Bullpen Report: September 19, 2018

It was Zach Britton, and not Dellin Betances, who got the save for the Yankees in their 3-2 win over the Red Sox in Tuesday night’s series opener. I have made Britton and Betances co-closers in the grid below, with both receiving the “Hot Seat” label. However, it’s not Britton’s adventure of an inning or Betances’ recent struggles that have put them on the hot seat, but rather that Aroldis Chapman could return as soon as Wednesday. It appears that Chapman’s worst-case scenario is a Thursday return, in the event that Aaron Boone wants to give the lefty an additional day of rest following Monday’s sim game.

There will be no such return for Brandon Morrow. Earlier reports left open the possibility of Morrow rejoining the Cubs this weekend, but he did not respond well in the aftermath of a sim game on Saturday, so he is being shut down for the rest of the season. By Monday, Morrow was in so much pain that he couldn’t pick up a cup of coffee. With Pedro Strop also out for the remainder of the regular season, Joe Maddon will continue to rely on several relievers to close out games.

Felipe Vazquez went all of August without allowing a run, but ever since tossing a scoreless inning against the Reds on Sept. 4, the Pirates’ closer has fallen on hard times. His failure to hold a 1-0 lead on Tuesday night snapped Vazquez’s streak of 24 consecutive converted save opportunities, dating back to June 5, but Hunter Dozier’s game-tying RBI double brought in the fifth run charged to him over his last seven innings. Vazquez’s fastball velocity has been down slightly, as he has averaged 98.7 mph during his slump, as compared to 99.6 mph between Aug. 3 and Sept. 4. As shown in the table below, Vazquez has been getting fewer whiffs and ground balls at the same time he has lost nearly a tick on his fastball.

Felipe Vazquez’s Fastball Velocity, SwStr% and GB%
Time Period Avg. Fastball Velocity (mph) SwStr% GB%
Aug. 3 – Sept. 4 99.6 16.0% 48.5%
Sept. 5 – Sept. 18 98.7 12.9% 34.8%

Vazquez has managed to pick up five saves during his two-week slump, but he could be at risk of ruining your push for a fantasy title. If you are in a shallower league where the likes of Kirby Yates or Ty Buttrey (both of whom are available in the majority of ESPN leagues) are either on waivers or on your bench, it may be time to consider a switch.

Speaking of Buttrey, he converted his fourth save on Tuesday night, and all of his saves have come within the last 12 days. During that period, Jose Alvarez is the only other Angels reliever to receive a final-inning save chance. Accordingly, I have removed the committee label from the Angels’ portion of the grid. In Tuesday night’s outing against the Athletics, Buttrey got the final five outs, and in each of his last two appearances, he has recorded three strikeouts.

The committee label has also been removed from the Twins’ row of the grid. Since Fernando Rodney was traded to the Athletics, the Twins’ bullpen has recorded nine saves, and Trevor Hildenberger now has seven of them, including each of the last four. In closing out a 5-3 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night, Hildenberger allowed a run on two singles, raising his post-Rodney ERA to 6.00. He has allowed seven runs over his last three appearances, including a five-run debacle against the Royals last Friday.

Normally, it would make sense to pursue a team’s closer-in-waiting when the incumbent closer is performing poorly, and in this case, that speculation target would be Taylor Rogers. However, Paul Molitor has stuck with Hildenberger through more than a month of on-again, off-again struggles. With less than two weeks left in the season, it is possible that Molitor will want to give Hildenberger a chance to see if he can bounce back.

In two other closer committees, new members have been added to the grid. In finishing out a 5-3 Indians win over the White Sox, Andrew Miller got his first save since April 9. He struck out three batters and, for the second appearance in a row, Miller averaged at least 94 mph on his fastball. Though Cody Allen (four walks in 6.2 innings) and Brad Hand (three runs in 5.2 innings) have had their issues so far in September, Miller’s save chance is probably less of a referendum on the incumbent co-closers than it is about preparing him for the postseason. In a post-game interview, Miller said it was “fortunate that the team has taken care of business…I can go out there and focus on taking these baby steps and being ready at the end of the year.” If part of that preparation involves Miller getting more save opportunities, that would not leave many for either Allen or Hand.

Gabe Kapler remains committed to not committing to a primary closer. Entering Tuesday night’s game with the Mets, Kapler had employed three different relievers over the Phillies’ three save opportunities this month, and now Hector Neris becomes the team’s fourth reliever with a save chance in September. He pitched a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts to earn his 11th save of the season. Welcome back to the closer grid, Hector.

Quick hits: In giving up Chris Taylor’s 10th-inning walk-off homer, Adam Ottavino suffered his fourth loss of the season. He has now allowed at least one run in each of his last three appearances for a total of four runs over 3.1 innings…The Dodgers activated Tony Cingrani on Monday, and he got the final out in the Dodgers’ 8-2 win over the Rockies on Monday night. Cingrani has 36 strikeouts in 22.2 innings this season, though a 58.6 percent strand rate and .326 BABIP have helped to expand his ERA to 4.76.

We hoped you liked reading Bullpen Report: September 19, 2018 by Al Melchior!

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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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