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Coffee’s for Closers: Week 4

Welcome to the latest edition of Fake Teams’ bullpen report, wherein Bud Norris is a closer, bullpens are rivers, and Hector Neris takes his rightful place.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpens are like an ocean. Or maybe a river. I don’t know, some sort of water analogy. They are always changing, somewhat unpredictable, sometimes crash into rocks? Once again, we have some (many) changes to bullpens in the past week. Santiago Casilla didn’t have his manager’s trust a couple weeks ago, but now he appears to be the primary closer in Oakland. Matt Bush might be healthy and finally in charge of the Texas committee. Cam Bedrosian ends a great early season run as closer with a DL trip, opening up room for two unexpected closer names in Bud Norris and Blake Parker. Hector Neris finally took his rightful place as closer in Philly.

Blake Treinen’s fall in Washington is now complete. Shawn Kelley returns to his old role, just like everyone (no one) thought. Trevor Rosenthal continues to march towards the closer’s role in St. Louis. And that’s just one week. The bullpen rapids are always churning. Grab a paddle and a kayak and let’s dive in. Or something like that.

Now it’s time for the ranking tiers, the table of leverage index leaders, and some discussion about that leaderboard.

The Closers

  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Edwin Diaz
  • Mark Melancon
  • Roberto Osuna
  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Ken Giles
  • Wade Davis (he looks healthy, the strikeouts are there, and he’s going to get a lot of saves so he moves up a tier)

Cadillac Eldorados

  • Brad Brach (not as good as Zach Britton, but a great pitcher himself. He’s a fantastic fill in option for Britton owners and anyone chasing short term saves.)
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Cody Allen
  • Alex Colome
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Greg Holland (it’s time for a tier bump for this guy. He’s been terrific all around and racking up saves early)

The Good Leads

  • David Robertson
  • Brandon Maurer
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Jim Johnson
  • Neftali Feliz

The Weak Leads

  • A.J. Ramos
  • Seung-Hwan Oh (he’s on very shaky footing now. Trevor Rosenthal is hot on his heels and looking much better than in 2016)
  • Tony Watson
  • Shawn Kelley (he’s been good, but he also lost his job coming into the year and has some durability concerns, so he ends up here)

The Timeshares (these are just the lowest tier, they aren’t all in true committees)

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Hector Neris/Joaquin Benoit (I think Neris is far superior and will win this job outright, but it appears to be a bit of a committee right now)
  • Raisel Iglesias/Michael Lorenzen
  • Matt Bush/Jeremy Jeffress/Jose Leclerc (Bush is apparently healthy and should run with this job. I expect him to move up next week, just like Neris.)
  • Santiago Casilla/Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle (Casilla is now the leader of this group in terms of role, but Madson picked up a save while Casilla was resting. Casilla is the best choice for those looking for a “closer” in Oakland.)
  • Blake Parker/Bud Norris (this new committee has emerged from the wreckage of Cam Bedrosian’s DL stint. Cam was much better than these two, so this bullpen is going to a bit of a mess until he gets back. Norris should be the leader here.)

The Big Leverage Table

As promised, here’s a table showing all relievers in terms of game leverage index (gmLI), courtesy of Fangraphs. Remember, this is a measure of how tight the game is when they enter the game and is a proxy for how much trust a manager has in a reliever. I’m using this to track changes in bullpens throughout the season. A gmLI that is trending up means the manager is trusting them more and may move them into a better role, while a declining gmLI might mean they are falling out of the high leverage picture altogether. For more on leverage index, I encourage you to read this Fangraphs entry. I’m going to focus primarily on the “last two weeks” column, since one week’s worth of gmLI data can be pretty noisy. Two weeks gives us a more stable number to evaluate.

