Thursday, August 11, 2022

Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Could Clay Holmes keep the closer gig? Does Jhoan Duran have a path to saves?

When Aroldis Chapman first went on the IL for Achilles tendinitis in late May, most expected that the closer role would be waiting for him when he returned. After all, he’s been one of the best ever to fill it, and while his numbers this year are less than stellar, that’s mostly because of a bumpy final week leading up to the IL stint.

Recent reports, though, suggest the Yankees may be rethinking Chapman’s role in the lead up to his return. Namely this one:

I don’t have the full context for manager Aaron Boone’s quote, and the rest of the tweet would seem to undermine its implications. But maybe not. As effective as Clay Holmes has been, whether closing or otherwise, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Yankees to stick with him. And of course, it would mean everything for his Fantasy value.

Let’s look at the 10 closer scenarios generating the most interest right now, 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).

Chapman himself has also said Holmes deserves to be the closer right now, but both his and Boone’s comments are careful not to attach any permanence to that designation. Is it simply a matter of getting Chapman, who is set for one more rehab appearance at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, up to speed? Because if so, Holmes may have only another week or so of consistent save chances. Or does Boone’s “back-end monster” comment suggest it’ll be more of a tandem situation, likely contingent on matchups? At worst, I suspect Holmes will be on equal footing with Chapman moving forward, so you shouldn’t be looking to cut him loose with Chapman’s return.

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Emilio Pagan’s well-documented shortcomings finally came home to roost last week, resulting in five earned runs over back-to-back appearances. The next time he pitched was in the sixth and seventh innings Sunday, with Jhoan Duran then working the ninth inning for the save. Manager Rocco Baldelli has occasionally done this sort of role reversal with Pagan and Duran, which makes me a little gun-shy this time around, but a changing of the guard would make sense in light of Pagan’s recent struggles. Duran has been a revelation late in games, compiling a 2.18 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 12.5 K/9. 

So are the Athletics right back where they started? It would appear so, with Lou Trivino recording saves on back-to-back days over the weekend. He’s up to four straight scoreless appearances but still has an ERA over 7.00 and a WHIP that’s pushing 2.00. Either A.J. Puk or Zach Jackson would make more sense as the closer, but after they combined to blow a game Thursday, manager Mark Kotsay has opted to keep them in their usual roles. It means Dany Jimenez is in a good position to reclaim his job whenever he’s recovered from a strained shoulder, but his return doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

Hunter Strickland converted the Reds‘ latest save chance Friday, and to hear manager David Bell tell it, it wasn’t just a one-off.

“Hunter is definitely somebody that likes it,” Bell said of closing. “He thrives on it. In some ways, I think the bigger the situation, the better pitcher he’s going to be. It may not always be the ninth, but I’m definitely aware of that and it works in his favor to keep getting those opportunities.”

So does that mean Strickland is the closer now? That hasn’t been Bell’s MO, and I’d be particularly surprised given the right-hander’s ugly stat line so far. Granted, he’s been significantly better over the past month or so, cutting down on the walks especially, but even during that stretch, his numbers aren’t closer-caliber. The one Reds reliever with those kinds of numbers is Alexis Diaz, who appeared to be emerging as the favorite for saves prior to his recent bout with biceps tendinitis. He’s expected to return later this week and remains the smart money for saves, I believe. 

If things continue the way they’ve gone for the past two weeks, the Red Sox can finally rent out their designated space in this column. Tanner Houck appears to have done what many before him failed to do, recording six of the team’s past seven saves. The only one that didn’t go his way came on an obvious rest day after he had worked three of the previous four. He may miss out on another chance or two early this week, having been declared ineligible for the Toronto series because of his vaccination status, but so far, the converted starter has thrown enough strikes and missed enough bats to succeed in the role. 

As with Houck for the Red Sox, Tanner Scott appears to have stabilized the closer role for the Marlins, making this hopefully their last appearance in this column for the foreseeable future. The left-hander is responsible for each of the team’s past six saves, and while his ERA remains over 4.00, he has allowed an earned run in just one of his past 11 appearances, striking out 20 over 10 2/3 innings during that time. If there is a remaining hurdle, it’s that Anthony Bender, the team’s closer at the start of the year, is nearing a return from a back injury, but he wasn’t nearly as bankable in the role as Scott has been.

Seranthony Dominguez has seemingly emerged as the front-runner for saves with Corey Knebel’s recent relegation to middle relief, but Andrew Bellati’s turn in the role Sunday threw me for a bit of a loop. Maybe Dominguez was simply unavailable, having worked two of the previous three days (including for a save Saturday), but his combined pitch total was only 19. And then there’s the fact he appeared in the eighth inning with a four-run lead Thursday, leaving the ninth for Brad Hand. We also can’t discount the possibility manager Rob Thomson eventually wants Knebel back in the role. On a pure statistical level, Dominguez is the best choice, but clarity eludes us. 

With Andrew Kittredge out of the picture, the Rays‘ closer situation is looking as messy as ever. Left-hander Colin Poche has gotten two saves since Kittredge went down while righty Jason Adam and fellow lefty Brooks Raley have each gotten one. Adam has the most impressive stat line of the bunch, but those  of Poche and Raley are also decent. The former has actually equaled Kittredge’s team lead with five saves and looks to be a mild front-runner, but chances are the Rays bring even more into the committee rather than whittling it down.  

Why even bother to address the Mariners‘ closer situation? Look, there’s always a chance manager Scott Servais eventually settles on one guy. He did early last year with Kendall Graveman, remember. His latest leanings are toward Paul Sewald, who hasn’t been as dominant as a year ago but has been reliable enough to get the nod on back-to-back days last week. He wasn’t available when a third save chance came up the next day, putting it in the hands of Erik Swanson. Meanwhile, Diego Castillo is still lurking, and experienced closer Ken Giles, finally back from the IL, remains the ultimate dark horse.  

Manager Tony La Russa seems less than committed to Kendall Graveman as the replacement for Liam Hendriks. Graveman did convert the team’s most recent save chance Sunday, but Joe Kelly handled the chance before then with Graveman working the eighth. Neither pitcher has numbers befitting a closer, really, though Graveman was well established as the eighth inning guy when Hendriks went down. Hendriks has already started throwing again, so pursuing his replacement may all be for naught anyway.

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