Closer Report: Mid-Season Update - National League
Welcome to Part 2 of the Mid-Season Update for the Closer Report. For those who misssed yesterday's installment that covered the American League, just click here and you'll be set.
Today we're looking at the National League closer situations. We're covering the current situation as well as potential changes we could see as more teams resolve themselves to being buyers or sellers on the trade market and what level of interest they have in bullpen help. We could see an awful lot of movement in both leagues this year, so here's a look at what's going on in the NL for right now...
Atlanta Braves – Is there anyone more stable than Craig Kimbrel? His 27 saves share the league lead and his 15.28 K/9 is third amongst qualified relievers in MLB. He’s actually issuing a few more walks than usual but has allowed fewer hits, thus keeping his WHIP down around 0.93 for the season. There was a fleeting moment of concern regarding his shoulder early on in the season, but that hasn’t been an issue at all and he remains one of the most reliable ninth-inning specialists in the game. David Carpenter returns from the DL to be his primary set-up man and if Kimbrel pitches for three-straight day, it will be either him or Jordan Walden getting the opportunity.
Arizona Diamondbacks – While Addison Reed has held down the job all year, his 4.15 ERA is not what you’re looking for in a closer. And it’s probably not what new Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa is looking for either which makes Reed a prime candidate to be shipped out by the time the trade deadline rolls around. He’ll continue to hold the job should he stay with the Diamondbacks, but in case he doesn’t, you’ll want to own Brad Ziegler.
Chicago Cubs – While there was a point where it looked like Hector Rondon was going to have a platoon partner in Neil Ramirez, the 26-year old right-hander turned his game around and has posted three saves in his last four appearances while taking back sole control of the job once again. What his level of opportunities will become moving forward might be in question though as the Cubs have already begun their fire sale. Pretty tough to accumulate saves if your team never has the lead.
Cincinnati Reds – This is one of the easier to report on as it’s all about Aroldis Chapman in the ninth for the Reds. Since coming back from his facial/head injuries, Chapman has 24 saves with a 2.55 ERA (0.80 FIP) and a 17.15 K/9 over 24.1 innings. He’s a stud, plain and simple, and he’s staying right where he is. Jonathan Broxton is still the next in-line for saves, but it would take another line drive to the face for Chapman to give up his job.
Colorado Rockies – There are a lot of people in the fantasy community stunned by the fact that 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins is still sitting there as the Rockies’ closer. When we walked into the season, it was a near-certainty for some that he wouldn’t still be here and if so, he was headed out the door. Well, he’s still here an most likely, he’s still headed out the door. The Rockies are quickly turning into sellers what with their entire pitching staff on the DL, and Hawkins is one of the first on their list to sell. He’ll obviously drum up some interest, as he is currently sitting on 14 saves and a 2.79 ERA over 29 innings. The problem is that his strikeout rate is a woeful 10.7-percent and when he does land somewhere, he’s almost assuredly going to be a set-up man. Those are certainly not two characters you look for when drafting a closer. While his future remains murky, the question of who will close in Colorado is important to ask. It’s always been assumed that Rex Brothers is the heir-apparent, but besides being a lefty, he’s just really not that strong this year. He’s rocking a 4.50 ERA over 36 innings, his strikeouts are down, his walks are up and he’s become much more a fly-ball pitcher than a ground ball specialist. That seems to have opened the door for Adam Ottavino who was doing real well until a recent hiccup, but has settled back down and thrown three-straight scoreless appearances. He’s got a higher strikeout rate than Brothers, he walks fewer batters and he’s less likely to give up the long ball with a 45-plus-percent ground ball rate. If/When the Rockies move Hawkins, keep tabs on Ottavino’s role as he could leapfrog Brothers for the job.
Los Angeles Dodgers – This one is a pretty easy one to deal with as the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen locked in to the closer’s job and seem content to leave the situation untouched. He’s had some slip-ups during the year – roughly one a month – where he’ll give up a handful of runs over a few appearances, but he always seems to manage to bounce back. This last one, in which he gave up five runs over four appearances, was quickly stifled by six-straight scoreless appearances and saves recorded in each one. That’ll keep Brian Wilson and Chris Perez in their set-up roles. The Dodgers will be competing for a playoff spot this year, so things in the bullpen should remain as they are.
Miami Marlins – No question about it, Steve Cishek has to be the most underrated closer in the fantasy world these days. No one gives this guy this guy the credit or respect he deserves and it blows my mind. His 3.13 ERA isn’t the greatest we’ve seen, but the 2.07 FIP tells us it’s not his fault. His strikeout rate has gone up this year while his walk rate stays the same and he’s giving up fewer home runs. With 19 saves to date and the marlins playing some nice, competitive ball, he’s certainly capable of posting his second-consecutive 30-save season. There were rumors last season about him being a potential trade candidate, but given the state of the Marlins, it’s hard to see them parting with him right now.
Milwaukee Brewers – What a coup for fantasy owners who were able to land Francisco Rodriguez early on in the season. He’s certainly been the K-Rod of old and all the numbers are there for your statistical enjoyment. Where to begin? How about 27 saves before the All Star break? How about a current 2.34 ERA with a 5.44 K/BB, the second highest it’s been in his entire career? His WHIP is at a 0.87 for the season and he’s even increased his ground ball rate from last year. Jim Henderson is probably still scratching his head, wondering what happened to his job. This town belongs to K-Rod now and he’s not giving it up for no one.
