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Bullpen Briefs: You Oughta Know Adam Ottavino

Photo Credit: Mark Runyon | Baseball Schedule

Major league bullpens were the source of plenty of Fantasy Baseball news during the first week of the 2015 season; a blockbuster trade on Opening Day and several closer changes provided us more drama than a day in the life of a random Kardashian.

By comparison, last week was pretty quiet, but we still saw a closer change in Colorado, and witnessed several changes in end-game hierarchy in several big league ‘pens.

It seems that just as one situation becomes resolved, another closer implodes, and fans in Seattle are now wondering if their ninth-inning man has pulled his last magic arrow out if its imaginary quiver.

Meanwhile, brows are furrowed in Pittsburgh, Washington, the Windy City, Kansas City and the Twin Cities – as a velocity drop, impending elbow surgery and a trio of trips to the disabled list have raised various levels of concern regarding the local team’s ability to close the door on the opposition.

As these stories unfold, it’s important that Fantasy baseball players remain vigilant to the many changes in how various teams handle the late innings; that’s why it’s a good idea to bookmark our Bullpen Depth Charts, which are updated on a daily basis. Let’s have a look at the week that was, and take a gander down the road for what might lie ahead.

Fantasy Closers Update: Who’s Out?

LaTroy Hawkins has had a long and remarkable career, but when the 42-year-old struggled through a tough spring and blew two saves in the season’s first week, it became apparent that the Rockies needed to make a change in the ninth inning. Technically, Hawkins was given “a break” from closing games, but when you consider that the veteran reliever has already announced that 2015 will be his last season, it’s clear that this is a job available for the taking. Hawkins lacks dominant stuff, and he struck out only 5.3 batters last season. It’s possible that Hawkins could eventually find his way into the ninth inning again, but for now, he can safely be dropped in most mixed leagues.

Kansas City closer Greg Holland was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 18 due to a strained pectoral muscle. It’s as yet unknown how much time Holland will miss, but get him on your bench or DL if you play in a weekly lineup league.

Edward Mujica was closing games for the Red Sox while Koji Uehara was on the DL with a hamstring injury, but he’s back in a set-up role now. More on that later.

Washington set-up man Craig Stammen will require surgery on his right elbow, and he could be lost for the season. His absence further muddles the bullpen hierarchy in D.C. .

Chicago Cubs’ set-up man Neil Ramirez went on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder. While an MRI revealed no structural damage, it’s unknown how long he will be sidelined.

Minnesota Twins’ lefty Brian Duensing went on the DL with an intercostal strain April 17.

Fantasy Closers Update: Who’s In?

Rafael Betancourt logged the first save following Hawkins’ demotion, but Adam Ottavino has since been named the team’s new closer.  Ottavino’s fastball sits around 96 MPH, but it’s his multidimensional slider – which he throws over 40 percent of the time – that is his money pitch. Left-handed hitters have been his downfall (.313 BA, .468 SLG during his career), but he is actively seeking to improve against southpaws.

The 29-year-old fanned 9.7 batters and walked just 2.2 batters per nine innings last season, and his 3.10 FIP indicates that he performed better than his 3.60 ERA would indicate. Ottavino has the stuff to hold the closer’s job all season long, and he should be owned in all Fantasy formats.

The Red Sox’s Koji Uehara returned from a stint on the DL this week, and he stepped right back into the closer’s role. Health will remain a concern for the 40-year-old reliever, but he should be a good source of saves going forward.

Holland is an elite closer, but Kansas City has one of the game’s best set-up men behind him in Wade Davis. Davis will step into Holland’s role as the K.C. closer, and he should immediately be added if he’s available in your league.

Relievers on the Rocks:

Mark Melancon has been one of baseball’s most dependable relievers over the past two seasons, and he saved 33 games and posted a 1.90 ERA and 0.87 WHIP for the Pirates in 2014. He has struggled out of the gate this season, though, and with his slow start has come a dramatic drop in velocity. This table from Brooks Baseball tells the tale:

Month Fourseam Sinker Curve Cutter Split
7/14 93.78 93.87 82.29 93.41 88.06
8/14 94.84 95.08 82.28 93.13 88.11
9/14 93.99 0.00 81.97 92.47 0.00
10/14 94.11 0.00 81.44 92.65 86.30
Month Fourseam Sinker Curve Cutter Split
4/15 89.52 0.00 79.71 89.52 84.22

Melancon is not concerned about it, and he denies any health issues, but it’s also noteworthy that his vertical release point is noticeably higher than it has been in the past. It’s too early to hit the panic button on Melancon, but it wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you have a clear path to the panic button in case it becomes necessary to activate it. Tony Watson would probably be the first option to close in Melancon’s stead, but Arquimedes Caminero has a fastball that can touch triple digits.

Fernando Rodney has saved plenty of games over the past three seasons, but he is well known for making a lot of those saves rather exciting – for all of the wrong reasons. He was fine in his first two outings of 2015, but imploded for six earned runs, seven hits, three walks and a blown save over the course of his next two appearances. Manager Lloyd McClendon has made it clear that Rodney is still the M’s closer, but this is absolutely a situation that bears watching. Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina and Tom Wilhelmsen would be in line to close if Rodney doesn’t right his ship, and keep an eye on young Carson Smith, who saved 40 games and posted a 2.55 ERA over the past three years in the minor leagues.

Relievers on the Rise

We told you a little earlier about Craig Stammen’s impending elbow surgery; his loss will have a huge impact on Washington’s bullpen, as he was probably the next option behind closer Drew Storen. While it’s still a rather unsettled situation, there’s a lot to like about 27-year-old Aaron Barrett, who posted a 2.66 ERA last season and saved 26 games at Double-A back in 2013. Barrett features a 94 MPH sinker and an outstanding slider, against which opposing hitters batted just .140 last season.

Keep an Eye On …

Just when we think we have the Toronto bullpen figured out, something else happens. The future looked bright for 20-year-old Miguel Castro last week, as he logged two consecutive saves after taking over the ninth inning from Brett Cecil. In his next outing, Castro took the mound during a tie game…the seventh inning of a tie game. Sakes. Cecil had pitched well since his demotion, but was lit up for three runs and three hits and suffered a loss April 17 against the Atlanta Braves while working in the eighth inning of a tie game. Castro pitched the ninth inning of that 8-7 loss. We still like Castro’s chances of keeping this gig, but the recent confusing developments make this situation one to watch while things sort themselves out.

For daily updates on bullpen situations around the majors, be sure to bookmark our Bullpen Depth Charts.

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