• While the Indians have been playing very well, Brad Hand has not as he struggled again last night getting his 5th blown save and 4th loss allowing two earned to the Mets. Over his last 16.2 innings pitched, Hand has allowed 15 runs for a 8.10 ERA. The 4.83/4.35/3.61 FIP/xFIP/SIERA tell a bit of a better story than the inflated ERA but Hand is still struggling nonetheless. With that said, Terry Francona said that “we can’t run from Brad. To get where we want to go, we gotta get him hot.” So, Brad Hand’s job is still safe in spite of his struggles, and with the Indians still fighting for the division he should continue to get opportunities. If Hand has another blow up or two in his next appearances we will sound the alarm, but for now we will leave him as yellow on the grid.
• Sean Doolittle’s workload was a talking point over the last couple of weeks and after another clunker in the 9th where he allowed four runs in a blown save, Doolittle was now place on the IL with knee tendinitis. Whether Doolittle is suffering a real injury or just getting some necessary rest, it should benefit Doolittle and the Nationals to give him some time to recover as he hasn’t been himself of late. With Doolitle now on the shelf look for a committee in Washingon. At the top I would expect Dan Hudson to get the first opportunity with Hunter Strickland and none other than Fernando Rodney also in the mix.
• In the same game where Doolittle’s struggles continue, Josh Hader also blew a save for the Brewers in what was truly a wild game, ending after 14 innings and a Brewers win. But in the 9th Hader allowed two walks and two hits and an earned run in his 6th blown save. In classic Hader fashion he also struck out three and although he has been a tad shaky, Matt Albers, Drew Pomeranz, and Freddy Peralta aren’t the stiffest competition either. In July spanning 16.1 innings pitched, Hader has a 6.19 ERA and 6.78 FIP but also a 3.58 xFIP and 2.61 SIERA. Hader’s extreme strikeout rate and fly ball rate have broken advanced pitching metrics. It’s unlikely that Hader continues to give up homers at the rate he is at but he will always be an extreme fly ball guy who likely carries an ERA higher than the estimators.
• All good things must come to an end, and Seth Lugo is now just a regular, solid but not necessarily spectacular reliever after allowing five earned runs entering in the 7th inning. After the blow up Lugo still supports a 2.99 SIERA and a still excellent 25.9% K-BB%, but entering in the 7th means Lugo wasn’t going to get 9 outs for the save which would leave Edwin Diaz or Justin Wilson for the 9th. One bad outing after an amazing run doesn’t take Lugo out of the running for saves but it’s clear he won’t be saved for save situations only, meaning Edwin Diaz and/or Justin Wilson could see opportunities depending on the match ups. I’m going to make this a three-headed committee, stay tuned on who the Mets turn to next.
• On the flip side of this game, Mark Melancon was called on in the 9th for the Braves after they secured the lead against the Mets but after allowing two earned runs and four hits, Jerry Blevins recorded the final out for his 1st save of the year. The Braves have had bullpen issues all year and after “addressing” it with deadline additions in Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin the bullpen situation remains a mess as all three have struggled mightily in their new uniforms. Shane Green has allowed 7 earned in 4.1 innings for the Braves but after throwing a scoreless inning last night, it’s possible he gets the next chance. Mark Melancon was given the job after Greene and Martin struggled and he’s had issues as well but might be more the victim of bad luck with a .526 BABIP and 7/1 K/BB. Meanwhile ex-closer Luke Jackson continues to put up zeroes since the deadline and could re-enter the mix as well. We have a full on committee here in Atlanta and whoever gets the hot hand should get a majority of the remaining save opportunities
• We mentioned earlier that the Mets bullpen usage might change moving forward and that seems to be the case. Last night Seth Lugo entered in the 8th inning and instead of handing the ball off to Edwin Diaz for the save in the 9th, finished the game himself. We have this as a committee with Lugo and Diaz and it will stay that way with Lugo ahead. Lugo gave up a solo homer which ended an impressive hot streak for him but he’s still their best reliever at the moment and should see more saves than Diaz for the time being. It might not take long for Diaz to find a groove and reclaim the role but for now it’s hard to expect Diaz to have a higher save total moving forward. I would expect Diaz to enter next year as the closer but there is a long time between now and March.
• A day after being named closer, Mark Melancon gave up a four spot for the Braves while recording just one out and the Braves bullpen situation remains a bit of an issue. Shane Greene blew the lead in extra innings and Chris Martin has had his struggles on the Braves as well. I’m putting this situation into a committee with Melancon, Greene, Martin, and even our old friend Luke Jackson as guys who could see saves moving forward. It’s hard to say who will both see the next opportunity and not blow it, but the Braves have a few options of similar quality, so whoever gets the hot hand should claim the job but for now it’s anyone’s guess.
