Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Rundown: Cubs could have a closer conundrum

Héctor Neris of the Chicago Cubs
Héctor Neris has been closing things out for Chicago, but could that change? (Photo by Matt Dirksen/Chicago Cubs/Getty Images)

Fantasy baseball analyst Dalton Del Don offers us an updated look at the bullpen hierarchy of key teams.

Craig Kimbrel has been used earlier in games while working through mechanical issues, while Yennier Cano (39% rostered) has shared closing duties and continues to be used in a high-leverage role. Cano can be rostered in deeper fantasy leagues, but Kimbrel remains the favorite for saves moving forward. Kimbrel’s velocity appears to be returning, and Baltimore has provided the second most save opportunities this year.

Héctor Neris has been a popular fantasy pickup after taking over Chicago’s closer’s role, but his peripherals suggest trouble ahead. Neris has converted all six save opportunities and recorded two wins over the last three weeks, but his 3.00 ERA is accompanied by a 5.76 SIERA that ranks sixth-worst among 204 qualified relievers. His 1.80 WHIP is 11th-worst. Neris has walked more batters than he’s struck out this season, including an 8:13 K:BB ratio since April 3.

Saves are a real commodity in fantasy, but there’s a high probability Neris blows up your ratios soon. Adbert Alzolay is on the IL with a flexor strain, so Mark Leiter Jr. or Ben Brown could eventually emerge as Chicago’s closer this season.

Jalen Beeks (11%) has recorded a save in four of his past five appearances and has emerged as Colorado’s preferred option in a committee. However, Beeks is a lefty whose K rate (15.5%) sinks against right-handed batters, and his 2.21 ERA is accompanied by a 4.96 SIERA. Beeks owns a career 1.39 WHIP, and Coors Field puts his ratios at real risk. Justin Lawrence is probably the favorite to be the Rockies’ best reliever moving forward, but it’s increasingly likely no Colorado RP will be worth rostering in fantasy leagues this year.

Jason Foley has pitched better lately and saw his job security increase after Alex Lange recently imploded (seven baserunners and four earned runs in 0.2 innings). Meanwhile, Shelby Miller has been shelved with right ulnar nerve inflammation. Foley’s fluctuating velocity may be something to monitor, but he’s the favorite for saves on a Tigers team tied for the second-most save opportunities this season.

Tanner Scott remains Miami’s co-closer, but he has terrible peripherals and is a trade candidate. Scott’s 2.00 ERA comes with a 5.33 SIERA that ranks eighth-worst among 200+ qualified relievers. His K-BB% (2.4) ranks bottom-15.

Meanwhile, A.J. Puk (10%) has immediately stepped into a high-leverage role since coming off the IL and returning to the bullpen. He’s been effective while recording a save Tuesday (with Scott pitching the eighth inning) and was likely held out of Miami’s save opportunity Wednesday night having pitched back-to-back days.

Puk failed badly as a starter after a dominant spring (1.32 ERA) but recorded a SIERA (2.66) and a CSW (35.3%) that both ranked top-five among 162 qualified relievers last season. He’s also at risk of being traded, but Puk has the stuff of a closer and should be added in all fantasy leagues.

Trevor Megill (45%) has emerged as Milwaukee’s closer, recording all four Brewers saves in May. He’s capable of striking out more batters moving forward, so Megill should be rostered in all fantasy leagues. Devin Williams is still at least a month away from returning.

Jhoan Duran hasn’t been used as a traditional closer since returning, pitching the eighth inning (against the top of Toronto’s lineup) before Griffin Jax closed Minnesota’s last save opportunity (one week ago). Jax has allowed a run in three straight appearances, while Duran has been dominant with good velocity since coming off the IL. Rocco Baldelli’s usage will likely remain frustrating at times, but Duran is a top fantasy RP. More save opportunities should follow while pitching in the AL Central.

Pete Fairbanks was unavailable Monday after suffering a freak accident, but he’s since returned and finally appears healthy. Fairbanks hasn’t allowed a baserunner with a 5:0 K:BB ratio over three innings since returning from the IL, although he missed a save chance Wednesday while used in a high-leverage role. He was then unavailable for Thursday’s save opportunity after working back-to-back days. Kevin Cash may continue to mix and match his bullpen, but Fairbanks is clearly the preferred fantasy reliever in Tampa Bay. He can be one of baseball’s very best relievers when healthy.