New York Mets – While the Mets will undoubtedly be sellers this season, their bullpen is going to remain largely untouched. And by bullpen, I am only referring to the three arms that matter. You’ve got closer Jenrry Mejia and set-up men Jeurys Familia and Vic Black. Both Mejia and Familia are 24-years old and both under team control until 2019. Black is 26 but the Mets have their hooks into him until 2020. None of these guys appear to be going anywhere. At some point, we expect Black to take over as closer but he still needs to work on fixing his walk rate. As he does make his improvements, Mejia seems to be trending in the opposite direction as his ERA has climbed steadily with each passing month. Eventually the two should switch roles though and that could be as early as this season. Familia had warranted some closer consideration at one point, but he’s worked much better in a set-up role.
Philadelphia Phillies – While Jonathan Papelbon remains the unquestioned closer in Philadelphia right now, also unquestioned is the belief that he’ll be wearing another uniform before the trade deadline arrives. With the Phillies’ season spiraling down the toilet, the anticipated fire sale has teams circling like vultures over a dying animal carcass and Papelbon is a hot topic for many of them. Through 33.1 innings, the veteran close has 19 saves and a 1.35 ERA. Sure, his strikeout rate is down and his walks are up, but he’s also been more reliable than at least half the closers in all of MLB right now. He’ll move to a contender and he’ll move somewhere to close. Sure, some team with an established closer could come in with a great offer to block the trade to one of their competitors, but everyone has a hole or two to fill, so chances are they’ll concentrate on those. Meanwhile back here in the City Of Brotherly Love, you’d have to think that Antonio Bastardo (Tony Bastard to his friends at the Social Club) defaults into the job to start. Mike Adams is always hurt and Mario Hollands could get a look, but Bastardo is probably the guy to pick up right after Papelbon is moved.
Pittsburgh Pirates – While the trade with the Angels landed the Buccos Ernesto Frieri, current closer Mark Melancon shouldn’t be too concerned over losing his job. Since joining the Pirates in 2013, Melancon has notched 32 saves while posting a 1.77 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. He’s allowed just three home runs and has put up a 106:14 K:BB over 111.2 innings. I don’t care how dumb Clint Hurdle can be at times, even he wouldn’t be dumb enough to mess with this situation. Frieri would have to pitch completely lights-out while Melancon would have to complete implode for a change to be warranted. If anything, The Pirates could actually have themselves a potential trade chip should they want to flip Frieri for someone else.
San Diego Padres – Speak all you want of Huston Street’s injuries. The fact of the matter though is that he is and always has been locked in as the closer wherever he’s gone. Sure, each team has needed to supplement at times, but he continuously gets the job handed right back to him. It won’t be any different the rest of the way unless the Padres make the bold move to trade him, but with him only costing $7 million this year and the club holding a $7 million option on him next year, it seems unlikely that they’ll deal him. They could, should another team pony up something super tempting, but they’d probably be more interested in trading Joaquin Benoit first.
San Francisco Giants – While the meltdown on the hill for Sergio Romo was big, it was still surprising that manager Bruce Bochy didn’t have a longer leash. It seemed more like a panic move as the Giants themselves were coming back down to Earth and Bochy needed someone to blame for the team’s problems. Sure, Romo contributed to the demise, but it certainly wasn’t all him. That lends to the belief that Romo could end up with the job again at some point, though fantasy owners are going to have to use Santiago Casilla for the time being. Jeremy Affeldt might get some situational work, but Casilla seems like the guy who would garner the most opportunities. The state of unrest here certainly puts the Giants into that category of potential suitors for guys like Papelbon or Joakim Soria or even one of the hopefuls out there. We’ll have to see what kind of wheeling and dealin GM Brian Sabrean is willing to do, but the giants definitely need more stability here if they’re going to make another run this year.
St. Louis Cardinals – It’s Trevor Rosenthal, people. Always has been and should always be. Sure, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t know how to utilize a bullpen properly and is determined to try and ruin this kid’s arm, but the Cardinals are going to stick with him as their closer despite some of the bumps in the road he’s hit. Jason Motte, who is still on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery, has had his fair share of hiccups as well, so it’s not like he’s out there striking out the side every inning while Rosenthal is watching runners circle him like a bunch of carousel horses. The Cardinals are not likely to be searching for potential relievers on the open market either. They’ll stick with Rosenthal, as you should too.
Washington Nationals – With Drew Storen on the roster, many thought it odd when the Nationals picked up Rafael Soriano to be their closer in 2013. But while he had some struggles last season, this year, he’s been as close to light-out as he gets. He’s logged 20 saves and has a 1.06 ERA with a strikeout rate that is closer to his 2012 totals when he saved 42 games for the Yankees than it is to last year when everyone was wondering what happened to his stuff. It doesn’t seem like the Nationals would change horses mid-stream here even with the talk that after Soriano logs 120 innings his 2015 contract becomes guaranteed and what the Nationals could do to limit that. While I understand that baseball is a business, the Nationals would be doing their team a disservice to try and play that game now when they have the horses to take them to a World Series title.
And, as always, for those in need of a quick reference guide, here's the most recently updated Closer Grid:
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