The defending major league saves leader enters Thursday with nary a save, but this is merely because New York Mets right-hander Jeurys Familia has been serving a suspension for matters not relevant to his fantasy value. Well, celebrate today, because he's back with the Mets. As closers go, Familia is one of the better options and while Mets manager Terry Collins has been coy about whether his closer will go right back to ninth-inning pitching or be provided a game or two in a situation with less pressure, fantasy owners know the drill. Activate Familia in daily formats and for next week in weekly ones.
While Familia was hardly the most valuable relief pitcher in the game -- or fantasy, for that matter -- despite the 51 saves, it's hard to be too concerned about his performance. His WHIP did rise from an even 1.00 in 2015 to a rather bloated (for a closer) 1.21 mark last season, mainly due to walk rate. This is a pitcher who has dealt with command problems in the past. The strikeout rate was fine, though, and few would be surprised if, even with the two-week break to start the 2017 season, he ends up with more than 40 saves.
Some in fantasy will keep right-hander Addison Reed on rosters until they're sure he's rudely displaced in the closer role and hey, there's no harm in fighting for every last save, but Collins isn't likely to share as the season progresses. Reed was, in pretty much every sense, better than Familia last season, but earned only one save. If your league counts holds, however, Reed is your man! The Mets lack other late-game options, so Reed's setup role is safe.
While there will not be much intrigue with the Mets, it's a different story with St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Seung-Hwan Oh. He was legitimately terrific last season as he posted a 1.92 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 79 2/3 innings, was one of only pitchers to reach 100 strikeouts in a relief role and -- when Trevor Rosenthal could neither stay healthy nor effective -- saved 19 games as well. Oh, as a major league rookie at age 33, was a top-10 fantasy reliever after going ignored on draft day. And this is partly why closers drive fantasy baseball owners nuts.
Fast forward to Wednesday when, with Oh unavailable thanks to having pitched the past two days, and not pitching all that great in those contests, Rosenthal saved the 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates! Yes, Rosenthal is back and he's throwing well and ... there might not be a closer controversy today, but Oh, who was the No. 5 relief pitcher off the board in ESPN average live drafts this season, surely isn't safe. Is anybody safe? Oh has permitted runs in four of six outings. His ERA is 8.10. He has struck out one hitter in his past five appearances, each covering one inning.
Rosenthal, meanwhile, has three clean outings out of four, and he has fanned seven hitters with nary a walk. Sure, Oh wasn't available to pitch Wednesday but one doesn't have to be a dreamer to see how the roles could easily switch here. Rosenthal boasts 110 career saves and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. While he has struggled with command and walks in the past, he's not struggling now. Rosenthal is actually throwing harder than ever, averaging nearly 99 MPH with his heater. Oh is the one struggling.
ESPN Fantasy keeps a closer chart for all to see and updates it when news warrants, and it got me thinking, is anyone truly safe? In some cases it comes down to what the other options are. Rosenthal is 20th among active pitchers in saves and that has to be a little threatening to Oh for when performance dictates a potential change. Then there's Arizona with hat-tilting, arrow-shooting Fernando Rodney. He has allowing two baserunners per inning but the Diamondbacks lack a proven option as a replacement. So who is really safe?
Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman top this make-believe list, but a week ago Baltimore lefty Zach Britton would have been on it, and now he's on the disabled list. Mark Melancon is safe based on the money he makes the messy group of setup men, in theory. Toronto's Roberto Osuna? He has already been on the DL and still doesn't look quite right and his setup man has closed before. Familia has to pitch well because Reed has proven he can handle closing. When Tyler Thornburg returns for the Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel might look over his shoulder.
Fantasy owners don't want to hear this, but no closer is truly safe, and it's not only due to injury. That can happen to anyone, and often does.
Performance varies as well. We've seen it with Kimbrel and while all looks well with him today, it's actually a smart time to sell high. Concerns we had about Kimbrel a month ago haven't changed because six of his first seven appearances have been clean and he's throwing nothing but strikes. He wasn't doing that last season. It has been a remarkable run for Kimbrel and it might sound silly to trade someone like this, but that's one way fantasy owners can improve their teams. Move your top closers for a big bat and lesser closer.
Remember, saves are saves. They count the same and Sam Dyson and Jeanmar Gomez had more of them than Kimbrel last season. Oh owners had to be thinking about moving him, since his ownership is quickly down to 86 percent. Greg Holland, a relative afterthought a month ago and a 22nd-round selection in ESPN ADP, is now owned in more leagues than Oh.
You know what? You should definitely sell high on him, too.
The other Missouri closer, Royals right-hander Kelvin Herrera, had six appearances last season with multiple strikeouts. In his first seven appearances this April, he has nary a one, and only four whiffs overall. Herrera isn't pitching badly, but four whiffs in seven innings doesn't excite. Yes, it's a small sample, but this makes a difference in fantasy, a big difference. Ask Ryan Madson owners from last year. Hopefully Herrera can stay over a K per inning, but if we're still discussing this in a month, that's a problem.
