Fantasy Corner: Closer woes, and five potential saves candidates

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There’s a saying in fantasy baseball: never pay for saves.

I believe it was ESPN’s Matthew Berry who coined that phrase. I don’t know if he started the movement, but he’s certainly been its champion.

It refers to the volatile nature of the closing position. Every season, new closers are born in the fires of someone else’s flameout. So, Berry recommends spending your fantasy draft dollars on more-stable commodities.

This season has seen a continuation of that trend. If anything, it’s been crazier than usual.

Last night, in Baltimore, runners circled the bases at a brisk pace, as the Orioles feasted on the Nationals’, beleaguered bullpen. The result: a 5-4, extra-innings loss and a waste of a gem by starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

In Detroit, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus pulled the plug on the K-Rod-era, the final straw being his embattled closer’s two blown saves over the previous weekend. Set-up man Justin Wilson will get the first crack at the closer’s role, in Rodriguez’s stead.

We’re far enough into the fantasy baseball season that the good teams are starting to separate from the pack. Owners looking to make up ground in saves might want to keep these guys in mind, players who are a closer meltdown or a trade away from becoming fantasy-relevant:

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee

16.2 IP, 1.08 ERA, .90 WHIP, 26 K

In leagues that count holds, Knebel is already a commodity, as the Brewers’ set-up man is tied with Colorado’s Adam Ottavino for the MLB lead with 11.

He’s been excellent. And, the man currently holding the closer’s role, Neftali Feliz, has eight saves, but is sporting a 4.91 ERA. Feliz has been walking a thin rope, continuing to put men on base. Knebel would be the likely replacement, in the event of a switch.

Tommy Kahnle, Chicago White Sox

11 IP, 0.82 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 21 K

Pronounced “cain-lee”, this dude has some torque. He averages a cool 98 on his heater and has posted some serious numbers, this season. Right-handed batters have posted a miniscule .105 OPS against him.

Current White Sox closer, Dave Robertson is perennially in the news as a trade candidate. Assuming Kahnle is not moved himself, he would be in the mix for saves, upon Robertson’s departure.

Joe Ross, Washington

15.2 IP, 7.47 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 14 K

Don’t let the stat-line deceive you. Sure, Ross looked rusty in his return from injury (shoulder soreness), but the guy has demonstrated he has the stuff to get big league hitters out. Also, in case you haven’t heard, there hasn’t been a whole lot of out-getting from the Nationals’ pen, this season.

The 23-year-old Ross has been used primarily as a starter, in his young career. With the Nationals rotation pitching well, his presence is needed as a reliever.

Ross throws a fastball/sinker and a slider. He’s had trouble developing a reliable change-up. In the bullpen, he wouldn’t need one.

Perhaps having the luxury of facing hitters only once would allow his stuff to play up. His sinker velocity has dropped from around 93 MPH in 2015 to 91 MPH, this season. Those couple of ticks could make all the difference.

The Nationals have traded away much of their pitching depth. If they tap Ross for the bullpen, he could emerge atop their murky closer situation.

Brad Hand, San Diego

17.7 IP, 1.53 ERA, 0.849 WHIP, 21 K

Hand will be coveted by teams like the Nationals, this summer, as they look to add help at the back end of their bullpens. Teams have already been reportedly calling about the big lefty, who’s been nothing short of solid for the Padres.

He might not throw the hardest of the guys on this list (fastball settles in the 91-94 MPH range), but he has a wipeout cutter/slider that hitters are “slugging” just .183 against.

San Diego isn’t going anywhere this season, so it would make sense for them to explore deals for Hand. He’s also under contract through 2019, another attractive factor for teams looking to make a deal.

Pat Neshek, Philadelphia

12 IP, 0.00 ERA, .917 WHIP, 9 K

Neshek’s sidearm delivery gives right-handed batters fits. He was a specialist in Houston: the rare ROOGY. Acquired by the Phillies, he has been deployed against left-handers but has yet to encounter any speed bumps.

The Phillies have had a sorry go of things in late-inning situations. Jeanmar Gomez opened the season as the fireman but quickly lost his job. Since then, they’ve been rotating the underwhelming duo of Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris in and out.

The Phillies aren’t expected to content this season. Why not audition Neshek in the role? Maybe they could pump up his trade value, for a club with a farm system that is lacking in the depth department.

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