Bullpen Report: July 17, 2017

The Cardinals’ closer situation took an interesting turn on Sunday when Mike Matheny brought Brett Cecil in to close out a 3-2 game against the Pirates. While Cecil getting a save chance added a new wrinkle to the Cardinals’ committee arrangement, it was a sensible move. Cecil would have to face Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco and Jordy Mercer, and while Polanco was the only left-handed batter in that group, Cecil had been far more effective against righties this season. He was also on a roll, having built a string of 15 straight scoreless appearances covering 15 2/3 innings. Over that span, Cecil allowed just five singles, two doubles and a walk. It also made sense that Matheny called upon Trevor Rosenthal to take care of the top of the Pirates’ order in the eighth inning.

Cecil picked a bad time to take a break from shutting down opponents, as he gave up a lead-off single to Cervelli, a game-tying double to Mercer and a walk-off single to Adam Frazier.

Matheny intimated in a comment to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he would go to Rosenthal for the next save opportunity, but on Monday night, he went back to Cecil for his second straight save chance. Rosenthal was unavailable, having pitched in each of the last three days, and though recently-activated Kevin Siegrist began the ninth after breezing through the eighth inning, he was removed after walking Curtis Granderson. This time around, Cecil’s save chance went more smoothly. Though he allowed a one-out single to Asdrubal Cabrera, he got out of the jam by getting Yoenis Cespedes to hit into a double play.

So while the back-to-back save opportunities create the appearance of Cecil being Matheny’s go-to option to close out games, it’s probably best to take him at his word that he will give Rosenthal another chance. After all, Rosenthal has been quite effective lately, holding opponents hitless, walkless and scoreless over his last six innings. He has been dominant, striking out 10 batters, while showing unusually good control with a 67 percent strikes-thrown rate. If not for hitting Adam Frazier with a pitch on Sunday, Rosenthal would have been perfect during that stretch. He told the Post-Dispatch that he credits his improvement to playing catch with Luke Weaver and emulating his throwing style.

Regardless of how Rosenthal has improved, it is clear that he has indeed hit a higher gear. It seems probable that he will have more saves in his near future, and perhaps the Cardinals will settle into the same sort of closer platoon that Jeff Banister seems to be employing with the Rangers.

It has now been 12 days since the Orioles activated Zach Britton from the DL, and while he has made five appearances since then, none has involved trying for a save. Buck Showalter had an opportunity to give Britton his first post-DL save on Monday, as the Orioles took a 3-1 lead against the Rangers into the top of the ninth, but he opted instead to stick with Brad Brach as his closer. Brach managed to nail down his 16th save of the season, and perhaps it’s just as well, given that Britton had thrown 18 pitches on Sunday in addition to a 12-pitch inning on Friday.

With the plausible explanation for Britton’s absence from the ninth inning, we should still expect him to take back the closer’s role from Brach anytime now. We should also expect Britton’s tenure as a closer to be short, given the trade rumors that have been circulating. That should give Brach owners a reason to stash him, though there is always the possibility that he, too, could be traded.

One of the teams that has been linked to Britton is the Cubs, who would ostensibly use him to set up Wade Davis. However, if the Cubs were to acquire Britton, and if their incumbent closer were to continue to struggle, it would make for an interesting situation. Davis has yet to blow a save this season, but he came close on Monday night against the Braves. He walked away with his 18th save of the season, but not before letting the Braves shave the Cubs’ lead from 4-1 to 4-3 and loading the bases with two outs.

Since May 24, Davis has pitched 14 2/3 innings and allowed eight runs on 15 hits and nine walks, albeit with 23 strikeouts. (Prior to this stretch, Davis had only allowed one unearned run over 17 1/3 innings). There is no reason to think that Davis is in imminent danger of losing his job, but it’s fair to note that he is going on nearly two months of uneven performance. The potential addition of Britton would only add to the intrigue.

For a brief time on Monday night, Brandon Kintzler held a share of the American League lead in saves, as he collected his 26th against the Yankees. While Alex Colome pulled ahead with his 27th save shortly thereafter, it does not take away from the fact that Kintzler could easily finish with 40 saves at his current pace, as long as he does not get traded to a team that would use him in a setup role. If Kintzler does reach the 40-save mark without a substantial increase in his K/9 ratio, he would achieve something nearly unprecedented in this decade. Since 2010, the only reliever to finish a season with at least 40 saves and a K/9 lower than Kintzler’s 5.44 was Jim Johnson. In 2012, he led the majors with 51 saves while striking out 5.37 batters per nine innings. Of the 45 times that a closer had 40-plus saves between 2010 and 2016, only one other pitcher achieved the feat with a sub-7.0 K/9. That was in 2013, when Rafael Soriano saved 43 games for the Nationals with a 6.89 K/9.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley JJ Hoover
ATL Jim Johnson Jose Ramirez Sam Freeman Arodys Vizcaino
BAL Brad Brach Zach Britton Mychal Givens
BOS Craig Kimbrel Joe Kelly Matt Barnes Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS David Robertson Tommy Kahnle Anthony Swarzak Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Drew Storen
CLE Cody Allen Andrew Miller Bryan Shaw
COL Greg Holland Adam Ottavino Jake McGee
DET Justin Wilson Alex Wilson Shane Greene
HOU Ken Giles Will Harris Michael Feliz
KC Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Mike Minor
LAA Bud Norris Cam Bedrosian David Hernandez Huston Street
LAD Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez Luis Avilan
MIA A.J. Ramos David Phelps Kyle Barraclough
MIL Corey Knebel Jacob Barnes Carlos Torres
MIN Brandon Kintzler Taylor Rogers Matt Belisle Glen Perkins
NYM Addison Reed Paul Sewald Jerry Blevins Jeurys Familia
NYY Aroldis Chapman Dellin Betances Adam Warren
OAK Santiago Casilla Liam Hendriks Daniel Coulombe
PHI Hector Neris Pat Neshek Luis Garcia
PIT Felipe Rivero Juan Nicasio Daniel Hudson
STL Trevor Rosenthal Brett Cecil Seung Hwan Oh
SD Brandon Maurer Brad Hand Ryan Buchter Carter Capps
SF Sam Dyson Hunter Strickland George Kontos Mark Melancon
SEA Edwin Diaz Nick Vincent Tony Zych
TB Alex Colome Tommy Hunter Brad Boxberger
TEX Matt Bush Jose Leclerc Alex Claudio Keone Kela
TOR Roberto Osuna Ryan Tepera Danny Barnes Joe Smith
WSH Sean Doolittle Ryan Madson Matt Albers Koda Glover

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]

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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Jackie T.
Jackie T.

How confident do we feel in Doolittle? Have we seen any comments from the team on the situation?


Doesn’t matter. The Nats are still going to trade for a closer.

Backdoor Slider
Backdoor Slider

Ridiculous comment. They got two top tier arms. There is no guarantee they trade for a closer. But even if they trade for another bullpen arm, it may be a Justin Wilson type who wouldn’t be guaranteed to close over Doolittle or Madson. So it really does matter.

Turd Furgeson
Turd Furgeson

id agree w/ that.