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The Closer Catch-Up: Opening Week

Out of breath yet? Welcome to Opening Week, where the games finally matter and the chase for saves is already on! The closer drama continued right up until Opening Day, leaving owners with some last minute decisions to make before lineups locked on Thursday. If you were one of the people who drafted Greg Holland, grew impatient, and then dropped him, sucks to be you, because he landed a job after all. The Cardinals signed the 32-year old to a one-year deal prior to their opener against the Mets, throwing fantasy bullpens into chaos as owners scrambled to grab him off the wire.

Meanwhile, a handful of other teams also made life difficult. Actually, I take that back, the Rangers handing Keone Kela the closing job was a move that should’ve happened a long time ago. It’s just confusing since, you know, Jeff Banister hinted back in February that Kela wouldn’t be in line for saves. Speaking of things that don’t make sense, it’s good to see the Angels picking up where they left off. Mike Scioscia continues to play mind-games, and we still don’t have a rock-solid answer here, but for the time being, Blake Parker is your guy. Cam Bedrosian entered the seventh inning on Opening Day, giving up the game-tying run to Khris Davis, while Parker sat out the eventual 6-5 extra-inning loss. Bedrosian’s struggles all throughout Spring, where he allowed three earned runs and two homers, look likely to keep him out of the ninth inning gig for now.

And finally, how about the deja vu Giants? Mark Melancon was my sleeper pick all throughout the offseason, and it appears everyone felt the same – he was drafted in around 75% of leagues. But it seems the not-so concerning forearm problems turned quite serious overnight, as Melancon hit the DL with a right elbow flexor strain. Looks like it might only keep him out a couple of weeks, but Hunter Strickland will resume the closer duties in San Francisco.

Other than that, it’s just your not-so-average opening week. Anyway, here’s your first Closer Catch-Up of the year:

The Big Board

Team  Closer  Next in Line  Plan C
 Arizona Diamondbacks  Brad Boxberger  Archie Bradley  Yoshihisa Hirano
 Atlanta Braves  Arodys Vizcaino  A.J. Minter  Jose Ramirez
 Baltimore Orioles  Brad Brach  Darren O’Day  Mychal Givens
 Boston Red Sox  Craig Kimbrel  Joe Kelly  Matt Barnes
 Chicago Cubs  Brandon Morrow  Steve Cishek  Carl Edwards Jr.
 Chicago White Sox (C)  Nate Jones  Joakim Soria  Juan Minaya
 Cincinnati Reds  Raisel Iglesias  Jared Hughes  Wandy Peralta
 Cleveland Indians  Cody Allen  Andrew Miller  Dan Otero
 Colorado Rockies  Wade Davis  Bryan Shaw  Jake McGee
 Detroit Tigers  Shane Greene  Alex Wilson  Daniel Stumpf
 Houston Astros  Ken Giles  Chris Devenski  Will Harris
 Kansas City Royals  Kelvin Herrera  Brandon Maurer  Brad Keller
 Los Angeles Angels (C)  Blake Parker  Cam Bedrosian  Keynan Middleton
 Los Angeles Dodgers  Kenley Jansen  Josh Fields  Scott Alexander
 Miami Marlins  Brad Ziegler  Kyle Barraclough  Drew Steckenrider
 Milwaukee Brewers  Corey Knebel  Jacob Barnes  Josh Hader
 Minnesota Twins  Fernando Rodney  Addison Reed  Trevor Hildenberger
 New York Mets (C)  Jeurys Familia  A.J. Ramos  Anthony Swarzak
 New York Yankees  Aroldis Chapman  Dellin Betances  David Robertson
 Oakland Athletics  Blake Treinen  Liam Hendriks  Yusmeiro Petit
 Philadelphia Phillies (C)  Hector Neris  Pat Neshek  Adam Morgan
 Pittsburgh Pirates  Felipe Rivero  George Kontos  Michael Feliz
 St. Louis Cardinals  Greg Holland  Dominic Leone  Tyler Lyons
 San Diego Padres  Brad Hand  Kirby Yates  Craig Stammen
 San Francisco Giants  Hunter Strickland  Tony Watson  Sam Dyson
 Seattle Mariners  Edwin Diaz  Juan Nicasio  Nick Vincent
 Tampa Bay Rays  Alex Colome  Sergio Romo  Jose Alvarado
 Texas Rangers  Keone Kela  Alex Claudio  Kevin Jepsen
 Toronto Blue Jays  Roberto Osuna  Ryan Tepera  Aaron Loup
 Washington Nationals  Sean Doolittle  Ryan Madson  Brandon Kintzler

