Whew. You folks are making me work for my money this season! After what started out as a very quiet year in terms of closer changes, things have picked up substantially over the last two months. The high point was obviously over the last week as contenders scrambled to improve their bullpens, while teams out of contention tried to cut their losses and stockpile future assets. Currently, nearly a quarter of all bullpens are in utter disarray, at least in terms of roles and labels. Given the magnitude of the changes and the fact most of you are already well aware of the trades that went down, we're simply going to go division-by-division and team-by-team, taking a look at the current favorite for saves and evaluating whether or not the current handcuff is worth owning in a standard 5x5 league.
Around The League:
American League East:
Current Closer: Michel Givens
Best Handcuff: Paul Fry
Analysis: Not sure who one or both of these guys are? Don't beat yourself up about it. The Orioles dealt both Zach Britton and Brad Brach at the trade deadline, leaving a path for Fantistics pre-season favorite Mychal Givens to assume the closing role. Unfortunately, Givens has been extremely hittable over the last several outings. Don't sleep on Paul Fry, a rookie who has only been up with the big club since the end of June, but already looks like the most talented arm in the 'pen. He's sporting a 60% groundball rate to go along with a 13% swinging strike rate, which obviously is lending itself well to his 25% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate. I can't promise how many save chances the Orioles will even create the rest of the season, unfortunately.
Current Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Best Handcuff: Matt Barnes
Analysis: There's not much that needs to be said here other than the fact that I was wrong about Kimbrel in the pre-season. While most were drafting him as the second closer off the board in most drafts, I wasn't comfortable taking him until closer to the 5th or 6th guy off the board. My concern was tied to his high hard hit rate allowed last season, but sure as the statistical gods are, they reminded me of a little principle called small sample size bias. Kimbrel has been nothing less than excellent for most of the season and there's absolutely no reason to be worried about him.
Current Closer: Aroldis Chapman
Best Handcuff: Dellin Betances
Analysis: Like with Boston, there's isn't much drama in New York. Chapman continues to roll on as an elite closing option and Betances as an elite set-up man. Move along...
Current Closer: Sergio Romo
Best Handcuff: Jose Alvarado
Analysis: Despite some speculation suggestion he may get dealt, Sergio Romo remained with the Rays through the trade deadline. While he remains the team's primary closing option, this situation is relatively fluid. Sergio is a mediocre option, at best, given the relative uncertainty of when his next save chance will arrive.
Current Closer: Ryan Tepera
Best Handcuff: Ken Giles
Analysis: Perhaps the most shocking trade, at least involving relievers, happened between the Blue Jays and the Astros with the Jays sending Roberto Osuna in return for Ken Giles. The deal, which involved two closers that were drafted among the first ten off the board in draft season, was essentially a swap of two guys who probably would benefit from a change of scenery. While their reasons are different, we're not here to discuss character, but merely assess their talent level and likelihood of notching saves. Giles seems like the logical fit to eventually move into the closing job for the Blue Jays, allowing the team to move Ryan Tepera back into the 8th inning where he excels. The Jays also traded Seung Hwan Oh, so they could benefit from more middle relief help.
American League Central
Current Closer: Jace Fry
Best Handcuff: Xavier Cedeno
Analysis: Well, the White Sox did trade Joakim Soria, but we still have no clarity on who may take over as closer. As I wrote last week, Jace Fry is head and shoulders (well, maybe not that much) more talented than the rest of the bullpen, so he remains my top target. Like with Baltimore, the ultimate question is whether the few saves you will notch from this bullpen are worth the headache of chasing them.
Current Closer: Cody Allen
Best Handcuff: Brad Hand
Analysis: There's been some speculation that the Indians may end up using newly acquired Brad Hand in the ninth inning due to Cody Allen's inconsistency this year. Allen must read the Cleveland papers because he has stepped up his game over the last couple of weeks after gifting fantasy owners a 6 spot in a game against Cincinnati on July 10th. Hand is a far more valuable tool in relief for the Indians than he is as closer, but now than the team also activated Andrew Miller from the disabled list, they may be more willing to experiment since they won't need to save Hand against tough lefties (in theory).
Current Closer: Shane Greene
Best Handcuff: Joe Jimenez
Analysis: Shane Greene was not dealt at the deadline, so he remains atop this bullpen situation after pitching extremely well in his first year as closer. Surprisingly, Detroit actually ranks 9th among all MLB teams in save opportunities, which simply goes to show that the number of wins a team has is not always directly correlated with the number of saves that same team's closer can achieve.