Apologies for a belated Bullpen Report but away we go…
• Ken Giles has not been cleared to pitch in back to back days but he got the call last night and secured his 15th save of the season. However, it wasn’t pretty with Giles allowing three hits including a two-run shot by Mike Zunino. Giles struck out a pair and had his fastball at over 96 mph which is both good but also a tick below where he was earlier this year. That’s not surprising given his elbow issues. If fully healthy Giles is a great source of strikeouts and saves but it’s unlikely he has a particularly high usage here on out and should concede a few save chances to Derek Law, putting them both in a committee.
• Happy trails to Greg Holland who was released by the Diamondbacks. He has already been released from our closer grid which includes a committee of Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Yoan Lopez although depending how the next save opportunity goes, we can start shedding the committee tag. Nothing has been said yet but Bradley is definitely ahead of the committee and if he gets the save next it could be him alone in the chair. Greg Holland will likely find another home this year but it’s unlikely that he’s a major factor in saves.
• Nothing about José Leclerc has been easy this year as he has dominated away from the closer’s chair and struggled mightily while sitting on the thrown. Last night Jesse Chavez pitched in the 9th inning in a tie game with José Leclerc pitching a perfect inning in the 10th. Leclerc got the W when the Rangers scored on a Rougned Odor walk-off shot. Jesse Chavez in the 9th might suggest he has a slight edge but I’m still keeping Leclerc atop of the grid. The Rangers already have him signed long term so they won’t save any money by limiting his saves and their end game is to have him be their closer in the future, which should start now. Although Leclerc’s struggles have been well discussed, the sum of his seasonal line isn’t as bad as one might expect – 4.53/3.52/4.03/3.58 ERA/FIP/xFIP/SIERA with a 21.5% K-BB%. Leclerc’s walk rate will always be suspect his K-BB% is still top 30 in the league among qualified relievers.
There was a busy deadline with changes among several bullpens so let’s get started!
• Luke Jackson had (another) bad day, getting the start to the 9th inning after struggling in a non-save situation on Tuesday. Jackson allowed the first two batters to reach and was relieved by Sean Newcomb before getting an out. His inherited runs scored inflating Jackson’s ERA to 3.96. Under the hood, Jackson still looks pretty good but he’s been struggling isn’t the most trustworthy at the moment. The Braves went out and got three relievers before the deadline was over – Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and Mark Melancon and all three are now on the grid. It’s a long fall from closer to off the grid, but that’s where Luke Jackson currently lies. Shane Greene takes the job with the esteemed closer experience label in the middle of a terrific season. We chastised the Braves for being a little cheap ealier in the season but by the deadline’s end they acquired Dallas Keuchel for the rotation and a trio of relief upgrades. I don’t expect Chris Martin and Mark Melancon to dip into saves over Greene but they are next in line if something were to happen.
• While there were several trades I will touch up on of equal interest are the teams that made no moves keeping the status quo. Alex Colome will still be closing for the White Sox and Will Smith is still getting saves for the Giants even though they did trade Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon. The Red Sox have had an up and down bullpen all year but decided to skip on making an upgrade, keeping Brandon Workman and their committee as is. The Royals didn’t want to pay to get a prospect out of Ian Kennedy so he will be closing games for the remainder of this year and likely the start of next year as well. The Mets dangled Edwin Diaz but nobody hit their price tag and he remains the closer in Queens. Diaz has struggled a ton this year compared to his dominant past but hopefully he finds some of his magic to close out the year.
• Greg Holland is code red after allowing two runs and blowing his 5th save last night. Holland’s 3.51 ERA covers up what has been a very mediocre season with a 4.44 SIERA and below average 13.6% K-BB%. Yoan Lopez is next up for the Diamondbacks and I would pick him up if he’s still available and saves are of need. Although a change has not been made, “Lovullo said the Diamondbacks would discuss Holland’s role prior to Saturday’s game.” That’s never what you want to hear, making a Lopez snag all the more worthwhile.
• Charlie Morton pitched 7 strong innings for the Rays who then went with Adam Kolarek and Chaz Roe in the 8th leading to Emilio Pagan for the 9th. Pagan pitched a perfect frame, striking out a pair for his 7th save of the season. Pagan is still in a committee with Oliver Drake and Diego Castillo involved along with those who pitched today. With that said, Pagan has been the most consistently effective reliever on the Rays all year and isn’t a left. Jose Alvarado should get back into the mix soon when he returns from the IL with an oblique strain but his return isn’t imminent. Even if Alvarado returns soon, he will have to prove his effectiveness before usurping Pagan. While the Rays won’t resort to traditional closer usage it seems like the head of the committee is Pagan’s job to lose, so long as he’s pitching well he should get more saves than any other member of the pen.
