This weekend, Oakland Athletics closer Blake Treinen was placed on the 10-day injured list due to a strained right shoulder. Prior to getting hurt, Treinen had all 16 of his team's saves, so with his go-to reliever now on the shelf, manager Bob Melvin has a decision to make as to which one of his pitchers will get the call in the ninth inning going forward.
On Saturday, in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Melvin turned to Liam Hendriks to close out the victory -- and he did just that with a three-up/three-down affair. That may well lead some fantasy managers to believe that Hendriks will indeed be "the man" when it comes to saves going forward, at least until Treinen can return to the mound.
However, the truth is that the only person who will decide who gets that next save chance in Oakland is Mr. Melvin. And he may not even know himself who he's going to signal for from the bullpen the next time he needs to lock down a win.
Generally speaking, closers remain closers until their managers have a change of heart. Take Kirby Yates, for example. Prior to yesterday's action, the San Diego Padres' closer was a perfect 26-for-26 in save chances. Unfortunately, he was unable to protect a three-run lead in the ninth against the Pirates on Sunday, as Pittsburgh came back to tie the game and take it into extra frames.
Despite the poor outing, it would be a stunning state of affairs if that one clunker causes Yates to be pulled from the closer job. He has more than built up enough "closer capital" with manager Andy Green to still get the call the next time the Padres have a game on the line in the late innings. But how long is that proverbial leash? Is there any way to truly tell?
While managers typically continue to show faith in a closer who has been getting the job done -- even if a few shaky outings have caused the fan base to turn up the negative noise level raining down from the upper deck -- nobody's job is 100 percent guaranteed. As a fantasy manager, I've found the best way of attempting to read the tea leaves with the skipper of a struggling save man and predicting a changing of the guard lies in one particular stat: FBA.
FBA is the batting average of the first batter whom a pitcher faces when he enters the game. Over the years, I've noticed that closers with a .200-or-lower FBA rarely get pulled from their jobs. Those between .201 and a cutoff point of the league average BAA plus 10 points (currently .260) are more often pulled during a season, even if only for a "recharging of the batteries," especially if there's another reliever on the team with a sub-.200 FBA.
Then there's the red zone of .260-plus. One baserunner from these guys and the hometown fans fidget in their seats, the press box starts to formulate postgame inquiries of "is it time for a change?" and the manager begins popping antacids, pacing and taking a long, hard look at the rest of his bullpen.
In Oakland, Treinen's .167 FBA is a good indicator that he'll get the job back as soon as he is able. However, among the replacement candidates, I'm not so sure Hendriks is the automatic pick to be the full-time fill-in. He has a .296 FBA and, while that's better than that of experienced closer Joakim Soria (.303), both Lou Trivino (.242) and Yusmeiro Petit (.171) have a far better number in this category. It should be noted that Petit struck out all four of the batters he faced on Saturday and earned the win in the game that Hendriks closed out, so perhaps the veteran is the one who will end up holding down the fort for the next week-plus.
As for Yates, he's got a .273 FBA, which might be a bit concerning if there was a No. 2 option performing at a much better clip in this department. However, with Craig Stammen's .314 FBA, it should take more than just a minor bump in the road for there to be a closer change in San Diego.
In St. Louis, the swelling in Jordan Hicks' right triceps has the closer headed for an MRI -- and perhaps an extended absence. A serious injury would likely be the only way that manager Mike Shildt should be considering anyone else for the majority of save chances, and Hicks' .185 FBA is a good indicator of that.
That said, it does look like someone needs to get the call for at least the next few days -- and while you can likely rule out Andrew Miller (.241), there's not a clear-cut winner in the debate between John Gant (.188) and Carlos Martinez (.100). If it ends up being Martinez, however, you should not be surprised.
Top 300 rest-of-season rankings
The following list reflects AJ's rankings for points leagues going forward. Note that this is different from a ranking of how each player has performed thus far in 2019. For a ranking of performance to-date, check out the ESPN Player Rater.