The Brewers are interested in Craig Kimbrel

March 22, 2019

Atlanta Braves – There were spring whispers AJ Minter may ascend to become the team’s save-getter, but he’s currently battling a shoulder issue and likely won’t be healthy enough for Opening Day. Arodys Vizcaino will assume his familiar role at the back end of the bullpen. With Darren O’Day also likely headed for the IL, expect veteran Jonny Venters to lead a crop of younger pitchers in setting up Vizcaino at the start. 

Updated hierarchy: Vizcaino | Venters | Sobotka.

Miami MarlinsBefore spring action began, Don Mattingly indicated he’d mix and match in the ninth inning among a group that includes Drew Steckenrider, Sergio Romo and Adam Conley. That plan appears to still be in place, but Steckenrider (9.82 ERA) has had a rough spring, while Romo (3.68 ERA, 0.68 WHIP) has impressed. Complicating things is the Marlins’ likelihood to use Romo as their relief ace and opener at times, and the fact that the Marlins probably won’t win many games at all, leaving this situation one of the most volatile in baseball. Perhaps Romo begins the season at the top of the pecking order? Stay tuned. 

Updated hierarchy: *Romo | Steckenrider | Conley.
* = closer-by-committee

Chicago Cubs – Pedro Strop is battling a hamstring injury, but manager Joe Maddon expressed optimism Thursday that his reliever will likely be ready to open the season healthy. That would leave Strop to close while Brandon Morrow (elbow) continues to work his way back. Morrow won’t be ready until May. If Strop isn’t ready to go, Steve Cishek and CJ Edwards would be the next men up. 

Hierarchy remains: *Strop | Cishek | Edwards.
* = closer-by-committee until Brandon Morrow returns

Milwaukee Brewers – The strength of the Brewers is typically their bullpen, but some top options will not be with the team on Opening Day. Corey Knebel has been pitching with a UCL injury for a while, according to manager Craig Counsell, and now the pitcher is set to seek a second opinion about the injury. Counsell earlier said there’s “reason for concern” about the injury. Couple that with the fact Jeremy Jeffress won’t be ready to pitch Opening Day either, that explains the club’s interest in free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. Out of the gate, Josh Hader is the immediate favorite for saves.

Updated hierarchy: Hader | Barnes | Albers.

St. Louis Cardinals – Dakota Hudson will begin the season as the team’s fifth starter, so that takes him out of the bullpen hierarchy. In his place, let’s slide in John Brebbia behind Jordan Hicks and Andrew Miller — with both of these men likely competing for saves, based on matchups — to start the season. 

Updated hierarchy: *Hicks | Miller | Brebbia.
* = closer-by-committee

Arizona Diamondbacks – Manager Torey Lovullo still isn’t ready to announce a closer. He’ll be choosing among a group that includes Archie Bradley, Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano. It’s anybody’s guess at this point, so we’ll stick with Bradley for now. But Bradley could become the team’s relief ace instead, leaving save opportunities for Holland and Hirano. Stay tuned!

Hierarchy remains: Bradley | Holland | Hirano.

San Francisco Giants – Mark Melancon began the spring in contention to close, but he has been dreadful in his six appearances, posting an 11.12 ERA in 5.2 IP. Will Smith has been the opposite of dreadful, allowing no runs and just three hits in his four innings of work this spring. Bruce Bochy has not named a closer, but Smith should be the front-runner based on the aforementioned numbers and the fact that Melancon isn’t even a lock to make the Opening Day roster anymore.

Updated hierarchy: Smith | Dyson | Melancon.

Two saves in two days for Hunter Strickland

March 21, 2019

Seattle Mariners — With a long fly ball that fell to earth one foot from the left field fence in the Tokyo Dome a few minutes ago, Hunter Strickland picked up his second save in two days. Anthony Swarzak is on the injured list, so it was lefty Zac Rosscup setting up Strickland both days — although he’s put four guys on base in 1.2 innings. We’ll move Rosscup into the hierarchy, but Cory Gearrin looks like a better bet to fill in for Strickland if necessary.

Updated hierarchy: Strickland | Gearrin | Rosscup.

Toronto Blue Jays — Ryan Tepera and John Axford are experiencing the dreaded elbow pain, leaving Bud Norris (whose deadline to opt-out of his minor league deal is today), Joe Biagini, and Tim Mayza to set up Ken Giles.

Updated hierarchy: Giles | Norris| Biagini.

