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Seung Hwan Oh coming back, Jim Johnson stumbling, a mess in Texas & more bullpen news!

Week 15 of Coffee’s for Closers is here! We have blazed past the halfway point, so the fantasy playoffs aren’t far away anymore! What happened this week in MLB bullpens?

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Although he’s not a closer anymore, thanks to Aroldis Chapman’s return to health, Dellin Betances has been an important fantasy asset since he joined the Yankees full-time back in 2014. Wow, I didn’t realize he’s been around for almost three years now. He’s been neck-and-neck with Andrew Miller for “best non-closing reliever” every year. With shiny ERAs, FIPs and xFIPs in the 1s and 2s, and K% over 38%, he’s been extremely valuable as a rate booster. Until this season, that is.

You see, he’s developed a bit of a problem. See if you can spot the subtle change in this string of numbers:

7.0%, 12.1%, 9.4%, 21.1%

Did you catch the small uptick at the end there? As you probably guessed, these are Betances’ walk rates in each of the four seasons he’s been in the league (he debuted for 5 innings in 2013, but I’m ignoring it). He has suddenly stopped throwing strikes. The last two seasons, his first-pitch strike % has hovered around 60%. This year it’s 51%. His out-of-zone swing % has also dropped by nearly 10%, meaning hitters aren’t chasing nearly as much against him.

The good news is that his zone % (pitches thrown in the zone) has stayed the same, his contact % is at a career low, his home-run rate is at a career low, he’s still at 50% GB%, his swinging strike rate is at a career high, and his K/9 is at a four year high. He’s doing basically everything extremely well except preventing walks.

Hitters aren’t helping him out. They are swinging 5% less than last year against him, and with Betances not throwing first-pitch strikes as much, he falls behind and never recovers. His rate of looking strikes, foul ball strikes, and swinging strikes really hasn’t changed, so it’s not bad receiving, or fewer foul balls that is hurting him.

My advice to his owners is to stay the course. He’s going through a rough patch, but all the skills are still there, he just has this one issue that he’s never had trouble with before. He’s throwing in the zone as much as before, but hitters simply aren’t chasing outside the zone as much. He should be able to adjust. Remember when Edwin Diaz was walking everyone earlier this year? It didn’t take him long to figure it out and get back to being dominant, so I’m not yet worried about Betances.

On to the updated closer rankings:

The Closers

  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Wade Davis

Cadillac Eldorados

  • Corey Knebel
  • Roberto Osuna
  • David Robertson
  • Addison Reed
  • Greg Holland

The Good Leads

  • Ken Giles
  • Zach Britton (He hasn’t been back long enough to say he’s going to stick around this time, but obviously, you’re glad to have him back if you’ve waited this long. I expect him to be great and move up next week.)
  • Felipe Rivero (He was used a lot last week, so Juan Nicasio picked up a save. Nothing to worry about.)
  • Raisel Iglesias (He moves up because he’s been solid all year and two guys just moved down to make room for him.)
  • Edwin Diaz (He had a rough week two weeks ago, but looked great again last week, so he moves up a tier, back to where he was three weeks ago.)

The Weak Leads

  • Fernando Rodney (Welcome back down to this tier, Mr. Rodney. Your true colors have returned in recent appearances, allowing 5 ER in two appearances, but he also mixed in two scoreless appearances as well. He hasn’t completely imploded yet, but I still think he will and Archie Bradley has not slowed down behind him.)
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Justin Wilson
  • Cody Allen/Andrew Miller
  • Jim Johnson (Who had a worse week than Rodney? How about this guy? He’s lucky that no one behind him that’s healthy is any good. He has 7 blown saves this year already. He’s losing fantasy value fast. However, don’t forget he’s still got a 2.43 FIP and 3.06 xFIP on the season, so he’s been pretty good overall. He falls a tier, none-the-less.)
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Brandon Maurer
  • A.J. Ramos

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

  • Seung Hwan Oh/Trevor Rosenthal (Oh picked up a save last week and Rosenthal has been struggling a lot, but Oh hasn’t been spotless, with some home run issues in recent weeks. However, Oh seems to have the upper hand here and will likely regain control completely in the near future.)
  • Alex Colome (He still has the job after not blowing his most recent two save opportunities, but he has been awful still. Since 6/25, his ERA is 14.4, with a 9.22 xFIP and an 8.96 FIP and more walks than strikeouts. Brad Boxberger should really already have this job, IMHO. This is a change about to happen.)
  • Jose Leclerc/Alex Claudio/Matt Bush (You might remember I discussed this bullpen in depth a few weeks ago in this space. Leclerc is still the most talented and should be heading this committee, but Claudio has also been good, and Bannister still trusts Bush somewhat, so all three are in play. My money’s on Leclerc, FWIW.)
  • Hector Neris/Pat Neshek
  • Santiago Casilla
  • Sam Dyson
  • Bud Norris
  • Enny Romero/Matt Albers

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 Osuna 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, Matt Bush

Just outside the red danger zone: Santiago Casilla, Zach Britton (!), Sam Dyson, Brandon Kintzler, Alex Colome, Fernando Rodney, Seung Hwan Oh, A.J. Ramos, Kelvin Herrera

I’ve already mentioned that Colome is in extreme danger of losing his job and Matt Bush is at the back end of a three-person committee. Romero is really the backup closer to Matt Albers anyway, so you shouldn’t be relying on him for saves. Kintzler always lives on the edge with his lack of strikeouts, but he’s in no danger right now.

Oh already lost his job and is on the slow road to taking it back fully, but is still shaky. Dyson has turned it around after a dreadful early season, Britton was injured, Rodney has been very good until last week, so I’m not yet worried about his job, and Ramos and Herrera have been fine and have their managers’ confidence. Tschus!