Bullpens are a continual source of frustration for everyone this year, and the situation in Boston is a prime example of why we might want to consider changing the way that we view the closers role in fantasy baseball.
Red Sox Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan had 76 saves the past two years, the fifth best mark in baseball. He was brought to Boston to close. Hanrahan is four for six in save chances this season, a passable early season mark, but his performance has been dreadful. His K/9 rate is down three and a half batters from normal, but worse yet he's walked more guys than he has struck out. He's also allowed four homers in 7.1 innings. He allowed nine homers the past two years over 127.2 innings. Oh yeah, he's also been hurt, twice (he's now dealing with forearm tightness). It sounds like a DL stint is likely.
Andrew Bailey stepped in the first time that Hanrahan was hurt, when his hamstring flared up, and he was fantastic. Bailey has a 1.46 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and has struck out 20 batters in just 12.1 innings. Alas, the Sox ran him into the ground, amazingly using him 12 times in 24 days. I say 'amazingly' cause Bailey last threw 50 innings in 2009, and has seen his innings pitched mark decrease the past three years as injuries have piled up. How the Sox felt that they were doing the right thing with Bailey, given that he threw just 15.1 innings all of last season, is totally beyond my comprehension. Bailey is now on the DL with a biceps issue.
So who closes for the Red Sox now?
One would have thought it would be Koji Uehara. The Japanese import owns a career 2.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 225.1 innings, strong totals to say the least. No soft tosser hoping that grounders find his fielder's gloves, Uehara has struck out at least 10.75 batters per nine in each of the past four years, he's at 11.20 this season in 13.2 innings, and he never walks batters. Ever. In his career he owns a 1.24 BB/9 mark. The result is an 8.00 K/BB ratio in 225.1 innings pitched. No pitcher in the history of baseball who has thrown at least 225 innings, has ever been better. However, it sounds like it won't be Uehara working the ninth inning.
Uehara has shown over the past four seasons that he can't necessarily handle a big workload. He's averaged 53 innings pitched the last four years, so while he is the favorite for saves one would think that Junichi Tazawa will see some substantial work in the 9th inning in the short-term. That's not a bad thing consider the numbers that Tazawa has posted since the start of last season: 1.70 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 9.72 K/9 and a 7.88 K/BB in 58.1 innings pitched. That's about as elite a pitching line as you will find. Oh, and manager John Farrell told Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio that he would rather leave Uehara in the eighth inning with Tazawa working the ninth.
The upshot of it all?
(1) The Red Sox did a tremendous job building a strong bullpen with plenty of depth. Kudos to them for that.
(2) This is a disastrous situation in fantasy baseball.
Let's posit a 12 team, 5x5, mixed league.
Hanrahan was taken in the upper half of closers on draft day.
Bailey might have been a 28th round draft pick. He may not have been drafted.
Uehara wasn't drafted in a single league.
Tazawa wasn't drafted in a single league.
Now Uehara and Tazawa will likely be added in every league. People might be dropping Hanrahan/Bailey if they don't have a DL spot, weary of the continuing health issues.
Question – do we really want our fantasy baseball seasons determined by who has waiver-wire priority? Do we want our fantasy baseball seasons to be determined by whomever luckily rosters some middle reliever that eventually becomes a closer? I can't be the only one frustrated by all of this, can I? I've long championed replacing saves with SOLDS (saves+holds), and I still think it's an easy/straight forward way to address the issue of mounting bullpen madness. Let's take a look at a top-20 of closers this season, mind you this list is from a mere six weeks ago, and see how the fellas are doing.
Craig Kimbrel is 10-for-12 on save chances with a 19/3 K/BB ratio over 12.2 innings.
Aroldis Chapman has two wins, seven saves and 22 punchouts in 15 innings.
Jonathan Papelbon is perfect this year but he only has five saves. He's walked only one batter though he also has a mere seven Ks in 12 innings.
J.J. Putz has five saves in nine chances, a disastrous total. He has 17 punchouts in 12.2 innings, but he's uncharacteristically walked seven batters while allowing three bombs.
Joe Nathan has eight saves and a 1.00 WHIP.
John Axford has been a mess from the start. He doesn't have a save and is sporting a 9.95 ERA and 1.97 WHIP. Disaster.
Rafael Soriano has racked up 10 saves in 11 chances with a 2.57 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.
Jason Motte will not pitch again this season (Tommy John surgery).
Mariano Rivera, the ageless wonder, continues to amaze. He's 11-for-11 in save chances.
Joel Hanrahan has already been discussed.
Sergio Romo leads baseball with 12 saves. He's been spectacular with his 18.00 K/BB ratio.
Huston Street has converted all seven of his save chances, but he's also got only eight Ks with a 1.38 WHIP over 13 innings.
Tom Wilhelmsen has locked it down since the season began with eight saves, a 0.64 ERA and 0.64 WHIP.
Greg Holland continues to do his best to blow his spot in the 0th inning. He has seven saves and an immense 19 Ks in 12 innings, but he's also blown two saves, has a loss, and has a 1.67 WHIP.
Jim Johnson doesn't have those elite level skills but he's damn consistent anyway as he's a perfect 11-for-11 in save chance with a 1.13 ERA.
Chris Perez has been great with 11 Ks, a 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 10 innings. Too bad he has only three saves.
Jason Grilli has arguably been the best closer in baseball. He's 12-for-12 in saves, has a 0.69 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.
Grant Balfour is 5-for-5 in save conversions with a 2.03 ERA and 1.28 WHIP for the Athletics.
Fernando Rodney has two blown saves to match his total from last season. He's a total mess with a 5.06 ERA and 1.78 WHIP through 11 outings.
Ernesto Frieri has a 2.03 ERA, he's 4-for-5 in saves, and he's punched out 18 batters in 13.1 innings. Too bad he's also walked 11 leading to a 1.35 WHIP.
Time for SOLDS to take hold in the fantasy game perhaps?
BY THE NUMBERS
.115: The batting average of Bryce Harper over his last eight games. Don't worry, he's still in the top-5 in the NL in total bases, OPS, HR/AB, SLG, HR, ISO and extra base hits.
.328: The batting average of David DeJesus since April 9th. He has an OPS of 1.037 over those 77 at-bats after a terrible start to the season (2-for-21).
1: The number of Cubs' lefties to begin a season with 6-straight quality starts in the last 64 years. Wood is tied for the league lead with six quality starts.
1.61: The combined ERA, over 14 starts mind you, of Hisashi Iwakuma (1.61) and Felix Hernandez (1.60).
3: The number of men who have recorded 100 saves faster than Craig Kimbrel is likely to. Kimbrel has 99 saves in 112 chances in his young career, slightly behind Eric Gagne (104 chances), John Smoltz (107) and Joakim Soria (112).
3: The number of 10 K games that Tommy Milone has in his career. In each of those three outings he hasn't issued a single free pass. The only other A's pitchers to have done that since 1916 are Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue.
15: The number of consecutive games that Starling Marte has reached base. Oddly he's only hit .317 during that time. I say oddly because he is batting .325 on the season.
20: The number of outings dating back to last season that D'backs lefty Matt Reynolds has been unscored upon (17 IP). He's only two innings away from tying the team record of 19 scoreless innings (Joe Paterson in 2011).
94: The percent of games that Shin-Soo Choo has reached base this year for the Reds (30 of 32 outings). Choo is hitting .414 at home to lead the NL and his .398 average vs. righties also leads the Senior Circuit. I should also note that he leads the NL with a massive .467 OBP.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.