This week’s introduction is brought to you by the Texas Rangers. Hello Nolan Ryan and company! Their bullpen contains a former #1 overall pick at shortstop as a closer, a setup guy that has bounced back and forth between AAA and the majors in recent seasons, and two guys that were unknown before this year that are actually the best they have. For those playing at home, that was Matt Bush, Keone Kela, Jose Leclerc, and Alex Claudio.
The reason I am talking about them today is that Matt Bush has been pitching poorly of late. Since 5/30, he’s given up 8 ER in 8 innings. That includes 4 home runs, 5.63 BB/9, a 9.89 FIP, and a 5.86 xFIP. Ouch. Lucky for him, he was so good before that stretch that his ERA is still only 3.38 for the season. Still, his manager probably doesn’t have much trust in him right now. It could just be a cold stretch or it could be an injury. FWIW, his velocity and release points look fine, so any injury isn’t obvious.
With Bush struggling, Keone Kela seems to be the most likely to be promoted. He was sent down to AAA earlier this season, but has been mostly good since. He can rack up strikeouts and has a not-awful but not good walk rate of 4.08 BB/9. He refuses to get ground balls with a 30% GB%, but that’s ok when you have a massive 21.4% IFFB% (which converts to a 13.5% pop-up%). Oh, and his hard hit rate is only 25%. His FIP and SIERA are both near 3.20. xFIP doesn’t like all the fly balls, but xFIP doesn’t like any fly ball pitchers. Overall, Kela would make an above average closer like Jim Johnson without the grounders. He’s definitely worth a stash right now.
Jose Leclerc is certainly the best reliever in the ‘pen. His 41% K% is one of the highest in baseball. A 2.25 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 3.01 xFIP show just how good he has been. Yes, his 13.3% walk rate isn’t good, but he’s got plenty of strikeouts to overcome that. I think he is stuck behind Kela if Bush gets moved out of the closer chair, but man, is he a good option in holds leagues this year.
Finally, Alex Claudio doesn’t have velocity or strikeouts like these other guys, but a tiny 1.67 BB/9 and 68.7% GB% make up for it. He has a 2.15 ERA and 3.37 xFIP to show for it. I’m not saying holds leagues should be picking this guy up because a 5.26 K/9 is awful in most leagues, but I think he is better than he is given credit for and he is much better than the rest of the ‘pen.
On to the updated closer rankings:
- Craig Kimbrel
- Kenley Jansen
- Aroldis Chapman
- Wade Davis
- Corey Knebel (he’s been insanely good. 65 Ks, 37 IP, 4 ER. Yeah, you read that right. Time to put him in the right company and move him up.)
- Roberto Osuna (He was out for three days dealing with a very serious anxiety/mental health issue. I can’t tell you how important mental health is and it should be treated the same way as broken shoulders or pneumonia, which no one questions missing time for. I’m all about removing the stigmas around mental health issues and making sure everyone feels comfortable asking for help. Anyway, I’m glad he seems to be doing better since he came back and pitched on Sunday.)
- David Robertson
- Addison Reed
- Greg Holland
The Good Leads
- Ken Giles
- Edwin Diaz
- Brad Brach (Zach Britton is on a rehab assignment and could be back in the next 10 days. I hope you enjoyed the ride, Brach owners, including myself, because it is about to end, unless Britton gets hurt shortly after coming back like last time. Don’t dump Brach right away, just in case.)
- Mark Melancon (I’m moving him down a tier because he has taken steps back this year and his team is awful, giving him few save opportunities)
- Jim Johnson
- Fernando Rodney (Welp, this is where we are, folks. Fernando Rodney hasn’t given up a run in over a month, has the best xFIP among all relievers in the past two weeks, and has just been great. Somebody wake me up. Sigh, I guess I have to move him up again this week. He’s 40 years old and debuted in 2002!)
- Alex Colome (Two straight meltdowns don’t look good, so I’m moving him to the bottom of this tier. Overall, he’s not in too much trouble, but five ER in two innings isn’t great for his job security, either.)
The Weak Leads
- Raisel Iglesias (This tier is starting to feel wrong for him. These other guys are very shaky, but Iglesias seems better. He’s ready for a move up next week.)
