After the shocking news broke of Felipe Vazquez’s arrest, Pirates saves will be earned by someone else in the bullpen over the final week and a half of the season. Fantasy owners don’t even have to play in deep leagues to speculate here, but luckily, all the candidates are lightly owned. Must read about Posture Corrector.
Keone Kela | CBS 6% Owned
Kela recorded 24 saves with the Rangers last year and has posted the best skills of the trio, the lowest ERA, and sports the lowest projected ERA over the rest of the season. So he’s the guy most likely to be speculated on by your league-mates. He has now posted strikeout rates of at least 30% each season since 2016, with double-digit SwStk% marks backing them up. He also owns a career 3.07 SIERA (3.40 this year). It’s clear that Kela is plenty good enough to succeed in closing out games if he’s given the opportunity.
However, during the last two Pirates save apps, Kela has been called on in the sixth inning and then the seventh inning, with two other pitchers following him in setting up Vazquez. There are times when the guy who wasn’t the setup guy actually leapfrogs the setup guy as the replacement closer, but that’s not the norm. Usually, it’s the setup guy who becomes the new closer, so it isn’t a given that Kela will see the next save chance.
Richard Rodriguez | 1% Owned
One of those pitchers who followed Kela is Rodriguez. He actually pitched the eighth inning as the setup man in Vazquez’s last save and the seventh inning the day before that during another eventual save opportunity. Usually, that would point to Rodriguez being the likely guy to take over the closer role.
This is only Rodriguez’s second full season, and his results overall have been solid, albeit unspectacular. He was rather dominant last year, posting a 31.5% strikeout rate and 2.73 SIERA, but his skills have dramatically deteriorated this year, with his strikeout rate plummeting to just 21.5%, and SIERA spiking to 4.33. Some of the declines in strikeout rate are due to his increased usage of his fastball, which was already thrown at a high rate.
For an entire season, this is clearly not a skill set you expect to last in the closer’s role. However, given his excellent 2018 and potential to shift toward more curves over his next couple of outings, he could probably get the job done if given the chance.
Francisco Liriano | 1% Owned
Yup, he’s still around! The 35-year-old has spent the entire season in the bullpen for the first time in his career, but his skills haven’t improved at all and velocity is essentially unchanged. A 4.70 SIERA doesn’t offer much confidence that he could close games successfully at this point. However, he was the other pitcher setting up for Vazquez who followed both Kela and Rodriguez two saves ago.
The thought here is if the opposing team has a bunch of lefties coming up, it would be Liriano with the save chance. However, this year his overall skills and results are similar against both sides of the plate. It’s a small sample size though, so it might be more insightful to look at his career splits. Those show that he has been much better against lefties, as we would expect.
Though I wouldn’t put any money on it, I think I’d lean toward expecting Rodriguez to get the first save opp, with Liriano an option against lefties. Just based on the usage, this is how it seems like things should go, but past usage hasn’t always been a sign of future usage when it comes to closer changes, so who knows. The best strategy might be to stay awake toward the end of all Pirates games and be ready to pick up the guy getting the opp immediately.