Some of the most high-profile bullpens have been thrown into complete disarray with only six weeks to go. From the Yankees to the Red Sox, from Josh Hader to Craig Kimbrel, nothing is as it seems at the time when we can least afford missteps.
What more can we do than try to navigate this minefield? Let's review what we know, beginning with the Yankees.
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).
Clay Holmes NYY RP
Aroldis Chapman NYY RP
Jonathan Loaisiga NYY RP
Lou Trivino NYY RP
Ron Marinaccio NYY RP
Clay Holmes' bout with back spasms came at a time when he was already losing his grip on the closer role, and with Aroldis Chapman surging, a changing of the guard seemed to be in order. Chapman has just as quickly unraveled, though, allowing three earned runs while walking four in his past two appearances, spanning one inning, and still hasn't gotten a save chance since returning from the IL. The Yankees' past two saves have actually gone to Jonathan Loaisiga, who has an ERA near 6.00, and Scott Effross, who just went on the IL himself. It all points to Holmes getting another chance when he returns, which may be in less than a week.
Turns out Hader has taken his struggles with him to San Diego, twice allowing three earned runs in his first five appearances with his new team. It's led to manager Bob Melvin giving him "a little break" from the closer role, going the by-committee route in the meantime. Hader has been the game's preeminent closer for four years now, and the Padres gave up a bunch to get him. Rest assured his ouster won't be for long enough for any part of the committee to gain a real foothold in Fantasy.
Former starter Nick Martinez got the most recent save, but likely because Luis Garcia, who got the save the previous day, needed a day off. If you had to invest in a Padres reliever other than Hader, he'd be the one.
Craig Kimbrel hasn't been right all year, yet we saw during his time with the Cubs last year that when things click into place for him, he's still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. The Dodgers seem committed to having him work through his issues in the closer role, and why not? They're running away with the division and on pace for a historic win total. Nothing is stopping them from changing things up in the playoffs if Kimbrel is still scuffling. It's true they turned to Evan Phillips for their most recent save Friday, but manager Dave Roberts confirmed it was because Kimbrel needed a day off. Meanwhile, Brusdar Graterol (shoulder) just returned from the IL Monday and had previously served as the team's backup closer.
Since the deal that sent Hader to the Padres, the Brewers' saves breakdown has been two for Devin Williams, two for Matt Bush and, most recently, one for Taylor Rogers. Sounds like a full-blown committee, doesn't it? I still think it's more a case of bad timing, specifically for Williams. Clearly the most talented of the bunch, he has worked either the ninth or 10th inning in every game since Hader was traded. The first Bush save came when Williams had worked four of the previous six days and was clearly in need of a rest. The second came in extra innings. The Rogers save, meanwhile, came after Williams had worked two of the previous three days and likely also needed a rest.
There have been no updates on Tanner Houck's timeline since he was sidelined by a disc issue in his back, so while he's the closest thing the Red Sox have had to a clear-cut closer all year, it's hard to say he's the preferred choice to roster in Fantasy right now. Garrett Whitlock has gotten the most saves in his absence (meaning ... two) and seems to be manager Alex Cora's most trusted reliever, but since he typically throws two innings at a time, he may not be available as often as we'd like a closer to be. John Schreiber and Matt Barnes have each also gotten a save in Houck's absence.
Rowan Wick quickly rattled off four saves after David Robertson was dealt to the Phillies, making him seem like the obvious replacement. But when he needed a day off Thursday, the Cubs turned to left-hander Brandon Hughes instead. And then they went back to Hughes for another save the very next day. Hughes has the better numbers between the two, but at the same time, Wick didn't do anything to lose the job. Both of his appearances since Hughes' last save have come in the eighth inning, but in one of them. Hughes appeared in the seventh. Things have clearly gotten messy here, but I suspect Wick is still the preferred choice, if only for his right-handedness.
Manager Rob Thomson has said he'll rely on a committee with Seranthony Dominguez sidelined by triceps tendinitis, basically listing off every reliever as a possibility for saves. It's enough to make me think we should just stick with Dominguez, who may be looking at a minimal IL stay. Despite Thomson's claims, though, it will most likely be Robertson getting a clear majority of the save chances in Dominguez's absence. It's true Andrew Bellatti got the latest one Monday, but Robertson had worked the previous two days and likely needed a breather.
It seemed like the Rays were inching toward making Jason Adam their closer just a week ago, and considering his 1.07 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 on the year, it would have made sense. But then they turned to Peter Fairbanks in back-to-back save chances over the weekend, with Adam handling the eighth inning in one of them. Adam again worked the eighth inning Monday, facing the heart of the Angels lineup, so perhaps he's the Rays' leverage guy and will work the ninth inning only as matchups warrant. For what it's worth, the save Monday went to Shawn Armstrong, but he's nobody worth knowing.
A lack of save chances has kept us guessing as to what the Athletics' plans for the ninth inning are. They finally did get one Sunday, but the guy who converted it, Austin Pruitt, has since been designated for assignment. Dany Jimenez appeared in the eighth inning of that game and still has yet to allow an earned run in seven appearances since returning from a shoulder issue. He was the last A's pitcher to take the mound in each of his previous three appearances, being used much as a closer might when there are no save chances to be found. Still, it may be that the Athletics don't win enough over the next six weeks to settle on firm bullpen roles.
Just a week ago, it seemed like Carl Edwards was settling into the closer role for the Nationals. He had recorded their most recent two saves while his primary competition, Kyle Finnegan, had worked the seventh inning (not even the eighth) in four consecutive games. The Nationals have done a complete about-face since then, though, having Finnegan handle each of their past three save chances. He's no shutdown reliever, but his numbers are on the same level as Edwards'. As of now, he seems pretty secure in the role.