Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – American League

Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – American League

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week I promised to look at some shaky American League bullpens. Just like in the senior circuit, there are plenty of bullpens in the American League with evolving roles and discussions about who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one of the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is to identify upcoming changes in roles.

So, let's review some AL bullpens with question marks still remaining:

Red Sox Matt Barnes looks like a closer, and he clearly has closer stuff … on some days. However, there are other days when he can't get anybody out. You have to wonder if he's healthy. I'd like to believe Barnes works through it. The Red Sox need him, but the ongoing game of roulette makes their bullpen a huge question mark, and viable alternatives are scarce. Garrett Whitlock would be a consideration, but his value rests in his versatility to start or contribute multiple innings. I like Matt Strahm quite a bit, but he, like fellow lefty Jake Diekman, is really best-suited to set-up roles, although Strahm would be my first in-house option if Barnes struggles. Hansel Robles has been miscast as a closer at times in the past, but he's not the answer. There are even things I

Last week I promised to look at some shaky American League bullpens. Just like in the senior circuit, there are plenty of bullpens in the American League with evolving roles and discussions about who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one of the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is to identify upcoming changes in roles.

So, let's review some AL bullpens with question marks still remaining:

Red Sox Matt Barnes looks like a closer, and he clearly has closer stuff … on some days. However, there are other days when he can't get anybody out. You have to wonder if he's healthy. I'd like to believe Barnes works through it. The Red Sox need him, but the ongoing game of roulette makes their bullpen a huge question mark, and viable alternatives are scarce. Garrett Whitlock would be a consideration, but his value rests in his versatility to start or contribute multiple innings. I like Matt Strahm quite a bit, but he, like fellow lefty Jake Diekman, is really best-suited to set-up roles, although Strahm would be my first in-house option if Barnes struggles. Hansel Robles has been miscast as a closer at times in the past, but he's not the answer. There are even things I like about Hirokazu Sawamura, but Barnes is the guy who has to step up in a big way. If he doesn't, I think the Red Sox could look outside if they believe the playoffs are possible.

Mariners – Next, we'll look at a true "closer by committee" bullpen. That is an approach gaining popularity. Right away, I will say committees don't often last. Teams (and even more so their relief pitchers) would prefer at least semi-assigned roles. That said, the committee usually feels it needs time to sort things out, hoping a pitcher will step up and win the job. There are several M's pitchers who could still lay some claim to the role, but I think there is one pitcher with the raw skills to eventually take over. The favorites today are likely to be Paul Sewald and perhaps Drew Steckenrider, while experienced veteran Diego Castillo and big-armed Andres Munoz also get a chance now and then. Ken Giles is also a darkhorse candidate if he can get healthy. I think the team would eventually like to see Munoz claim the job, but he has missed most of the past two years after having Tommy John surgery and he suffers from erratic command. Looking down the road, when he locks in, he is the best bet.

Rangers – Texas claims to have its closer, but I think its more of a placeholder scenario than a done deal. Joe Barlow capitalized on his opportunity last year, saving 11 games (in 12 chances) while posting an impressive 0.83 WHIP and 1.55 ERA. He has a decent arm, but he walked 12 in just 27 innings and compiled an unsustainable .154 BABI,P so there are clearly red flags a plenty. Matt Bush and John King are alternative pretenders, and I thought Garrett Richards might step up, but he's been generally unimpressive. So, who are we waiting for?  Remember Jose Leclerc? He was one of the most dominating closers in 2018 when he struck out 85 in 57 innings and logged a 1.56 ERA. He struggled on and off in 2019, then pitched just two innings in 2020 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in March, 2021. His next step is a rehab assignment, which could see him back in Texas in mid-June. He likely won't close immediately, but there isn't much to eat out here if he's even close to what he was.

Yankees – It seems like a long time since it has been anything but Aroldis Chapman in the ninth for the Yankees, and I suppose when everything is in order, it's still the same. However, things aren't all in order as often as they once were, and we might be quietly witnessing a changing of the guard in their bullpen. Chapman is aging. He doesn't easily toss triple-digit fastballs these days. He's more fragile – most recently suffering some Achilles woes that have bought him a trip to the injured list. Coincidentally, the Yankees have had someone step up at an opportune time. Clay Holmes has looked very good filling in for Chapman, and he's earning more and more responsibility. I think we could see him finishing even more games going forward, even after Chapman returns. Jonathan Loaisiga has been roughed up a bit recently, but he and Miguel Castro, along with Michael King, will continue to bridge to the late innings, but the ninth could see a timeshare between the old (Chapman) and the new (Holmes).

Twins – To me it seems like everyone knows who should be closing for the Twins with the possible exception of the Twins. I've been touting Jhoan Duran since the season began, and he does have a handful of saves, but Emilio Pagan is still getting ninth-inning work as well. Pagan is a veteran, with some closing experience, so you can make an argument for him. I get that. But Duran is genuine closer material. I have to believe they are easing him into the gig. His command is still a bit erratic, but I think he will be the guy, probably sooner rather than later. The rest of the pen should not challenge Duran. Tyler Duffey and veteran Joe Smith should see key innings, but when the dust settles, Duran has the tools to be one of the more productive closers in the AL.

Rays I rarely give up, and I'm not ready to do so here. The Rays just defy prediction with their everybody-gets-a-turn bullpen. I had a guy in mind to name my primary Rays target, but Pete Fairbanks suffered a lat injury that has kept him sidelined, and he isn't expected back until late June. For a while Andrew Kittredge took the reins (at least most of the time), but he's also hurt now although his back issues are not considered serious. That leaves the save chances to J.P. Feyereisen (maybe the best arm in their pen) and Brooks Raley from the left side. When Kittredge returns I am guessing he will get the most chances, but you just never know.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Now that the Orioles have called up catcher Adley Rutschman, it's only a matter of time before batterymate Grayson Rodriguez meets him in Baltimore. He's at the top of my kid's list (with Gore's graduation earlier this season), and he has nothing left to prove in the minors. He's a potential difference-maker.
  • Stephen Strasburg made his first rehab start as he makes his way back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery he underwent last July. The oft-injured former ace has lost some of his zip to be sure, and performance results following this procedure is mixed at best. I have to take a wait and see stance.
  • I've never been a huge fan of the Rangers' Martin Perez, but he's making fantasy owners take notice. I watched a recent start and didn't see any serious flaws. He still has good, but not great, stuff, but he's throwing more strikes and staying out of the middle of the zone. Not an ace, but he appears competent.
  • It's refreshing to watch a well-pitched game. I saw Tyler Anderson toss eight masterful innings for the Dodgers earlier this week and he did it without coming out of his shoes on any pitch. Modest stuff requires more precise command, so there is some risk, but I feel like we are seeing a bit more of it.
  • Watching for difference-makers working their way back to the mound, the White Sox have Lance Lynn throwing batting practice sessions. If all continues to go smoothly, he could be back in mid-to-late June. His one weakness has been him wearing down as his innings piled up, and that should not be a problem.
  • An encouraging performance by Pittsburgh's Roansy Contreras as he made his first 2022 MLB start (he has had a few relief appearances). I love his stuff, but he is going to need to throw more strikes with his breaking pitches. As he got deeper into the game, hitters began to sit on his fastball. I think he's worth a flyer.

These aren't all the questions by any means, but they are some situations to watch. As always, we'll keep tabs on possible bullpen adjustments throughout the season in the Endgame Odyssey section of the Musings, but for now, there are some thoughts on the American League and those ever-changing bullpens.

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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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