Current Closer: Wily Peralta
Best Handcuff: Kevin McCarthy
Analysis: Flashy is certainly not a word you'd use to describe Wily Peralta, but effective might be. Peralta is effective because his high walk rate hasn't burned him yet, but with an 14:11 strikeout-to-walk rate looming over his head, it's only a matter of time until it does burn him.
Current Closer: Fernando Rodney
Best Handcuff: Ryan Pressly
Analysis: Boy, there's not much left in Minnesota. Fernando Rodney is doing an adequate job, but given his skills now and his current situation, he's not an ideal closer.
American League West
Current Closer: Hector Rondon
Best Handcuff: Roberto Osuna
Analysis: While the Astros did acquire Roberto Osuna, it's unlikely he will see time in the ninth inning as long as Rondon remains effective. However, it's probably no coincidence that Houston acquired relief help just a couple days after Rondon's four run meltdown against Texas last weekend. Osuna has an uphill battle to not only prove he's not rusty, but also to gain the trust of AJ Hinch and the respect of him teammates and fans, but he remains the most talented arm in the Astros bullpen, so remains a decent speculative grab if you have the bench space.
Current Closer: Blake Parker
Best Handcuff: Justin Anderson
Analysis: Now here's a situation that I have very low confidence in my current closer pick. Blake Parker has now allowed runs in 4 of his last 7 outings. Meanwhile, Justin Anderson had a 1.69 ERA and 62% groundball rate in the month of July. His biggest issue is that he still struggles with free passes, but it certainly seems like this is a situation that's less than settled.
Current Closer: Blake Treinen
Best Handcuff: Jeurys Familia
Analysis: It's funny how about a month ago, I was writing about the Athletics potentially trading Blake Treinen, yet come the deadline, Oakland was actually buying Jeurys Familia. Familia has been excellent since coming to Oakland, striking out 8 and allowing just 3 hits in 7 innings pitched. Treinen, on the other hand, has matched him out for out. There's no closer controversy here, but Familia is one of the more talented handcuffs in the league right now.
Current Closer: Edwin Diaz
Best Handcuff: Alex Colome
Analysis: Edwin Diaz has established himself as a deserving performer in the top tier of closers this season. Diaz checks all the boxes we want to see from a closer and there's very little reason not to think he'll continue this type of production for the rest of the season.
Current Closer: Jose Leclerc
Best Handcuff: Alex Colome
Analysis: With Keone Kela and Jake Diekman both traded, the job is Jose Leclerc's to lose. Leclerc has strikeout ability and despite having a low groundball rate, he doesn't give up many homeruns. He's not an ideal closer, but he may prove to be better than you might think.
National League East
Current Closer: AJ Minter
Best Handcuff: Brad Brach
Analysis: While the Braves did acquire Brad Brach, it was merely to shore up the middle of the bullpen that took a hit when Arodys Vizcaino got injured, forcing the team to move Minter out of the role and into the closing job. Minter now has 8 saves on the season to go along with an impressive 61:16 strikeout-to-walk rate. There was some speculation that Brach may challenge Minter for the job, Minter has now received back-to-back save chances since Brach was acquired, so it seems unlikely that Minter wouldn't continue getting those save chances moving forward.
Current Closer: Kyle Barraclough
Best Handcuff: Drew Steckenrider
Analysis: While Kyle Barraclough is still officially the closer, he has blown three straight save chances and Marlins manager Don Mattingly has hinted that he would consider making a change in the ninth inning. With Brad Ziegler in Arizona, Drew Steckenrider is the most likely candidate to succeed him. Steckenrider has a different pitch deployment, which leads to far few ground balls, but he has a just as strong of a strikeout upside as Barraclough with slightly better control. The Marlins won't generate a lot of save opportunities, but Steckenrider is certainly skilled enough to take the role and run.
Current Closer: Anthony Swarzak
Best Handcuff: Robert Gsellman
Analysis: Don't look now, but the 2017 version of Anthony Swarzak is back. After dealing with injuries for most of the season and shaking off the rust in June, Swarzak has been lights out as closer since the Mets traded Familia. In three appearances since taking over the job, he has allowed just one hit, has walked none and has struck out 6 of the 11 batters he has faced. He's an interesting name that could have some upside, without the price tag that his upside normally costs.
Current Closer: Seranthony Dominguez
Best Handcuff: Victor Arano
Analysis: The Phillies were relatively quiet at the trade deadline, which means the bullpen remains the same mess it has been all season. The closing role for Philly remains a committee only because Gabe Kapler is keeping it a committee, not because Dominguez isn't performing well in the role. Set-up man Victor Arano is another really talented arm, but the traditional roles seem to be at play here with Arano setting up and Dominguez closing the games.
