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July 25, 2013
On the Grilli
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
A lot of upward movement this week. The concerns about Uehara pitching on back-to-back days when he initially inherited the closer role from injured Andrew Bailey seem silly now. He is pitching like an elite, shut-down closer and must be viewed as one unless he falters.
I keep going back and forth with Reed. He has had some bad outings that have dampened his overall numbers but has been very solid more often than not. The rating reflects his job security and his overall ability to save games more than his ERA/WHIP.
Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable
Brothers fills in for Rafael Betancourt for the second time this year, this time due to Betancourt’s appendectomy. Some have concerns about Brothers’ skills, but he has been fine in the role even if he hasn’t been dominant. He is the man for now.
Mark Melancon steps in for the injured Jason Grilli. As I write this, it is unclear how serious Grilli’s injury is, but Melancon will fill in for at least two weeks. He has been one of the best relievers in baseball and should be a capable closer.
Joe Nathan is probably the biggest surprise of the pitchers who moved up or down. There is nothing wrong with Nathan’s number,s but I’m wary of his workload. I think the Rangers will start using Joakim Soria and other relievers in the pen more down the stretch in save situations in an effort to give Nathan more rest.
Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good
Street has been awful all year but for one of the first times in 2013 is going through a decent stretch. His job is secure unless he is traded, which is no sure thing one way or the other. As I have said before about other pitchers in similar situations, big contracts and job security in tandem count for something.
Ziegler doesn’t throw hard and isn’t impressive, but he is starting to look less like a temp and more like the closer. I’ll repeat my mantra about J.J. Putz eventually getting the chance to get some saves, but teams typically don’t abandon someone going well in the role for the sake of abandonment.
I have less of an issue with the recent blown save for Parnell and more of an issue with the lack of strikeouts in recent outings. This isn’t a significant concern, but after a dominant first three months of the season, Parnell’s July has been pedestrian (great ERA but so-so FIP) This is merely something to watch for now, and Parnell won’t move any lower unless he blows up.
Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices
There doesn’t seem to much of a trade market for Gregg, although given what the Brewers got for Francisco Rodriguez (see below) the Cubs should be able to get something for Gregg if they are so inclined. It seems fairly obvious now that Pedro Strop and not Blake Parker will close if Gregg is traded. If Strop’s available in your mixed league, grab him now.
Tier 5 – On the Bubble
Francisco Rodriguez is off to the Orioles to set up Jim Johnson. Henderson is the logical choice to close. Some have theorized that John Axford might close in an effort to pump up his trade value, but it seems that Axford could be traded regardless of whether he is closing or not. Henderson was strong before he got hurt and K-Rod usurped the role so should be fine going forward. He’s in the bottom tier for now in case I’m wrong about Ax.
As noted above, Melancon slides in for Jason Grilli, but whenever a bullpen situation changes it’s usually worth noting some of the other names in the pen. After a strong start, Justin Wilson struggled somewhat in June. He has righted the ship Post All-Star. Wilson profiles more as a rubber-armed man in the middle than a set-up, though. If Melancon should falter, Vin Mazzaro seems to be the Pirates next-in-line. Mazzaro picked up the save the night Grilli got hurt. The move to the pen has cured Mazzaro’s occasional control issues. He isn’t a dominant pitcher by any means, but has gotten the job done thus far. Recent call-up Victor Black might leapfrog both Wilson and Mazzaro to slot behind Melancon. Minor league closers sometimes are nothing more than organizational soldiers, but Black breaks this mold. His fastball/slider combo has been devastating on minor league hitters, and Black’s control issues were minimized this year. For now he’s a name to keep in mind, but his profile is reminiscent of Grilli’s, another reliever some thought little of entering the 2013 campaign.
I mentioned Axford in passing above. I suspect Henderson closes and is fine, but Axford moves up a notch in the pecking order. Watch the rumor mill this week. Axford could be a candidate for trade and if he lands on a team like the Tigers, he could be closing. It’s far more likely that if Axford gets traded he stays in a set-up role.
If Steve Cishek gets traded, Mike Dunn is one of the logical in-house candidates to replace him. Dunn’s walk rate is a little high for an ideal closer, but A.J. Ramos’ is even higher. It seems unlikely that Cishek will move given the cost control the Marlins have but it is never a good idea to count anyone out as a trade chip given the Marlins slash and burn approach.
Fernando Salas is back from the minors after being shut down for a month with a shoulder injury. It doesn’t seem serious, but Salas’ velocity is still down somewhat from 2011-2012 levels. The one-time closer isn’t anywhere close to the top of the Cardinals bullpen pecking order and can be avoided even in NL-only.
I mentioned Francisco Rodriguez above but since he flipped teams it’s worth mentioning him again. K-Rod shouldn’t take the closer’s job from Jim Johnson but is the logical next-in-line. Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter owners in non-keeper formats can bail if roster space is limited.
Alex Torres continues to show no signs of slowing down. He is obviously not going to post a sub-1 ERA forever, but the control issues that plagued him in the minors have mostly disappeared. Torres’ future is likely in the pen, and he is yet another potentially terrific arm the Rays have to replace Fernando Rodney next year in the ninth.
With Jesse Crain’s injury, Nathan Jones has moved to next-in-line behind Addison Reed. Jones started throwing even more sliders this year and is getting more swings and misses as a result. Reed is a safe option, but Jones is a good name to keep in mind, especially if Crain gets traded.
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.
Earnings Through Games of Tuesday, June 23, 2013
Closer Earnings to Date
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers