Bullpen report: Porter Hodge enters Cubs' circle of trust, Mason Miller cools down and more

With June in the rearview mirror, fantasy managers are now fully focused on the trade deadline on July 30. Identifying buyers and sellers may be premature, especially with the expanded wild card format. However, the games preceding the All-Star break may provide more insight into the evolving trade market. If you are interested in the latest playoff odds from Baseball-Reference, please use this link

While closers reach milestones, teams must decide how to address their high-leverage needs for the postseason. Even though the Phillies bullpen has been a strength, it may be shopping for a veteran capable of handling the ninth inning. 

From a fantasy lens, things remain relatively stable for saves compared with last year. Here are the updated leverage trends through the end of June: 

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There have been minor changes in our leverage pathways. Recognizing how a manager prefers handling high-leverage innings can create a competitive advantage. Here are our high-leverage pathway identifiers. Each team will receive one of the following labels:

  • Mostly Linear: This is a more traditional approach, with a manager preferring one reliever in the seventh inning, another in the eighth, and a closer (when rested) in the ninth. There are shades of gray, but it’s usually a predictable leverage pathway. 
  • Primary Save Share: The team prefers one reliever as the primary option for saves. However, he may also be used in match-up-based situations, whether dictated by batter-handedness or batting order pockets in the late innings. This provides multiple relievers with save chances each series or week throughout the season. 
  • Shared Saves: Usually, two relievers split save opportunities, sometimes based on handedness, rest, or recent usage patterns that keep them fresh. While these situations usually rely on a primary and ancillary option, others can get into the mix. Some teams also prefer a match-up-based option, assigning pitchers a hitter pocket for a series, causing fluid save opportunities. 

AL Notes of Interest

Baltimore Orioles: Craig Kimbrel recorded his 21st save and the 438th of his career, moving into fourth all-time. Only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith have more. 

Boston Red Sox: Kenley Jansen has secured seven saves in Boston’s past 19 games and has converted 16 of 17 this season. He’s within one of tying Francisco Rodríguez for fifth all-time in saves, and four strikeouts behind Billy Wagner (1,196) for sixth all-time in reliever strikeouts. 

Chicago White Sox: As a reliever, Michael Soroka has suffered three losses. However, he’s also racked up 41 strikeouts through 24.1 innings and held hitters to a .188 batting average against. 

Cleveland Guardians: Through his first 41 appearances, the team owns a 38-3 record when Emmanuel Clase pitches. He’s converted 25 of 28 save opportunities this year and has only issued four walks to the 146 batters he’s faced (2.7 walk percentage). 

Detroit Tigers: Since the start of 2023, Tyler Holton has logged 48 multiple-inning outings, the most in the majors, and leads all relievers with at least 75 innings in WHIP (0.85). 

Houston Astros: Earning a larger leverage role, Tayler Scott has recorded four wins with a 0.68 ERA over 26.1 innings since May 11. 

Kansas City Royals: “General” James McArthur recorded his fourth career save requiring at least five outs. He hasn’t been scored upon in 11 of his past 12 appearances and has converted four saves.

Los Angeles Angels: Rookie Ben Joyce has thrown 93 of his 200 pitches at 100-plus mph (46.5 percent), ranking second to Mason Miller this season. Carlos Estévez was named AL Reliever of June. He recorded a win and nine saves while only allowing two baserunners across 11 appearances. 

Minnesota Twins: Since being recalled on May 24, Jorge Alcala has a 0.95 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and seven walks over 19 innings in 17 appearances. 

New York Yankees: Tommy Kahnle hasn’t been scored upon in 15 of 17 outings this season. Clay Holmes last recorded a save on June 9 and has allowed six earned runs during his past seven outings. 

Oakland Athletics: The A’s have played in the second most one-run games (28) but own a 12-16 record (.429 winning percentage). 

Seattle Mariners: It’s been a slow process, but help for the leverage ladder may arrive soon. Gregory Santos recorded his first rehab outing at Triple-A and could rejoin the team as early as next week. Those in leagues with holds or SOLDS should take advantage of stashing him before he’s activated. 

Tampa Bay Rays: This is one of the most intriguing teams regarding whether it will be buying, selling, or holding leading up to the trade deadline. Teams are interested in its high-leverage relievers, but the next two weeks may determine how they are handled. 

Texas Rangers: Speaking of which, the Rangers have two relievers on expiring contracts — Kirby Yates and José Leclerc. Would the defending World Champions sell if they do not make a run in the standings over the next three weeks? 

Toronto Blue Jays: Jordan Romano underwent arthroscopic surgery for an impingement in his right elbow and will not throw for six weeks, putting his return in doubt this season. Yimi García had a successful side session and will begin rehab outings for a return near the All-Star break. 


