2014 has definitely been a weird year for saves. The closers you drafted have either been rock solid, or completely terrible – there’s really been very little in between. The chasing of saves is one of the more interesting pieces of fantasy baseball. There’s only a single guy who can get you a save on each team per game, and there are precious few situations that even constitute a save chance. Things really get hairy when no single guy grabs the reins and runs with the job. Today we’re going to have a look at teams whose closing situations remain in flux, and identify the guys who could be next in line for saves in case lead man falters.
Los Angeles Angels
Joe Smith, Jason Grilli, Kevin Jepsen
In one of the weirder moves of the season, on Friday the Angels and the Pirates consummated a trade where they swapped former struggling closers. The Frieri for Grilli deal does make sense, but only in the kind of way where each team wants to be clear of their guy and thinks the other one just needs a change of scenery. At the moment, this leaves Joe Smith as the guy – he’s been effective, and he’s gotten the latest save. Furthermore, said latest save came after Frieri loaded the bases with more ineffective pitching (probably leading to his Angels demise). I’d say he’s earned a small amount of leash, but not a ton – the Sciosciapath loves to change closers at the drop of a hat, and he’s now got a former All-Star in Grilli. Keep a close eye on this closer spot – I would not be surprised one bit if Grilli put in a couple of good outings, Smith had a single bad one, and Grilli ended up with the job.
Mark Melancon, Ernesto Frieri, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson
As mentioned above, the Pirates grabbed Frieri for Grilli on Friday. The most interesting piece here is that another team would want Frieri – He’s been completely awful (6.39 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) and the Pirates already had a guy that had done the job, and quite well, before in Melancon. Perhaps they just didn’t want to put up with Grilli any longer – we’ll probably never know. The move solidifies Melancon as the definite closer in this situation, and now Frieri, Watson, and Wilson will jockey for the 8th inning setup role. If Melancon is somehow still available in your league, he’s obviously a must-add.
Chicago White Sox
Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Javy Guerra, Ronald Belisario
We were all wondering how long it would take, and what was completely obvious to the multitude finally became clear to White Sox manager Robin Ventura on Friday: Ronald Belisario is not only not a closer, he’s not even a good reliever. Ventura finally removed Belisario from the closer role, opting to give the chance to Jake Petricka, who successfully converted the save chance, and looks like the guy to own from this bullpen, at least for the moment. I’d call his hold on the job tenuous, at best, however. Javy Guerra has previous Dodgers closing experience, and I’d guess he would be next in line, with the surprisingly effective-of-late Zach Putnam being the dark horse candidate in this race. Petricka should be freely available in most leagues, so go grab him at once if you’re chasing saves like me.
Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain
Ugh. Joe Nathan has been a complete and total disaster this year as a closer. He’s compiled a 6.28 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP on the year, and it seems like he grabs a blown save every week for good measure. He’s definitely running on reputation at this point, as his velocity is way down and his stuff has gone with it. It seems like just when he’s reached the breaking point, he calms down and has a couple of good outings to keep the job. This has gone on for the better part of a month now. If you own Nathan, you’re tearing your hair out – he’s not droppable, and can’t really be traded since nobody will pay anything useful for the full-time closer with the most blown saves in MLB. If you don’t own Nathan, start speculating on Joba Chamberlain. He may look like a bridge troll, but the dude can bring the gas, and has wipeout breaking pitches to back it up. Joba has strung together a 2.67 / 1.10 / 37 K line in 33 mostly dominant innings, and is clearly the better reliever at the moment and for the year. I believe he will have the job by the All-Star break.
Tampa Bay Rays
Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Juan Carlos Oviedo
The Rays signed Grant Balfour to be their lockdown closer for two years, paying him $12 million in the process. Sounds like a match made in heaven, except for the fact that Balfour simply hasn’t been capable of closing out games, on any level. He’s sporting a horrific 5.34 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, but worse than that, it seems like each and every time Joe Maddon tries to go to him in a situation with any kind of leverage, Balfour implodes in spectacular fashion. His confidence (and Maddon’s in him) has to be completely shot at this point. The obvious next guy is would be Jake McGee, and he’s been completely dominant. This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. McGee has gotten some chances, but so have Juan Carlos Oviedo and Joel Peralta. The cost conscious (and last place) Rays don’t want to have to pay closer money to another guy, so they’re cheaping it and doing bullpen by committee, screwing fantasy owners in the process. I’ll bottom line it for you: Not only do I not know what the hell is going on in this bullpen, this is a last place team that has only yielded 14 total saves on the year between 4 guys. I’d avoid the Rays pen at all costs until someone establishes dominance.
Dudelittle (or DooLots, not sure which I like better) has a 55 / 1 K to BB ratio. His WHIP is 0.55. Said 55 K’s have come in 38 innings, a crazy K rate. The A’s are in first place and are bringing a ton of save chances to the table. How is this man only about 75% owned? He’s been one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. Fantasy owners need to check leagues immediately to make certain he isn’t still out there somehow. That is all.
New York Mets
Jenrry Meija, Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, Carlos Torres
Meija was cruising along to the tune of 6 cheap saves before running into trouble in early June. In a single week, he gave up 5 runs in 2.1 innings, blew a save, and lost his stranglehold on the closers job in the Mets bullpen. Since that time, Jenrry has pitched better, but the Mets have only had 2 save chances, one of which he was pulled from (he converted the other). None of this uncertainty is endearing him to fantasy owners, who are sitting around waiting for clarity. On Friday, Meija pitched the 9th and 10th, striking out 4 and allowing 0 earned runs. Familia was used in a setup-type role in this game, and Vic Black eventually allowed the winning run to score, so it seems like Meija may have gained a bit of traction with the good outing. He’s still the guy to own here (although far from a stable option) and should be snapped up if he’s available and you need saves.