Mound Musings: Checking the NL Bullpens

Mound Musings: Checking the NL Bullpens

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week, we took a spin through some bullpens in flux in the American League. This week, it's the National League's turn. It seems like there've been more changes than you'd expect in the first 10 days of the season, which makes it all the more challenging for fantasy owners hoping to collect cheap saves.

Will the real closer sign in, please?

As I mentioned in the first chapter of this review, there's a tendency to call unsettled bullpens "closer by committee" scenarios. In most cases, they aren't as much committees as they are bullpens in which the manager hasn't reached a comfort level with any of his end-game options. Many of these will be clarified fairly soon – at least until the comfort level dissipates – and some will last all season. Those make playing the waiver-wire closer game potentially rewarding, but also frequently frustrating. Now, let's take a look at some closer assignments in the NL and see where they may be headed …

Here are some NL closer scenarios to keep an eye on:

Philadelphia Phillies – Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows. Right? The Phillies have established themselves as the prototype for closer confusion. First it was David Hernandez (he never was a very good option), then Dalier Hinojosa (a brief trial to be sure), and now it appears the job belongs to Jeanmar Gomez (four saves already, wow!). Honestly, none of these guys is a solid bet to close long term.

Last week, we took a spin through some bullpens in flux in the American League. This week, it's the National League's turn. It seems like there've been more changes than you'd expect in the first 10 days of the season, which makes it all the more challenging for fantasy owners hoping to collect cheap saves.

Will the real closer sign in, please?

As I mentioned in the first chapter of this review, there's a tendency to call unsettled bullpens "closer by committee" scenarios. In most cases, they aren't as much committees as they are bullpens in which the manager hasn't reached a comfort level with any of his end-game options. Many of these will be clarified fairly soon – at least until the comfort level dissipates – and some will last all season. Those make playing the waiver-wire closer game potentially rewarding, but also frequently frustrating. Now, let's take a look at some closer assignments in the NL and see where they may be headed …

Here are some NL closer scenarios to keep an eye on:

Philadelphia Phillies – Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows. Right? The Phillies have established themselves as the prototype for closer confusion. First it was David Hernandez (he never was a very good option), then Dalier Hinojosa (a brief trial to be sure), and now it appears the job belongs to Jeanmar Gomez (four saves already, wow!). Honestly, none of these guys is a solid bet to close long term. Gomez will likely fill the role until he stumbles, which, with his pedestrian (that may be generous) stuff, could happen at any time. If you're really compelled to chase saves in the city of brotherly love, I would probably take Hinojosa, but I'd rather avoid this bullpen altogether. If you own Gomez, now would be a very good time to deal him away.

Atlanta Braves – One potentially interesting closer battle never got much traction. Some believed veteran Jason Grilli would step in while closer-in-waiting Arodys Vizcaino held down the primary set-up gig. Atlanta is in rebuild mode, and there's no real benefit to having Grilli close when Vizcaino is going to be the guy. Grilli is a health risk, and he needs to have his workload monitored, so a set-up scenario is better for him. Some would say the Braves should be showcasing him for a trade to a contender later this season, but a contender isn't likely to view him as a closing option, and his value is greater if he's just healthy. Look to Grilli for holds as long as he stays on the mound, and expect the lion's share of saves to go to Vizcaino.

Arizona Diamondbacks – This is probably my favorite NL closer puzzle. The D-backs have a guy – Brad Ziegler – who did a respectable job last year and has so far this year, but there remain questions about whether he's the guy best suited to fill the role. Unlike the Braves and Phillies, Arizona wants to compete now. In the offseason, they juiced their rotation with Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke, and added a top set-up guy in Tyler Clippard. Ziegler is a righty submariner who can be vulnerable to left-handed hitters, and he should be facing tough righties whenever possible. I don't think they'll move Clippard out of his best role, but there is a guy who I think fits well at the back of this bullpen. I have invested in Daniel Hudson wherever possible in anticipation of a role change at some point this season. If you have the roster space, consider adding Hudson and hope the switch comes sooner rather than later.

Milwaukee Brewers – Sometimes an injury can settle a job battle before it ever gets going, and that's what has happened in Milwaukee. It was expected that lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress would attempt to claim the job, but Smith tore up his knee in spring training and is out until midseason (best case scenario), and could miss the entire year if he ends up needing surgery. And so, Jeffress steps to the head of the class. He has the stuff to be sure, but he needs to stay focused and he has to throw strikes. So far, that has been happening. Corey Knebel might be a consideration, but he's also currently out with an oblique injury, so the most likely guy to pick up any scraps would probably be Tyler Thornburg, who's fitting in quite well as a bullpen arm.

