Fantasy baseball closer watch – Making sense of the crowded Rays bullpen

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It will be quite difficult for any Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher to finish among the top 10 closers in fantasy baseball, mainly due to the way manager Kevin Cash prefers to deploy his top options, but that hardly means we should ignore them. Right-hander Andrew Kittredge leads the team with five saves and he was an AL All-Star a season ago, but now he is done, set to undergo Tommy John surgery. It tends to be next man up with the Rays and mostly unknown right-hander Jason Adam figures to handle a more important role, but that may not make him an important fantasy option.

Adam, 30, is among ESPN’s most added pitchers but still available in roughly 94% of ESPN standard leagues, so if you want to take the chance, he’s likely there in your league. How many saves are coming his way? Well, these are Cash’s Rays. Twelve Rays saved games in the truncated 2020 season, and last season, 14 different hurlers saved a win, breaking a long-time major league record. The Rays enter Tuesday with seven different pitchers enjoying saves. Adam has two of them, including the most recent one.

While Adam figures to inherit the Kittredge role of highest-leverage right-hander in the bullpen – not necessarily the “saver” of games – this likely remains a frustrating committee for fantasy managers. Cash trusts just about everyone, and perhaps someone he hasn’t even met yet not even on the current roster ends up with saves this month. Adam, however, is the one sporting the 0.72 ERA and 0.64 WHIP, fancy numbers this far into June. He permitted a single run on April 18 at Wrigley Field and another two weeks later at Oakland. That’s it. Eight hits and nary a home run over 25 pristine innings, with 30 strikeouts.

Lefties Colin Poche and Brooks Raley each boast three saves, and Cash is not afraid to use them versus right-handed hitters late in games. Right-hander Ryan Thompson has three saves, though a bloated 6.63 ERA, and Matt Wisler picked up his lone save to open June. The Rays have won seven games this month, and four different pitchers have the four saves. Counting on and predicting the individual saves for Rays pitchers is going to frustrate. Add Adam or Poche if you desire, and hope they pitch well, but it is possible this team enters the postseason with nobody registering double-digit saves, which is stunning.

Stock rising

Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners: Castillo’s ERA spiked to 9.28 roughly a month ago, and he seemed far away from save chances. Over his past eight appearances covering nine innings, as he relies more on his hard slider and gets more awkward swings, he has allowed only one hit and one walk, striking out 15. It is quite the in-season change in effectiveness and manager Scott Servais noticed, giving him a pair of save chances last week. Look for Castillo and Paul Sewald to share ninth-inning work, and perhaps rehabbing Ken Giles pushes his way into relevance soon, too. By the way, if you need any more proof about relief pitcher volatility, Drew Steckenrider, surprise Mariners star a season ago, got designated for assignment last week. Things change quickly among relievers.

Tanner Scott, Miami Marlins: This is a rather unexpected one, as the left-handed Scott entered June with a 5.40 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but he has a pair of wins and all three of the team’s saves in June. Right-hander Anthony Bender remains on the injured list and Dylan Floro, while healthy again, just earned his first hold of the season, in his 12th appearance, so he seems stuck in a non-leverage role for now. It seems unlikely that Scott will pitch well enough to continue closing but he is clearly the top option for now, and it is hard to recommend any other Miami relievers.

Stock falling

Dany Jimenez, Oakland Athletics: Things sure were going his way for a while. The 28-year-old right-hander had a 0.49 ERA and 10 saves on May 25, and he was among the top 10 relief pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater. Since then, he has three separate appearances in which he allowed three or more earned runs, and remains stuck on 10 saves as his team has lost 14 of 16 games. Jimenez has struck out one of the past 21 hitters faced. No, this is not a recommendation to add former closer Lou Trivino, either. Keep Jimenez around if one needs every last save, hoping he gets back on track, but it may be painful and Oakland doesn’t appear to be on the way to winning much from here on out.

Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants: This right-hander on the other side of the bay is still performing well, and he even has a pair of wins over the past week. The occasional problem, for those seeking saves, is that Doval last saved a game in May, though he would’ve saved Monday’s win had it been a three-run lead instead of four. Unorthodox manager Gabe Kapler has recently prioritized utilizing Doval as his high-leverage stopper earlier in close games, and it is working. That left lefties Jose Alvarez and Jake McGee available to close out weekend wins over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Doval remains the Giants relief pitcher to roster, but perhaps Kapler views him the way the Rays did Kittredge. Doval may be the top option for saves but still fall short of 20 of them.



With Andrew Kittredge sidelined for at least the next month, get Jason Adam for saves production from the Rays’ bullpen. Video by Tristan H. Cockcroft

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