Boston Red Sox — Craig Kimbrel ain’t walkin’ through that door, so it looks more and more likely that the Red Sox will ride with Matt Barnes (and his newly untipped pitches) in the ninth.

Hierarchy remains: Barnes | Brasier | Hembree.

Tampa Bay Rays — As we expected, Jose Alvarado and Chaz Roe should get the bulk of the save chances for Tampa, with Diego Castillo and Ryne Stanek cycling between late-inning work and possible stints as the “opener.”

Hierarchy remains: *Alvarado | Roe | Castillo. 
* = closer-by-committee

Kansas City Royals — It’s still unclear who will get the bulk of the saves between Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta, but they’ll be joined in the bullpen by Ian Kennedy.

Updated hierarchy: *Boxberger | Peralta | Diekman.
* = closer-by-committee

Minnesota Twins — Nothing definitive in the Twins’ hierarchy — they’re still choosing among Trevor May, Blake Parker, Trevor Hildenberger, and Taylor Rogers — but the latest news is that they might settle on one guy, and that it won’t be Fernando Romero. We’re still betting on May.

Hierarchy remains: *May | Parker | Hildenberger.
* = closer-by-committee

Houston Astros — Ryan Pressly just signed a $17.5 million extension and has the edge over Chris Devenski at second in line.

Updated hierarchy: Osuna | Rondon | Pressly.

Updated MLB Closer Depth Chart

Closer1st in line2nd in lineUpdatedCloser1st in line2nd in lineUpdated

* = closer-by-committee

Tiered List of Top Relievers for Holds Leagues

March 2, 2019

For a variety of reasons, holds are hard to predict. A reliever needs to be good enough to get outs consistently, but not so good that he takes over as the closer. On this list, LOOGYs and great pitchers blocked by superstar closers get a bump, while players with a good chance to take over the ninth fall a bit. Pitchers in committees are heavily downgraded due to uncertainty, but they can grab a lot of holds if the committee evolves to feature someone else at the head.

Tier 1:

Josh Hader
Adam Ottavino
Zach Britton
Dellin Betances
Jeurys Familia
Joe Kelly

The top tier is reserved for elite set-up guys with solid closers. While they are definitely save candidates in case of injury, they’re most likely to rack up holds in high-leverage eighth innings. There are three Yankees in this tier, which may seem excessive, but then again, they have a legendarily good bullpen and a team forecast to win 95+ games.

Tier 2:

Yoshihisa Hirano
Tony Watson
Keone Kela
CJ Edwards
Kyle Barraclough
Jared Hughes
Andrew Miller
Joakim Soria
Jeremy Jeffress

The main difference between the first and second tiers is that these guys have some question marks attached. Many have a chance to win the closer job themselves (Miller, Hirano) or play for a team that won’t win all that much (Hughes, Kela).

Tier 3:

Chaz Roe
Hector Rondon
Seranthony Dominguez
Trevor Rosenthal
Greg Holland
Scott Oberg
Steve Cishek
Will Smith
Anthony Swarzak
Ryan Brasier

Tier three includes some pitchers who are already in a battle to close, so they may wind up getting saves rather than holds. It also includes some guys who don’t put up the best peripherals, but are still likely to get a good share of hold opportunities.

Tier 4:

Ryan Tepera
Adam Cimber
Pedro Baez
Lou Trivino
Taylor Rogers
Ryan Pressly
Joe Jimenez
Heath Hembree
Chris Martin

Tier four is where you find lefty specialists and pitchers on good teams who are a few steps removed from the closers role.  They’ll have plenty of appearances, but may not be quite as consistent in picking up holds.

Top 15 Middle Relievers / Save Sleepers

February 27, 2019

Below are our top middle relievers for 2019. Note that these rankings are calibrated for traditional (saves only) leagues and are thus weighted toward players with the best chances of winning the closer role at some point this season. If you missed them earlier this week, check out our tiered closer rankings — a few of the guys in potential committees appear on both lists — and stay tuned for our holds rankings, which we’ll publish later this week.

1. Josh Hader – It probably comes as little surprise that Josh Hader tops our middle reliever rankings for 2019, as the lefty is looking to build on a year that saw him crowned the NL’s best relief pitcher. With 143 Ks in 81.1 innings in support of a sterling ERA and WHIP, Hader wouldn’t even need to ascend to the closer role to help your fantasy team. If he does, look for him to be a top 5 closer in baseball.

