Searching for Saves: Making Sense Of Some Muddied Waters (Cubs, Angels & More)

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We all know that searching for saves is among the most frustrating aspects of fantasy baseball. In a short season the role becomes even more unpredictable, as you have to wonder if teams will have an even shorter leash. There are already a few situations that are questionable, at best, so let’s take a look and try to prioritize who we should be targeting to take over on each team:

Chicago Cubs

Craig Kimbrel is currently “the closer”, but he’s been an absolute disaster in both of his appearances this season:

  • July 27 – 0.1 IP, 2 R, 0 H, 4 BB, 0 K
  • July 31 – 1.0 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 K

Both of the hits he’s allowed were home runs. It’s easy to remember the name as being a big thing, but let’s not forget that his control has been poor for two years (4.48 BB/9 in ’18, 5.23 in ’19) and home runs were a significant issue last year (3.92 HR/9). This is more than a two appearance issue, and it’s fair to wonder if the Cubs will switch who gets the opportunities.

There are two clear alternatives, so let’s prioritize who to grab:

  1. Rowan Wick – He picked up a SV over the weekend and has delivered over the past two years with a strong groundball rate (54.1% in ’19, 55.6% in ’20). He needs to prove he can consistently throw strikes (17 BB over his past 35.2 IP), but he misses enough bats (11.4% career SwStr%) coupled with the groundballs to have success.
  2. Jeremy Jeffress – There was a time where he was considered a potential closer of the future, but let’s not forget he posted a 5.02 ERA last season. His strikeouts have been down in recent years, and in a tiny sample size he hasn’t missed bats (6.4% SwStr%) and hasn’t been getting opposing hitters to chase (16.7% O-Swing%). His velocity is down (92.8 mph) and he’s also watched his groundball rate regress (48.4% in ’19). In other words, he’s hard to trust. Jeffress got the W on Sunday, but that doesn’t change the outlook.

Los Angeles Angels

It seemed like Hansel Robles would run with the closers role, but he’s been abysmal to start the season. He’s made four appearances, allowing 2+ runs in three of them and taken both a BSV and a L. The Angels always think they should be competitive, and they aren’t going to let the opportunity of a short season slip away. They have multiple alternatives who can step into the role, but who could establish themselves:

  1. Kenyan Middleton – Once emerging as the closer, injuries have derailed Middleton. Early on in ’20 he’s rediscovered his velocity (96.9 mph on his fastball) and opposing hitters have struggled (12.0% SwStr%, 50.0% O-Swing%). He stumbled a bit yesterday (1 R on 3 H with 2 K over 1.1 IP), though a home run to Alex Bregman shouldn’t be held against him too much. He may not get the first shot, but his time will come.
  2. Ty Buttrey – He’s struggled in his first three appearances this season (and it became four last night, when he allowed 1 ER on 3 H over 1.2 IP), after he broke out last season over 72.1 IP (10.45 K/9, 2.86 BB/9, 45.7% groundball rate). He was hit hard (47.7% Hard%) and this season he isn’t fooling hitters (7.2% SwStr%). There’s potential, but relievers are unpredictable and he’s no guarantee to figure it out.
  3. Cam Bedrosian – He’s gotten a few saves over the years, but the Angels have never seemingly been willing to give him a true opportunity in the role (and entering the game early yesterday, that still seems to be the case). He’s also been hit or miss in terms of his swing and miss stuff, has had control issues (3.78 career BB/9) and has routinely been hit hard the past two seasons (Hard% of 41.6% and 40.8%).
  4. Felix Pena – He’s moved between the bullpen and rotation over the past few years, and has been utilized more as a long man this season (5.2 IP over 3 appearances). It’s possible he works his way into the back of the bullpen, but the other options appear to be better.

Colorado Rockies

It was likely that Wade Davis would be removed from the closer’s role anyways, but he’s now hit the 10-day IL. With Scott Oberg likely out for the season, the Rockies are left searching for an alternative. Let’s take a look:

  1. Jairo Diaz – We’ve talked about him since the preseason as a potential sleeper for saves, but he’s no longer flying under-the-radar. While he posted a 4.53 ERA in ’19, the skills were strong across the board with strikeouts (9.83 K/9), control (2.97 BB/9) and groundballs (49.4%). With those skills, he may not be just a temporary option.
  2. Carlos Estevez – He’s been strong to start the season (prior to yesterday, when he allowed 1 ER on 3 H in 1.0 IP), but he offers a bit more home run risk (40.9% career groundball rate) including a 1.50 HR/9 a year ago. It’s only a handful of innings, but seeing his SwStr% plummet to 6.0% is another worrisome sign.
  3. Daniel Bard – He’d be a great story, but he hadn’t pitched in the Majors since 2013. He’ll need to do more before the Rockies hand him the role.

Kansas City Royals

The thought was that this was Ian Kennedy’s job, but that no longer appears to be the case. In fact he’s yet to get a save in 2020, while Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland have converted opportunities. So who should we be targeting? Let’s take a look:

  1. Trevor Rosenthal – He’s operated as closer for Mike Matheny before and he’s pitched well over his first four appearances in 2020 (0.00 ERA, 3 K, 0 BB). Given the familiarity with the manager, the experience he has in the role (45+ SV in back-to-back seasons) and the way he’s pitching today, he’s a good bet to get the bulk of the opportunities.
  2. Ian Kennedy – So much for him being the closer, despite 30 SV a year ago. Of course he’s already allowed 2 HR this season and he was never a lock to produce.
  3. Greg Holland – Brought into the 7th yesterday he struggled, though his defense didn’t help, allowing 4 R on 3 H and 1 BB over 0.2 IP. It was his first poor outing of the season, though his control issues over the past few years loom large. While he’s gotten a SV, that likely will keep him out of the role.

Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN

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