The closer carousel is constantly rotating, making things spin — and sometimes well out of control — for fantasy managers looking to get a handle on their pitching staffs. This week, the roundabout continues its journey, only with a trio of bullpens that appear to be solidifying behind singular, fantasy-relevant ninth-inning options. As Week 6 dawns, make sure you have all three of the following relievers rostered and active in fantasy leagues, adding them in this listed order of preference:
Carlos Estevez, RP, Los Angeles Angels: Assumed to be the team’s 2023 closer when he signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract on Dec. 5, Estevez instead fell into an effective committee to begin the season, from which Jose Quijada seemed to be emerging as the primary option over a nine-game stretch from April 12-21. Unfortunately, Quijada reported left elbow soreness the morning following his April 27 appearance, with an MRI taken one day later revealing a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required season-ending Tommy John surgery.
That news thrust Estevez to the front of the Angels’ bullpen pecking order, a role from which he has since been excellent, converting a pair of saves and adding an extra-inning win while not allowing a hit in his four appearances since Quijada’s injury. Over his past 12 outings, Estevez has one win, seven saves, two holds, a 0.71 ERA, an .095 BAA and a 32.6% strikeout rate, during which time he has 84 fantasy points, second-most among relievers.
Estevez has never been especially good at reining in hard contact, and his best single-year Statcast hard-hit percentile ranking was 42nd (2022). Still, he has good velocity and a plus slider, which should be more than enough to keep him as a top-15-or-so fantasy closer.
Alex Lange, RP, Detroit Tigers: He was the effective “last man standing” for the Tigers’ 2023 closer role following the winter trades of Joe Jimenez and Gregory Soto. Sadly, Lange struggled with his control during spring training (8-of-29 batters he faced walked), casting doubt upon whether the role was truly his on Opening Day. Over his past 12 appearances, however, he has been phenomenal, converting all six of his save chances while adding a win and a hold to his 0.00 ERA, 48.8% strikeout rate and .125 BAA — all while playing a big part in his team’s 13 wins during that 23-team-game period.
Not that Lange’s excellence should come as a complete surprise, as he was baseball’s second-best pitcher at getting swings and misses in 2022, his 44% miss rate when hitters swung placing behind only Edwin Diaz (50%). Lange is at it again this year, his 40% rate within range of his 2022 number and seventh-best among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 pitches, with both his curveball (47% whiff rate) and changeup (67%) posting similar swing-and-miss rates as last year (58% and 56%).
Lange might see limited save chances on a noncontending Tigers team, but he’s very capable of top-20 fantasy closer value nevertheless.
Michael King, RP, New York Yankees: Regarded as perhaps only the third- or fourth-best guess to close for the Yankees at any stage this season after he missed the final 2½ months of 2022 because of a broken bone in his elbow, King appears on the verge of — if he hasn’t already — overtaking Clay Holmes as the primary ninth-inning option.
Nearly every aspect of King’s game took significant steps forward in 2022 and now this year, as his 5.0% walk rate and 50% ground-ball rate would both represent career bests. His four-pitch mix (sinker, four-seamer, sweeper and changeup) is generating similarly strong results to last year, and he has a 0.53 ERA, a .140 BAA and a 32.8% strikeout rate over his last nine appearances.
The Yankees had him close both their April 27 and May 2 wins and they aligned him for the ninth inning of their eventual 8-7, extra-inning loss on Sunday — a game in which Holmes worked the seventh. About the only hesitation in declaring King the Yankees’ go-to guy might be that the team seems to prefer using him for multiple frames in the middle of games, but he’s shaping up as their top option for now. If so, that could be a role worthy of a borderline top-10 positional fantasy valuation.
One more to consider: With Pete Fairbanks on the IL, the Tampa Bay Rays, a notoriously committee-oriented team when it comes to managing the bullpen, have shifted to Jason Adam as their short-term finisher. Adam had a rocky May 4 outing, but one that nevertheless resulted in a save. He was used in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game and has all three of the team’s traditional saves since Fairbanks’ IL placement. It’s possible Fairbanks will be ready to return once he’s eligible, but that still means he’ll be sidelined through the team’s seven-game Week 6, being that he can’t return until May 16. Get Adam into your lineups for the Rays’ three-game trip to Baltimore followed by four games at the Yankees.
Two-start pitchers to scoop up
Tanner Bibee, SP, Cleveland Guardians: He was excellent in his first two career big-league starts, turning a spot start (as a result of the impact of a doubleheader on the team’s scheduling) into a longer-term rotation commitment. Bibee was one out shy of a quality start in his first turn and two outs shy in his second, held to only 91 and 92 pitches in those efforts. He didn’t walk any of 43 batters he faced and took only 10 to three-ball counts in those games. He showed good velocity (95.1 mph average with his fastball) and an electric slider, which bodes well for his pair of games against the Tigers and Angels. Bibee remains available in 72.5% of ESPN leagues.
Mitch Keller, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates: Though his Forecaster grades are modest, he’s more of a bold-call pickup based upon his year-to-date performance and adjustments. Keller faces the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles, the former at home (where you want that matchup to be) and the latter on the road (where the park adjustments made in 2022 render Camden Yards neutral-to-pitching-friendly). He has introduced a cutter into his repertoire this season, a significant tweak that has helped him lower lefties’ hitting rates to .221/.286/.377 against him — a huge improvement on the .298/.379/.437 he had previously against that side.