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June 20, 2013
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
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.
Last week, one of my readers wanted to know why I had moved Jonathan Papelbon down a notch in the rankings. The introductory paragraph above serves as a cursory look as to why I might or might not rank a reliever in a certain place, but in order to offer more clarity, I thought I’d offer additional detail as to what my thinking is when I put this list together.
The most important aspect to me is how safe a reliever is in his job. Mariano Rivera will sit in the first tier even if he blows a save by allowing five runs without getting an out. If Steve Cishek did that, I’d be nervous in an instant. Every pitcher is viewed differently based on how “safe” he seems in his job. This is based on a combination of a pitcher’s historical performance, his numbers in 2013, and his contract status. A closer with a fat, long-term deal has more rope than a young arm in his pre-arbitration years, for example.
I prefer pitchers with high strikeout percentages, low walk percentages, and low home run rates. The old LIMA markers still serve well in terms of analyzing pitchers, but I especially like them for judging closers. Managers want stability in the ninth inning. If you lose a game on two bloop singles and a double in the gap it is annoying but understandable. On the other hand, losing on a two walks and a moonshot is what drives managers to steal and smoke Jim Leyland’s cigarettes. A pitcher with poor skills is more likely to lose his job when the bad times come.
I look at how a pitcher is performing over the last few weeks. This isn’t everything—and in some cases simply doesn’t matter—but a closer on a bad run is more likely to be a candidate for replacement than a pitcher who is pitching well.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, with this week’s rankings.
Tier 1 – Money in the Bank
When I started writing this series, my initial instinct was to avoid overpopulating the top tier, but it is difficult to penalize pitchers with a 25 percent or higher strikeout rate. Perkins, Janssen, Holland, and Romo have all gotten the job done and don’t seem to have an immediate threat right behind them in their respective bullpens. They get the five-star treatment this week.
Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable
Once again, it’s worth noting that there is nothing wrong with being in the second tier for the most part. These relievers are all fine, shouldn’t be in any danger of losing their jobs, and simply aren’t quite as “safe” as the first group. Mujica slips due to a shaky save in the past week along with some vague rumors that the Cardinals were inquiring about Papelbon, but he could easily be an elite guy as well.
Speaking of Papelbon, since I was asked specifically about him last week I spent some extra time reviewing his numbers, and I decided upon further review to leave him here. His ERA and WHIP area great, but some of my reservations about Papelbon are tied to his rate stats. He is 17th among closers in strikeout percentage, and has a BABIP and strand rate that indicate some correction is in order. You’re fine with Paps even in a mixed format, but he’s a candidate for some slippage in ERA and WHIP.
Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good
Brothers has pitched well since inheriting the job from the injured Rafael Betancourt. He would be ranked higher but it is a nearly certainty that Betancourt is getting the job back when he returns. Frieri has been lights out of late. I’m not a Frieri believer, but he is getting the job done and there is no one behind him who is a serious candidate to usurp the job.
Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices
Bell has suddenly started struggling (say that three times fast) and while his overall numbers are excellent there is some understandable concern about Bell’s job security. J.J. Putz is starting a rehab assignment later today. While the club wouldn’t commit to handing Putz the job back when he returns, Kirk Gibson’s vague comments don’t seem like good news for Bell. I would rank Bell in the bottom tier if Putz were back with the big club.
Bailey is in a similar predicament. He hasn’t pitched well of late, and John Farrell’s vague pronouncements of support don’t offer comfort. It is not clear who would close if Bailey needed a breather or was removed from the job entirely. Junichi Tazawa is probably the most logical candidate to replace Bailey, but Koji Uehara also lurks in the wings.
Tier 5 – On the Bubble
After struggling in his last few outings, Tom Wilhelmsen is now officially taking a breather. He allowed a big home run to Albert Pujols in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s game that likely set his quest for saves back even further. Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina both have picked up saves. Feel free to speculate on either or on Carter Capps. I don’t have a good feel for this situation at all.
Pestano has picked up a couple of saves since last week. Chris Perez was due to return from his rehab assignment tomorrow, but after getting rocked on Tuesday he will spend a little more time in the minors. I suspect the job is Perez’s when he gets back, but that’s not as certain as it might have been a week ago.
The Brewers haven’t had a save since June 8. This normally wouldn’t matter, except for the fact that the club has this bizarre obsession with Francisco Rodriguez getting his 300th save so all of our lives can move forward. It’s not clear whether Henderson will get the job back after Rodriguez gets to that magical milestone we all so fondly remember from the halcyon days of our childhoods or if K-Rod will keep it. As they used to say in the days before DVR, stay tuned.
Valverde has imploded, and Jim Leyland has made some less-than-vague comments about using a committee. Joaquin Benoit would seem to be the logical choice if the Tigers make a change, but some think that Leyland doesn’t trust Benoit on back-to-back days. Drew Smyly is a possibility, though he seems to have some value in his multi-inning role. Darin Downs is probably the sleeper in this crowd; even though he’s a lefthander, his lefty/righty splits aren’t extreme (small sample size caveats apply).
As noted above, Putz is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment later today. Reports on how long the assignment will be are conflicting, but my educated guess is that it will 7-10 days at a minimum. The goal is for Putz to have the ability to pitch in back-to-back games before he returns. If he was dropped in a mixed league, now is the time to stash him if you need to gamble.
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.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Tuesday, June 18, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers (through games of Tuesday, June 18, 2013)