What’s in a name? That which we call a closer by any other name would smell as sweet in any inning. We could be inching closer to all bullpens going completely by-committee. In the 473 games played so far – 60 different relievers have notched saves.
What other sport has a position for a player based solely on when they come into the game? There aren’t wide receivers who only play in the 2nd half. There aren’t goalies who only come onto the ice in the 3rd period. You play your best players when you need them most.
I’m going to take a look at some of the low security/closer-by-committee teams and let you know who I think is the reliever I think could be in the closer conversation soon.
Arizona Diamondbacks: J.B. Bukauskas (1% ESPN): Hot off the heels of an electric spring where he threw 7.2 innings with 14 Ks and 0 ERs, Bukauskas was recalled on April 18th. He has a fastball that can touch upper-90’s and a plus-slider that can strikeout a lot of hitters. It looks like he wasn’t having a lot of success as a starter in the minor leagues before this year anyway. Although to be honest, I’m not looking forward to having him get the closer role because that means there will be a lot more finger gymnastics needed to type out Bukauskas.
Baltimore Orioles: Tanner Scott (4% ESPN): I predicted Scott would get the closer gig after Hunter Harvey went down with an injury, but I guess the Orioles went with boring old coffee baron Cesar Valdez. Like Bukauskas above, Scott has an electric fastball and a slider with a lot of movement. There really aren’t a lot of saves in Baltimore — but Scott is the guy who SHOULD be closing and is my guess for who will end the season with the most saves.
Detroit Tigers: Gregory Soto (8% ESPN): Another fireballer with an amazing slider. How amazing? He’s thrown it 66 times so far this year and no one’s been able to get a hit off of it. The .429 average off his sinking fastball (sorry — I refuse to call a 98 mph pitch just a “sinker”) looks bad, but the expected batting average is only .223. Like Scott above, there might not be a lot of games to close out for the Tigers, but Soto is the guy to own and watch.
Kansas City Royals: Scott Barlow (4% ESPN): 5 players with saves in this bullpen so far — not good from a closer perspective. The presumptive closer, Greg Holland, has more walks than strikeouts and a lot of his Statcast data is pointing to rough water ahead. His average exit velocity has him in the bottom 23% of the league, his xERA is bottom 11% and xwObA is also bottom 11%. Josh Staumont was another guy who I was cyclopsing to take over this job, but his 33% K% from 2020 is nowhere to be seen (14.8% this year.) Don’t make me look into Wade Davis. I’m pretty convinced Wade Davis and Greg Holland are the same guy. 35-year-old relievers who’ve bounced around to several different bullpens who you never know what you’ll get year to year. Kyle Zimmer is another name floating around and has performed well notching a save himself already, but Barlow has been their best reliever so far with a 31% K% and a .291 xwOBA.
Minnesota Twins: Taylor Rogers (56% ESPN): Alex Colome’s Baseball Savant page is covered in blue. He’s in the bottom 7% in the following stats: Average Exit Velocity, HardHit%, xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, Barrel%. Rogers has been his same old reliable self with a .228 xwOBA and 1.89 xERA. If things start going as eXpected — Colome could be out of a job.
Oakland Athletics: Lou Trivino (30% ESPN): Trivino’s ascension to the closer role this year feels like the end of a 3 year romantic comedy where the guy finally gets the girl. Trivino debuted in spectacular fashion in 2018 with a 2.92 ERA with a 10.0 K/9, and tied for 12th with 23 holds. It felt like Trivino was the lady-in-waiting in Oakland. Unfortunately, 2019 was a huge stepback with a 5.25 ERA and Trivino was mostly left to the waiver wire in holds + saves leagues. With Trevor Rosenthal undergoing thoracic outlet surgery – Trivino could and should hold on to this gig for the rest of the season.
Seattle Mariners: Kendall Graveman (18% ESPN): The narrative of the Mariners bullpen was that there was no competition in the Mariners bullpen — enter the Graveman. Graveman hasn’t allowed a run in 7.2 IP and has only allowed 3 base runners so far. Graveman is averaging the fastest velocity on his fastball in his career and this has paired nicely with his upper-80’s slider which he uses almost exclusively against right-handed hitters. To deal with left-handed batters he uses an upper-80’s changeup which hasn’t been hit yet. I know it’s hard to believe in Graveman considering how below-average he was as a starter in the recent past, but he’s generating a lot of soft contact and is getting a lot of hitters to chase his pitches (92nd percentile.)
Toronto Blue Jays: Jordan Romano (41% ESPN): This is more of a speculative add than anything as Romano is scheduled to return on April 25th. If you’re in one of the 59% of leagues where he is dropped — now is the time to swipe him back up. Rafael Dolis and Julian Merryweather did fine as fill-ins, but Romano with his high-90’s fastball, wipeout slider, and 12+ K/9 make him the perfect build for a closer.
Stolen Base Sleeper Targets
- Robbie Grossman: 2 SB, .351 xwOBA, 69th percentile sprint speed. Grossman has led off in 14 of the Tigers games so far and is 5th in the league with a 20% BB%. Combine his walk rate, his place in the Tigers lineup, his above-average sprint speed and the fact that he gets to face Jacob Stallings who has had a rough go of things with runners on base (12 SB allowed – worst in the league,) and Grossman is the perfect SB sleeper for the next few weeks.
- David Bote: 0 SB, .364 xwOBA, 65th percentile sprint speed. File this one under L for “likely-to-be-wrong.” Bote’s “expected” numbers are all higher than his actual numbers and his BABIP is a low-low .154 which is telling me better days could be on the way. Bote has a solid 11.9% BB% and gets to potentially face Travis d’Arnaud four times who has allowed 7 SBs in 8 attempts.
- Amed Rosario: 0 SB, .255 xwOBA, 97th percentile sprint speed. I am once again asking you to ignore someone’s batting numbers. Rosario has struggled since his 2019 break-out season, but based on his elite sprint-speed I think there are still some SBs left in those legs. He’s getting consistent ABs now with Cleveland and has hits in each of his last three games. The average still reads .200, but like many batters — maybe he’s just starting to warm up. Plus he has an upcoming 4-game series against Salvador Perez who has 6 stolen bases allowed in 7 attempts.