Sometime between now and the next column, most teams are going to hit the 25% completion mark on the season. While the negative activity has picked up recently, we're still waiting for the hammer to fall and knock out our closers. It's time to start taking a serious look at the statistics to look at the trends we're seeing. Pay special attention to the color coding on the closer ranking grid at the bottom of the article to see the statistics that fall worse than league average (font is red). Just because your closer had a red mark doesn't necessarily raise concern since all stats need to be used in conjunction with one another, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on as we move forward.
Save Leaders This Week:
Brad Hand - 3
Wade Davis -3
Hector Neris -3
Blown Saves This Week:
Brad Boxberger - 1
Aroldis Chapman - 1
Brandon Morrow - 1
Craig Kimbrel - 1
Hector Neris - 1
Around the League:
-It was an eventful week filled with highs and lows north of the border as we saw Canadian-born James Paxton throw the first no-hitter by a native on Canadian soil for the high, but unfortunately also saw Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna get arrested for an accused sexual assault for the low. It's not immediately clear who will fill in for closer until (if) Osuna returns to the team. Veteran Tyler Clippard did get the first save opportunity and he has former closer experience, albeit he hasn't been very good in the role. The favorite among favorite touts is former Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, while set-up man Ryan Tepera has arguably been the best in their bullpen based on what the metrics say. Tepera did set-up Clippard in the first save chance, which tends to make me think he could possibly remain in that role that he has done so well, especially since managers dealing with a chance in the 9th inning like to keep the rest of the bullpen as stable as possible. That means we're probably looking at Clippard having the slight lead in this committee, but I'll go out on a limb and say he's probably the 3rd most talented among the list of the three options the Blue Jays have. Oh is the most exciting pick, but in all reality, Clippard might be the one to own. By the way, John Axford is also in this 'pen, but does anyone actually want to go there? We'll know more with the next save chance.
-It wouldn't be a column this year if we didn't talk about the Cardinals at least once. Bud Norris, who had been dealing with a forearm strain, made his return to the team with a save on Thursday against the Padres. His job is safe for now, even with Greg Holland beginning to pitch better. Norris leaves little room for regression with a 2.36 xFIP and 2.45 ERA to go along with an already have .349 BABIP, so the performance has been solid.
-Closer Keynan Middleton was activated from the disabled list earlier this week, but he hasn't yet officially reclaimed the closer role as he pitched in the 8th inning ahead of Jim Johnson on Thursday against Minnesota. We still view him as the favorite to win back the job sooner rather than later, although his 13.6% walk rate has ballooned and his 88% strand rate is just begging to regress down, meaning more runs will score to impact his ERA and even potentially lead to blown saves. Our favorite option is to just avoid this situation entirely.
-In a related note, the Texas bullpen is so bad that Keone Kela with his 5.14 ERA and 3-2 record is actually safe. He has had back-to-back clean outings this week with five strikeouts over three innings of work and other than his ERA, the numbers look less scary with a 3.74 xFIP, just a 62.5% strand rate (that should improve) and a .368 BABIP (that should go down). Better times to come for Kela.
-Brewers close Corey Knebel was activated from the disabled list, pushing relieving sensation Josh Hader back into the set-up role. Hader will holds significant value in mixed leagues, so don't drop him, but Knebel will be the primary closer moving forward once he shakes off his rust (Jeremy Jeffress got the first save chance).
-Orioles reliever Darren O'Day landed on the disabled list, ending his coup for the closing role. Brad Brach removed the primary closer for Baltimore with Mychal Givens seeing some looks based on matchups or rest days for Brach. For what it's worth, Zach Britton is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 28th, and he is expected to begin a rehab assignment shortly thereafter, so expect an activation in early June, assuming he isn't traded first.
-White Sox Nate Jones finally saw another save opportunity this week and he fell flat on his face, blowing a three run lead. Jones's strikeout rate is down, yet his swinging strike rate is 14.9%, or 3.8% higher than in 2017, and his chase rate is also up 7.3%. While we do expect an improvement to his result stats, it's difficult envision a scenario where he should actually take up a starting roster spot, at the moment. If/When the ChiSox deal Soria, Jones is the logical replacement, but until then, it's difficult to make the case to roster him given the team's spotty usage of him.
Handcuff of the Week:
Let's call him Josh Hader of the East. Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (who was signed to a minor league deal in December after stints with Baltimore and Houston) struck out six batters in two innings of work earlier this week. In fact, since getting the call in mid-April, Rodriguez has struck out 22 of the 50 batters he has faced while walking just 2. He also has a 1.46 ERA and 1.92 xFIP despite having a .462 BABIP. His 20% swinging strike rate ranks just behind Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader, his 36.7% chase rate ranks among the top 25 relievers and his 60.8% contact rate allowed is 5th best. He's easily been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball and he's a guy that absolutely no one is talking about. So how about the weaknesses? Well, for one, he's giving up an awful lot of hits for a guy who allows just little contact. He has allowed 12 hits in 12 innings and his hard hit percentage is 38.5%, which is a little high, but it's also a small sample size. His fastball isn't overpowering at 93 MPH, but he gets good movement and it's easily his most effective pitch with a 4.55 wFB/c rating to go along with his change-up that clocks in at 12 MPH slower. He's yet to see high leverage situations, but the cream always rises to the top. He's been getting to pitch in multiple inning situations (like Hader), which means he can add substantial value to your team even if he isn't racking up saves. He's the real deal and is likely available on your waiver wire.
Closer Rankings & Handcuffs:
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