Staying ahead of the curve in the fantasy saves market | Week 11

FLUSHING, NY - JUNE 02: Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher Felipe Rivero (73) shuts down any hopes of a Mets comeback in the 9th inning by overpowering them with 100+ mph fastballs in the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. Could he be a fantasy savior? (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

Although bullpen situations seem to be relatively calm, it feels like an eruption of action will soon ensue. Things do not seem to be settling down for the Washington Nationals with manager Dusty Baker pleading publicly for help in press conferences. Pittsburgh played down the role of the uber-talented Felipe Rivero, who has saved both chances since the Pirates moved Tony Watson out of the role.

Philadelphia announced a change with Pat Neshek taking over as the closer, but the Phillies continue to use him as their “extinguisher” rather than a ninth-inning arm. Meanwhile, should owners of Seung Hwan-Oh be trying to move him? With an eye on the present and the future, here are the latest bullpen rumblings impacting fantasy owners.

  • Rivero’s a stud

Due to how strong Felipe Rivero has been since joining the Pirates, there’s no need to sugarcoat this. Tony Watson’s struggles were noted in this column for two straight weeks until the team had to make a change. Initially announced as a shared role, the Pirates’ last two save opportunities went to Rivero and he responded. In his first two saves of 2017, Rivero pitched 1.1 innings in each appearance, striking out three during his first save and recording clean innings in both outings.

As of this writing, Rivero ranks third among qualified relievers with a 0.53 ERA, tied for seventh in ground-ball percentage (63.8 percent) and tied for 16th in expected FIP (2.66). Statistical data suggests some regression will come for Rivero, but he is already putting himself in the conversation as a top-10 closer the rest of the way in regard to fantasy value. Those who stashed him this preseason should reap the rewards.

According to the Pittsburgh media, some in the organization hope Watson can work his way back to the ninth inning so the Pirates can deploy Rivero as their own Andrew Miller imitation. Since losing the closer job, Watson is still scuffling. He did not allow a run in his last appearance but did allow three hits. Ride Rivero while he’s hot and in the closer role.

  • What to do with the Nationals’ bullpen

It’s obvious the team cannot start over again, so what lies ahead for a contending team with a barren farm system? Having a short memory with Matt Albers should be the first move. He did implode on Monday night but entered the game with the fourth-best WHIP among National League relievers (0.76) and the sixth-best ERA (1.08). Watching the game, Albers had tremendous movement on his pitches and ran into trouble walking both Nick Markakis and Matt Adams.

Then facing Tyler Flowers, Albers fell behind 2-0 and had to throw a fastball which Flowers deposited over the right field fence. Keep in mind: Adams homered twice in this game and Markakis also hit one in the first inning off Stephen Strasburg. It’s funny how Strasburg’s three home runs allowed get brushed under the rug but everyone reacts to the one in the ninth inning.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 25:  Washington Nationals relief pitcher Matt Albers (43) pitches in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners on May 25, 2017, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.  The Seattle Mariners defeated the Washington Nationals, 4-2 in an interleague game. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Yes, it did blow a lead, but Albers still maintains a 2.10 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with a 10.5 swinging strike percentage. He has cut his contact rate by over eight percent this year and is not ideal as the closer, but should be viable until Koda Glover returns.

In the meantime, keep tabs on Trevor Gott. His promotion on Monday should add another arm to the floundering bullpen. At Triple-A Syracuse, Gott saved three games while striking out 28 in 30 innings pitched. He has been a ground-ball pitcher in the past and at a 59.1 rate at Triple-A this year.

Another pitcher to track will be Erick Fedde. He moved to the bullpen at Double-A and responded with 19 strikeouts in 13.2 innings of work with a 2.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Fedde will need more time as a reliever, but could join the Nationals in a month if necessary.

Washington also drafted southpaw Seth Romero out of the University of Houston, with rumors already surfacing that he could eventually join the bullpen as Brandon Finnegan did for Kansas City during its World Series run in 2015. As for the fantasy end of this, one can gamble on Albers, keep Glover stashed on the disabled list, or wait until the Nationals make a trade and react. Until then, hang in there, Dusty.

  • Avoid the Phillies’ bullpen? 

One week after announcing Pat Neshek would be the closer, he has been deployed in the seventh inning in two straight games. Although Neshek has been the Phillies’ best reliever, he may not be the closer because of it. Since wins seem to hard to procure for the team, Neshek may need to pitch in the highest-leverage point of the game, not necessarily the ninth inning. This means those who held on to Hector Neris may be rewarded when the team gets its next save. Time will tell, but this could be another situation to avoid for fantasy owners.

  • What’s going on with Oh? 

This could be nitpicking since Seung-Hwan Oh has converted his last five save chances, but he did allow four hits and two earned runs in his last outing. Oh hung on for his 15th save of the year, but in June, he has allowed six hits to 18 batters faced. He has also given up two runs in two of his last five outings. Looking at his surface statistics, Oh is striking out a batter per inning with a 3.10 ERA — not bad.

However, his 3.70 FIP and 4.83 xFIP combined with the 1.41 WHIP suggest trouble could loom. In an effort to defray owners from the upcoming correction which may lie ahead, see if a team which needs saves will add Oh. His strikeout minus walk percentage this year sits almost at half of his total from 2016. Take note of his vertical release points from last year compared to this one:

The lower release point could be something, or just a tweak by Oh, but the results of late do not match with last year’s. Again, he could right the ship, but Trevor Rosenthal is surging and Oh is struggling, so stay informed and track carefully.

More changes lie ahead, especially if the Nationals panic and overpay to trade for a closer. Be sure to follow Fan Rag on Twitter or bookmark the site to stay informed of any breaking baseball news item.

Statistical Credits: 

Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN.go.com

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