Fantasy baseball bullpen report: Jeff Hoffman is cooking, Josh Hader dealing with gopheritis and more


For all of the trade deadline content flooding timelines, there has been just one trade executed this month: Phil Maton was picked up by the Mets for cash considerations or a player to be named later. It’s a savvy move, especially for a team needing leverage relievers. More moves will occur, but it may be a slow-moving market as teams assess where they stand regarding chances for the postseason. If interested, this link from Baseball-Reference.com provides daily updated playoff odds. 

Since our last post, Edwin Díaz has returned from his sticky stuff suspension, Paul Sewald has blown three consecutive save chances, and Josh Hader has a home run issue. Saves remain one of the most volatile ecosystems for fantasy purposes. 

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. 

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AL Notes of Interest

  • Baltimore Orioles: Over the past 30 days, Craig Kimbrel has racked up 19 strikeouts against four walks (34.9 K-BB percentage) with eight saves and a 0.73 WHIP. 
  • Boston Red Sox: Projected as a seller, Boston may be adding ahead of the deadline and will receive a boost if Liam Hendriks can return in August as another leverage option. This can change, but there have not been any recent rumors about a Kenley Jansen trade. 
  • Chicago White Sox: After diversifying his pitch usage patterns over the past two games, Michael Kopech not only recorded a save but also pitched the season’s first immaculate inning (three batters faced, three strikeouts, nine pitches). 
  • Cleveland Guardians: The Guardians bullpen ranks first in WHIP (1.04) and Win Probability Added. It also nears the All-Star break second in K-BB percentage (18.6 percent) and SIERA (3.23). 
  • Detroit Tigers: Entering game play on July 11, the Tigers have won seven of their past 10 games, and four different relievers (Tyler Holton, Jason Foley, Shelby Miller, and Andrew Chafin) have recorded a save. 
  • Houston Astros: It flies well below the radar, but through two clean appearances, Kaleb Ort has recorded 6 strikeouts of 9 batters faced (66.7 strikeout percentage). 
  • Kansas City Royals: “The General” James McArthur became the sixth reliever in team history with saves in each game of a doubleheader and the first since Greg Holland (2013). 
  • Los Angeles Angels: It will take two trades, but Ron Washington acknowledged that Ben Joyce would get save chances if he does not have Carlos Estévez available and has already used Luis García. He is still a stash candidate, but one with potential value in the second half. 
  • Minnesota Twins: Perhaps one of the team’s biggest acquisitions for the trade deadline will be Brock Stewart. He started his rehab window with Triple-A St. Paul this week. 
  • New York Yankees: Clay Holmes recorded his first save since June 9 on Wednesday night, but will he remain atop the hierarchy after the trade deadline? 
  • Oakland Athletics: The Mason Miller trade front has been quiet as the trade deadline approaches. Teams remain interested in Lucas Erceg, who is more likely a trade candidate, but time will tell. 
  • Seattle Mariners: Keeping Andrés Muñoz healthy remains a priority, and getting Gregory Santos back may make this a reality. He’s been added to the leverage mix and could be a source of ancillary saves and holds in the second half. 
  • Tampa Bay Rays: The biggest question is whether the team will trade one of Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, or both. 
  • Texas Rangers: In the same boat, the Rangers must decide whether to add or subtract ahead of the trade deadline. The team has been “one step forward and two steps back” in the standings, but unless there’s a hot streak, the team may move pending free agents (Kirby Yates, José Leclerc, David Robertson). 
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Chad Green was not used in a save chance earlier this week, and he did log a heavy workload in a two-game span, but one wonders if he’s in trade talks with teams preferring that his usage patterns remain light. Also, Yimi García has made one rehab outing but has been scratched with a stiff neck on consecutive days since. 

