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Staying ahead of the curve in the fantasy saves market | Week 15

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 04: Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Alex Colome (37) checks first base while preparing to pitch during a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs on July 4, 2017, at Wrigley Field, in Chicago, IL. Rays won 6-5. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

It’s the All-Star break, but the saves chasers never rest. With the first half in the rearview mirror, Greg Holland (28) and Alex Colome (25) lead their respective leagues in saves. Just like everyone predicted, right?

When determining the fantasy All-Stars for closers, Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen lead the way. Kimbrel leads all qualified relievers in FIP (0.78), strikeout minus walk percentage (47) and WHIP (0.50). Jansen finished second in each category with a 1.05 FIP, 40.4 strikeout minus walk rate, and 0.56 WHIP. Some pitchers limped into the break, so their situations will be investigated along with other bullpens of interest.

  • Can Colome hold on in Tampa? 

June did not treat Alex Colome kindly. He allowed nine runs in 10 innings of work, giving up at least a run in his last four appearances of the month along with his first of July. Tampa Bay stood by its man, letting him record four saves in four outings to start July. In order for Colome to retain the job, he needs to bounce back in terms of his control.

Last year, Colome walked three fewer hitters than he has allowed this season in 16 fewer innings. Colome’s strikeout percentage is down 11 percent this year compared to last — his walks are up over three percent. Add a drop of over 20 percent in terms of his left-on-base percentage and things did not go great in the first half. However, he leads the American League in saves.

Prior to June, there did not seem to be anyone primed to usurp Colome’s role, but with Brad Boxberger back, the line Colome walks becomes a bit finer. He needs to become more efficient with his cutter and hopefully reduce his walk rate in the second half in order to retain his role as the closer. Tampa Bay has been patient with him and remains in the playoff picture. In order to stay there, the Rays need Colome in the ninth and will benefit from Boxberger in the eighth. Those who own Colome would be smart to handcuff with Boxberger, just in case.

  • Is Zach back? 

Baltimore is struggling this year and will not take any chances with its franchise closer. Zach Britton lost time to injury but did return prior to the break. He made three appearances, giving up two earned runs, four hits, one walk and striking out one over three innings. More importantly, he generated 10 ground balls in these outings.

Brad Brach filled in admirably, converting 15 of his 19 save chances with a 2.72 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Fantasy owners may want to hold off on dropping him immediately in the event Britton encounters more pain in his throwing arm or the team decides to shut him down if the Orioles continue to drift in the standings, not wanting to risk further injury. Those who own Britton look forward to him bouncing back in the second half, but they should proceed with cautious optimism.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 13: Baltimore Orioles Pitcher Zach Britton (53) pitches in the ninth inning during the regular season MLB game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays on April 13, 2017 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

  • Jim Johnson’s hot seat

Many would like to see Atlanta’s Jim Johnson’s job as closer shift to another pitcher, but whom could they turn to? Arodys Vizcaino is presently on the disabled list and can be just as volatile. Jose Ramirez does not look ready, though his stuff could play in the ninth inning.

Johnson is tied with the deposed Tony Watson with the most blown saves this year with seven. However, Johnson has won six games with 19 saves in spite of his 4.23 ERA. His FIP of 2.42 suggests he has suffered from bad luck. The 1.23 WHIP is not awful. Looking at his underlying numbers, Johnson has improved his swinging strike percent this year by over three and reduced contact by six percent. Last, his strand rate of 66.4 percent sits below the league average, which validates his FIP compared to his ERA.

It will not be an easy ride, but if Atlanta hangs in the race and does not sell, Johnson should rebound in the second half. An occasional blow-up happens to any reliever, but due to the number Johnson incurred, his disasters seem to gain more attention. Vizcaino could make for a solid stash candidate — time will tell.

  • Will the Tigers trade Wilson? 

Things in Detroit seem to be coming to the surface with Miguel Cabrera openly challenging the team to make trades now and not let things linger. One of the most popular targets on the team will be closer Justin Wilson. Of course, a trade could affect those who own him if he is moved, since his role in the ninth inning may change. Not long after Luis Avilan allowed two home runs in his last appearance, Wilson pitched 1 2/3 innings in his last save of the first half on Sunday night, in prime time.

The Dodgers and Nationals need upgrades in the bullpen — both teams have been linked to Wilson. He would likely pitch in a set-up role with either team, but in Washington, he could still record saves. This situation is two-fold: First, where Wilson ends up will affect how many saves he will record in the second half. For Detroit, the bigger question is who replaces him.

It’s possible the Tigers will give Shane Greene a chance to close, but he has been streaky as a reliever. Greene’s 3.12 ERA does come with a 3.84 FIP and low strikeout minus walk percentage (12.4). He may not possess an arsenal suited for the ninth inning, which could open the door for rookie Joe Jimenez to ascend to the role eventually. He teased fantasy owners early this year but did not look ready. After returning to the minors, he recorded two saves over his last 10 appearances with 14 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings of work. Jimenez still walks too many hitters, with five in this span, but his arm and stuff make him the best-suited long-term replacement if he can rebound when Detroit recalls him.

Detroit’s bullpen may be fluid if and when it deals Wilson, but the future does look bright for Jimenez for those who want to stash him before his price goes up.

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Statistical Credits:  Fangraphs.com, MiLB.com, BaseballSavant.com

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