Colorado Rockies – This is probably a great example of a showcase project. The Rockies acquired Jake McGee in the offseason, and he's currently handling closer duties for the team. Pitching in Coors Field, whether starting or closing, is always going to be a dangerous proposition, but McGee is competent and should do a solid job – at least until the deal happens. I'd be very surprised to see him in Colorado past the trade deadline. He's exactly the kind of reliever for whom contenders will be shopping as the playoff race heats up, and he could bring the Rockies a nice return. The pitcher most likely to benefit would be Miguel Castro who came over from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki deal. Castro is a live arm who's still learning, so the McGee era should allow him time to develop. He makes a good stash candidate, especially in keepers.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:


  • I really enjoyed watching the Noah Syndergaard vs. Jose Fernandez matchup earlier this week. While I typically use my watching hours to check on younger guys, I may have seen too much recently, sometimes I splurge and watch the best of them work. Syndergaard was filthy – again – still – end of mandatory gush. Fernandez did his thing, too, but he's still getting his command locked down, and because his pitch count was up, he lasted just five innings. That could be an ongoing concern for owners this year as Miami closely monitors his workload.

  • Marco Estrada caught my eye in his first 2016 start. He's still a finesse pitcher so his hard stuff is still upper 80s most of the time, but he's refined his cutter and uses it more now. He did a much better job of keeping lefty hitters off balance. His delivery is a little deceptive, so even with a less than scary fastball, he gets a lot of swinging strikes, and the strikeouts can add up. If he can stay out of the middle of the plate and keep the ball in the yard, he can win games with that offense.

  • I did get to watch a representative sample of Brandon Finnegan of the Reds. In fact, I got to see six-plus innings of no-hit pitching. It was more or less what I expected – he has awesome stuff, but he's inconsistent with his change-up and doesn't always hit his spots (which lead to a high pitch count and five walks). The Cubs were aggressive, which helps with the spotty command, and he's very exciting to watch. As that change gets more reliable, he's going to be strong!

  • Regular readers know I pay attention to the defenses behind pitchers, looking for play that could help, and play that could hurt. I watched part of two Texas games this week. Cole Hamels and Derek Holland looked good – I especially liked Holland's willingness to pitch inside with authority – but the infield defense was better suited to straining spaghetti. Extra baserunners are never good, but for a team that plays in a home run haven when the weather heats up, I think you could see Rangers' ERAs on the rise with the thermometer.

  • One of the things I always like to note in the Musings is the appearance of a real pretender in the pitching ranks. Currently, right at the top of that list would be the Dodgers' Ross Stripling. Guys like Stripling come along all the time. Because they have a little deception in their delivery or they just haven't ever had much of a book compiled, they enjoy success for a handful of outings, and they quickly draw the attention of fantasy owners when they do things like tossing seven-plus hitless innings. He's not really a prospect folks. He's 26, has mediocre stuff and spotty command of that stuff. He might look pretty good for a few starts, but it's very unlikely to last, so let someone else jump on his bandwagon.

  • What could be better than watching a talented young pitcher develop? I really enjoy watching the progress of some guys, and I like to recommend them to readers who enjoy the art as much as I do. That said, I'll take this opportunity to suggest that readers check out the White Sox' Carlos Rodon. He's nowhere near his ceiling at this point – he struggles with command at times – but there's a lot of future in that left arm. I am always skittish when pitchers throw too many sliders, but if you want to see a textbook slider, watch Rodon. If he stays healthy, he's potentially going to push Chris Sale for the staff ace title.

Endgame Odyssey:

We can't leave the AL out there with no bullpen meandering. A lot of people were scrambling when Ryan Madson found his way into some save situations for the A's, but it may have been premature. Sean Doolittle is still their primary end gamer despite some rocky results. Madson will probably get more than a normal share of save chances as they watch Doolittle's workload and use that requirement to match up in some cases. I'm very concerned about Glen Perkins in Minnesota. He just hit the DL with a strained shoulder after ineffectiveness and a drop in velocity. Kevin Jepsen is probably the first alternate, but I believe Trevor May will end up closing if Perkins doesn't get healthy soon, and, with shoulder injuries, that is a real possibility. In Texas, Shawn Tolleson experienced an epic meltdown (five runs without recording an out), but he was successful in his next outing so he remains the closer. He should have a relatively long leash as long as he doesn't come unglued, but if they do decide to experiment with alternatives, it should be either Keone Kela or Sam Dyson. I actually like Kela better, but they are enamored with Dyson's arm.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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