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Zack Burdi, a shaky Tony Watson, Roberto Osuna is back, & more bullpen news!

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It’s Week 6 of Coffee’s for Closers! Catch up on the goings on in MLB bullpens.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I highlighted three under-the-radar non-closers with elite skills that are worth watching. This time, I’m going to focus on something we don’t talk about in bullpens much: prospects. Specifically, I want to talk about one prospect. Relief prospects are not discussed often because so many great relievers come out of nowhere or are failed starters. It isn’t too often that a pure relief prospect becomes a dominant closer.

However, check out this stat line from AAA:

10.2 innings, 2.53 ERA, 2.48 xFIP, 15.19 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, 14% PU% (14% of all balls in play against him are pop-ups!)

This guy is White Sox relief prospect Zack Burdi. He throws 100 mph and put up big strikeout rates everywhere he’s been. The only issue in the past was a walk rate above 5 BB/9, which isn’t going to cut it in the majors, even with his great stuff. His walk rate is way down this year and the results have been great.

Now, the White Sox bullpen is a bit crowded, even with Nate Jones now on the DL. Tommy Kahnle (highlighted last week), Anthony Swarzak (who’s been dominant) and David Robertson are still there for now. Plus, you know, Burdi is in AAA. All that being said, it’s only a matter of time before Burdi gets the call. With Jones and Robertson possibly on the trading block this summer (the White Sox being in contention may mess that up), there should be room for Burdi to step into a high leverage role. I expect to see Burdi as the setup man or 7th inning option by August 1.

I don’t recommend trying to bet on future closers that are a year away in dynasty leagues because bullpens are so fluid, but Burdi should at least be on your radar. He’s one of the very best young relievers in the minor leagues.

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

The Closers

  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Craig Kimbrel (he’s back to peak Kimbrel form, so he needs to be up here)
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Wade Davis
  • Cody Allen
  • Mark Melancon
  • Ken Giles

Cadillac Eldorados

  • Brad Brach (Britton heads back to the DL, so Brach can continue to rack up saves. I hope you grabbed him when you had the chance because he could be the closer for the rest of the season.)
  • Greg Holland
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Edwin Diaz (the Ks are there, but so are the walks)
  • David Robertson
  • Brandon Maurer (looking crazy good so far. What is going on with him? He probably belongs higher)

The Good Leads

  • Roberto Osuna (He moves up after looking much better this week. He should move up again next week if he stays healthy)
  • Kelvin Herrera (still lacking Ks with a K rate of 19%, well below his previous career average of about 26%. I’m worried, but the Nationals are reportedly interested in him, which would boost his value, even without the strikeouts. Still, I have some concerns)
  • Alex Colome (Unlike Herrera, Colome’s strikeouts have returned recently, but he still has a high walk rate, so it’s not all safe yet.)
  • Jim Johnson

The Weak Leads

  • Seung-Hwan Oh (His strikeouts are still way down from last year, but he’s not walking anyone, so there is some hope and his swinging strike rate is still a good 14%)
  • A.J. Ramos (He looked better this week, but still has too many walks)
  • Brandon Kintzler (A K%-BB% of just 2%!!! and a ground ball rate that is now in the forties scream a very vulnerable reliever. There aren’t any great relievers behind him, so I don’t know what will happen here. Kintzler is due for some major regression, though)
  • Neftal Feliz (I moved him down a little because the homers are still there, the strikeouts are down and the walks are up. Things are not looking great.)
  • Tony Watson (His K/9 and BB/9 are both bad. I’m very concerned, despite the 7 saves. Felipe Rivero has been much better this season, so this bullpen should be Code Red along with Arizona. Rivero isn’t a bad speculation play)

