction since he's been the closest thing to a setup man, but it's a crapshoot.
The inability of Hansel Robles and Jake Diekman to secure the closer role has kept the door open for Matt Barnes, who manager Alex Cora has hoped to see regain it all along. He may have taken his biggest step toward doing so this weekend, getting his fastball back up to 95 mph, where it sat for most of his All-Star 2021 season. Of course, the performance has to follow, and it didn't Monday, when he allowed a run on two hits in just one-third of an inning. Robles pitched a scoreless ninth for only his second save.
One of the biggest saves finds at the start of the year, David Robertson has been on the COVID-19 IL for more than a week now, allowing Rowan Wick to pull within one of his saves lead with four. Presumably, Robertson's role will be waiting for him for when he gets back, though Wick himself is sporting a 1.32 ERA (albeit with a high walk rate). Some added competition would certainly be unwelcome, but hopefully it just means there's a clear-cut replacement should something else go wrong for Robertson.
In the last Bullpen Report Ryan Helsley could be on the verge of replacing Giovanny Gallegos as Cardinals closer. He had just recorded his first save and boasted arguably the best numbers of any reliever in baseball, even now having allowed just two baserunners with 21 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. Well, he has pitched exactly twice since then, neither time in the ninth inning. Gallegos, meanwhile, has worked the ninth inning three times during that stretch and also has the team's only save. Pretty much sums it up., I speculated whether
The Rays continue to do Rays things with their bullpen. Their past three saves have been divided between the relievers depicted here. Andrew Kittredge remains the team leader with five, but he has been a little shaky lately, even taking the loss Monday, which has created some runway for Jason Adam and his 1.17 ERA, 0.52 WHIP and 11.7 K/9. Meanwhile, the left-handed Brooks Raley has three saves, including two of the team's past four, but I think that's just because Kittredge is needed earlier sometimes. He remains the high-leverage guy in the eyes of manager Kevin Cash, which often means working the ninth inning but sometimes not.
Jorge Lopez appeared to nail down the closer role with four quick saves in the first two weeks, but then he blew one in early May and was on the bereavement list for the next three, the final two of which went to Felix Bautista. Now active again, Lopez will presumably reclaim the role, especially after Bautista served up two long balls in a non-save chance Monday. The underlying numbers are pretty similar between the two, though, in case Lopez's improved fastball turns out to be not enough to sustain him.