** C=closer by committee. Red=unstable bullpen. Blue=stable bullpen. Green=elite bullpen **

The Worry Warts

Shane Greene: The Tigers kicked their season off in crap-tacular fashion. This was actually a great baseball game until Shane Greene happened. He entered the ninth tied 6-6, threw a lazy fastball over the heart of the plate, and watched Starling Marte sprint to third to lock down a triple. Then the floodgates opened. Francisco Cervelli singled, the Pirates led 7-6, and after a Jordy Mercer single and an ugly passed ball moments later, the Pirates found themselves up a pair.

It’s not that Greene doesn’t have the stuff to make hitters miss – he actually struck out Adam Frazier during this little fiasco, one of the more patient hitters in baseball – it’s just that he struggles when the going gets tough. Seven earned runs in high leverage situations last year is ouch, and he’d probably do well to throw more of his four-seamer since it’s the only one of his pitches packing serious heat. If you own shares in him, there’s no chance this little hiccup will cost Greene the closing job, which is good news since Joe Jimenez and Alex Wilson didn’t look any better.

Fernando Rodney: What if I told you there was an element of luck to Fernando Rodney’s magical 39 save season last year? Thursday’s Opening Day blowup gave us a memorable Adam Jones walk-off, but it reminded me just how vulnerable Rodney’s role as the closer is. It also reminded me just how vulnerable his fastball is, a pitch that allowed just one home run and a .195 AVG against last season. Those numbers certainly make Jones’ homer all the more impressive – he hit Rodney’s fastball 370 feet to left field – but the probability of him giving up more dingers is high. That very fastball has seen a 1.95% increase in flyball rate over the last two seasons, and in a hitters park like Target Field, that spells trouble. It could also spell Addison Reed in the ninth inning role sometime soon.

Middle of the Pack (Middle Relievers)

Dellin Betances: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Or if you’re Betances, just keep pushing with your fastball until it all ends in tears. Beats me why the Yankees’ set up man didn’t mix it up with his curveball during Yangervis Solarte’s at-bat, but the Blue Jays second baseman got a hold of that 98 MPH heater and sent it over the center field wall. That put the Jays up 4-3 before the wheels completely fell off. Kevin Pillar singled in the very next at-bat, wound up stealing second, and then stole home. Sidenote: I feel like that should be worth some serious fantasy points, but as for Betances, you might want to consider sitting him when he faces Toronto. He’s allowed 21 career home runs, and the last two have come in this series.

Adam Ottavino: The Rockies bullpen received the bat signal pretty early on Friday, as starter Tyler Anderson lasted a lousy 2.1 innings. Colorado’s bullpen looks pretty firm in all areas, but Ottavino leading all relief pitchers in strikeouts has to be at the back Bud Black’s mind. It’s certainly not enough to thrust him into the setup role ahead of Bryan Shaw or Jake McGee, but this is still a name to watch for all fantasy owners going forward. He struck out three Diamondbacks on Friday, including Paul Goldschmidt, and the movement on this filthy slider was enough to get Ketel Marte ejected:

Brandon Maurer: Three days the entire Royals bullpen would like to forget. They’ve combined to allow 12 earned runs against the White Sox, and while many fantasy owners celebrated Yoan Moncada’s first home run of the year, Maurer was left staring at his glove as the 22-year old took his first pitch fastball deep into the right-field bleachers. Maurer’s problem with the home run ball has always made him a tough own, and his 12.8% HR/FB rate last year eluded to what could be another turbulent season. Unfortunately, the Royals don’t have a great deal of options, which is scary if Kelvin Herrera hits the DL anytime soon.