- Kelvin Herrera (Herrera can’t escape this tier. His K/9 this month is just 7, with a 6 ERA and 4.80 FIP. In fact, everyone in this tier that has the job to themselves has been really struggling recently, except for Kintzler. Iglesias has the best advanced stats, but has a 5.4 ERA this month.)
- Seung-Hwan Oh (He’s still a diminished version of his 2016 self, but Rosenthal has also been struggling lately, so he still has a job. Just know that he is on shaky ground and moves down a tier because of it. Also, Rosenthal’s struggles are just due to some walks and unlucky BABIP. His strikeouts are still blowing Oh out of the water, so Oh is not completely safe at all.)
- Justin Wilson (He falls a tier to join Oh after issuing 6 walks in 5.1 innings in June so far. His strikeouts have dropped too, so I am worried. His non-relative Alex Wilson isn’t special, so I don’t think Justin is in danger yet, but he’s been worse than Oh.)
- Cody Allen/Andrew Miller (The Indians have decided, at Allen’s suggestion, to share saves between Allen and Andrew Miller. Allen is still good enough that I decided to put him on this tier instead of lower, but if the saves are split evenly, this committee might move down farther.)
- Matt Bush (Do you really want to read more about this bullpen? I wrote like 462 words about it up above)
- Brandon Kintzler (Against all odds, he just keeps chugging along. Somehow, he only has three blown saves all year.)
The Timeshares (these are just the lowest tier, they aren’t all in true committees)
- Brandon Maurer
- A.J. Ramos
- Felipe Rivero (It looks like the excellent Rivero has this job to himself now and should quickly ascend a couple tiers with his skills.)
- Hector Neris/Pat Neshek
- Santiago Casilla
- Blake Parker/David Hernandez/Cam Bedrosian/Huston Street (Mess city. Who will get the most saves this week? I don’t think Mike Scioscia knows. Bedrosian is still my long-term pick, but you should probably just avoid this.)
- Enny Romero/Matt Albers (With Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover on the DL, it’s up to these two fill-ins for now. Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Pat Neshek, Brad Hand, and basically every reliever on a non-contender with a pulse has been linked to this team. They will certainly get at least one, if not two or more before the trade deadline, so don’t expect stability here until then.)
Here’s the big leverage versus skills graph, updated with the most recent stats.
My apologies to those on mobile, it doesn’t display well on small screens. You should be able to download it though and look at the whole thing. Also, if you are reading this 5+ days after it was posted, the graph will automatically update to the most recent data, so my commentary won’t make sense below.
As you can see, I tried to color code this graph to show four different groups: those that are in danger of losing their closer’s (or setup) job, those that are very safe and locked in, those that we just don’t care about at all, and the rest (“other”).
Anyone with a z-score over 2.0 is an above average or great reliever and anyone with a gmLI over 1.0 is being used in situations that are higher leverage than average. If a pitcher is used a lot in high leverage situations (high gmLI) but has a low z-score, it means he might not be a good enough pitcher to keep the job. Those guys are all in the upper left region. Guys with high gmLI and high z-scores are safe bets to keep their jobs all season, unless they get hurt. They have their manager’s full trust and are pitching very well. Kimbrel, Jansen, and Doolittle are the leaders of this pack in the upper right.
The guys in between the groups in gray are ok. They aren’t bad and they aren’t great. They have z-scores over -1 and some are used in high leverage situations, but not all.
If you hover over a data point, it should give you the name of the player and their numbers. The “Highlight Name” search bar lets you find a specific player.
As I do every week, I’m just going to list the current closers that are “In Danger” to give you a heads up that you might want to handcuff them and prepare for them being removed from the job.
Here’s the list: Enny Romero, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Bush, and Jason Grilli
Just outside the red danger zone: Brandon Maurer, Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera, AJ Ramos, Seung-Hwan Oh, and Fernando Rodney.
None of the guys I listed are necessarily in immediate danger. But, some are walking on thin ice. This is especially true for guys with an elite option behind them like Matt Bush, Seung-Hwan Oh, Brandon Maurer, Cody Allen, and Kelvin Herrera. They certainly have their weaknesses.
I’m not yet very worried about Allen, Herrera, Maurer, Ramos, or Rodney. They’ve all been at least OK lately. Romero, Kintzler, Oh, and Bush owners should be worried, however. Tschus!