ROTISSERIE: Scavenging for saves? Here are some suggestions

This article appeared in the April 24th issue of Sports Weekly.

Time was, if your team was hurting for saves, you could mine the free agent pool or trade market for “Plan B” closers and hope to get lucky with a promotion. But in 2019, some managers are being coy about just who is “Plan A” (see: Kapler, Gabe); others are deploying that “Plan A” in a way that prevents him from racking up saves.

So, rather than “Plan Bs,” let’s just call these relievers with cloaked save potential on whom you may want to speculate.

American League

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli may turn out to be Kapler’s American League equivalent, but the two-inning save earned by lefthander Taylor Rogers on April 20—his second of the season—may be a harbinger of more save opportunities to come. Baldelli has been using Blake Parker in the ninth inning, and while Parker is 4-for-4 in save opportunities, his control has been a bit shaky. Meanwhile, since adding a slider last spring, Rogers has not only gained effectiveness against right-handed hitters, but also turned into the ground-ball-and-strike-out machine many managers prefer to turn to in the ninth. Indeed, Parker may eventually not only take a back seat to Rogers, but to Trevor Hildenberger as well. Through April 21, Hildenberger had yet to give up a run while striking out 10 in eight innings.

As of April 20, four pitchers had one save each in the Royals bullpen, and while Wily Peralta ended 2018 as Kansas City’s stopper and Brad Boxberger has closing experience, the player to watch here may be converted started Ian Kennedy. Pitching in relief has allowed Kennedy to add a tick or two to his fastball, and it is showing up in his strikeout rate.

In Seattle, Roenis Elias notched saves in back-to-back games April 18 and 19, giving him four on the season, but it is hard to see a lefty who strikes out so few batters, yields a lot of fly balls, and has shuttled between the major and minor leagues for much of his career will be able to hold onto his status as the head of a bullpen committee for too long. There is not exactly a standout alternative in this bullpen, but Anthony Swarzak has actually pitched well since being activated from the injured list (7 IP, 2 ER, 11 K). Beyond the oft-injured Swarzak, the best body of work in the Seattle bullpen this season has perhaps been assembled by Rule 5 pick Brandon Brennan, who was tied for the team lead with three holds as of April 20 and could creep into the saves picture as the season wears on.

Four different pitchers have saves in the Baltimore bullpen, but none of those pitchers is named Mychal Givens, who blew his first save chance of the season April 18. Givens still may be the odds-on favorite to lead the Orioles in saves in 2019, given the lack of alternatives. Southpaw Tanner Scott did post an interesting line in a tight game April 20: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 5 K. Control and getting righties out have been a problem for the hard-throwing Scott, and he will need to show more before fantasy owners can feel confident he has turned a corner, but he could bear watching.

National League

The first saves of the season for the Marlins have gone to Sergio Romo, who has two, and Adam Conley, but each has given up 6 ER in the early going. With Drew Steckenrider also struggling, the roulette wheel may at some point land on someone else in the Miami bullpen. Tayron Guerrero has the big fastball, but control continues to be a major challenge for him (7 walks in his first 9 2/3 IP). As a result, the door is open for Nick Anderson to emerge. Anderson gave up runs in back-to-back outings April 15 and 17, but still boasts an eye-popping strikeout-to-walk rate of 20/2 in 9 2/3 IP.

In Atlanta and Chicago, the back ends of the bullpens have been shuffled due to injury. Arodys Vizcaino of the Braves is gone for good (season-ending shoulder surgery), while the jury is still out on the Cubs’ Brandon Morrow, though the latest development—a “slowing down” of his rehabilitation program due to elbow discomfort—seems ominous.

A.J. Minter, who started the season on the injured list with a shoulder injury of his own, is nominally the Braves’ closer, but he has had a couple of bad outings in the early going. If Minter cannot hold the job, next in line may be Dan Winkler, who picked up a couple of saves in 2018. Winkler only recently joined the Braves major league roster, having started the season in the minors after an elbow issue prevented him from getting in a full spring training The sleeper in the Atlanta bullpen may be former undrafted free agent Wes Parsons. Parsons may not have a classic closer fastball, but he does have three effective pitches, and has followed a strong spring training by giving up only 2 ER in his first 7 2/3 IP. Parsons has struck out nine batters and walked two.

In Chicago, Pedro Strop has enough skill to hold onto the role of Morrow’s stand-in all season, if necessary. If Strop falters, next up may well be Steve Cishek, who has some closing experience and is adept at inducing ground balls. Another former closer, Brandon Kintzler is off to a decent start as well, but generates may generate too few swings and misses to surge to the front of the line for save opportunities in Chicago.

Cincinnati closer Raisel Iglesias is as a converted starter, and now Robert Stephenson may be following the trail Iglesias blazed. Through his first seven relief appearances covering 10 2/3 IP, Stephenson has given up just 1 ER while striking out 15 against only one walk. Not to be outdone, yet another converted starter, Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN) is nearly matching Stephenson’s pace (8 2/3 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12 K). David Bell is yet another manager who seems inclined to deploy Iglesias as needed, even if not in the ninth, which could allow a few saves to fall Stephenson’s or Garrett’s way, even if Iglesias remains steady.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.