Everything Else I’ve Seen

  • They say all bad news comes in threes, and if that’s the case, I hate to think what’s next. First, the Pirates’ home-opener gets postponed, then Felipe Rivero gives up four earned runs in the ninth to completely blow the save. Yep, that’s the same Rivero that was drafted as the sixth highest reliever this season! It’s early enough, so I’ll blame the cold and the fact that Rivero never really “loosened up”. I’ll also pretend I didn’t see that 89 MPH curveball go sailing into the back wall at Comerica Park on Friday.
  • Two games, zero runs scored and a Kenley Jansen loss. That’s not a World Series hangover, that’s a coma. This would all look a little better if someone like Andrew McCutchen spanked one against Kenley on Friday, but Joe Panik? That’s a skid mark on Jansen’s resume that’s hard to wash out. I also can’t go without mentioning Hunter Strickland here. The Giants’ ninth-inning man has been fantastic, earning back-to-back saves and striking out three. If this keeps up it might force Bruce Bochy into a real tough decision once Melancon is healthy.
  • Those of you fortunate enough to miss out on the Cubs/Marlins 17 inning marathon on Friday, I’ll save you the trouble: Eddie Butler was slapped with the most ridiculous loss ever. He allowed Cameron Maybin and Brian Anderson to get on base, only to be replaced by Brandon Morrow moments later who went on to allow a single on the first pitch he threw to end the game. It was a rough and tiring start to the year for the Cubs’ bullpen, but after both teams exhausted every arm in their bullpen, the burden was bound to fall on someone unlucky.
  • Craig Kimbrel is already rocking the casbah. He’s been untouchable thus far, nailing down two saves and three strikeouts without giving up a hit. Rays fans look away, here’s a stat the rest of us can enjoy: Kimbrel has struck out 26 batters in his last 10 innings against Tampa Bay.
  • So Wade Davis is pretty good. I’m still a little iffy about him at Coors this year, but so far, so good during the Rockies’ road trip in Arizona. Poor old Ketel Marte was the victim once again on an 88 MPH cutter on the outside part of the plate, a classic Davis pitch against left-handers. Then he pulled the rug from underneath Nick Ahmed five pitches later on a cutter down in the dirt, earning Davis his first save of the season.
  • Continuing on from Friday’s marathon, it was Brad Ziegler’s turn to face a shellacking on Saturday against the Cubs. Again it went to extras, and the chaos erupted instantaneously. There were two big challenge calls, but at the end of the day, a Javier Baez and Kris Bryant double proved the difference, as Ziegler turned in four earned runs in the tenth. It’s crappy timing considering he’s been one of the more popular closers on the wire so far, but his 12 earned runs allowed in high leverage situations last season always raised red flags.
  • The Mets may be closer by committee, but there’s no denying Jeurys Familia is the right man for the job 90% of the time. Already he looks miles ahead of Anthony Swarzak, at least in Mickey Callaway’s books, and his three strikeouts over the last two days have done nothing but add to his value. The Cardinals bats have looked lukewarm during this series, notching just 13 hits so far, but Familia earning his first save of the season on Saturday looks to have firmed his role as “the guy” for the time being.

Buy: Brad Boxberger

I erred on the side of caution when it came to Arizona’s bullpen earlier in the Spring, but most of that was due to Boxberger’s time away from the game due to injury, and of course that other guy, um… Archie Bradley something? Nonetheless, Boxberger picked up his first save of the year on Saturday, retiring Nolan Arenado and striking out Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez in the ninth. His strikeout on CarGo was particularly impressive, a strike three caught looking on a 93 MPH fastball, but that was the usual dominant-type pitch we’re used to seeing from Boxberger.

What really caught my eye was his stuff inside, a pitch Boxberger is normally pretty cautious about. Since he was able to manipulate his velocity between 89 and 91 MPH, his fastball on the inside part of the plate completely twisted Story around mentally. It was also the first time we saw the one-two-three punch of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen in action. Bradley closed out the seventh inning, Yoshihisa Hirano took over in the eighth, and Boxberger handled business in the ninth. Bradley is still available on the wire, but if you’re chasing saves, Boxberger is out there in around 60% of leagues.

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