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Bullpens: Timeshare in Philly; Holmes, Doval Struggle

With summer now fully upon us, division races are heating up, as are bullpens. The race to the playoffs is on, and as we lead up to the All-Star Game in 10 days, let’s take a look at some very solid bullpens as well as some that are in flux. Many arms could be on the move over the next three weeks, and we will keep tabs on all of it here for you. Questions?  Concerns? You can always DM me @mdrc0508 and ask! I love talking to people and trying to help out.

Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report

AL East

Craig Kimbrel has four saves over the last calendar week, lowering his ERA to 2.23 in the process with 21 saves and a robust 37.5 K%. There has been speculation that the Orioles are looking to add bullpen help before the trade deadline, but perhaps it will not be in the closer role as we previously speculated.

Clay Holmes did not have a save situation all week, until Friday, which he promptly blew. Holmes has struggled over the last couple of weeks, raising his ERA from 1.23 to 3.00 over his last seven outings. He has been stuck on 19 saves for three weeks. Should the Yankees decide to give him a break from closing, it’s not immediately clear who would be the next man up. It could be Tommy Kahnle, who has some closing experience on his resume. Luke Weaver has also been excellent in a high-leverage role this season. Best guess: the Yankees at 54-36 do not need to panic and will give Holmes some latitude to work through this, but if this continues, the team could look to upgrade the back end of their bullpen.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox manager Pedro Grifol continues to use closer Michael Kopech in tie games. Kopech earned the loss Tuesday night in such a situation, and he lost the game. Kopech has almost as many losses (seven) as he does saves (eight) this season. That being said, Kopech is said to be drawing rampant trade interest, as many teams think they can use him as a multiple-inning weapon out of their bullpens. Kopech essentially is throwing one pitch only, a 98.7 MPH fastball that he throws a whopping 79% of the time.  The reason for this is a lack of command of other pitches. While he has a helpful 31.4%K% and 50 strikeouts in 36 innings, he also has a 12.6%BB%, a 4.50 ERA, and 1.39 WHIP. The Sox could easily trade setup guy John Brebbia too. Should they do that, Tanner Banks could get a shot, and they could bring up Prelander Berroa and give him an audition.

AL West

Trade rumors swirl around Carlos Estevez, and it is easy to see why. Estevez has 16 saves and has lowered his ERA to 3.00, his WHIP to a tidy 0.81, and he has 27 punchouts in 27 innings. Eight of those saves have come in a spotless June. The thing here is that all three of the Angels’ top relievers, including Luis Garcia and Matt Moore, could easily be traded. Should that happen, perhaps youngster Ben Joyce gets a shot; the team also has veteran Hunter Strickland in a middle relief role who has 28 career saves and could step into the role.

NL East

The Miami Marlins are 30-56 and should be selling off parts of their team this month, including closer Tanner Scott. The veteran lefty has 12 saves and excellent peripheral stats despite a high 15.5%BB%: a 1.50 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and a 25.7%K%. On the Fantasy Baseball Beat podcast this week, I was asked who was one relief pitcher I would roster now ahead of the trade deadline with the potential to get saves the rest of the season. I chose A.J. Puk. Much has been made of his early season struggles, but here is his June: two wins, a 2.45 ERA, a minuscule .89 WHIP, and 15 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. It feels like Puk would get the first crack at the job should the team move Scott. In many leagues, Puk has the SP/RP designation, which means you can slot him in as an SP and get multiple opportunities a week for points and statistics.

Philadelphia: the bullpen here is playing out like many have suggested it would this year. This is a full-blown co-closer situation between Jose Alvarado and Jeff Hoffman. This week, both converted the four chances for saves between them, with Alvarado earning one and Hoffman the other three. Alvarado is shaky at times with command issues despite high-octane stuff; he struggled yesterday in his 13th save with two hits, three earned runs, and a homer to raise his ERA to 3.75 on the year. Hoffman, on the other hand, relies on his slider and four-seam fastball equally (about 40% of the time for each pitch) while mixing in a splitter and a sinker. Hoffman now has eight saves and this is completely a time-share, leaning toward Hoffman.  Keep in mind the Phillies have an embarrassment of riches in their bullpen: Matt Strahm, Orion Kerkering, Gregory Soto, and Seranthony Dominguez have all pitched in high-leverage situations either this year or in past seasons.

NL Central

The Chicago Cubs continue to struggle, and a huge part of their struggle has been an awful bullpen. Manager Craig Counsell is using a miscast Hector Neris in the role. A name to keep in mind here is rookie Porter Hodge. In a limited sample size of 12 innings, Hodge is sporting a 1.50 ERA and a 34%K%, with one save and one hold mixed in as well. I have stated before that I would love to see Ben Brown close, but he is out with a neck injury right now, and his timeline and role are unknown at this time.

Milwaukee: things could get interesting here in the coming weeks. All-Star closer Devin Williams is nearing a return from his back injury after the All-Star break, but Trevor Megill has been excellent in his place: 18 saves, a 1.59 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts in 28.1 innings.  Best guess: Williams pitches a couple of times to get comfortable, and then he is back in the closer role, with Megill serving as the most important setup guy in the eighth inning with lefty Bryan Hudson. If Milwaukee added some starting pitching (they did acquire veteran righthander Aaron Civale on Wednesday), they could be tough to beat in a series if the back end of the bullpen continues to dominate.

Ryan Helsley has a whopping 31 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals. His work is completely supported by his metrics: a 27.8%K%, a 35.4%Whiff%, and an absurd 2.9%Barrel%. It’s good to see him back to his dominant self after a bevy of injuries slowed him down in 2023. The Cardinals bullpen also boasts two of the best setup men in the game right now in JoJo Romero and Andrew Kittredge, who have 26 and 24 holds, respectively. Both sit atop the league leaders in this category.

NL West

Colorado continues to be a roller coaster committee among Tyler Kinley, Jalen Beeks, and Justin Lawrence.  Beeks got the save on Thursday night with Kinley setting him up. Move along.

San Diego: Robert Suarez continues to be dominant in the closer role. The veteran reliever has four wins, 22 saves, a 1.77 ERA, and a 0.87 WHIP. He doesn’t have the same strikeout ratios as the elite closers at 24.3%, but that feels like quibbling. Suarez has been excellent.

Camilo Doval earned back-to-back saves in his last two consecutive outings for the San Francisco Giants this week. He had a lousy June, with an 8.10 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, nine earned runs, and seven walks in 10 innings. Yet he also earned five saves. Doval closed out the Cleveland Guardians on Friday night for his third save this week and now has 17 saves on the year. He is in no danger of losing the job, but we hope for better results from someone with his track record.

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