Closer Encounters: Closer Infirmary Adds Another

Closer Encounters: Closer Infirmary Adds Another

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

Injuries can take a toll on a fantasy team, especially when they involve closers and result in uncertainty regarding who's in line for save chances. Below, let's dive into a trio of big name closers who have recently hit the shelf or are currently on the mend.

Kenley Jansen, Atlanta: Jansen was placed on the 15-day injured list Tuesday after suffering a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat. The 34-year-old was diagnosed with the condition in 2011, forcing him to miss time that season as well as in 2012 and 2018. Following the 2018 season, Jansen underwent a heart ablation procedure and hadn't experienced any setbacks in the three-plus years since then. The three-time All-Star only missed 11 days due to the irregular heartbeat in 2018 and the Braves are optimistic this will also be a short IL stint.

Jansen is second among active pitchers with 370 career saves, with 20 coming this season in 32 appearances for Atlanta. He's 4-0 with a 3.58 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 0.95 WHIP and 47:8 K:BB across 32.2 innings. Jansen's 6.2 percent walk rate this season is his lowest mark in the category since 2019, while his 36.4 percent strikeout rate is his highest since 2017. His absence will certainly be noticeable for Atlanta when it comes to high-leverage innings these next few weeks, but Will Smith is likely to step in as interim closer until Jansen returns.

Smith led all relievers with a 92.5

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

Injuries can take a toll on a fantasy team, especially when they involve closers and result in uncertainty regarding who's in line for save chances. Below, let's dive into a trio of big name closers who have recently hit the shelf or are currently on the mend.

Kenley Jansen, Atlanta: Jansen was placed on the 15-day injured list Tuesday after suffering a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat. The 34-year-old was diagnosed with the condition in 2011, forcing him to miss time that season as well as in 2012 and 2018. Following the 2018 season, Jansen underwent a heart ablation procedure and hadn't experienced any setbacks in the three-plus years since then. The three-time All-Star only missed 11 days due to the irregular heartbeat in 2018 and the Braves are optimistic this will also be a short IL stint.

Jansen is second among active pitchers with 370 career saves, with 20 coming this season in 32 appearances for Atlanta. He's 4-0 with a 3.58 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 0.95 WHIP and 47:8 K:BB across 32.2 innings. Jansen's 6.2 percent walk rate this season is his lowest mark in the category since 2019, while his 36.4 percent strikeout rate is his highest since 2017. His absence will certainly be noticeable for Atlanta when it comes to high-leverage innings these next few weeks, but Will Smith is likely to step in as interim closer until Jansen returns.

Smith led all relievers with a 92.5 percent team save share last season and has two saves and nine holds across 32 appearances this year. While his strikeout rate is only 22.9 percent—eight points lower than last season—and his walk rate has ballooned to nearly 11 percent, his experience in the closer role is critical for a team that is also missing late-inning relievers Tyler Matzek (shoulder), Luke Jackson (elbow) and Kirby Yates (elbow). Matzek just started a rehab assignment, but Yates is out until at least August and Jackson is done for the year.

Meanwhile, A.J. Minter is among the league leaders in holds with 16 and has arguably been Atlanta's best reliever this season with a 1.69 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 43:5 K:BB over 32 innings. He could easily slot into the closer role after recording 15 saves in 2018, especially if Smith continues to be plagued by home runs (1.6 HR/9). Minter's Baseball Savant profile looks particularly impressive with percentile rankings in the high-90s across several categories:

Hitters have been squaring up on Minter's cutter this season (.355 BA), so he's reduced his usage of the pitch by 7.6 percentage points compared to last season in favor of more fastballs and changeups. In fact, he's throwing his fastball 47 percent of the time at a career-high 96.7 miles per hour. It's been his primary put-away pitch with 26 of his 43 strikeouts (60.5 percent) coming via the heater.

Aroldis Chapman, Yankees: Chapman (Achilles) will be activated by the Yankees after he makes his third minor-league rehab appearance on Tuesday. The southpaw has missed a little over a month of action and Clay Holmes has flourished in his absence, recording eight saves in Chapman's stead to bring his total to 12 on the season. Holmes has been so dominant that Chapman went as far to say he "deserves the role as closer right now," showing an apparent willingness to operate in a different role. Yankees manager Aaron Boone previously left the door open for Chapman to recapture closing duties, but commented Monday that Holmes has "certainly earned" the role.

While these recent comments appear to favor Holmes, I think Boone will deploy the relievers based on matchups in the late innings, with Holmes seeing the highest-leverage opportunities. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com lays this out with a perfect example:

The working theory is that Holmes could be used against the toughest parts of lineups while still receiving save opportunities—Boone uses the example of a hypothetical one-run game against the Blue Jays, where George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero are due up in the eighth inning. In that situation, he'd deploy Holmes, then figure out the ninth.

Of course, all will remain unclear until Chapman returns and a save situation arises.

Liam Hendriks, White Sox: The White Sox closer threw a bullpen session Monday prior to Chicago's series opener in Anaheim. It's unclear whether Hendriks (forearm) will require a minor-league rehab assignment before activation, but an early-July return appears likely. Meanwhile, Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly have tallied one save apiece since Hendriks landed on the IL. Graveman is the favorite to see save chances until the 2021 American League Reliever of the Year rejoins Chicago's active roster.