• Greg Holland entered the game last night in 9th inning for a save opportunity but was removed after walking the only two batters he faced on 9 pitches. Yoan Lopez got the final three outs without allowing a run to score for his first save of the season. Holland has struggled with his control all season and is running a 5.45 BB/9 on the year after last night’s performance. While his job is fairly safe, I’m going to change it to yellow on the grid since Holland could blow up fairly quick. If anything were to happen to Holland I would put Lopez as the first in line, and behind him it is a bit of a mess. Andrew Chafin has had a solid season but he’s also a lefty. Yoshihisa Hirano has closing experience in Japan and could be in the mix along with Archie Bradley, who has also struggled this year with his control but has long been considered a closer of the future.
As we enter the All-Star weekend let’s take a look back on how the weekend unfolded across the league’s bullpens and what might be on the horizon with trade rumors starting to swirl…
• After missing time dealing with personal matters Jose Alvarado returned to the Rays pen and struggle and now he’s on the IL with a strained oblique. The time frame for Alvarado’s return could be a week or so after the break, or a month + long stint. With Alvarado out of the picture for the moment, Emilio Pagan’s value certainly increases. Pagan received the save opportunity yesterday against the Yanks and pitched a perfect frame with two strikeouts for his 5th save. Pagan was a little shaky in his previous outings and this is still a committee but Pagan’s the best guy to own with Alvarado and Diego Castillo on the IL. In the committee remains Chaz Roe but we have replaced Alvarado with Colin Poche who pitched the last out of the 8th inning yesterday and has been pretty incredible this year. In the 16 innings he’s pitched thus far, Poche has a unexciting 3.38 ERA but has 24 strikeouts against just one walk with an outstanding 22.4% SwStr%. Poche has generated a ton of whiffs in his minor league career with solid walk rates so he should continue to be effective in the Rays pen, even seeing a save or two in the committee. Diego Castillo should return at some point after the break as well but there is no guarantee that he or Alvarado jumps ahead in the pecking order as the Rays will roll with their most effective options
• Greg Holland’s grip on the 9th was getting extra loose last week but he helped alleviate some concern, throwing a scoreless 9th for his 13th save on Saturday. On Sunday Holland again received the call and recorded his 14th save, although he allowed a solo shot to Trevor Story in the process. This weekend doesn’t put Holland’s struggles completely in the rear view mirror but he will enter the second half as the closer on a decent team. If you need saves you have to hold onto Holland but if another owner really needs them, I would use the clean weekend to trade him as a change could come quick if he struggles out of the gate after the break.
• Blake Treinen is off of the IL as we all know, but he remains a set up option for the A’s as Liam Hendriks holds onto the closer’s job. Last night that continued with Hendriks getting his 5th save, pitching around a hit with a strikeout against the Mariners. Hendriks made the All-Star team as a replacement this year but will he be closing for the A’s after the break? Nobody is doubting Hendriks’ ability to close, the only question is if and when Treinen finds his groove. I would be lying if I said I had an actual idea on Treinen putting it back together and I am leaning towards buying Hendriks shares. Treinen had the magical year last year but he’s been bad, inconsistent, and kind of hurt this entire year. Henriks is getting the job done and even in Treinen returns he will have to show improvement in non-save situations first, so you should get a handful of saves out of Hendriks in the meantime. I might regret making this call but relievers are fickle and I would bet on the hot hand.
• The Twins have been in command of their division all year and we have mentioned the likelihood of them making additions to the bullpen and that might be starting soon. None of the names that La Velle E. Neal III mentions are surprising but the Twins have checked in on Kirby Yates and Ken Giles. Taylor Rogers has done an admirable job as closer, even throwing 2.1 perfect innings with 5 strikeouts for the save on Saturday, but if Giles or Yates entered the fray, Rogers would likely be demoted to a set up role. No trade is imminent but Giles and Yates will surely have their names thrown around over the next few weeks.
The Twins were also linked with interest in Will Smith earlier this year which would of course help their bullpen and also add confusion to who would be getting saves. As you can see, how the saves fall is completely dependent on which team a closer goes to. If the Red Sox acquire a reliever they would likely leapfrog everyone as the favored candidate for saves, but if the Yankees acquired one they might only see the 6th inning. It’s a little a bit easier to guesstimate on who will gain save opportunities for the selling team but even that is not necessarily obvious in every case. For the Padres, if Yates is moved Stammen is the obvious replacement so I would be buying shares in him. If and when Will Smith is moved the Giants could turn to Tony Watson or Sam Dyson but it’s possible that one or both of those could be traded as well. Ken Giles has been one of the most dominant relievers this year and could help a team in any role but neither Daniel Hudson or Joe Biagini is an obvious one-man replacement, although both should be monitored in all AL Only leagues. Aaron Bummer might be a lefty but he stands to see saves if Alex Colome is dealt.
The trade deadline closer carousel is just starting and we will be sure to keep you informed of all rumors and possible fall-outs as they happen.