May 30, 2013
Movin' on Up
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
Mujica and Wilhelmsen have both been strong enough that they move to the top tier this week. The complaint about Mujica has always been his propensity to allow the big dinger, but lost in this complaint is that his shift to heavy reliance on the splitter has led to a ground-ball rate of over 48 percent since 2011. He’s not immune to home runs, but he’s also unlikely to allow them in double-digits. Wilhelmsen’s whiff rate is down, but he’s getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground more than he has in the past. Like Mujica, he’s not immune to the long ball but should see fewer balls leave the yard with a fly-ball rate under 30 percent.
Tier 2: Solid and Reliable
A number of pitchers move up this week with only Romo moving down. Romo has been fine, but the opportunities haven’t been there and the top tier takes opportunities into consideration as much as it does skill, ability, and job security. Chapman and Soriano are the only two pitchers who move up based on performance. Both closers had been a little shaky and seem to have righted their ships. Their overall numbers are strong enough that a move to the top tier isn’t out of the question. Valverde, Parnell, and Bell all get bumped up because they’re getting the job done. You might hold your nose if you have Valverde or Bell, but successful conversions and job security are far more important than anything else when you’re looking for closers. Saves are saves. Valverde and Bell are uninspiring options, but they’re cashing in their chances and beginning to look ensconced.
Tier 3: Yeah…You’re…Good
Bailey and Betancourt both move out of the injured category and get a ranking this week. I have more faith in Bailey’s abilities than Betancourt’s going forward; it’s not hard to envision him continuing to rise through the ranks and perhaps even moving to the top tier. Betancourt has been fine, but his velocity is down, and he isn’t quite the shutdown option he has been in prior years. It wouldn’t shock me to see Rex Brothers closing at some point in 2013.
With the news that Kyuji Fujikawa needs Tommy John surgery, Gregg’s job just became even more secure than it already was. From a skills standpoint, I dislike Gregg as much as the next fantasy owner, but once again, job security matters. With a questionable cast of characters behind him, Gregg might very well keep the job all year long, or at least until he has a bad streak.
Tier 4: Uninspiring Choices
My faith in Johnson continues to waver. Not including last night, Johnson had blown four saves, logged a 21.60 ERA, and struck out two of the last 30 batters he had faced. Buck Showalter keeps preaching patience, but no manager will continue pushing a poor performer out there for the ninth indefinitely. I still believe Johnson is safe for the time being, but this is something to watch.
League goes the other way, and moves from the bubble closers to the uninspiring ones. He remains a subpar option for mixed leagues—and it is hard to envision ranking him any higher than this list—but he is once again getting the job done, even if it is coming with a low strikeout rate and mostly on BABIP luck.
Tier 5: On the Bubble
I have finally joined the ranks of the Rodney non-believers. Yes, Joe Maddon continues to give Rodney multiple votes of confidence, but I’ll start believing in Rodney again when he starts pitching like even a shadow of his 2012 self. The last reliever to save 30 or more games with a walk rate greater than 6.1 per nine innings was Shawn Chacon in 2004. Yes, Rodney got a one-out save last night. We’ll see if this is something he can build off of going forward.
Heading into Wednesday night, the Marlins had lost seven games in a row. This makes it easy to make Miami Marlins jokes, but difficult to read the tea leaves as far as who will get the next save opportunity. Mike Dunn blew a save in the eighth inning for Miami last week, but that has been it. Based on usage patterns, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chad Qualls received the next opportunity, but then I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve Cishek picked up an opportunity as well. Don’t bother in mixed leagues. Even in NL-only formats, I wouldn’t waste a roster spot speculating on a semi-closer on a 13-win team.
It is a shame about Henderson, because by nearly any measure, he had been one of the best relievers in baseball. Francisco Rodriguez might be your best bet in this bullpen. As others have pointed out, John Axford’s velocity has returned and his performance has subsequently improved in recent weeks, but the team still seems reluctant to use him in the ninth. K-Rod is your play here.
Despite his reduced velocity, Vinnie Pestano appears to be the frontrunner for saves in Cleveland with Perez on the disabled list. Joe Smith and Cody Allen are behind Pestano should he falter. Pestano pitched in the ninth last night in a non-save situation and looks like the guy.
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. At some point in the near future, I anticipate switching over to valuations using 2013 formulas.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Tuesday, May 28, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers (through games of Tuesday, May 28, 2013)