By now, we have all become aware of the home run explosion that’s occurred in the early weeks and the appearance of a juiced ball. High-leverage relievers have not been immune to the deluge of dingers. Josh Hader, Matt Barnes and Kenley Jansen all allowed home runs on Sunday that led to a loss or a blown save. The three normally-reliable relievers have teamed up to allow seven home runs over their last 8.1 innings combined. Hader has allowed homers in each of his last three appearances, Barnes has allowed one in each of his last two outings, and Jansen has given up two homers over his last three appearances.
Despite the rash of long balls, it’s far too soon to be concerned about any of the three. Hader is still missing bats at a stratospheric rate, sporting a 22.8 percent SwStr%. However, his flyball rate of 72.2 percent is even more otherworldly. It’s nearly double the major league average of 36.7 percent. Not only is Hader letting the ball get lofted, but hitters are making a lot of hard contact on those airborne balls, averaging 97.4 mph in exit velocity (per Baseball Savant). As he accumulates more innings, this could become a real problem barring some serious regression, even with his healthy whiff rate.
Barnes, on the other hand, has just a 20.0 percent flyball rate. His usage pattern is a bigger concern for fantasy owners than home runs. As Ben Pasinkoff noted in Sunday’s Bullpen Report, Barnes entered the series finale against the Rays in eighth inning with the Red Sox leading 3-2. Tampa Bay’s 1-2-3 hitters were due up, and in all three of his appearances in this series, Barnes was summoned to pitch in the eighth inning with a tough part of the Rays’ order about to bat. Ben also noted that Barnes has the superior peripherals to Ryan Brasier, who has been getting the vast majority of the Red Sox’s save opportunities to date. Despite the recent homers and usage patterns, we shouldn’t count Barnes out just yet for future saves.
As for Jansen, he seems to have settled into a new normal with a SwStr% between 13 and 14 percent and a K% closer to 30 percent than 40 percent. He has always been flyball-prone, so being a little more amenable to contact means he will probably have stretches like his current one a little more often. Still, I see no reason to think his role or fantasy viability is in any danger.
Relievers — even good ones — may be more vulnerable to the home run this season, but not everyone has succumbed to the gopher ball. Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, Felipe Vazquez, Blake Treinen, Brad Hand, Jordan Hicks and Will Smith all have at least five saves and have yet to allow a homer.
The same cannot be said for Cody Allen. He was called upon to get the last out in the top of the ninth inning against the Mariners, after Noe Ramirez had allowed an 8-1 lead to shrink to 8-4. With a full count, he allowed a two-run homer to Mitch Haniger — the Mariners’ third home run of the inning. It was the third homer allowed by Allen in just 7.1 innings this season. He then walked Domingo Santana and gave way to Luis Garcia, who retired Edwin Encarnacion for his first save as an Angel.
Allen doesn’t lack for warning signs, including a mediocre SwStr% (11.0 percent), poor control (35.1 percent Zone%), a Haderesque flyball rate (66.7 percent) and a slight dip in average fastball velocity from last March/April (from 93.1 mph to 92.3 mph). It’s not a bad idea to pick up Ty Buttrey as a handcuff, though Hansel Robles, who opened Sunday’s game, could eventually factor into the saves picture as well.
Brandon Morrow (elbow) is nowhere close to returning to the Cubs’ bullpen, as he was shut down in recent days. Even though Pedro Strop blew a save on Sunday by allowing a Jarrod Dyson solo shot, he has generally been reliable lately and should go unchallenged as the Cubs’ closer for the time being. Strop was able to hang in for the win against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, as Archie Bradley failed to get an out in the bottom of the ninth inning, ultimately allowing David Bote’s walk-off single.
Quick hits: Yates and Shane Greene each recorded their 10th saves on Sunday. No one else has more than seven…Ken Giles is one of the closers with seven saves, and on Sunday, he recorded a four-out save against the Athletics. However, he had to work around a pair of ninth-inning singles…Wily Peralta has blown saves in each of his last two appearances, the most recent coming against the Yankees in the eighth inning on Sunday…John Gant picked up his fourth hold against the Mets, providing a four-out bridge between Andrew Miller and Hicks. The 26-year-old has compiled a 25.8 percent soft contact rate, and no pitcher with at least 30 batted balls has a lower average exit velocity allowed on flies and liners (84.2 mph).
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.