2. Andrew Miller – The man who birthed a new bullpen role synonymous with his name, Andrew Miller will probably be used… in an Andrew Miller-type role in 2019. That means high-leverage outs and occasional save chances when matchups are right. It’s possibly he wins the closer role in spring training — we think the smart money is on Jordan Hicks — but either way, he’ll be a valuable contributor for both the Cardinals and your fantasy team.

3. Ryan Brasier – A career journeyman whose contract was sold to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 2016, Brasier returned to the bigs in the middle of 2018. In the 33.2 innings that followed, Brasier posted a 1.60 ERA, tallying nearly a strikeout per inning. He threw an additional 8.2 innings in the playoffs (1 ER), and has worked his way in to the Red Sox closer competition. At the very least, look for him to be a solid 8th inning option, and if Matt Barnes can’t improve on his control issues, Brasier could ascend.

4. Wily Peralta – Another guy who might just up and win the closer role out of spring training, Wily Peralta boasts a 100 mph fastball and a track record of success in the 9th inning — he was 14 for 14 in save chances down the stretch last season. Recent signee Brad Boxberger wants to close, and we give him the slight edge to win the job, but he had some significant rough patches last season, none worse than in September, when he posted a 11.37 ERA. Look for Peralta to get a shot at some point.

5. Joe Jimenez – This one isn’t complicated. Shane Greene is not very good, and Jimenez is his clear handcuff. Stash him and wait for Greene to falter.

6. Will Smith – Mark Melancon says that he’s healthy, but we’ll believe it when we see it. Meanwhile, Will Smith did a spectacular job virtually every time he took the mound in 2018, racking up 71 Ks in 53 innings and posting a 2.55 ERA along with 14 saves. If you draft Melancon, we strongly suggest you handcuff him with Smith.

7. Sergio Romo – The original “opener” could potentially be part of a three-headed closer-by-committee for the Marlins when the season opens. As we mentioned in our NL East preview, we think Drew Steckenrider emerges here, but the wily veteran will be ready to step in if Steckenrider struggles to find his footing.

8. Blake Parker – It’s an open competition in Twins camp for the closer role, though most, including us, are pegging Trevor May (25.1 IP, 36 Ks, 3.20 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) as Minnesota’s most likely stopper. That leaves Proven Closer Blake Parker as the likely 8th inning man, and the probable candidate to step in if May falters. Also, like several others on this list, Parker could just up and win the job outright in spring.

9. Zack Britton – The continuing aura of Aroldis Chapman’s otherworldly fastball has masked the fact that the lefty has failed to strike out 100 hitters for three consecutive seasons now. It’s not that Chapman has gotten significantly less effective, but he’s dealt with minor injuries now and again the last few seasons and has occasionally had brief bouts of control issues. With the Yankees projected to win close to 100 games, it’s likely that Zack Britton nabs a handful of saves even if Chapman stays fully healthy and effective. But if not, the sky is the limit.

10. Greg Holland – A glance at Greg Holland’s 2018 numbers shows a tale of two seasons: a 7.92 ERA across 25 innings in St. Louis, followed by a 0.84 ERA across 21.1 innings in Washington. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that he was actually only marginally better in Washington (2.97 FIP) than he was in St. Louis (4.56 FIP), and that his night-and-day splits were just the result of extremely bad luck followed by extremely good luck. What you’re left with is a perfectly decent (but not great) MLB reliever who nonetheless carries his Proven Closer title with him, making him a possible option for saves in Arizona, especially if Archie Bradley struggles this spring.

11. Seranthony Dominguez – Gabe Kapler might employ the same bullpen chaos theory that he did last year, making Seranthony Dominguez an attractive target even after the acquisition of David Robertson. Of course, this cuts both ways, as Dominguez might never become a full-time closer, even if Robertson is hurt or ineffective — and there’s also word that the Phillies may limit the amount they use him on consecutive days. Still, the talent here is impossible to deny, and Dominguez is worth grabbing, even in shallower leagues, as he’ll help contribute to percentages and strikeouts even if he’s never getting more than a couple saves per month.

12. Jared Hughes – Quick, of all the NL relievers who pitched 50+ innings last year, who had the best ERA? If you guessed Jeremy Jeffress, good job! (And, also, maybe think about drafting him? He barely missed this list, but he’s pretty good, too!) But coming in second place was the largely-unheralded Jared Hughes, who posted a 1.92 mark across 78.2 innings. With word that Raisel Iglesias will be used all over the place this year, Hughes could quickly become a valuable fantasy arm.

