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September 5, 2013

Bullpen Report

Examining Trends

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

The walk rate is too high for my tastes, but with Rafael Betancourt out for the year, Brothers is entrenched as the Rockies closer. His peripherals don’t suggest a 1.56 ERA, but with a high ground-ball rate, Brothers will succeed anywhere, including Coors Field.

Papelbon gets bumped up to the top again despite his dip in velocity and a corresponding drop in strikeout rates. Paps is here in part because he’s going to get the saves barring a complete immolation. His contract keeps him as secure as a closer can possibly get.

Rivera moves back up after a brief period in the second tier. His slump seems like a distant memory and—like Papelbon—Rivera has a certain job security that goes beyond whatever numbers he might put up in the short term.

Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable

Perkins moves back up after a brief period in early to mid August knocked him down somewhat. Perkins is striking out hitters again of late and was absolutely dominant in three outings before his blow up on Tuesday night. At the moment, I’m going to assume that this is a blip on the radar, and give Perkins the benefit of the doubt based on his overall numbers.

Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good

Henderson has allowed runs in two of his last three outings and hasn’t looked as sharp as he did earlier in the year. It’s not a workload issue since Henderson missed time earlier in the year with a hamstring injury. He should be fine—and the Brewers don’t have any great alternatives behind him—but this is something to watch.

Soriano moves back up again after stringing together a couple of solid outings. As I mentioned last week in this space, Tyler Clippard has struggled, so if Soriano did head south again, it’s not obvious that Clippard would simply step in and take the job. My guess is that Soriano is probably the closer the rest of the way.

Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices

With the exception of the Astros bullpen committee, I moved every on the bubble pitcher up a tier this week. Frieri seems to have returned to Mike Scioscia’s good graces and while Dane De La Rosa might pick up the odd save now and again, Frieri is probably the man from here on out. Johnson has also righted the ship, and the whispers that the Orioles might opt to use a committee don’t seem credible now. Buck Showalter has given Johnson a long leash the last couple of years, which always counts for something in this type of analysis. Perez is perhaps my least favorite closer in baseball, but he gets the job done. Yes, outings like Tuesday night’s disaster are horrible, and great examples of why he won’t move higher than this, but he continues to rack up the saves.

Mujica moves down again, due to a combination of concerns about the lingering soreness in his back and a lack of save opportunities the last couple of weeks (before last night’s blown save against the Reds). He should be okay, but health concerns is always something you don’t want to hear tied to your closer.

Ziegler picked up his eighth win of the year this past week but has been shaky in his last few outings and is hard to trust. The super-low strikeout rate is poor for Roto; roster spots are better spent in mixed leagues on closers that can blow hitters away and pad your whiff totals.

Tier 5 – On the Bubble

On performance alone, Melancon belongs higher. But Jason Grilli came off of the DL on Tuesday, and it’s uncertain if Melancon holds the job at all. Grilli will probably be eased back into ninth inning action, so it’s possible that Melancon has a few more saves in him. It’s more likely, though, that Grilli gets the job back if he’s healthy and effective. Melancon might even keep the job, but for now the uncertainty has to push Melancon down.

MIDDLE RELIEVERS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Tanner Scheppers is a good reason why you should always study statistical trends, particularly in deeper leagues. Scheppers’ strikeout rate has increased every month of the 2013 season. If you are looking for a strikeout option out of the bullpen, Scheppers is a worthy play; this is something you would not have noticed if you merely looked at his season line.

The Royals finally abandoned the idea of using Will Smith as a starter and the results so far have been terrific. Smith has picked up a little velocity on his fastball, but the key so far has been abandoning his change for a slider that teammate Danny Duffy called “disgusting.” Smith started working on the slider in 2011, but only started mastering it this year. In deeper leagues, take advantage of Smith’s newfound dominance and pick him up for your stretch run.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Scott Downs’ strikeout rate has spiked since his move from the American League to the National League, but so has his walk rate. He is still being used mostly as a left-handed specialist, so while the whiffs are intriguing, he is still not a valid fantasy option, even if he is a very good real life one.

Josh Collmenter is a modern day rarity: a long reliever who is capable of going 2-3 innings per appearance with ease. At this late date, target Collmenter in leagues with start limits. If you have to start jettisoning starting pitchers, Collmenter makes a fine addition. He is ninth overall in relief strikeouts this year, and among non-closers only Trevor Rosenthal and Nate Jones have more strikeouts in 2013.

I was a fan of Brandon Kintzler as a sleeper candidate for saves if John Axford faltered early, but Jim Henderson and then Francisco Rodriguez both took the job and ran with it when given the opportunity. Nevertheless, Kintzler has been extremely effective. He isn’t a strikeout guy but has been a groundball machine, generating grounders nearly 60 percent of the time.

There was speculation that Matt Belisle was going through a dead-arm period in May and June, and his subpar performance seemed to support this assertion. Since then, Belisle has righted the ship. With Betancourt’s injury, Belisle moves up a notch in the pecking order. Brothers has an ironclad hold on the job, but Belisle might pick up the odd save or two the rest of the way.

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, September 3, 2013

Closer Earnings to Date

Overall Rank

Pitcher

$

1

Craig Kimbrel

$25

2

Greg Holland

$22

3

Joe Nathan

$22

4

Kenley Jansen

$21

5

Koji Uehara

$21

6

Edward Mujica

$20

7

Addison Reed

$18

8

Mariano Rivera

$18

9

Aroldis Chapman

$18

10

Sergio Romo

$17

11

Glen Perkins

$17

12

Steve Cishek

$16

13

Mark Melancon

$15

14

Grant Balfour

$15

17

Jonathan Papelbon

$15

18

Jim Johnson

$14

19

Casey Janssen

$14

20

Jim Henderson

$13

21

Rafael Soriano

$13

22

Joaquin Benoit

$13

23

Fernando Rodney

$13

24

Ernesto Frieri

$13

25

Huston Street

$13

28

Rex Brothers

$12

33

Kevin Gregg

$11

36

Brad Ziegler

$10

37

Chris Perez

$10

87

LaTroy Hawkins

$6

111

Danny Farquhar

$6

367

Chia-Jen Lo

$0

Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers

Overall Rank

Pitcher

$

15

Jason Grilli

$15

16

Bobby Parnell

$15

26

Luke Hochevar

$12

27

Tyler Clippard

$12

29

David Robertson

$12

30

Drew Smyly

$12

31

Jose Veras

$11

32

Alex Torres

$11

34

Steve Rodriguez

$11

35

Luis Avilan

$10

37

Justin Wilson

$10

39

Neal Cotts

$10

40

Ryan Cook

$10

41

Tommy Hunter

$10

42

Darren O’Day

$10

43

Tony Watson

$10

44

Josh Collmenter

$9

45

Francisco Rodriguez

$9

46

Tanner Scheppers

$9

47

Cody Allen

$9

48

Vin Mazzaro

$9

49

Aaron Loup

$9

50

Brett Cecil

$8

51

Junichi Tazawa

$8

52

David Carpenter

$8

53

Luke Gregerson

$8

54

Jordan Walden

$8

55

Caleb Thielbar

$8

56

Trevor Rosenthal

$8

57

J.J. Hoover

$8

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

Related Content:  Closers,  Fantasy,  Grant Balfour,  Rex Brothers,  Jim Henderson

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