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NL Notes of Interest

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: While Paul Sewald has struggled, the recent uptick in leverage events for Justin Martinez must encourage those in keeper leagues. 
  • Atlanta Braves: With A.J. Minter back in the high-leverage mix, the Braves bullpen remains one of the deepest units in the majors. 
  • Chicago Cubs: Cue up “Hypnotize” cause Hunter Bigge turned in a strong MLB debut in Baltimore. He retired the Orioles’ 3-4-5 lineup pocket in order and recorded a strikeout while hitting 100 mph on the radar. 
  • Cincinnati Reds: The good news is Alexis Díaz has recorded six saves over the past 30 days. However, he’s produced an 11.1 K-BB percentage with a 9.5 swinging strike percent, allowing an 80.9 percent contact rate. Heed his 4.17 SIERA, not the 1.00 ERA in this timeframe. 
  • Colorado Rockies: If the team moves Jalen Beeks, will Victor Vodnik be the heir apparent for the primary save role? Should fantasy managers care? 
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Evan Phillips has bounced back with two wins and five saves over the past 30 days while posting a 0.82 WHIP, but his struggles with left-handed hitters continue — .279 batting average against, .889 on-base plus slugging percentage, .328 weighted on-base average. 
  • Miami Marlins: It’s assumed the team will trade Tanner Scott, but how many more relievers will be moved? This will affect the save structure in the bullpen from August forward. 
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Devin Williams (back) may head out on his rehab assignment as early as this weekend. If he does, how long will the closer need before he’s back (no pun intended)?
  • New York Mets: Replacing Reed Garrett (15-day injured list) in the leverage ladder will mean more holds for Phil Maton, raising his stock from a fantasy perspective due to this trade. He hasn’t been scored upon in 10 of his past 11 appearances with 11 strikeouts versus 1 walk. 
  • Philadelphia Phillies: Amid reports of the team fortifying its bullpen, what reliever will Dave Dombrowski target? 
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: David Bednar made his first rehab outing with Double-A Altoona and may be activated with Ryan Borucki this weekend. 
  • San Diego Padres: Can this unit remain effective in the second half? Jeremiah Estrada only pitched a combined 39.1 innings last year and has already worked 41.2 this year. Robert Suarez’s maximum innings with the Padres was 51.2 in 2022, and he’s already logged 36.2 this season.  
  • San Francisco Giants: Will the real Camilo Doval please stand up? He’s been much better lately, with six saves over his past 30 days, but the 1.39 WHIP must improve. 
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Will Ryan Helsley make it through the season unscathed? This may be a determining factor in his team’s playoff aspirations. 
  • Washington Nationals: How will the team handle the trade deadline? This report by Ken Rosenthal indicates the team may be willing to trade Kyle Finnegan or Hunter Harvey, which will affect the leverage ladder in the second half. Stay tuned. 

Relievers on the Rise

Jeff Hoffman (PHI): He’s recorded four of his team’s past five saves, including three in July. He leads all qualified NL relievers in ERA (1.17) and converted all seven save opportunities since May 17. Over his past 34 appearances, he’s posted 41 strikeouts versus five walks through 33 innings and his underlying data supports his rise in the bullpen hierarchy: 

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Kevin Ginkel (ARI): Torey Lovullo will remain patient with his closer, but Ginkel has been a tremendous fantasy asset for those seeking ratio help. He’s recorded four wins since May 30, 17 scoreless appearances across 18 games, 20 strikeouts against two walks, and a 0.695 WHIP — pretty, pretty, pretty good, and those wins add up versus streaming borderline two-start pitchers in weekly formats. 

José Buttó (NYM): For those in leagues with pitcher designations, Buttó may be an emerging SPARP option. In three outings as a reliever, he’s recorded two wins and a save. He’s not providing strikeout upside, but he owns a 0.60 WHIP through these five innings. More strikeouts could accrue if he tweaks his pitch mix, but time will tell if stops relying on his sinker as a reliever: 

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Closer Concerns

Paul Sewald (ARI): Being a closer can be lonely, especially during a three-game blown save streak. Even though he recorded two quick outs in two of the three save chances, he suffered three consecutive blown saves for the first time in his career. He bounced back with a save on July 10 but seemed more relieved than excited. From a fantasy lens, it may be time to change how we value the veteran closer. Since arriving in Arizona, he’s converted 25 of 30 save opportunities with 38 strikeouts against 14 walks (15.5 K-BB percentage), a 1.14 WHIP, and a 3.88 SIERA over 37 innings. Putting his numbers with the Mariners versus the Diamondbacks illustrates this point: 

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Josh Hader (HOU): Although he leads the majors with 16 consecutive saves converted, he’s giving up more hard hits, especially home runs. Through five appearances in July, he’s allowed a home run in three and four of his past seven overall. His barrel rate resides in the bottom 10 percent amongst his peers. A spike in hard-hit percentage of almost 13 percent combined with a six percent increase in fly-ball percentage and pulled hit rate up almost five percentage points has resulted in eight home runs among his 85 batted ball events this year. He only allowed three among his 113 events last season. It’s not a matter of velocity but rather location and predictability. Things may normalize for the closer, but he went through a similar issue in 2019. For now, here are his splits-by-pitch this year versus last: 

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José Alvarado (PHI): Despite a rough debut during which he allowed five earned runs, the southpaw recorded 13 games finished among his first 26 appearances through May with nine saves in 10 chances. Since June, he’s only finished five of his 13 appearances (38.5 percent) with four saves in five opportunities, but only one in July compared with three by Jeff Hoffman. This may be a circumstance of match-ups in the “floating closer” concept not going his way, but he’s not been the same reliever since his outlier start from the 2023 season, illustrated by his rolling 10-game chart from Fangraphs

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Save Stashes

Ancillary Save Options

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Ratio Relievers 

*Multi-inning or bridge relievers who can vulture wins and help protect ratios. All relievers listed have a WHIP less than 1.00, a SIERA less than 2.75, a K-BB percentage above 20, and a swinging strike rate over 13 percent over the past 30 days: 

Trade Deadline Candidates

Trade Candidates for Teams on 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 Jeff Hoffman: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY)



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