13. AJ Minter – Here’s another one that isn’t very complicated: Arodys Vizcaino is good, but he was hurt for a decent stretch of the season last year, allowing hard-throwing lefty AJ Minter to pick up 15 saves. No reason to think that it can’t happen again in 2019. (Minter’s value, of course, would take a significant hit if Craig Kimbrel returns to the Braves.)  

14. Trevor Rosenthal – Dave Martinez turned heads earlier this spring when he said that Trevor Rosenthal would get some save opportunities. It’s likely that this comment was more in regards to nights when Sean Doolittle isn’t available, but the fact that Martinez put it out there — coupled with Doolittle’s general fragility in recent years — earns Rosenthal a spot on this list.

15. Joe Kelly – Joe Kelly got a hefty deal in free agency to be the primary set-up man for the Dodgers going forward, and seems likely to be the man to benefit should anything befall Kenley Jansen. Simply put, you could do worse than the 8th inning guy for a team likely to threaten 100 wins.

2019 Tiered Closer Rankings

February 25, 2019

Here are the Monkey’s closer rankings for 2019. This year is a little unique since we have a few committees, some injuries (Brandon Morrow) and a top-flight closer un-signed (Craig Kimbrel) so we have extended this list to 35 names.  We’ve got them divided into tiers for your drafting ease.

Tier 1

1. Edwin Diaz
2. Blake Treinen
3. Aroldis Chapman

Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen are new names at the top of the list but after last season, it’s hard to put anybody else there.  Diaz led the league with 57 saves, had an ERA under 2.00, a WHIP well under 1.00, and struck out over 100 batters. Oh, and did we mention he’s only 24 years old?  Treinen finished last season with an ERA of 0.78 (yes that is not a typo) and struck out 100 batters.

Tier 2

4. Sean Doolittle
5. Kenley Jansen
6. Brad Hand
7. Craig Kimbrel

Sean Doolittle had an incredible year in 2018 (1.60 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and 10-1 K to BB ratio) and he would be tier 1 if not for injury concerns.  Brad Hand struck out over 100 batters for the second straight year and should be the undisputed closer for the contending Indians in 2019. Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel are getting a little older but are still close to elite.

Tier 3

8. Felipe Vazquez
9. Raisel Iglesias
10. Jose Leclerc
11. David Robertson
12. Roberto Osuna
13. Kirby Yates
14. Wade Davis

Tier 3 is an interesting group.  Vazquez is locked in as closer for the Pirates and his numbers are great, except for a high WHIP (1.24 last year).  Robertson and Osuna all have the potential to run away with the closer’s role for their respective teams, but their managers have not been shy to use multiple guys to close out games.  The Reds have already said that they want to use Iglesias in different ways.  Jose Leclerc is a guy to keep an eye on as he gave up a grand total of 3 hits in August and September while racking up 12 saves during that time.

Tier 4

15. Arodys Vizcaino
16. Ken Giles
17. Cody Allen
18. Corey Knebel
19. Jose Alvarado

Ken Giles, Cody Allen, and Corey Knebel were all top 10 closers going into last season but really struggled in 2018.  Alvarado is a young hard-throwing lefty who could prove to be a steal if the Rays commit to him as their closer for the full season.

Tier 5

20. Alex Colome
21. Archie Bradley
22. Mychal Givens
23. Mark Melancon
24. Jordan Hicks
25. Hunter Strickland
26. Drew Steckenrider
27. Brandon Morrow

This group has a lot more questions than answers, but a few of these guys are going to help you win saves in your league.  Mychal Givens has the least competition of the group but he is unproven and closing for the lowly Orioles. Archie Bradley and Jordan Hicks are excellent young relievers but they both have competition from veterans with more closing experience.  Brandon Morrow was fantastic last year but will miss the start of the year and is a big injury risk.

Tier 6

28. Pedro Strop
29. Matt Barnes
30. Shane Greene
31. Brad Boxberger
32. Josh Hader
33. Trevor May
34. Andrew Miller
35. Wily Peralta

Josh Hader and Andrew Miller are elite relievers who unfortunately are often used before the 9th inning.  Trevor May pitched well for the Twins at the end of last season and the 6’5 righty has loads of potential. Shane Greene’s numbers were pretty terrible last year (5.12 ERA and 1.37 WHIP) but he saved 32 games and will start the year as the closer for the Tigers.