Craig Kimbrel loses his way

Scott Pianowski
·7-min read
MESA, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 18:  Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Chicago Cubs poses during Chicago Cubs Photo Day on February 18, 2020 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Craig Kimbrel was a mess in Monday's save opportunity. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s impossible to start this column without a brief moment to pause and look around America. The Marlins have a viral outbreak on their hands, and the MLB season lies in the balance. I am not a doctor or scientist. Maybe they can figure out how to make this all work, maybe they can’t. And hopefully, other sports will learn from baseball’s mistakes. To be fair, I don’t have great answers, or good answers. Maybe I don’t even have the right questions.

Sports are the toy department, and fantasy sports are a toy department within a toy department. It’s a place for fun and action and community and something to root for. I am going to write the usual baseball wrap below, with some levity and with some silliness. It’s what I do. But I wanted to acknowledge the gravity of the moment and the seriousness of the time before I delved into stuff like blown saves and waiver-wire pickups.

Let’s try to stay positive and find proactive solutions, in the world. And hopefully, we’ll have a world without constant anxiety, soon enough. I appreciate everyone who is a part of our community. Keep sending your dog photos, your little pieces of good news, your wins. It helps. - pianow

The three-run save is one of the cushiest parts of the closer gig. It’s a perk, it’s a treat. Come in for the ninth, get three outs before they have a monster rally against you, walk off triumphantly. Pretty much any capable MLB arm can convert this assignment, most of the time.

Alas, Craig Kimbrel didn’t have those facilities Monday. He threw 34 pitches at the Reds in the ninth, and only 13 hit the zone. Four walks, one hit batter. Mercifully, David Ross yanked Kimbrel and brought in Jeremy Jeffress to finish up (two outs, one strikeout, 12 pitches). Close the books, Chicago escapes with an 8-7 victory.

Where’s Angel Hernandez when you need him?

We know the drill with these things. The Cubs will back up Kimbrel and stay open-minded because that’s what teams do. Kimbrel’s on the books with a big contract (what would be $16 million, over a full season). Guys like that usually get additional chances. Maybe it really is mechanical. Maybe they can iron him out.

Of course, 2020 is not your typical baseball season. There aren’t six months for things to smooth out. And the Cubs have reasonable alternatives for the ninth if Kimbrel can’t get right. (Maybe he needs the facial hair back.)

Jeffress reflects how funky the relief game can be. The journeyman had a brilliant year for the Brewers in 2018, fashioning a 1.29 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He scored eight wins and 15 saves, even made the All-Star team. A 2.78 FIP underscores that luck was on his side, but he undeniably still pitched very well.

Last year, it all fell apart — a 5.02 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP. In this case, the luck didn’t go his way — the FIP suggested a 3.96 ERA (mediocre, but not awful). But you couldn’t blame Milwaukee for moving on after the season.

For his career, Jeffress has a 3.14 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. That doesn’t make him Mariano Rivera, but he’s been an effective closer before. He also had 27 saves for the Brewers in 2016.

Perhaps Roman Wick could also figure into the ninth. Wick was an effective reliever for the Cubs last year (2.43/1.14) and had more than a strikeout per inning; granted, that strikeout rate is expected in the shape of today’s game. Wick wasn’t a closing fallback Monday because he worked in the sixth inning, but perhaps he’ll get pushed back later into games.

Bottom line, if you’re hedging against Kimbrel, Jeffress looks like Plan A and Wick is your Plan B. The former carries a five-percent roster tag in Yahoo leagues, while Wick is at two-percent.

The last days of Folty

In some other cities, one misstep is enough to cost you your job. Mike Foltynewicz was kicked around in Tampa Bay — six runs, three homers — and didn’t last the night. The Braves designated him for assignment after the game.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Folty over the years, in part because I knew how to pronounce his name; a friend in my HS graduating class had a similar surname, educated all of us. (I don’t remember if Lori could throw her curveball for strikes; it’s been a few years. She was a good tennis player.)

Maybe the good old days with Folty weren’t all that good. Rob Silver always has something interesting to say:

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

David Fletcher, Anaheim underdog

I play in a lot of deeper mixed leagues, where playing time is a critical currency. Often times, I’m willing to look past ordinary efficiency if the player has regular ABs to cushion the blow. On some level, it’s a game about volume.

So let’s have a talk about David Fletcher.

Fletcher has stepped in as Joe Maddon’s leadoff man in Anaheim — buoyed by an 8-for-15 start, with a couple of walks. Fletcher has little power, but he does have a .289 career average and .343 OBP for his career. He might be able to keep this gig. He’ll occasionally steal a base. And if he keeps getting on base, that Trout fellow might drive him in a bunch.

Although I like to think Fletcher is more of a deep-league grab, the Yahooligans are on the case. He’s rostered in 42-percent of our game, perhaps because he qualifies at second, short, third, and the outfield. Season to taste. Location, location, location.

David Fletcher #22 of the Los Angeles Angels
David Fletcher's playing time buoys his fantasy value. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Pitching hammered in The Hub

If you’ve followed this column for a while, you probably know I grew up in New England. I live in the midwest now, but I still have a dog named Fenway. Two decades ago, all I wanted was one championship for the Red Sox, I’d be happy with that. I have no idea how things got to this point, and I don’t blame any non-New Englander who simply hates all these Boston teams. Root for what you want.

That said, fantasy is all about chasing numbers. And we can get some juicy numbers if we proactively counter this Boston pitching staff.

The Red Sox pummeled Baltimore on opening night, 13-2; a bunch of doubles sparked the offense, while Nathan Eovaldi was sharp in his assignment. But since then, the anonymous and pedestrian Red Sox staff has been spanked. Baltimore’s unthreatening offense — Jose Iglesias, No. 3 hitter? — exploded for 14 runs in the final two games of the opening series. And then the Mets threw another seven-spot at Boston on Monday.

It could get a lot worse before it gets better. The Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays come calling after this four-game series with the Mets. Boston only has three games against Miami; will the Marlins even have a team in September? All I know is we have to take what we can, when we can, while we can. And we gotta do it now. Keep offensively streaming against this beleaguered Boston pitching staff.