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August 29, 2013

Bullpen Report

Oh, Brothers

by Mike Gianella

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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

I moved Nathan down a couple of weeks ago because I thought the Rangers might start easing up on him down the stretch but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nathan’s fantasy numbers are terrific, and if he’s going to keep getting all of the save opportunities, he belongs here.

Romo pushes his way up here for many of the same reasons as Nathan: terrific fantasy numbers combined with a high number of save opportunities. Examining a pitcher’s peripherals is a useful exercise, but it should not trump searching for a pitcher’s fantasy value.

Tier 2: Solid and Reliable

Brothers is back after briefly being supplanted by Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt’s injury sounds career-threatening, and Brothers has been fine when called upon to close this year. He should hang on to the job for the rest of the season.

Rodney was shaky on Tuesday night but will need a couple more outings like that before he is moved down in the rankings. Despite a subpar WHIP, Rodney seems to have the faith of Rays manager Joe Maddon. Rodney should hang onto the job as well.

Tier 3: Yeah…You’re…Good

Ziegler had an ugly pair of outings last week in non-save situations, and then blew a save on Tuesday night. His command has been extremely shaky of late, and he has hardly looked like a strong saves option. I would move Ziegler down even further if not for the lack of appealing options behind him in the Diamondbacks bullpen.

Mujica moves down due to his injury. Thankfully for his owners, it isn’t an arm injury, but it is likely that the Cardinals are going to use him somewhat more judiciously. This isn’t optimal for fantasy owners, particularly those in mixed leagues who are grinding for saves down the stretch.

Tier 4: Uninspiring Choices

Hawkins was obliterated by the Tigers in a non-save situation on August 25, but this shift has more to do with some somewhat positive/encouraging reports on Bobby Parnell combined with the idea that Hawkins is a fill-in without overpowering/ overwhelming stuff. He’s okay to use in deeper mixed leagues, but keep Hawkins’ limitations in mind.

Soriano picked up saves on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but Davey Johnson floated the possibility that Tyler Clippard could see some save opportunities down the stretch as well. Clippard has also struggled of late, particularly due to the long ball, but the manager’s opinion trumps my recency bias in this case.

Gregg continues to look shaky, but moves up because I’m not convinced that Pedro Strop or Blake Parker are locks for the job in September. If Gregg is converting saves, there isn’t much incentive for the team to switch roles, even in a non-contending situation.

Tier 5: On the Bubble

Mike Scioscia continues to infuriate fantasy owners with his usage of De La Rosa and Frieri. De la Rosa picked up a shaky save on Tuesday, but Frieri picked up the save before that. This looks more like a committee than initially suspected, so both pitchers are a weak value proposition at the moment. If you have to have one, take Frieri because the high strikeouts add additional value.

Who is the Astros closer? Is it Chia-Jen Lo, who has two saves? Is Josh Fields still in the mix? As you can see by my use of punctuation—particularly the question mark—this bullpen has far too many open issues. It might be time to add a sixth tier called “Don’t Bother” because if the Astros are going to get 10 more wins with 5-8 more save opportunities, chasing a fraction of those opportunities is a fool’s errand. I am not arguing against the premise that I am a fool, but rather that I am not accepting this particular errand.


Here is your monthly reminder that David Robertson is really, really good. He’s the fifth best non-closer reliever for fantasy, and if you remove former/injured closers Jason Grilli and Bobby Parnell he’s only behind Tyler Clippard and Drew Smyly. Robertson has allowed one run and 19 base runners in his last 24 1/3 innings. There are very few formats in which Robertson should be available.

Joe Smith flies under the radar because Chris Perez is seldom in a position to lose his job, but Smith has been a fairly reliable vulture for the Indians the last couple of years. Smith probably isn’t the long-term solution if Perez leaves, but Smith is a workhorse who should continue to provide good stats in AL-only.

Jerry Blevins is another non-closer in waiting who has been a solid vulture since 2012. Blevins and Smith’s non-elite strikeout rates make them AL-only plays only, but they must be used in these formats where every win counts.

With Soriano’s struggles, the Nationals bullpen comes under some additional scrutiny. Drew Storen is still the closer of the future, but the club’s recent demotion of Storen along with his struggles this year and Soriano’s big contract probably push that future far into the horizon. Storen is a good lesson in why closers in waiting are always such a risky proposition, even in only leagues. Craig Stammen had a performance hiccup earlier this summer, but is back to providing solid middle and long relief work. He is not a closer candidate, though.

If you are looking for garbage wins, a good combination is a winning team with starting pitchers that don’t go deep into games. For all of their success, the Pirates are only 25th in the majors in starter innings. This makes Justin Wilson and Tony Watson useful components in NL-only. Wilson has twice as many wins as Watson but both should be called upon in tight games by the Buccos down the stretch.

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, August 27, 2013

Closer Earnings to Date

Overall Rank




Craig Kimbrel



Joe Nathan



Greg Holland



Kenley Jansen



Edward Mujica



Addison Reed



Koji Uehara



Aroldis Chapman



Mariano Rivera



Sergio Romo



Glen Perkins



Grant Balfour



Steve Cishek



Mark Melancon



Jim Johnson



Jim Henderson



Joaquin Benoit



Jonathan Papelbon



Casey Janssen



Fernando Rodney



Rafael Soriano



Rex Brothers



Huston Street



Chris Perez



Ernesto Frieri



Kevin Gregg



Brad Ziegler



Danny Farquhar



LaTroy Hawkins



Chia-Jen Lo


Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers

Overall Rank




Jason Grilli



Bobby Parnell



Tyler Clippard



Drew Smyly



David Robertson



Jose Veras



Justin Wilson



Steve Rodriguez



Luke Hocheaver



Alex Torres



Tommy Hunter



Luis Avilan



Neal Cotts



Darren O’Day



Tony Watson



Francisco Rodriguez



Brett Cecil



Ryan Cook



Heath Bell



Tanner Scheppers



Cody Allen



Aaron Loup



Josh Collmenter



Junichi Tazawa



David Carpenter



Luke Gregerson



Jordan Walden



Vin Mazzaro



Brandon Kintzler



Trevor Rosenthal


Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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