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May 23, 2013
For this installment of the Bullpen Report, I am adding rankings, by popular demand. 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
Kimbrel had a rocky stretch in early May but has now converted his last four save opportunities and hasn’t allowed a hit in his last three outings. Grilli’s spectacular performance has been beaten to death, so I won’t repeat that here. Papelbon is an example of a pitcher listed among the elites because of his contract as much as if not more than his skills. Papelbon isn’t bad by any means, but if not for that big contract that offers him such a great deal of job security, he’d be down in the next group.
Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable
Tier 2 is populated by a solid yet unspectacular group of relievers that might not necessarily be exciting but get the job done. Wilhelmsen blew a save on Monday, but it was the result of a seeing-eye single, a bleeder into the outfield, and an error. Wilhelmsen will be fine. Henderson and Mujica are the new kids on the block that could easily move up to the top tier with a couple more weeks of high-level performance. Nathan is the other side of the coin. His ERA and WHIP are fine and he hasn’t blown any saves yet, but Nathan’s velocity is down and he hasn’t looked like his old elite self. Nathan is fine, but doesn’t seem like a top option anymore.
Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good
Chapman and Soriano are here because of recent struggles and blown saves. I doubt either one is in danger of losing his job in the short term, but both bear watching, particularly Soriano. Holland might move back into Tier 2 shortly; his early-season struggles seem to be in the rearview mirror and Kelvim Herrera—everybody’s favorite skills reliever—has been incredibly prone to the long ball. Bell might seem high for a fill-in closer, but he has been strong since taking over for the injured J.J. Putz, and Putz will be out for quite a while. Johnson has blown three saves in a row but came in for the win on Tuesday night and has the confidence of manager Buck Showalter. He doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing his job.
Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices
This group of closers is probably not in danger of losing their jobs but for various reasons aren’t the best options. This is irrelevant in -only formats, but in mixed formats where closers are often fungible, these are the types of pitchers that you gladly ship out as a sweetener to obtain an upgrade elsewhere.
Rodney has been up and down all year but ranking him any higher would be disingenuous. His 2012 looks like a distant memory. His walk rate has spiked, his mechanics are a mess, and while Rodney has improved of late, he is still prone to the all-too-frequent blow up. The Rays seem committed to keeping Rodney in the role, but he’s probably a short streak of blown saves away from losing his job.
Frieri could be ranked higher, but he seems like such a burnout candidate. The high strikeout/high walk rates lead to very high pitch counts in nearly every outing. Ryan Madson suffered yet another setback so there aren’t any obvious options waiting in the wings, but Frieri is still a questionable bet in shallower formats.
Tier 5 – On the Bubble
This past Sunday, Mike Dunn picked up his first save of the season for the Marlins. On Monday, Chad Qualls was warming up in the bullpen in the eighth of a game the Marlins were leading 2-1. When asked who the closer is, Mike Redmond simply replied, “We’re going to use everybody.”
The Marlins scored three in the bottom of the frame that night so Qualls didn’t get the save. But he did pitch the ninth and was the guy Redmond would have gone to in that situation. Cishek might not lose the job, but he will be part of a broad committee in the short term. Look for Dunn, Qualls, and A.J. Ramos to be used in save opportunities for now.
League has managed to hold on to the job since Kenley Jansen picked up a save on May 14, but after earning a save on May 15, he blew one on Sunday. League has arguably the most pedestrian numbers of any closer in baseball and is probably only a bad game or two away from flipping roles with Jansen.
With Joel Hanrahan out for the year, Bailey is the man to own in Boston as long as his health allows him to perform. Bailey is only in the injured category because he hasn’t pitched since coming off of the DL. His numbers when he was healthy were dominant, and Bailey is a fine addition to any fantasy squad.
Betancourt looks like he will avoid the DL but is day-to-day with a tight groin. Rex Brothers picked up the save yesterday and is the guy to grab if Betancourt’s injury turns out to be more serious.
After Jim Johnson blew three consecutive saves, speculation was that Pedro Strop would be a candidate to replace Johnson. But Strop’s command is a mess. He has allowed nearly five walks per nine innings and isn’t whiffing nearly as many batters as he did in 2012. Darren O’Day is Johnson’s likely replacement should the Orioles decide to give Johnson a breather.
If Joel Peralta is available in your league, he is a better speculative add than O’Day. After Rodney blew yet another save last night, Peralta came in to clean up the ninth-inning mess. Peralta might be getting save opportunities sooner rather than later.
Non-Closer Add of the Week
American League – Jesse Crain.
He won’t keep up the 0.86 ERA, but Crain is quietly striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings for the second year running. Reed is safe, but Crain has nevertheless moved to next-in-line ahead of other White Sox bullpen arms like Matt Thornton.
National League – Justin Wilson
Like Crain, Wilson isn’t supplanting the guy in front of him anytime soon. But Wilson is striking out a batter an inning and mowing hitters down with regularity. Casual fantasy players might look at Wilson’s left-handedness and dismiss him, but Wilson has a .233 OBP against when facing right-handed hitters. He’s an elite middle reliever for deep formats.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Tuesday, May 21, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers (through games of Tuesday, May 21, 2013)