Bullpen Report: April 29, 2019

I’m sorry, Luke Jackson. I’m not quite ready to cast A.J. Minter out of the first column of the closer grid.

Jackson certainly deserves a shot to be the Braves’ closer, and the opportunity could come soon, given how bumpy of a ride it’s been for Minter this season. One day after Minter failed to protect a one-run lead, he was handed another one-run lead in the top of the ninth inning against the Rockies. He began by allowing back-to-back singles to Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, and one batter later, he gave way to Jackson. The 27-year-old dispensed with Nolan Arenado and David Dahl in seven pitches, earning his first save of the season.

This outing marked the 12th straight time that Jackson did not allow a run in an appearance, and over that 13-inning span, he has racked up 15 strikeouts and issued four walks. His slider has been devastating, inducing swinging strikes 20.0 percent of the time and chases on out-of-zone pitches at a 50.0 percent rate. But wait…that’s not all. He is also getting ground balls at an 87.5 percent rate on the pitch.

Jackson has certainly been steadier than Minter, but Brian Snitker has yet to indicate a change at closer. As recently as Saturday, Snitker gave Minter a vote of confidence, and prior to this weekend, he had been on something of a roll. It is still premature to dump Minter, but it’s just the right time to add Jackson in deeper formats.

Fantasy owners have been seeing fit to add Ty Buttrey, as he has been the top speculation target for saves in the Angels’ bullpen. It’s hardly clear, though, whether he has the upper hand over Hansel Robles for future saves. Since Cody Allen was moved out of the closer role (and subsequently to the IL), the Angels have had two tie games in the ninth inning where they were the home team, and the first of those situations went to Robles and the second went to Buttrey. Then on Sunday, the Angels appeared to be moving towards an actual save situation against the Royals, leading 4-1 after seven-and-a-half innings. Brad Ausmus used Buttrey for the bottom of the eighth, and he allowed the Royals to cut the lead to two runs. However, Justin Bour broke the game open with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, but Robles was still summoned to pitch the bottom of the inning.

Robles did not exactly have a clean inning, allowing consecutive singles to start the frame, and then allowing a run on a wild pitch. Overall, he has been solid, allowing a run or more in only three of his 15 appearances and striking out 16 batters in 13 innings, while walking only four. Buttrey’s ownership rate is higher than Robles’ on CBS,  Yahoo and ESPN, and on each of the former two sites, the gap is greater than 15 percentage points. While the consensus seems to be that Buttrey is the Angels reliever to own, the evidence is much more mixed.

The Rays’ closer situation continues to be complicated, with Diego Castillo getting the save against the Red Sox on Sunday, after Emilio Pagan received each of the previous three saves. Conspicuously absent from this discussion is Jose Alvarado, who was presumed to be the primary closer not so long ago. By April 7, Alvarado already had four saves, but he hasn’t had one since.

We should remember that when Pagan notched his first two saves, both Alvarado and Castillo were being rested. Pagan’s third save came on Saturday, and in that game, Alvarado was needed in the eighth inning after Castillo gave up a Mookie Betts homer and walked Xander Bogaerts. On Sunday, Alvarado was brought in again for the eighth inning, when he would take on the two toughest lefties in the Red Sox’s lineup (Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland).

Kevin Cash is playing the matchups, which is not necessarily good for any of the three Rays relievers in the saves mix. For this reason, I am designating this situation as a committee in the closer grid, but Alvarado is still in the driver’s seat for now.

Prior to the Athletics’ series finale at Toronto, Blake Treinen looked like he was cruising along, just like he did in 2018. He had allowed only one run over 13.1 innings, had yet to allow a home run and converted six of his seven save chances. Yet Treinen wasn’t getting many grounders and his SwStr% was down nearly four percentage points from last season.

He finally paid for his flyball tendencies on Sunday. Treinen pitched a scoreless 10th inning, working around an Eric Sogard double. In the 11th, he was working with a three-run lead, but he relinquished it on Brandon Drury’s three-run homer. Treinen stayed in the game and was able to retire only one of the next three batters. Then Justin Smoak ended the game, though with a well-struck grounder that scored Freddy Galvis.

Treinen’s average fastball velocity for this appearance was at 96.2 mph, down about a tick from where it typically is. That may wind up being an outlier, but the SwStr% on both his cutter and slider have been down. His 33 percent ground ball rate on his sinker is concerning, but at least the cause seems to be clear — location, location, location. His sinker heatmaps from this year and last show that he is leaving the ball up more often.

Maybe there has been a swapping of identities between closers named Blake. The normally flyball-leaning Blake Parker finished off the Orioles on Sunday with two strikeouts and a groundout. His strikeout rate is still a modest 24.2 percent, but his ground ball rate now stands at a lofty 63.2 percent. In securing the Twins’ 4-1 win, Parker recorded his fifth save, and his first save since April 17.

Quick hits: Kenley Jansen (10), Edwin Diaz (8) and Alex Colome (5) all recorded saves on Sunday…So did John Gant, entering in the top of the ninth after Dominic Leone allowed the Reds to cut the Cardinals’ five-run lead to three on Scott Schebler’s two-run double. Jordan Hicks had already appeared in the game in the eighth inning, but was replaced by Leone to start off the ninth after the Cardinals had expanded their lead…With Roberto Osuna getting the day off, Ryan Pressly closed out the Astros’ 4-1 win over the Indians for his second save of the season…Jose Leclerc pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Mariners, but with a 13-run lead. He did not allow a run but did yield a Jay Bruce double and a four-pitch walk to Omar NarvaezNate Jones was placed on the 10-day IL with right elbow inflammation…Caleb Ferguson also went to the IL with an oblique injury…Allen Webster got the first save of his career, getting the final out of the Cubs’ 6-5, 15-inning win over the Diamondbacks.

Not Very Stable
Hot Seat
Bullpen Report — 4/29/2019

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.

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Skin Blues
Skin Blues

What do you think about Nick Anderson down in Miami? He’s been unbelievable, but is still being used in low-leverage spots quite often despite the Marlins not having many good options. Romo has all their saves over the past 2 weeks, but he’s been pretty bad overall.