Current Closer: Kelvin Herrera
Best Handcuff: Ryan Madson
Analysis: With Sean Doolittle still ailing with a foot injury and MRI's showing very little progress, Kelvin Herrera appears to the man to own in Washington for the foreseeable future. The Nats traded Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs, an indication that aren't expecting to make a deep run this season. Herrera continues to be extremely fortunate this season with a 2.23 ERA compared with a 4.30 xFIP. The reasoning? The most likely cause is favorable sequencing that can be seen in his 96% strand rate. He has a career 80% LOB%, but with a walk rate of 21% this season, 3% below career mark, there's plenty of reason to suspect a pull back in his counting stats as the strand rate regresses.
National League Central
Current Closer: Pedro Strop
Best Handcuff: Carl Edwards Jr
Analysis: Joe Maddon would still call this situation a committee, but it seems relatively apparent that Pedro Strop is the primary source of saves for this team while Brandon Morrow is out. Speaking of Morrow, he's still nursing biceps tendinitis, but he didn't play catch on Thursday. Strop isn't going to be your typical lockdown closer and he's innings are going to be more exciting than clean, but as long as he's seeing the majority of save opportunities for the Cubs, he's going to have plenty of value.
Current Closer: Raisel Iglesias
Best Handcuff: Jared Hughes
Analysis: Raisel Iglesias was rumored to be a hot commodity at the trade deadline, but since he's under team control until 2020, the Reds were obviously underwhelmed with the potential returns so they opted to hang onto him. Iglesias has once again been a solid contributor as a closer for the Reds and for fantasy owners. The skillset is there to be a successful pitcher and he's once against a top-10 like player. He's a pretty safe closer, at this point.
Current Closer: Corey Knebel
Best Handcuff: Josh Hader
Analysis: This is another shaky situation. Newly acquired Joakim Soria got the 8th inning and Jeremy Jeffress got the save on Tuesday night, the last save opportunity the Brewers. Knebel hasn't pitched very well and the Brewers are going to do everything in their power to win this season after taking some big gambles are the trade deadline. Manager Craig Counsell doesn't seem keen to use Hader in the ninth inning, so if you wanted to handcuff, Jeffress or Soria would be your best bets.
Current Closer: Felipe Vazquez
Best Handcuff: Keone Kela
Analysis: The Pirates made a pair of big trade deadline acquisitions to improve their pitching, including set-up man Keone Kela. After a slow start to the season, Felipe Vazquez has been pitching like one of the best closers in the game and as long as Pittsburgh keeps winning, there's no reason not to expect him to continue the pace. He has 65 strikeouts in 46 innings pitched.
Current Closer: Bud Norris
Best Handcuff: Jordon Hicks
Analysis: The non-trade of Bud Norris at the trade deadline was one of the more puzzling situation to try to figure out. Norris is signed just through 2018, and with the Cardinals not expected to contend this year, his value probably won't be higher. Norris has some trouble in June, but he's been quite good over his last few chances. While Jordan Hicks is the flashy rookie, another rookie Dakota Hudson has been called up and is making his debut. Bud Norris may be a one to watch during the waiver trade deadline as St Louis begins the youth movement.
National League West
Current Closer: Brad Boxberger
Best Handcuff: Archie Bradley
Analysis: The Diamondbacks acquired Brad Ziegler at the trade deadline, but it's highly doubtful he comes anywhere near the 9th inning after his struggles as closer with the Marlins. Boxberger has struggled with his walks and the long-ball from time-to-time, but his strikeout rate is up and his groundball rate is up to 50%. He remains a great option for fantasy owners.
Current Closer: Wade Davis
Best Handcuff: Adam Ottavino
Analysis: Pitching for the 2nd straight day and the 5th time in 7 days, Wade Davis blew a save for the 2nd consecutive night on Friday against Milwaukee. Considering that he has been pretty much lights out for the majority of the year, this may just be a situation where a pitcher is being overworked. Nonetheless, Adam Ottavino might be worth grabbing, just in case there's something else going on (injury, etc).
Current Closer: Kenley Jansen
Best Handcuff: Scott Alexander
Analysis: Remember when the fantasy world was upside down and everyone questioned Kenley Jansen's status as the top closer in the game? Yeah, me either. He's the best. Move along.
Current Closer: Kirby Yates
Best Handcuff: Craig Stammen
Analysis: Kirby Yates has been exceptional over the last month and now has three saves on the season. Yates has an excellent combination of an above average walk rate, exceptional strikeout rate and a high groundball rate. He's the real deal.
Current Closer: Will Smith
Best Handcuff: Tony Watson
Analysis: Another diamond in the rough that has been polished to a shine this year, Will Smith is emerging as a highly skilled closer. His 48:7 strikeout-to-walk rate is a thing of beauty.