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July 18, 2013
Trade Winds Blowing
Welcome to another installment of The Bullpen Report. As a reminder, closers are rated in five tiers from best to worst. The tiers are a combination of my opinion of a pitcher’s ability, the likelihood that he will pick up saves, and his security in the job. For example, a pitcher in the third tier might have better skills than a pitcher in the second tier, but if the third-tier pitcher is new to the job or has blown a couple of saves in the last week this factors into the ranking as well.
Tier 1 – Money in the Bank
Papelbon finally moves back into the first tier after a couple of weeks among the non-elite. He hasn’t been stellar of late, but he has been solid and—as I have said before—the sizeable contract gives him oodles of job security and pushes him into the top tier.
I have waffled about putting Balfour at the top as the performance indicators haven’t been spectacular, but we’re here for the saves, and Balfour just keeps gobbling them up every chance he gets. He moves into the top tier.
Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable
I must be feeling optimistic this week, because, so far, everyone is moving up. Benoit has been spectacular and an argument could be made for the first tier if not for the slight fear that the Tigers acquire a bigger name at the deadline and Benoit moves back into a set-up role.
I had Mujica in the third tier for the last couple of weeks, and he once again moves up. He did blow a save right before the All Star break, but it was a tough opportunity where he entered in the middle of the inning with men on base. Mujica seems safe in his job even if he isn’t quite elite.
Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good
Soriano’s low strikeout rate continues to make me wary. He should hang on to the job, but with Tyler Clippard behind him, the Nationals have a solid option if they want to give Sori a breather or mix and match. The club isn’t anywhere near considering this option, but it is something to keep in mind.
Rodriguez looks safe in the context of the club’s other options. Rodriguez has converted the last four saves, and Henderson is clearly the setup man right now. Keep an eye on trade rumors the next couple of weeks; K-Rod and John Axford both could move and, if they do, Henderson seems like the logical choice to close.
Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices
Gregg continues to convert his save chances, but has been a little more hittable lately. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs will be able to deal him for prospects at the deadline. Blake Parker seemed like the logical choice to replace Gregg in the event of a trade, but Pedro Strop is a sneaky candidate for saves in this pen as well.
Tier 5 – On the Bubble
Ziegler converted back to back saves for the Diamondbacks before the break. The club is talking about a committee, but Ziegler has closed before, and if he is working out in the role, there is no good reason for the Diamondbacks to move him out of the role. I still think that J.J. Putz will eventually get another shot, but it also would not surprise me if the Diamondbacks stuck with the guy who is getting the job done.
I wrote about Jake McGee in my midseason “risers and fallers” piece yesterday, but if you didn’t read that, it is worth noting again that McGee has provided stellar value even as a non-closer. Fernando Rodney looks safe in his role, but McGee is valuable regardless in deeper formats. I like McGee even better in keeper leagues; he isn’t a LOOGY, so could inherit Rodney’s job in 2014.
The trade rumors are swirling around Glen Perkins, and Jared Burton seems like the favorite for the job should Perkins go. However, Casey Fien has put up a decent season to date and could see some save opportunities if Ron Gardenhire decides to go with a committee. Fien has arguably outpitched Burton, and the club has some concerns with Burton’s ability to pitch on back to back days. In AL-only formats, I’d grab Fien if he is still out there; he could steal the job down the stretch.
Another reliever who has outpitched the bigger names in front of him is Cody Allen. Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano are the Indians’ closer and setup man, so Allen is trapped in a non-save role unless both Perez and Pestano falter. This shouldn’t stop deep league owners from grabbing Allen. His strikeout percentage and K:BB are terrific and Allen can contribute even in non-AL-only formats.
Dustin McGowan is little more than a name to keep in mind. The former starter has missed most of the last four-and-a half-seasons with injuries and the bullpen is his last chance to contribute something in a major-league role. So far, McGowan has responded by throwing mid-90s gas to complement a power slider. He’s getting plenty of swings and misses and could morph into a power reliever. Casey Janssen is safe, but McGowan could move up the pecking order quickly.
Adam Warren was a starting pitcher in the minors, but will probably stick as a middle reliever in the Majors. It’s notable that Warren was an extreme ground-ball pitcher in the low minors, an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the high minors and in 2012 with the Yankees, and an extreme ground-ball pitcher this year. Warren is iffy even in deeper formats, but there are worse options in AL-only if you’re merely looking to protect your rate stats.
I mentioned Pedro Strop above, but his turnaround with the Cubs is worth mentioning in its own right. Strop throws hard and has always been difficult to hit, but he had difficulties finding the zone in Baltimore. If he can fix this problem with the Cubs, he might not only become the closer after Kevin Gregg leaves, he could be a shut-down option in that role. Monitor his progress.
At the start of 2013, David Hernandez seemed to be the obvious option to replace J.J. Putz, but Heath Bell and now Brad Ziegler have both served as fill ins for Putz. Hernandez’s raw numbers have really suffered this year, and a propensity to give up the long ball is primarily what has done Hernandez in. He’s less appealing now and with Ziegler and Putz likely in front of him, Hernandez can be dropped in standard mixed leagues.
Steven Rodriguez (also known as Paco Rodriguez) has exceeded pre-season expectations and morphed from specialist into a glue guy for the Dodgers. Righties are having almost as difficult a time as lefties picking up the ball from Rodriguez’s deceiving delivery. The innings pitched per outing mean the Dodgers might still see Rodriguez as a LOOGY, but his performance indicates that an expanded role may be in the offing.
On the $ Values
Dollar values in the charts below represent my 2012 dollar valuations for 5x5 “only” Rotisserie-style formats using 2013 player statistics. These values use a Standings Gain Points (or SGP) model that is similar to the SGP model used in Baseball Prospectus’ Player Forecast Manager.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Sunday July 14, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers (through games of Tuesday, June 25, 2013)