Week 4 Game Leverage Changes

Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
Xavier Cedeno 0.47 2.97
Adam Conley 0 2.3
Chase De Jong -1.24 2.17
J.P. Howell 0 2.1
David Robertson -0.26 2.1
Neftali Feliz 0.29 2.05
Shawn Kelley 1.44 2.02
Mark Melancon 0.03 2
Francisco Rodriguez -0.01 1.89
Dellin Betances 0.06 1.8
Robby Scott 0.38 1.78
Travis Wood 0.25 1.72
Roberto Osuna 0.99 1.67
Jarlin Garcia 0.2 1.54
Brett Cecil -0.06 1.5
Dario Alvarez 0.28 1.45
Sam Dyson 0.17 1.37
Luke Gregerson 0.01 1.33
Ryan Dull 0.06 1.32
Hansel Robles -0.25 1.31
Chris Rusin 0.25 1.3
Joe Jimenez 1.29 1.3
Trevor Rosenthal 0.55 1.28
Bud Norris 0.15 1.23
Luis Garcia 1.06 1.2
David Phelps 0.02 1.19
Kevin Quackenbush 1.08 1.19
Blake Treinen -0.1 1.15
Casey Lawrence 0 1.09
Jhan Marinez -0.35 1.08
Mike Montgomery -0.26 1.07
Tyler Clippard -0.08 1.06
George Kontos -0.1 1.05
Kelvin Herrera 0.43 1.04
Jason Grilli 0.06 1.03
Oliver Perez 1.41 1.01
Corey Knebel -0.13 1.01
Joe Blanton 0.31 1.01
Nate Jones -0.05 1

I noticed last week’s table was just way too long, so I cut this off at the top 40 in terms of gmLI change in the past two weeks (the table is sorted by that). If you want to look at the full list, you can find it here.

There are just a few names of note here to discuss. Players on their way up (which I define as being on this table and having a positive one week gmLI change) include: Shawn Kelley (already a closer), Dellin Betances, Jarlin Garcia, Robby Scott, Joe Jimenez, Bud Norris, and Oliver Perez. I left out the ones that are already clear-cut closers and those that are not worth discussing.

Betances is a known entity and doesn’t need any discussion. Jarlin Garcia has some great strikeout numbers in just 2.2 innings, but his minor league numbers (6 K/9) and the fact that he is behind at least three guys in the Marlins ‘pen mean he’s not going anywhere.

Who is Robby Scott? I didn’t know either. It turns out he is a mediocre lefty reliever with the Red Sox. Not much there. Shawn Kelley clearly has Dusty Baker’s trust, as shown by these numbers and the fact that he is now the closer in Washington. He should have some leash.

Bud Norris is in the mix for the closer’s job in Anaheim with Blake Parker. These numbers (and one beat reporter) suggest that Norris is first in the pecking order. I would give him the head of the committee title. Oliver Perez is just another high-strikeout, poor control, homer-inducing lefty in Washington’s bullpen. He’s too far from saves to be relevant right now.

Ok, so that was lots of duds on this week’s leverage leaderboard. But, I’ve saved the best for last! Joe Jimenez was great as a closer in AAA last season (2.3 ERA, 2.91 xFIP). He’s only thrown 1.2 innings with the Tigers and, although the strikeouts look good, he has blown a save and allowed two earned runs on a home run.

Nonetheless, he is the likely “closer of the future” for the Tigers and has been given the ball in tight situations already, even if he did screw it up. He’s behind K-Rod and the two Wilsons in Detroit right now, but he’s a good long term speculative play. He might be the most talented reliever they have, once he’s fully developed.

So, no big revelations this week with the leverage chart, but I’ll keep tweaking and updating it each week. I may experiment with what gives the best results as far as identifying future closers and guys moving up in the bullpen.

Oh, and last week I highlighted Dan Altavilla of the Mariners. He was promptly sent down to AAA after a 3 ER disaster against Oakland. He was still pitching well overall, so this seemed like a premature demotion. I understand they had to make room for some other relievers on the roster, so the young guy gets the boot. He’s still very talented and should be back up later, but this is still a big blow to any value he had. Nick Vincent is the clear number two behind Diaz in Seattle, with flamethrower Tony Zych back from injury and ready to start pressuring Vincent.