Strikeouts aren't a problem for Houston Astros middle man Chris Devenski, as he has earned 21 of them through four appearances and 11 innings. It's a wonderful start for Devenski, who is among the most added pitchers in ESPN leagues, but be careful here. Some weeks, owners might get only one outing. He might not win a game for months and he's not in line for saves. Use Devenski over a bad sixth starting pitcher if you need ERA/WHIP help, but compare him to what his teammate Collin McHugh achieved in 2016. McHugh won 13 games and struck out 177 hitters, but his ERA and WHIP were awful. Devenski was, according to the Player Rater, more valuable, but your team might have lacked wins and whiffs. I predict Devenski enters the most dropped list after his first rough outing.
Things have already started changing for Colorado's Holland. In his first five outings, each one inning, he didn't permit a hit. He fanned two of the three outs in four of those games, all saves. Since then? He barely escaped Wednesday's win over the Dodgers, allowing two runs, and Yasiel Puig just missed a game-winning home run. Holland has one strikeout in his past three innings. He has allowed five hits. Perhaps it's micromanaging, but I wouldn't cut Adam Ottavino yet.
Raisel Iglesias and all Reds relievers are being used unlike any other team. Iglesias entered Saturday's game in the fifth inning because that was the critical point of that game, allowed a solo homer in two innings, and ultimately earned the win. He might have a monster season, but I don't think he's topping 20 saves. I don't think any Reds pitcher will. If you need 35-plus saves from Iglesias, then look to trade him.
Things are looking better for Angels right-hander Cam Bedrosian. Even if he slips up soon, who would replace him? Andrew Bailey is on the DL with shoulder woes. Huston Street has shoulder problems and was recently transferred to the 60-day DL. We might see him in June. Bedrosian, who tossed a two-inning save Tuesday, should sail past 30 saves.
Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Neftali Feliz allowed four ninth-inning runs to blow the lead and the game to the Cubs, but setup man Corey Knebel wasn't great, either. In other words, keep Feliz around.
The odd situation in Texas seemed to work itself out with Matt Bush being healthy enough to pitch and -- shocker! -- Sam Dyson needing a DL stint for, well, an inflated ERA. OK, they say he has a right hand contusion. Sure he does. What timing! Nevertheless, if Bush and his balky shoulder remain healthy, he gets 30-plus saves. Who could be next? Keone Kela flashed closer skills in 2015. He's throwing well and, after his weird demotion for what were apparently "clubhouse reasons," he’s back. He could quickly be the eighth-inning guy, and you know what that means when the ninth-inning guy has issues.
As for Washington, it truly would be surprising if Blake Treinen, who needed saving by Shawn Kelley on Tuesday, gets more save chances. Kelley should have been the guy all along, but the team might say it's a competition between him and Koda Glover. I think it's Kelley first. If they both fail, then it's Joe Blanton. Then they sign Jonathan Pa ... no, I just can't finish that sentence. No way the Nationals do that! If this remains a problem in July, then David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez or someone of that experienced -- but not necessarily better -- ilk will be heading to D.C.
Wednesday hitting notes
Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell completed the big Cubs comeback with a walk-off three-run homer, and earlier stole a base on the back end of a double steal, but there's still no tangible reason to believe he'll be better than last year, when he hit .238 with 21 homers. Enjoy owning him, but Corey Seager he's not.
While Ichiro Suzuki homering in what could be his final game in Seattle is a great story, so is Mariners rookie outfielder Mitch Haniger. His three hits upped his batting average to .323, and he knocked in four. His OPS is better than 1.000. He even tried to steal a base. Haniger is a top-50 outfielder and should be owned in all leagues.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will be without second baseman Logan Forsythe for at least two weeks and perhaps a month with a fractured toe. Chase Utley figures to fill in, perhaps in a platoon with lefty killer Enrique Hernandez. Either way, that's another Dodgers bat to combat left-handed pitching that won't be helping for a while. Keep using lefties like Robbie Ray against the Dodgers whenever possible.
Wednesday pitching notes
Washington right-hander Joe Ross pitched capable in his season debut at Atlanta, allowing three runs over seven innings, striking out seven. There was the requisite Freddie Freeman home run but little else. Ross has the skills to be a top-40 starter, but add him after his next outing, scheduled for Coors Field!
Boston Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello lowered his ERA from 7.56 to 5.32 with seven strong innings at Toronto, allowing three unearned runs. Porcello is going to keep lowering the ERA. The strides he made in 2016 were legit. He fanned five Blue Jays and so far his K rate is even better than last year.
Reds rookie left-hander Amir Garrett struck out 12 Orioles over seven strong innings. He didn't win the game, but 71 of the 97 pitches were strikes, and even those skeptical about small sample sizes have to agree there's something intriguing here. Next up: a two-start week at Milwaukee and St. Louis.
If you own Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez, you take the win over Miami and don’t whine about the 12 hits allowed over 6 1/3 innings. You have to know Hernandez is likely to permit more hits than innings in a season for the first time since 1990. Hey, at least he has issued only one walk in four starts.