April 8, 2014
Reliever volatility is not a new concept. We’re all used to the closer carousel that sustains itself on poor performance and injury as it turns throughout the season. What happened this week, however, bordered on a league-wide implosion of closers. Let’s take a look at who is left standing after the week that was.
New York Yankees: David Robertson landed on the disabled list with a groin issue, and Shawn Kelley will be the Yankees closer in his absence. Kelley was an interesting choice that I think has more to do with Dellin Betances’ lack of a major-league track record than it does with Kelley’s résumé. Ultimately, Kelley will generate a good strikeout rate (25.5 percent career, 31 percent last year), but he’s not a sure bet to stay healthy and pitch effectively in the ninth while Robertson is out. Kelley is walk- and homer-prone, which concerns me. It’s a short stint to be sure, and I’m buying Kelley for a week’s worth of save opportunities. I’m still keeping an eye on Betances, though.
Chicago White Sox: Nate Jones also landed on the disabled list with a muscle strain, with his being in the left hip. Jones has yet to record an out this year, and after a disastrous outing against the Twins, Robin Ventura indicated that Jones wasn’t at 100 percent. That factor goes a long way in explaining why the White Sox took so long to name a closer and went with Matt Lindstrom, even though it appeared that the job was Jones’ at the start of the year. Lindstrom hasn’t had the strongest of starts to the 2014 season, and I don’t think he has a ninth-inning profile. He’s the closer for now, but I would take a serious look at both Daniel Webb and Ronald Belisario if they’re out there in your leagues. Lindstrom is the guy to scoop up here, but keep close tabs on the situation in Chicago; I think this one will be volatile even after Nate Jones comes back.
New York Mets: Jose Valverde replaced Bobby Parnell, who was lost for the season last week. Valverde has the résumé, and it’ll be his job to lose. Last time we saw Valverde, he was giving up home runs at an insane clip at the major-league level. Might he have a dead cat bounce in him much like Kevin Gregg had last year? It’s possible, but I don’t think he’ll last as long as Gregg did in 2013. I’m picking him up with the intent to drop him as soon as it looks like it will go bad. Trust me, you’ll know what it looks like when you see it. Kyle Farnsworth is lurking, but personally I’m rooting for Jeurys Familia to win the job. Familia works in the upper-90s and has a good slider. I mean, how can anyone resist that?
Chicago Cubs: This one isn’t as pressing as the other three situations, but Jose Veras is teetering early. Ibelieve that the Cubs signed Veras to trade him and are committed to pumping his value up as much as possible. That said, there’s a definite breaking point at which it just won’t be worth it to keep him in as the ninth-inning option. The knock on Veras throughout his career was his penchant for putting up double-digit walk rates. He cut into that significantly in 2013, as he trimmed nearly five percent off his BB% from 2012 (13.3 percent to 8.7 percent) but early in 2014, he’s issued six free passes in 1 2/3 innings. Pedro Strop came in to finish the game on April 6, when Veras struggled to get the third out in a blowout. I’m not dropping Veras to get Strop yet, but my finger is on the trigger.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon blew up in spectacular fashion against the Rangers on April 2. He allowed three earned runs while recording one out. Papelbon came back against the punch-less Cubs to nail down an easy save three days later. There were red flags last year regarding Papelbon: His velocity was down and he lost 10 percent off his strikeout rate. That’s not a good combination to sport when you’re a high-leverage reliever. Philly doesn’t have a glut of late-inning options, however. Antonio Bastardo is the logical next man up should Papelbon struggle, but he’s got control issues. Phillippe Aumont has the stuff to close, but he has no idea where the ball is going. The Phillies bullpen will have some serious questions to answer if Papelbon falters.
Oakland Athletics: Jim Johnson got worn out by Cleveland. He surrendered five earned runs in a combined one inning of work against the Indians, both times in high-leverage situations. He fared better in Seattle, where he struck out four of the nine batters he faced and notched a save. With Ryan Cook back healthy, the A’s have some options if Johnson’s struggles continue.
Toronto Blue Jays: After failing to convert a one-out save against the Rays on April 2, Sergio Santos worked an inning-and-a-third to convert the save on April 5 against the Yankees. Santos struck out two and didn’t allow any runs. Casey Janssen was the closer to start the year, but I don’t know if he’s going to get that job back if Santos stays healthy.
Detroit Tigers: Joe Nathan has been shaky to start the year with the Tigers. He blew a save against the Royals on April 2 and then surrendered an earned run against the Orioles during his 2/3-inning save on April 5. Detroit’s bullpen is looking like a mess right now. It’s not time to drop Nathan, but it is a situation worth monitoring closely.
Minnesota Twins: Glen Perkins blew his first save opportunity of the year against the White Sox, but he’s recovered adequately since then. I’m not worried about Perkins all that much, and I think he can navigate the rest of the season just fine.