Hello, Fantasy Baseball fans! What a crazy start to the 2018 MLB season!
The 2018 MLB season started off with a bang as Chicago Cubs center fielder Ian Happ hit a home run on the very first pitch of the year. Giancarlo Stanton continues to prove that he is the best power hitter in baseball while slugging two homers in his Yankees debut. Shohei Ohtani singled in his first MLB at-bat then took the mound on Sunday for his first start. He was impressive, changing speeds, making batters whiff 18 times on his way to six strikeouts in his six innings.
One of the biggest developments for Fantasy owners is the closer situations all around baseball. With so many changes and unstable bullpens, Fantasy owners are scrambling to find someone to help them in the saves category. I reviewed and analyzed the most troublesome bullpen situations and provided answers to help Fantasy owners on how to proceed with their relief pitcher position on their roster.
2018 Fantasy Baseball Closer Roundup
Keone Kela, Kevin Jepsen, and Alex Claudio: Texas Rangers
The Rangers closer’s role came into the 2018 season with a ton of uncertainty. Left-hander Alex Claudio earned the job a year ago after Sam Dyson and Matt Bush both struggled. However, Claudio was deemed more valuable at other times in the game, not just the ninth. The Rangers announced that Keone Kela will begin the season the Rangers’ primary closer.
Kela struggles with walks at times, but he has the kind of filthy stuff necessary to contribute in the role long term. Kela posted a 2.79 ERA and 0.91 WHIP while striking out 51 and walking 17 across 38.2 innings last season. Manager Jeff Bannister did mention Kevin Jepsen as a second option to close games to prevent Kela from being overworked. Jepsen is a name to file away in case Kela can’t handle the role, but he shouldn’t drag down Kela’s fantasy value as long as Kela gets the job done. Jepsen did not pitch in the majors last season due to an injury. He did save 10 games in 15 chances for Tampa Bay and Minnesota in 2015 when he compiled a 2.33 ERA over 75 appearances and 69 innings.
Keone Kela has closer stuff and will be the Rangers’ closer to start the season. However, he needs to prove he can pitch regularly. His inability to stay healthy is the reason that he has yet to take over the closer’s role until this season. If Kela is available in your league, it would be very wise to grab him but don’t set your expectations too high on him.
Hector Neris, Pat Neshek (DL), and Tommy Hunter (DL): Philadelphia Phillies
New Phillies Manager Gabe Kapler is making some interesting decisions in his first stint as a manager. The Phillies set a major-league record by using 15 pitchers in their first two games. In those games, the Phillies have given up 27 runs! That is a whole eight runs more than the next highest number in baseball. He comes into Philadelphia with a quick hook, who loves to play match-ups. This strategy runs the extreme risk of wearing out the bullpen and of running out of arms.
Hector Neris came into this season as the closer. He was sensational after the All-Star Break last season, converting all 19 of his save opportunities while recording a 2.48 ERA. There was little reason to believe that anyone else would be seeing save chances in Philadelphia this season until Kapler announced that he would play the late-inning matchups on a day-to-day basis. It seems now that the Phillies came into this season without a defined closer.
Neris didn’t do himself or the Phillies any favors by giving up a game-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day. Behind Neris, there is a myriad of capable relievers but the Phillies also have veteran relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter on the DL to start this season. Fantasy owners need to avoid this situation. While Neris did prove himself to be a capable closer last season, it seems likely that Kapler will not have defined roles for any of his relievers. Kapler does not hesitate to use and any and all of his relievers leaving none of them Fantasy relevant.
Hunter Strickland, Sam Dyson, and Mark Melancon-DL: San Francisco Giants
The Giants placed Mark Melancon on the 10-day DL with a right elbow flexor strain. Melancon said earlier this spring that he was dealing with “discomfort” in his pitching arm, but thought it was part of the recovery process from his surgery. Unfortunately, this is could be a different injury. Giants manager Bruce Bochy optimistically stated that he hopes to have Melancon back within a couple of weeks, but this sure has the look of an issue that could keep Melancon out much longer than that.
Sam Dyson has closer experience, but he was also completely awful last year, so the Giants wisely opted to give Hunter Strickland a shot in the role. Strickland hasn’t exactly been dominant in any of his first three big league seasons, but he pitched 7.1 scoreless innings this Spring, giving up only one hit while striking out eight over eight appearances. Bochy acknowledged that his strong spring played a role in his final decision.
Strickland aced his first save chance on Opening Day. He then came back to earn his second save in as many nights by striking out two batters in a perfect 15-pitch ninth inning. Look for Strickland to be the No. 1 add for Fantasy owners looking for closers. With the uncertainty of Melancon’s return, I would project Strickland to hold down the closer’s role for the foreseeable future.
Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian, and Jim Johnson: Los Angeles Angels
Blake Parker’s success last season as the closer earned him the first chance at the closer job this season. Unfortunately, Parker really struggled this Spring leaving the door wide open for Cam Bedrosian, who outperformed Parker this Spring or Jim Johnson, who has the most closing experience of the three candidates.
Manager Mike Scioscia was hesitant to confirm Parker as his closer even last season even when he was being utilized as one down the stretch. The Angels had eight different relievers pick up saves for the team last season. Scioscia has not committed to anyone as the closer saying it will be a closer by committee.
Parker got the first call in the game on Friday. He worked out of a ninth-inning jam, giving up a run but earning the save in the Angels win. Parker seems to have a handle on the job for the time being, but that could change quickly if he continues to struggle.Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian look to get most of the opportunities at least early on, but it looks the Angels will likely follow a similar model from last season. They will allow matchups to determine when certain relievers are deployed in game situations rather than securing them into set roles.
The dreaded closer-by-committee is every Fantasy owner’s nightmare. As you already know, stay clear.
Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Zach Britton (DL): Baltimore Orioles
It looks like we have a closer controversy in Baltimore.
Brad Brach, who converted 18 of 22 opportunities as a closer last season, was set to be the Orioles’ closer to the eventual return of Zach Britton, hopefully sometime in June. Brach blew a save in his first ninth-inning opportunity of the season on Opening Day. He walked two batters then gave up a two-run single with two outs, which tied the game.
Both Darren O’Day, who has closer experience, and Mychal Givens, who does not have closer experience but had a dominant Spring, are closer options for the Orioles.
Fantasy owners can not take for granted that Brach will get the next save opportunity. O’Day was mentioned to get some save chances while the Orioles await the return of Britton. Givens looks like he is being groomed to be the closer in 2019. Do the Orioles give Givens a shot now? It looks like the leash on Brach’s hold on the closer’s job continues to get shorter. Fantasy owners should stay away!
Joakim Soria and Nate Jones: Chicago White Sox
Both Joakim Soria and Nate Jones are expected to see save chances for the White Sox. Soria received the first save opportunity for the White Sox on Saturday, while Jones played the set-up role. Soria did make things interesting but did earn the save. He gave up a hit and a walk but then got a fly out to preserve the 4-3 victory.
It appears that Soria is the guy to own…..for now. This will be a frustrating situation for Fantasy owners especially since the White Sox are in rebuilding mode. Look For Soria to continue to predominantly be the closer with the hope that the White Sox could obtain the value for his services. Nate Jones would then take over as their closer.