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July 28, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 18

2

Mauricio Rubio

Keeping tabs on the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Chicago White Sox
Jake Petricka notched back-to-back saves on July 21 and 24 in place of the injured Zach Putnam. He’s said to be getting more save opportunities than not for the White Sox and he’s been dependable all season with a few minor hiccups. Contrast that with Ronald Belisario, who has continued to be a mess in his outings, and I think there’s a clear path to saves for Petricka in the short term. Matt Lindstrom is looming, but he isn’t so compelling that he will immediately take the job from Petricka upon his arrival. My advice: Hold on to Petricka in the short term and wait for health to clear itself up regarding Lindstrom.

Chicago Cubs
There are a few rumors flying around Neil Ramirez and his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. Let’s clear a few things up. I don’t think the demotion was made with converting him into a starter in mind. Ramirez has worked well with a simplified repertoire and he is finally in a groove. There were some arm concerns earlier in the year so for me this seems like a move that was made to rest the pitcher more than anything. The Cubs have an odd roster crunch that includes a revolving door for the fifth starter job. There’s going to be a shuttle between Chicago and Iowa until the roster issues are cleared up. I think Ramirez is a reliever in the short and long term as I think it’s unlikely they waste the development time and risk the possibility of ruining him to try and squeeze starter upside out of him. In the meantime, Hector Rondon is still your guy in this ‘pen.



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July 21, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 17

16

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

I wrote about the fantasy angle on the Huston Street trade here. There are a few ancillary angles we can talk about regarding the Padres bullpen, however, as they are left with Joaquin Benoit, Dale Thayer, Kevin Quackenbush, and someone I figured would make a run at the job in Alex Torres. Thayer and Quackenbush are clearly in front of the erratic Torres. I’ve long thought Torres had closer stuff but not closer command. It’s holding true to this point.

San Francisco Giants

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July 14, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 16

5

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Addison Reed is limping into the midway point as he’s sporting a 4.30 ERA and has allowed nine home runs this year in 37 2/3 innings of work. That’s an abnormally high number of home runs to have given up, and it’s inexcusable to do what he’s done so far as the closer. Kirk Gibson has stuck by Reed to this point in the season, and there are some signs that it’s the right decision. Reed has a 26.3 percent strikeout rate and a 5.6 percent walk rate. The WHIP is sitting at 1.19, which isn’t terrible. The long ball has done him in, and it’s an issue he will have to correct in the second half if he wants to keep his job. Brad Ziegler is hanging out on the periphery in case Reed continues to struggle.

Chicago White Sox
I’m running out of ways to say that this bullpen is bad. Javy Guerra wasted a(nother) brilliant John Danks performance (that’s a separate freestyle that has yet to be written) by giving up a two-run Yan Gomes home run in the eighth. It did allow for a Cody Allen save, so that was cool, but mercy. I have no solutions here. There’s no one at the minor league level who I think could come up and solve the issue in the short term. Daniel Webb, who I thought has the type of arm and mentality to be a closer, has a 15 percent walk rate. Matt Lindstrom and Nate Jones are still dead.



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July 7, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 15

7

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Tampa Bay Rays
This can be a difficult article to write. Speculating on saves is a tricky thing, one that requires following a lot of beat writers and trying to find trends written into stat lines. The closer job is a serious one, and it’s not like managers pick the closer for completely arbitrary reasons that have little to do with logic and are more holistic in nature. I mean there’s no way someone would pick a closer based on aura, right?


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June 30, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 14: Closer Swap

5

Mauricio Rubio

Ernesto Frieri and Jason Grilli get changes of scenery, Sergio Romo cedes the Giants gig, plus more closer notes from around the league.

Two Closer Candidates Change Leagues
Ernesto Frieri and Jason Grilli switched teams, as the LA Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates swapped relievers whose seasons had been subpar. We know the story with both of these guys at this point: Frieri has severe issues with the long ball when he’s missing with his fastball, and Grilli has been inconsistent with his command, as he’s been the unfortunate combination of walk-happy and hittable. In terms of proximity to saves, Grilli is the better bet, as there aren’t many good options in Anaheim, and Frieri will have Mark Melancon in front of him. I might be out on both at this point.

The White Sox Mess
Ahhh, White Sox bullpen. I’ve forgotten your scent. The Ronald Belisario show has come to its final and unfortunate end, as the big-faced righty gave up two runs (one earned) and recorded one out against the Blue Jays en route to recording that all-important hold. There was a time where Belisario’s ERA was under 4.00, but a chart of his game-by-game ERA would look like a deep V, as his ERA and peripherals have boomeranged from respectable to just bad. This is the part where I give you a few names to consider at the back end of this bullpen but, well, there aren’t any names I feel good about here.



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June 23, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 13

2

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The ERA doesn’t show it, but Jason Grilli was scuffling after he came back from an oblique injury. The strikeouts were down and the walks were up from his brilliant 2013 campaign. Grilli is hovering around the 21 percent mark in terms of strikeout rate, and the walk rate has come up to 12 percent. Couple that with a newfound propensity to give up home runs in a small sample and the writing was on the wall with Grilli. Mark Melancon will serve as the closer in the short term, and I think there is a really good chance he’s the long-term closer as well. Melancon has solid peripheral numbers and served as the closer during Grilli’s rehab.

Chicago Cubs
Neil Ramirez is still making things compelling in the Cubs’ bullpen, which is a rare problem for the North Siders to have, especially after the tumultuous year Cubs relievers had in 2013. Ramirez is carrying a 1.00 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP in 18 innings. Those are outstanding numbers, and they definitely warrant consideration for the job. However, Hector Rondon has still been pitching extremely well, having only given up runs in four of his 27 appearances. I still think Rondon is the closer until he proves otherwise.



