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J.J. Hoover, Jose Leclerc, Tommy Kahnle, lots of rankings movement & other bullpen news

Welcome back to Fake Teams’ weekly bullpen report, wherein I detail the changes in closer rankings, relevant news pertaining to relief pitchers across the league, and pitchers to keep an eye on.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to lead off this week by talking about skills. No, not bow-hunting skills, ninja skills, or Napoleon’s dance and sign language skills. It’s 2017. If you haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite by now, I’m terribly sorry. You have my permission to stop reading this and go watch it.

No, I’m talking about a reliever’s skills versus their bullpen position. It comes up this week because we have a number of relievers right now around baseball that aren’t racking up saves and may not even get many holds, but their skill is undeniable. They can strike batters out left and right. They can generate gobs of grounders. They have miniscule WHIPs. They deserve our fantasy attention for two reasons: they can help in all leagues with K/9, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP, and they are often the ones that end up in the closer’s chair when the music stops. Even in an era where many (but not all) managers value roles and #closerexperience over skill, the best relievers often end up in the most important positions.

I want to highlight a few of these skill over role guys this week: Tommy Kahnle, Jose Leclerc, and Chris Devenski. I’m sure I will focus on more in the coming weeks, but these three have set themselves apart so far. I’m not going to go into the stats for each of them, but I will simply point out the value of the worst of the three in several stats.

Worst K%: 44.1% (Leclerc)

Worst BB%: 3.3% (Devenski and Kahnle)

Worst ERA: 2.16 (Devenski)

Worst FIP: 1.87 (Devenski)

Worst xFIP: 1.83 (Leclerc)

Worst SwStr%: 19.7% (Kahnle)

Those numbers should give you an idea just how crazy good these guys have been. Remember, that’s just the worst of the bunch. Leclerc is in a shaky bullpen situation that has already seen a closer change or two. In addition to the elite production, you can speculate on saves with Leclerc. He’s behind both Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress, but is pitching much better than both. Don’t be surprised if he’s the closer at some point this season. If not, you still get great rates.

Devenski has been used in longer outings (about 2 innings), which means he could end up with 110+ innings over the season. No one else in this group can come close to that many innings. He has too much value to the Astros as a long reliever/emergency starter to be the closer, but enjoy 110 innings of Kershaw-like pitching for your fantasy team.

Kahnle is very interesting because the two guys in front of him, David Robertson and Nate Jones are likely trade targets this summer. The closer we get to the trade deadline, the harder it is going to be to find Kahnle on your waiver wire. I predict Kahnle will be closing after the deadline. Now is your chance to pick him up. Enjoy the holds (if you are in a holds league) and elite production in the meantime.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Here are the updated closer ranking tiers:

The Closers

  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Craig Kimbrel (he’s been perhaps the best closer in baseball so far, so it’s time to move him up some spots: 8 saves, 20K in 10.1 innings!)
  • Wade Davis (moved him up a little because he’s been outstanding)
  • Cody Allen (like Kimbrel, 2K per inning! Time to move up)
  • Mark Melancon
  • Ken Giles

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.)
  • Greg Holland (moving up since he continues to rack up saves)
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Edwin Diaz (fell a tier due to control issues: 5 BB in 10 innings)
  • David Robertson (finally up a tier after looking good all season)
  • Brandon Maurer (like Robertson, a well-deserved bump in tier after continued excellence)

The Good Leads

  • Kelvin Herrera (down a tier due to lack of strikeouts)
  • Alex Colome (down a tier, see Herrera, Kelvin)
  • Jim Johnson
  • Tony Watson (has lots of saves, but shaky control so far so he could easily drop a tier)

The Weak Leads

  • Roberto Osuna (He falls several tiers due to his velocity drop and swinging strike drop and poor performances to start the season. This past weekend showed some very good signs, so he might be up a few tiers next week.)
  • Neftali Feliz (the strikeouts are there, but his old home run issues are back with a vengeance)
  • Seung-Hwan Oh (looking a little better lately, but Rosenthal is still right there, so watch out)
  • A.J. Ramos (6 BB in 8 innings! That will get you moved down)
  • Francisco Rodriguez (down a tier due to homeritis, like Feliz)
  • Brandon Kintzler (I still don’t like his low-strikeout ways, but he’s getting lots of weak contact with only five hits in 10.1 innings)

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

  • Shawn Kelley (Glover goes to DL, Treinen’s been bad, so Kelley is closer by default. He hasn’t been great with 4 HR allowed, but he is getting Ks. He moves down one tier for the homers.)
  • Raisel Iglesias/Drew Storen
  • Matt Bush (I don’t think this is a committee anymore, just Bush. I’m keeping him here for now just in case I’m wrong)
  • Bud Norris (See Bush, Matt)
  • Hector Neris/Joaquin Benoit (Neris is the one you want in this pseudo-committee, but he just blew up horribly in LA, so I moved him down a little)
  • Fernando Rodney (danger Will Robinson, danger! 14 hits and 5 BB in 9 innings! Get your shares of the revitalized J.J. Hoover now!)
  • Santiago Casilla/Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle (Casilla is the best choice for those looking for a “closer” in Oakland.)