Trending Up

Jhoan Duran, Twins: The Twins are in a tight race with the Guardians (and maybe, eventually, the White Sox?) for the AL Central division lead. Emilio Pagan currently leads the team with nine saves but has also blown four chances and has struggled in June. He's allowed nine earned runs across 8.1 innings this month for a 10.00 ERA and has one of the worst home run rates among qualified relievers. Do the Twins really trust him for saves right now while the team is in such a tight race for the division? Pagan is still clearly in the Twins' high-leverage plans, as he recently recorded the final out in the sixth inning to escape a bases-loaded jam Sunday against the Rockies and preserve Minnesota's two-run lead. He also stayed on to pitch a scoreless seventh inning against Colorado's fifth, sixth and seventh hitters. The fact he entered the game this early may be a sign that Minnesota is shifting toward using Duran as the primary closer, especially after Pagan's most recent meltdown Tuesday at Cleveland.

Duran already has five saves this season, including Minnesota's most recent one Sunday. Only 24 years old, Duran has been one of the best relievers in baseball this year with a 36.5 percent strikeout rate, 55.7 percent groundball rate and miniscule 4.8 percent walk rate. He averages 100.7 miles per hour on his fastball and mixes in a devastating curve, a pitch that has held opposing hitters to a .074 batting average. My line of thinking is the Twins should turn to Duran as their full-time closer since the AL Central division has been so competitive of late. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it's possible we're witnessing a changing of the guard in Minnesota. 

Brusdar Graterol, Dodgers: A former Twin is also on the rise, but it's due to unfortunate circumstances as the Dodgers recently lost Daniel Hudson for the season due to a torn ACL. Hudson's injury means Graterol climbs the leverage ladder in Los Angeles, likely as the eighth-inning setup man in front of closer Craig Kimbrel. The 23-year-old could also see more save opportunities after logging the first big-league save of his career last weekend. Graterol is another 100-mph flamethrower, but he doesn't have the strikeout rate that the aforementioned Duran does. In fact, his 21.2 percent K-rate is rather uninspiring, but at least most of the contact he gives up is on the ground (57.9 percent).

With Kimbrel struggling of late, the Dodgers are in an interesting predicament. Last year's fireman Blake Treinen (shoulder) is reportedly weeks away from resuming mound work with an unclear timetable for his return. This leaves Graterol, Alex Vesia, Yency Almonte, Evan Phillips and Phil Bickford to handle the late-inning work ahead of Kimbrel. All are fine relievers that have performed well this season, but can the Dodgers count on them when it matters most in the playoffs?

I think Los Angeles will be in the market for a high-leverage reliever or two this summer. Another creative option to boost the bullpen would be for Dustin May (elbow) to return as a late-inning reliever instead of as a starting pitcher. May recently faced lived hitters and is trending towards a return in August. He could be dominant in a setup role or possibly even as a closer if Kimbrel's struggles continue. I'll be keeping a closer eye on the Dodgers' late-inning usage next month to see if Graterol continues to emerge or if someone else steps up in Hudson's absence.

Lou Trivino, Athletics: I recently joined Clay Link and James Anderson on their SiriusXM show and discussed my love for Trivino, who has a career-best 13.9 K/9 despite some pretty awful surface stats. I even forecasted Trivino as the next man up for saves after Zach Jackson and A.J. Puk combined to ruin Frankie Montas' recent gem. It just didn't make sense to me that Oakland gave Jackson the save opportunity since he sports the worst walk rate among qualified relievers (19 percent). Sure enough, Trivino recorded back-to-back saves over the weekend against the Royals, although neither outing was particularly smooth. 

Despite career-best strikeout numbers, Trivino has an awful 1.97 WHIP. His .500 BABIP is due for some positive regression, but his primary offerings—sinker, fastball and changeup—have all been crushed this season. In fact, it's been a new pitch in his arsenal that's been the most effective. Trivino's slider, which he's only thrown 12.8 percent of the time, carries a .118 batting average and 56 percent whiff rate. 13 of his 33 strikeouts have come on the pitch, and he's starting to throw it more often:

Trivino was recently picked up in 41 of 47 NFBC Main Event leagues, but keep in mind that save chances may be hard to come by for the lowly A's.

Trade Candidate Spotlight

David Robertson, Cubs: As of June 27, the Cubs are 28-45 and have the fifth-worst winning percentage (.384) in the league. Unless they make a miraculous run in July, it's pretty clear they will be sellers at the trade deadline. "D-Rob" is a free-agent next season is a perfect fit for what most playoff-contending teams will be looking for later this summer as a veteran with extensive playoff experience and a World Series ring. The 37-year-old has also pitched pretty well this season with an 0.93 WHIP, 33.6 percent strikeout rate and nine saves in 12 chances. Those in trading leagues may wish to package Robertson in a deal since there's no guarantee he would remain a closer if a trade did come to fruition.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only MLB Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire MLB fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
MLB Picks Tonight: Expert MLB Bets for Tuesday, August 9
MLB Picks Tonight: Expert MLB Bets for Tuesday, August 9
MLB Bets at DraftKings Sportsbook Today: MLB Picks and Player Props for August 9
MLB Bets at DraftKings Sportsbook Today: MLB Picks and Player Props for August 9
FanDuel MLB: DFS Targets For Tuesday
FanDuel MLB: DFS Targets For Tuesday
Fantasy Baseball Injury Report: Kirilloff Slated for Surgery
Fantasy Baseball Injury Report: Kirilloff Slated for Surgery