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The Mariner’s Closing Situation

Eric Wedge announced that Brandon League will regain his ninth inning role sooner than later, which is upsetting to Tom Wilhelmsen owners but is refreshing for those who have stuck with League through his early season struggles.

Despite Wilhelmsen’s three consecutive saves in three straight opportunities, he may soon be moved back to the set up role. In keeper or dynasty leagues, Wilhelmsen is certainly the player to target if you are looking for the closer of the future in Seattle. With League being an impending free agent, Wilhelmsen will most likely take over the role for next season. If League pitches well over the course of the next month and a half, he could even be a trade candidate for a team looking for right-handed pitching help.

League’s issues this year are all in his control. His ability to limit home runs has been superb since the start of last year, with a HR/FB rate below 7.0% in each of the past two seasons after never netting a mark below 12.5% in any previous MLB season. The control this year, however, has seemed to evaporate. His walk rate has bumped up to 10.7%, the highest mark since his rookie season in 2005 — not including 2007 in which he pitched just 11.2 innings. In his past seven appearances, League has seemingly got his wildness under control, though that is obviously a small sample size and the jump in walk rate could again return. He has walked just one batter to six strikeouts in his past 7.2 innings.

While I do expect League to improve, I do not expect him to perform to the same level that he did last year going forward. His 2.79/2.78/3.09 ERA/FIP/xFIP last season was backed by career high velocity, which has since come down back down this year. The reason for the uptick in velocity and the downward bounce this season is unknown, but it is quantified and should be included in projecting him for the remainder of the season. ZiPS has League with a 3.64 ERA for the rest of the season, which to me looks reasonable, though I think they are a bit bullish on his strikeout rate.

A 3.64 ERA is far from elite, and an ERA that high could cause him to lose his ninth inning role once again. The roto move here is to go after Wilhelmsen heavily if you are an owner of League and are relying on the saves in Seattle. League should bounce back and pitch well over the course of the season, but the chance of him once again losing his role or eventually being traded leaves too much risk in owning League without the handcuff. Though sometimes it is difficult to roster a set-up man, owning Wilhelmsen along side League is recommended. If you are an owner of Wilhelmsen, acquiring League right now on the cheap should solidify your roto bullpen.