Bullpen Report: September 20, 2017

Even with less than two weeks left in the season, it’s not too late for some closer turnover. Zach Britton is scheduled to get a stem cell injection in his left knee Thursday, and that will likely shelve him for the rest of the season. That probably means that Brad Brach will once again take over as the Orioles’ closer for the final nine games. The earned run that Brach allowed against the Red Sox on Tuesday was the first he had yielded in September, so he has rebounded from a difficult August. His control has been inconsistent, and that has contributed to a total of five walks in 10.1 innings this month (two of which came on Tuesday). A 64.3 percent ground ball rate has helped Brach to minimize the damage.

If you are thinking of adding a closer (or replacing Britton) for the home stretch, Brach should be sufficiently reliable. Then again, if you are in a 12-team mixed league, he is not necessarily the best option. Hector Neris, who converted his 17th straight save on Wednesday against the Dodgers, has not only been steady, but is a better option for strikeouts. As Ben Kaspick mentioned in the previous installment of the Bullpen Report, Alex Claudio was passed over for a save opportunity on Sunday, but he was back in his customary role on Tuesday, Claudio set the Mariners down in order, notching his ninth save of the season, and then he came back for a scoreless two-inning save on Wednesday.

Like Brach, Claudio probably won’t help much with strikeouts, though at this point in the season, that doesn’t matter as much. However, the Rangers’ lefty has not allowed an extra-base hit in his last 16 innings, and his ability to get grounders has made him a reliable closer.

Joe Musgrove got his second save in five days by getting the final four outs against the White Sox on Wednesday. He was merely giving Ken Giles a breather, as he pitched four times over the previous six days. Musgrove has been added to the grid, and while he may not be needed to save a game again this season, he is still worth considering in deeper leagues. Not only is he clearly a part of the Astros’ mix for saves, but since moving from the rotation to the bullpen shortly after the All-Star break, he has been superb. Over 30 innings, Musgrove has a 1.50 ERA with 30 strikeouts and five walks.

More frequent grounders have been key to Musgrove’s success in relief. Prior to Wednesday’s outing, he had a 50.7 percent ground ball rate as a reliever, as opposed to the 42.6 percent rate he registered as a starter. Since moving to the bullpen, Musgrove has allowed only two home runs.

Wednesday’s slate featured a pair of blown saves that were out of character for the relievers who earned them. Arodys Vizcaino faced three Nationals in the eighth inning and walked them all. Two of the walks were on four pitches, and only three of his 15 pitches were strikes. Over his 21 previous appearances in the second half, Vizcaino had thrown 69 percent of pitches for strikes, walking six batters in 20.1 innings.

Even stranger was the way Corey Knebel finished his night of work. He entered for the Brewers in the bottom of the eighth inning, relieving Anthony Swarzak with a 4-3 lead, two outs and Andrew McCutchen on second base. Knebel threw away a David Freese ground ball, allowing McCutchen to score and blowing the save.  With the Brewers and Pirates tied, 4-4, he came back out for the ninth inning. Knebel was two strikes away from sending the game to extra innings when Adam Frazier ended the contest with a walk-off homer.

How unlikely was this outcome? Knebel had held left-handed batters to a .195 slugging percentage this season and allowed only one home run over 36.1 innings against lefties. Frazier entered Wednesday’s game with five home runs and a 26.5 percent flyball rate. According to Statcast, his 87.8 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives ranked 307th out of 324 hitters with at least 150 batted balls. True to form, Frazier — who had a career 28.0 percent line drive rate entering this game — hit the home run with a launch angle of 27 degrees.

According to multiple reports, David Price was an option to close for the Red Sox on Wednesday, as both Craig Kimbrel and Addison Reed were unavailable. With the Red Sox blowing out the Orioles, 9-0, Price was not needed.

While it’s conceivable that Price could get a save chance over the final days of the season, the same is true for Jeurys Familia. MLB.com reported that Terry Collins intends to give Familia at least one look in a save situation. With A.J. Ramos having blown a save in spectacular fashion against the Marlins on Tuesday, it would hardly be surprising if Familia was given a chance sooner rather than later. He has been far from dominant since returning from the DL, allowing seven runs over 11 innings and throwing 58 percent of his pitches for strikes. That makes him little more than a last resort for saves from here on out.

Closer Grid:

 

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley David Hernandez
ATL Arodys Vizcaino Jose Ramirez Sam Freeman
BAL Brad Brach Mychal Givens Darren O’Day Zach Britton
BOS Craig Kimbrel Addison Reed Matt Barnes Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Pedro Strop Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS Juan Minaya Danny Farquhar Gregory Infante Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Kevin Shackelford Drew Storen
CLE Cody Allen Andrew Miller Joe Smith
COL Greg Holland Jake McGee Pat Neshek
DET Shane Greene Alex Wilson Joe Jimenez
HOU Ken Giles Chris Devenski Joe Musgrove
KC Mike Minor Brandon Maurer Scott Alexander
LAA Blake Parker Yusmeiro Petit Cam Bedrosian
LAD Kenley Jansen Brandon Morrow Pedro Baez
MIA Brad Ziegler Kyle Barraclough Drew Steckenrider
MIL Corey Knebel Anthony Swarzak Josh Hader
MIN Matt Belisle Trevor Hildenberger Alan Busenitz
NYM A.J. Ramos Jeurys Familia Paul Sewald
NYY Aroldis Chapman David Robertson Dellin Betances
OAK Blake Treinen Chris Hatcher Liam Hendriks
PHI Hector Neris Luis Garcia Adam Morgan
PIT Felipe Rivero Daniel Hudson A.J. Schugel Joaquin Benoit
STL Juan Nicasio Tyler Lyons John Brebbia Trevor Rosenthal
SD Brad Hand Kirby Yates Phil Maton
SF Sam Dyson Hunter Strickland Cory Gearrin Mark Melancon
SEA Edwin Diaz Nick Vincent Marc Rzepczynski Tony Zych
TB Alex Colome Tommy Hunter Steve Cishek
TEX Alex Claudio Matt Bush Jake Diekman
TOR Roberto Osuna Ryan Tepera Dominic Leone
WSH Sean Doolittle Brandon Kintzler Ryan Madson

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]



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Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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Carson Smith is no longer injured.