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June 16, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 12

5

Mauricio Rubio

Keeping tabs on the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Chicago Cubs
Neil Ramirez has been the hot commodity in the Cubs bullpen lately. Ramirez has racked up 26 strikeouts 17 innings, all with a 1.06 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. Ramirez was used as the closer on Sunday and notched his third save of the season. His success creates an interesting situation in the Cubs bullpen, as they suddenly find themselves with two capable end-game options in Ramirez and Hector Rondon, who was held out of a few games with elbow tightness. If you’re desperate for saves and you are looking for a speculative play, Ramirez is the hot name to pick up, but I still think Rondon will be the closer until he falters.

Tampa Bay Rays
Grant Balfour’s meltdowns have led to a closer-by-committee situation in Tampa. Balfour’s most recent appearance was a 2 1/3-inning save against the Cardinals on June 11. Jake McGee got the save on Sunday against the Astros. Maddon was sure to mention that the Rays were still in committee mode after Balfour’s multi-inning save, so Joel Peralta, Juan Oviedo, McGee, and Balfour are all still in play closer-wise. If you have Balfour and can stash him, I would advise doing so. Maddon is known for his creativity, so picking out a strong candidate from this group will be tough, but I think Balfour will eventually work his way back into the closer role.



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June 9, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 11: The Ballad of Kevin Gregg

11

Mauricio Rubio

A look at why you shouldn't give up on retread closers, plus updates on the ninth-inning situations around the league.

When bullpens struggle, it shows in big and spectacular ways. There are a few ways major-league teams in contention go about shuffling fungible assets, the most common fix being the acquisition of retreads—journeyman relievers whose careers crested long ago and are now in decline.

The reasoning is simple: If you look hard enough, you can still see the heights of a player’s career arc—the high-water mark of competence and perhaps even borderline brilliance still visible on the worn façade of a given pitcher’s life in baseball.

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June 2, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week 10

9

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

This is an abbreviated version of the Closer To Me series. You’ll notice it’s out on Monday instead of Tuesday; we’re changing it up a bit here, and this piece will consistently be out on Mondays from now on.

Chicago White Sox
Robin Ventura gave Ronald Belisario an endorsement on May 30 after he had blown a lead against the Cleveland Indians. I’m still tracking Zach Putnam’s usage, as he has exhibited the best control in the White Sox bullpen this year. He’s not a swing-and-miss guy, and I don’t know if that pitcher exists in the White Sox bullpen, but he’s got a good splitter and the command profile we all thought Matt Lindstrom had. Hold Belisario for now, but keep looking at Putnam.


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May 28, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week Nine

2

Mauricio Rubio

Updates on the top-five preseason closers and notes on the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Before we get into the unfortunate stuff, let’s go back to the preseason and check in on the top five closers, as ranked by Paul Sporer.

Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel is dominating as he boasts a 1.96 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. He had a few health scares, but he’s shown very few ill effects. He’s got a 5.14 K:BB ratio and is striking out 47.4 percent of batters faced.


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May 22, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week Eight

5

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.

Chicago White Sox
Ronald Belisario was named the closer following an injury to Matt Lindstrom. The White Sox bullpen struggles have been well documented in this column. Surprisingly, the White Sox are only on their second closer, as Lindstrom survived early troubles to hang on to the job as the rest of pen around him took a curious shape. Belisario has come a long way since carrying a 15.75 ERA on April 9. In 22 innings from April 12 through May 20, Belisario posted a 2.05 ERA, a 17-to-4 K:BB ratio, and a .169/.229/.208 opponents’ slash line. He’s the clear hot hand in the bullpen. Daniel Webb is still in the periphery but given his control issues I think Belisario is a safe option. As of writing he’s widely un-owned in both Yahoo (14 percent) and ESPN (2.5 percent) leagues, but that will change fast.

Chicago Cubs
Hector Rondon blew the save for the Cubs today which might induce some itchy trigger fingers given the success Neil Ramirez has enjoyed this season. I’d keep those fears in check as it was Rondon’s fourth straight day of work and he really only gave up a few bloop hits and a walk. An error behind him by the usually sure handed Darwin Barney made it look worse than it was. Ramirez is still a very good stash name, but I’m holding on to Rondon. If for some reason you were holding out hope that Jose Veras might be able to figure something out this year I’m going to squelch those dreams. Veras has completely lost what tenuous command he had of his curveball and its manifesting itself in ugly ways. Veras is still boasting an ugly 25 percent walk rate. He walked one and gave up three hits during a loss to the Yankees today and his command looked bad throughout his outing.



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May 15, 2014 6:00 am

Closer to Me: Week Seven

14

Mauricio Rubio

Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league to help you find saves.

Ascent

Toronto Blue Jays:
Casey Janssen was activated from the disabled list on May 11, which will help stabilize a Jays bullpen that has been little more than a rotation of names trying to close out games and failing all the same. Santos provided the ultimate case study in how sustainable a horrendous BB% can be if you supplement it with a tremendous strikeout rate (the answer, not very). Aaron Loup tried his hand at closing and was spotty and unspectacular. Bret Cecil earned three saves but his walk rate was only slightly better than Santos’. Essentially, the Blue Jays bullpen was proficient at doling out The Three True Outcomes between Santos (8.3 BB/9 and a 2.3 HR/9), Loup (4.9 BB/9) and Cecil (6.6 BB/9). Janssen will provide consistency and control to a unit that desperately needs it. He’s a must-own at this point and will get the saves in Toronto.


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