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Chasing Saves: Ranger Bullpen in Flux

Several weeks ago, I had Rangers pitcher Shawn Tolleson near the top of the Pick Him Up? Rankings (found below), as Neftali Feliz had been pretty bad and Tolleson was racking up plenty of strikeouts and clearly appeared to be next in line in Texas. However, a youngster named Keone Kela started to pick up some buzz as the team’s potential closer of the future, and with Tolleson seeing his ERA jump from 1.93 to 5.40 due to one bad outing on May 1, I figured that if the Rangers were to make it change, it would be to test Kela in the role.

Well, we’ve come to the point where a change has been made, and though manager Jeff Banister announced there would be no definitive roles in the bullpen, it’s Tolleson who’s received the team’s first two saves. He’s clearly earned the job, racking up 26 strikeouts against four walks in 19 1/3 innings, and if you were to take out his one awful appearance, he would have allowed just three earned runs in 18 2/3 innings on the season.

Should you run out and snap up Tolleson? Absolutely. He’s the type of high-strikeout reliever who could serve as an elite fantasy closer if he runs away with the job. However, Kela and his 2.25 ERA are still lurking, and it would surprise no one to see Feliz back in the ninth inning if he can string together some solid performances. Add Tolleson if you can, but don’t feel compelled to cut a closer with no competition for saves in order to do so.

Closers in Danger?

Fernando Rodney has allowed runs in four of his last five outings, but he has just one blown save on the season. Considering his lengthy track record of success as a closer, it’s unlikely the Mariners would have a quick trigger and yank him out of the ninth inning while he’s not blowing saves. But a 5.87 ERA, 1.70 WHIP and eight walks in 15 1/3 innings speak for themselves. On the flip side, Carson Smith has been fantastic, posting a 1.00 ERA and 22:4 K:BB ratio in 18 innings while dominating both lefties and righties. While giving Rodney a break from closing isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, Smith has certainly done enough to earn closing consideration.

Luke Gregerson has given up a pair of runs in two of his last three outings, and his most recent appearance caused him to be yanked from the game in favor of Pat Neshek, who picked up the save. Neshek has been excellent this season, but a long-term change would likely put Chad Qualls in the ninth inning. He racked up 19 saves with the Astros last season and already has four this year while posting a 2.93 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 18:3 K:BB ratio in 15 1/3 innings. Though there’s no indication a change is close to being made, the first-place Astros can’t afford to give away many wins, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see manager A.J. Hinch treat the ninth inning as a fluid situation.

Cody Allen walked two batters and gave up a run in his last appearance and now owns a 6.61 ERA to go with a 24:12 K:BB ratio in 16 1/3 innings. Can he continue to give up so many runs and free passes and stay in the ninth inning? It would be interesting to see Zach McAllister get a shot at closing, as he’s posted a 1.17 ERA and 25:6 K:BB ratio in 21 innings as a reliever. Deep-leaguers should make sure McAllister is rostered, and he’s usable in many leagues even while not closing as long as he continues to rack up strikeouts and limit runs.

Jason Grilli has dealt with back issues over the last month and been outperformed by Jim Johnson. Grilli’s struggles haven’t cost him in the saves category, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Johnson in the ninth inning at some point this summer.

Craig Kimbrel surrendered seven earned runs in 2012, nine in 2013 and 11 all of last season. He’s already allowed 10 earned runs this year, with all of them coming in 8 2/3 innings over his last 10 appearances. The Padres aren’t about to give up on a guy who’s arguably been the National League’s top closer over the last three years, but with a 5.74 ERA hanging on Kimbrel’s arm, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world to see Joaquin Benoit get some save chances. Consider it a long shot, but consider it.

Pick Him Up? Rankings

Shawn Tolleson, TEX

John Axford, COL

Jake McGee, TB

Brad Ziegler, ARI

Tyler Clippard, OAK

Carson Smith, SEA

Chad Qualls, HOU

Addison Reed, ARI

Zach McAllister, CLE

Steve Cishek, MIA

Jim Johnson, ATL

Joaquin Benoit, SD

Ken Giles, PHI