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

  • Raisel Iglesias/Drew Storen (Iglesias has been very good and is getting almost all the saves, so it might be time to move him up)
  • Matt Bush (If he ever gets a save opportunity, he should be good and I will move him up)
  • Bud Norris (blew a save this week and the walk rate is getting high, but everything else still looks good for now)
  • Hector Neris/Joaquin Benoit (Neris is the one you want in this pseudo-committee, but he has struggled lately.)
  • Fernando Rodney (he had one good save this week, but the outing before that was awful, so still zero trust here. Archie Bradley seems to have passed JJ Hoover on the depth chart, though.)
  • Santiago Casilla/Ryan Madson (Casilla is the still best choice for those looking for a “closer” in Oakland. Doolittle moves to the DL.)
  • Detroit Closer/Justin Wilson/Alex Wilson/K-Rod (I think Justin Wilson gets first crack at the closer’s role in Detroit after K-Rod has blown even more saves this past weekend. But, this could be a mess like Washington for a little while. Justin Wilson has the skills to run with the job, though.)
  • Matt Albers/Enny Romero (Shawn Kelley heads to the DL, leaving only the dregs. Koda Glover should be back soon and will likely take the job, but a trade for Herrera, Robertson, or someone like that is probably the most likely scenario at this point for the long term. What a mess.)

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 6 Game Leverage Changes

Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
Name Past Week gmLI Change Last Two Weeks gmLI Change
David Hernandez -0.25 1.75
Alec Asher 0 1.2
Jayson Aquino -1.13 1.14
Jacob Turner 0.42 0.92
Ryan Garton -0.38 0.88
Brooks Pounders -0.6 0.74
T.J. McFarland 0.37 0.71
Chase Whitley 0.31 0.7
Cody Allen 0.3 0.69
Adam Liberatore 0 0.69
Joely Rodriguez 0.22 0.63
Chad Qualls 0.56 0.62
Chris Heston 0 0.62
Chris Stratton 0.54 0.54
Nick Goody 0.28 0.5
Josh Fields 0.11 0.46
Tyler Lyons 0.12 0.46
Alex Colome 0.15 0.46
Josh Edgin -0.15 0.45
Ryan Tepera -0.02 0.45
Bud Norris 0.26 0.44
Pedro Baez 0.02 0.42
Anthony Bass -0.3 0.42
Yusmeiro Petit 0.07 0.42
Fernando Abad -0.28 0.41
Buddy Boshers 0 0.41
Deolis Guerra 0.17 0.4
Jason Motte -0.19 0.34
Santiago Casilla 0.11 0.34
Blake Parker -0.08 0.32
Jorge de la Rosa 0.27 0.31
Neil Ramirez 0.37 0.31
Seung Hwan Oh 0.05 0.3
Randall Delgado 0.15 0.28
Mark Leiter 0.09 0.27
Pedro Strop 0.37 0.26
Jordan Lyles 0.25 0.25
Oliver Drake 0.19 0.25
Danny Farquhar -0.25 0.25
Nick Vincent 0.3 0.24
Vidal Nuno -0.04 0.24
Cesar Valdez -0.05 0.23
Derek Law 0.12 0.23
Dan Jennings 0 0.22
Aroldis Chapman 0.11 0.21
Jeremy Jeffress 0.14 0.21
Chih-Wei Hu -0.05 0.2
Mike Dunn 0.2 0.2
Enny Romero 0.04 0.19
Josh Collmenter 0.09 0.19

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:

  • It’s a pretty quiet week for this table. There are a lot of closers, guys we already know about, or guys that are just terrible, despite the fact that they’ve been used in tight situations.
  • Jacob Turner has been used more and more in Washington as part of that mess of a bullpen. He’s not likely to get saves, even with all the turmoil, but he has pitched well so far. I don’t know if he can keep up the K/9 he’s got with a 6.3% swinging strike rate. Washington would prefer to use him in the rotation, so he might not be long for the ‘pen.
  • T.J. McFarland has become the new Brad Ziegler in Arizona. Jorge de la Rosa and JJ Hoover are certainly ahead of him and he doesn’t get strikeouts, but man can he generate grounders.
  • Josh Fields, who has spent some time in AAA this season, has looked very good with the Dodgers. The setup role is always in flux in LA, with Romo struggling and Baez walking way too many. Fields is pitching the best of the group and could easily end up the primary setup man. Holds leagues, keep an eye on him.
  • Jorge de la Rosa is a very good holds option already, is SP-eligible, and could be the closer if Rodney’s struggles continue, but it is unclear with Archie Bradley and JJ Hoover around.

That’s all I can pull from the table this week. Tschus!