May 9, 2017
Welcome back to the Closer Report. It was a busy week on the closer front, so we’ll get right into it. Before we do, just a reminder than you can keep up with changes with The Closer Grid, and the cells highlighted in yellow represent changes since the last column.
Francisco Rodriguez is almost certainly out in Detroit
It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, to put it nicely. The wheels appear to finally be falling off for one of the more underrated relievers of the past 20 years. He’s now allowed at least one run in eight of his 13 appearances in 2017, and there’s been speculation about him losing his job for a couple of weeks. After blowing two saves this weekend—and permitting two base runners in the one save he converted over the past week—it’s gotta be the time for the Tigers to make a change. As of this writing, nothing has been announced but it’s probably safe to assume one is coming. The only question is who they will promote. My pick, and the most logical one, is Justin Wilson. He’s been their eighth-inning arm since 2016, and has been phenomenal to start this season. Through his first 15 appearances he has a 1.32 ERA, a 1.38 DRA, a 69 cFIP and over 14 K/9. The biggest issue for Wilson is that he’s a lefty and has been the one consistent arm in their bullpen. Brad Ausmus might not want to lock him into the ninth inning. I’d still make him my priority on waivers, but if he’s already owned and you still want to speculate on this situation, Alex Wilson could be worth a look. With his low strikeout rate he’s not worth holding on to if he doesn’t get the job, but there’s certainly a nonzero chance he gets the first crack at saves in Detroit.
Zach Britton hits the disabled list again
Like I said over the past few weeks, forearm injuries are scary and I like to protect against them. Sometimes, nothing happens, as has so far been the case with Wade Davis. Other times, like with Britton, the problems come back up. This puts Brad Brach right back in the closer role, and it’s probable that the Orioles will be more cautious with Britton this time around. There’s no reason to believe this injury is anything close to season-ending, but you never know how long forearm injuries will last. It’s worth noting that Brach’s strikeout and swinging-strike rates are down quite a bit this year, but his hit rate is at a career low. With all of that considered, he’s probably toward the bottom of the top-15 closers as long as he’s holding the gig.
The Nationals came in the No. 1 team rumored to hit the trade market for an ace reliever, and nothing that’s happened this season has changed anything. Blake Treinen quickly pitched his way out of the ninth inning, leading to shared duties between Kelley and Glover. Now, both of them are on the disabled list and the Nationals are without any clear option in the ninth. The first chance went to Matt Albers, who finally received his first career save. He later blew a save opportunity Sunday. Albers is still he most likely name to get saves until one of the other two are healthy, but that should be a short-enough amount of time to not rush to the waiver wire. If Albers were a better pitcher it’d be more defendable, but Glover should be back at some point in the coming week. Look elsewhere if you’re looking for saves, or pick up Glover if he’s available in your league.
Bud Norris struggles in his second week
One of the more surprising stories recently in Closer Land was how effective Norris was after taking over the ninth inning in the Angels’ decimated bullpen. He came back this week and blew two saves. That isn’t enough to push him out of the ninth, but given his track record I’d think he has a relatively short leash right now. I put David Hernandez behind him on the grid, as the former Phillies closer has been quite good in his first seven appearances with the Angels and has a solid track record. His biggest weakness has always been the long ball, but that should be less of an issue in the AL West. Cam Bedrosian, Huston Street and Andrew Bailey are all getting ready to or recently started throwing bullpen sessions, so we’re likely at least a month away from reinforcements coming back for Los Angeles.
• Brandon Kintzler had a rough week for the Twins, and has lost the control that made him surprisingly effective in 2016. His ERA is still good, but that feels like it’s going to change quickly. Matt Belisle isn’t super exciting, but don’t be surprised if he’s getting save chances in the next couple of weeks.
• Sean Doolittle hit the disabled list, opening the door for Santiago Casilla to get even more save chances in Oakland. As someone who made plenty of bets on Doolittle this winter, it’s not an encouraging development—but his injury doesn’t look to be too serious.
• Fernando Rodney didn’t allow a run this week and converted two save opportunities. Given the way his career has gone, that should buy him about a month of blown saves.