NL Notes of Interest

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Martinez has been scoreless in 19 of his past 21 appearances, recording three wins and 35 strikeouts across 29 innings. 

Atlanta Braves: Raisel Iglesias has converted his last 13 save chances with a 19:4 K:BB over 18.1 innings. 

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have played the most one-run games in the majors (33) but only have 14 wins (.424 winning percentage). 

Cincinnati Reds: Fernando Cruz appeared in four straight games and has the second-most strikeouts among relievers this season (61). 

Colorado Rockies: Entering play on July 3, the Rockies owned a combined 8.44 ERA in the ninth inning, the ninth-highest total since it was first tracked in 1974. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: With the bullpen shuttle in full effect, it may soon receive a boost. Joe Kelly has started his minor league rehab assignment. 

Miami Marlins: The biggest question remains: When will Tanner Scott be traded? 

Milwaukee Brewers: Trevor Megill recorded his first save on April 25. In the games since, only Ryan Helsely (24) has secured more saves than Megill’s 18. 

New York Mets: Closer Edwin Díaz can be activated on July 6, resetting the roles in the leverage ladder. Fantasy managers will monitor how the team handles José Buttó. Will he remain as the multi-inning reliever? If so, it could mean a larger set-up role for Dedniel Núñez in one-inning outings. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Despite running the “floating closer” concept with no issues, will the team target a closer ahead of the trade deadline? 

Pittsburgh Pirates: Aroldis Chapman passed Billy Wagner, becoming the all-time leader in strikeouts by a left-handed reliever. He’s also one save from tying Huston Street for 20th all-time (324). 

San Diego Padres: Adrian Morejon hasn’t been scored upon in 15 of his past 19 appearances and is earning a larger leverage share. 

San Francisco Giants: After a rough patch, Camilo Doval may be turning the corner. He hasn’t been scored upon in six of his past seven outings, with 11 strikeouts against one walk, and has converted four of five save chances.

St. Louis Cardinals: Through July 3, the Cardinals’ high-leverage triumvirate (Ryan Helsley, JoJo Romero, and Andrew Kittredge) has posted 82 SOLDS (saves plus holds), which puts them ahead of 26 MLB teams in the category. 

Washington Nationals: Although Hunter Harvey is tied for second in the majors with 24 holds, he’s allowed 11 runs (nine earned) over his past six appearances. Monitor his results through the All-Star break closely. 

Reliever on the Rise

Porter Hodge (CHC): Hodge has emerged as a trusted high-leverage option for Craig Counsell and even appeared in three straight contests. Hodge has exceeded expectations as a reliever, though his command issues cannot be ignored. Still, in the majors, hasn’t been scored upon in 10 of his first 11 games, with 16 strikeouts against six walks over 12 innings. He has recorded a save and a hold in the past three appearances and could receive more save chances in the second half, depending on how the Cubs handle the trade deadline. For now, here are his splits by pitch:


Closer Concerns

Evan Phillips (LAD): Entering this year, Phillips was the only qualified reliever with at least 60 appearances, 60-plus innings, 60-plus strikeouts, and a WHIP below 1.00 in 2022 and 2023. After 25.2 innings in 27 games this season, it’s at 1.052. He’s struggling with left-handed hitters, giving up a .275 batting average against, a .831 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), and a .362 weighted on-base percentage, fueling a 1.60 WHIP. Last year, he limited left-handed batters to a .222 batting average against and a .662 OPS for the season while using his cutter 64 percent of his pitches when ahead in counts. However, when delving into his splits-by-pitch, he’s using his cutter less this year because it’s not producing the same results:


He may right the ship with his arsenal, but until this happens, he may not face left-handed heavy pockets in the ninth inning. 

Mason Miller (OAK): His team concept alone caps his fantasy upside. However, he gave up two earned runs in a non-save appearance, and a recent rise in contact allowed has surfaced. There was no way he could continue his dominant start to the season. Still, fantasy managers must adjust their expectations for him moving forward, illustrated by his rolling 10-game chart from Fangraphs:

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Taking this a step further, here are his splits by month through the end of June: 



Which split emerges in the second half will help determine his trajectory as a closer moving forward. 

Save Stashes

  • Andrew Nardi (MIA)
  • Ben Joyce (LAA)
  • Porter Hodge (CHC)
  • Jordan Leasure (CHW)

Ancillary Save Options

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Ratio Relievers 

*Multi-inning or bridge relievers who can vulture wins and help protect ratios

Trade Deadline Candidates

Trade Candidates for Teams on the Fence

High Leverage Ladders

Tiered Rankings for Saves and SOLDS

Statistical Credits (through July 3): Fangraphs.com; Baseball-Reference.com; BaseballSavant.com; BrooksBaseball.net

For daily coverage of bullpens, check out my work at Reliever Recon and Closer Monkey

(Top photo of Porter Hodge: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY)

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