The Big Leverage Table

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 5 Game Leverage Changes

Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
Jesse Chavez 0 2.26
Steven Okert -0.25 1.65
Jeurys Familia -1.04 1.39
Roberto Osuna 0.31 1.3
Shawn Kelley -0.16 1.28
Luis Garcia 0.06 1.12
Ben Taylor 0 1.1
Danny Farquhar 0.5 1.09
Chase Whitley 0.39 1.09
Blake Parker 0.4 1
Scott Alexander 0.14 0.92
Deolis Guerra 0.23 0.88
Fernando Abad 0.69 0.86
Oliver Perez -0.56 0.85
Ryan Tepera 0.47 0.81
Robbie Ross Jr. -0.03 0.8
Pedro Baez 0.4 0.74
Tony Zych -0.06 0.71
Luke Jackson 0 0.7
Lisalverto Bonilla 0 0.7
Keone Kela -0.21 0.66
Hector Rondon 0.1 0.65
Pat Neshek 0.29 0.65
Craig Stammen 0.13 0.6
Joaquin Benoit 0.08 0.6
Kirby Yates -0.27 0.6
Kevin Quackenbush -0.5 0.58
Joe Jimenez -0.72 0.57
Joakim Soria -0.17 0.56
Joely Rodriguez 0.41 0.56
Yusmeiro Petit 0.35 0.52
Donnie Hart -0.16 0.51
Tim Adleman 0 0.51
J.J. Hoover -0.08 0.48
Enny Romero 0.15 0.48
Trevor Rosenthal -0.07 0.48
Robert Stephenson -0.08 0.47
Sean Gilmartin 0 0.47
Xavier Cedeno 0 0.47
Santiago Casilla 0.23 0.46
Oliver Drake 0.06 0.45
Tony Barnette -0.01 0.44
Brandon Maurer -0.05 0.44
Tommy Hunter 0 0.42
Josh Edgin 0.6 0.41
Seung Hwan Oh 0.25 0.41
Kevin Siegrist 0.16 0.4
Joe Biagini -0.16 0.4
Matt Belisle 0.07 0.39
Danny Barnes -0.05 0.39

I noticed the full table was just way too long, so I cut this off at the top 50 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.

Here are my thoughts on the table this week:

  • Danny Farquhar and Chase Whitely have been used more and more in Tampa. Whitely picked up a save filling in for Colome and Farquhar has become the main setup option. Unfortunately, despite their manager’s confidence, neither of them are very good right now and worth rostering. This is especially true because the Rays probably won’t win many games. Colome is the only Rays reliever to own right now.
  • Blake Parker is clearly the 8th inning guy right now with Bedrosian out. That’s why he’s on this list. Bud Norris is still the clear closer, though.
  • Pedro Baez may be a good pickup in holds leagues. He might pass Sergio Romo as the main setup option. He needs to get his walks down, but Romo has been awful this season. The 8th inning guy on a likely playoff team with a good strikeout rate is good for holds leagues.
  • Tony Zych is back in the picture in Seattle. He has recovered from his biceps replacement surgery. He hasn’t looked like his old self yet, but he’s only thrown 4.1 innings. With Nick Vincent pitching well and Dan Altavilla lurking in AAA, it’s a crowded bullpen behind Edwin Diaz. Still, Zych has, in the past, shown he can be an elite reliever. Don’t forget about him.
  • Keone Kela is back in Texas! After struggling in 2016, he’s back up with the big league club and pitching well. He still has his velocity and, with Jeremy Jeffress struggling, looks likely to be the setup man. Matt Bush has been excellent, so don’t pencil Kela in for the closer’s chair yet, but Kela could be the best holds option on the Rangers right now.
  • Hector Rondon has re-claimed his setup role. After challenges from Carl Edwards, Jr. last fall and Koji Uehara this spring, Rondon seems to have a firm grasp on the setup role. Pedro Strop is also around, but Rondon has earned the job. Look for bunches of holds and good rates. He has Maddon’s trust.
  • Joe Jimenez: I mentioned the young Detroit fire-baller last week, but he showed up again this week. I still like his future closer potential.
  • JJ Hoover may be on the verge of the closer role in Arizona. Rodney has been struggling mightily and Hoover’s been surprisingly good. I picked him up in my deepest league on the chance he gets the job. Archie Bradley is another possibility, but I think the Dbacks will want to keep him in long relief.
  • Trevor Rosenthal is another guy I mentioned last week that still shows up on the list. He is clearly the setup man in St. Louis and just a couple blown saves from Oh away from the closer’s job again. He is putting up insane stats right now and should be owned in all leagues where middle relievers are owned.
  • This table is just another reminder that Santiago Casilla is the main closer in Oakland’s committee. He has the most trust right now.

Thanks for reading and Tschus!