Pirates closer Mark Melancon has dealt with major velocity issues over the first few weeks of the season, and the results haven't been pretty. He's surrendered three earned runs in two separate outings, and though he was able to deliver an uneventful save Thursday, his ERA sits at 7.36, to go with a 5:3 K:BB ratio in 7 1/3 innings. Considering he didn't give up his sixth earned run until May 26 last season, his early struggles have to be a major concern for his fantasy owners.
Manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday, after Melancon blew a save opportunity and took the loss the previous night, that he was sticking with the righty in the closer role. One more meltdown and I believe a change will come.
Fantasy owners looking to speculate on saves should head to the wire and grab lefty Tony Watson. He was rocked on Opening Day, allowing three earned runs in an inning of work while taking a loss, but he's been excellent since. Watson has delivered 10 innings of one-run ball while allowing three hits and no walks and racking up nine strikeouts in his last nine appearances. He also picked up a save Wednesday, recording the final six outs after pitching his team out of trouble in the eighth inning.
The one issue with the Pirates turning to Watson in the event that Hurdle feels a change is needed is that he's really the only effective lefty in the bullpen. If the Pirates feel comfortable with Antonio Bastardo in a setup role, which is possible considering Bastardo has pitched pretty well over the last few years, Watson is clearly the guy to grab for those chasing saves. Deeper-league owners who don't believe in Bastardo ascending to a setup role could speculate with Jared Hughes, who has given up three earned runs in nine innings but also sports a 10:2 K:BB ratio.
Let's check in with a few other closer situations around the league.
Joakim Soria is now locked into the closer role for the rest of the year, provided he can remain healthy and productive, neither of which can be used to described the man he replaced.
Joe Nathan endured an awful 2014 season then hit the disabled list early this year, paving the way for Soria. Now Nathan has been diagnosed with a torn UCL, meaning he's headed for Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
Soria has been excellent over the first few weeks, racking up five saves while giving up one run on two hits and no walks in 6 2/3 innings and striking out four. I still worry somewhat about Soria's health due to his own injury history, but the longer he pitches without issue, the further he climbs up in my closer tiers. Right now I'd slot him in the Glen Perkins-Huston Street area of value, but if you think he's going to stay healthy all year, feel free to pay a higher price to nab him.
Greg Holland, one of the league's best closers, is on the shelf with a pectoral strain, leaving the door open for Wade Davis, one of the league's best setup man, to see some ninth-inning work.
Davis was likely owned in most competitive leagues before Holland's injury as he's proven over the last few years that he can be a major help to the ratios and strikeouts of fantasy teams despite not seeing many save opportunities. The one thing I'll say about the situation is that if you are one of the owners who only grabbed Davis once he was in line for save opportunities, consider hanging on to him even after Holland returns.
Dellin Betances has looked much, much better in recent appearances, as he's racked up nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings while issuing just one walk and giving up two hits in his last five games. Considering he walked two batters in each of his first three appearances, it's quite a step forward.
That doesn't mean he'll be ascending to the closer role anytime soon. Andrew Miller has been fantastic this season, tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings while collecting 15 strikeouts and walking four. He has six saves and should get plenty more before the season is through, but there's still a chance manager Joe Girardi turns to Betances in the ninth inning at some point. I'd call Betances a solid buy-low play and Miller an excellent sell-high candidate, hedging for the possibility that this bullpen becomes muddled in the future.
If I owned Miller, would I take an offer of Soria and a small upgrade at another position? Why, yes I would.
Pick Him Up? Rankings
Jake McGee, TB
Tony Watson, PIT
Brett Cecil, TOR
Shawn Tolleson, TEX
Yimi Garcia, LAD
A.J. Ramos, MIA
Ken Giles, PHI
John Axford, COL
Sergio Romo, SF
Bobby Parnell, NYM
Jonathan Broxton, MIL
Brad Ziegler, ARI
Zach McAllister, CLE