With all of the big-name free-agent closers off the market, how are things shaking out at the end of each team's bullpen?
Now that the Blue Jays have signed Francisco Cordero, all of the legitimate closer candidates are now off the free-agent market. As such, now makes for a good time to check out how things look now that the closer carousel has stopped spinning.
An Athletic and a Royal join the pack, while a late-inning Angel bids farewell.
Since I’m constantly suggesting that you can always find saves throughout the season and therefore shouldn’t spend too much in the draft to secure them, I thought I’d put my convictions to the test. In one of my main leagues, I’m leading the group in saves by a wide margin. Only one of my current relievers was acquired in the draft, Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan, and though I’ve always been high on him, even he was a pretty late pick. Otherwise, I’ve been able to pick and choose with the names that have popped up in this column throughout the season, and it’s served me pretty well. I hope you’ve found value in it as well, but as always, feel free to speak up in the comments if there’s something we can do to serve you better.
Though five ranked free agents are still looking for homes, teams are still wary of giving up compensation picks.
Relief pitchers and designated hitters have more in common than it appears at first blush. Sure, when they face off they are tasked with opposing goals, but at a basic level both are asked to sit for large sections of the game, then hop up to ply their trade at a moment’s notice.
One of the beasts of the East takes on the Rangers in a first-round clash of division winners.
In hindsight, the titans of the East were what we thought they were, even if a rash of injuries ensured that the Red Sox weren’t always whom we thought they were. As expected, eastern teams have called dibs on two of the AL’s four coveted tickets to the promised land, though no asses were crowned until the season’s final weekend, when the Rays nabbed the title by taking two out of three in Kansas City while the Yankees dropped a pair in Boston. Tampa Bay’s second division championship was won with an even smaller margin of error than the first, but the small-market-team-that-could again proved that it belonged in a bracket formerly dominated by high-payroll organizations—though this year’s Rays had to expend significantly more salary than the 2008 model in the process.
A reminder that, like snowflakes, every injury and rehab is different, along with injury news from around the major leagues.
Rehabbing an elbow is always a difficult balance, but in most situations, doctors will tell you that it's always better to try and rehab through something before having the surgery. A surgery, even something predictable like Tommy John, has a defined period of loss, currently between 10 and 12 months. Using the example of Twins reliever Pat Neshek, the lost time in rehab might look like a loss—Neshek even told BP's Dan Wade that it "was the worst thing I could do" because of perception and the machismo of the locker room—but if Neshek had been able to come back inside the 2008 or 2009 seasons, it would have been a big gain. You can use the same equation I gave you in regards to why the Mets didn't put Jose Reyes on the DL, though the numbers get a lot bigger and the risks are hardly as well known. For situations like Neshek's and the hundreds of others—no, that's not an exaggeration—that face elbow surgery at all levels each year, the "right decision" is a moving target. Is it just to get the player back in the quickest amount of time? That does play into it, but does that mean "rehab might get him back in three months or might extend him out if surgery is needed"?
Lee Panas looks at the bullpen situations in Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Texas.
With Kerry Wood out for six to eight weeks due to a strained muscle in his back, Chris Perez is the new Indians closer. The rest of the bullpen will also take on a new shape from the set-up man down. Jensen Lewis is a fly ball pitcher with a 1.2 HR/9 rate since 2007. However, he also owns an 8.2 K/9 rate and has experience in high leverage situations having been the Indians closer in 2008. Heater Indians writer Brian La Shier believes that Lewis will be the set-up man in Wood’s absence.
Joe Smith has a 67% ground ball rate and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings since 2007. However, he gets hit hard by left-handed batters making him unsuitable for a full-time set-up role. Southpaw Tony Sipp boasted a 2.92 ERA and struck out 48 batters in 40 innings as a rookie reliever for the Indians in 2009. Sipp pitches equally well versus left-handed and right-handed batters but has struggled this spring as evidenced by his 2.29 WHIP. Smith and Sipp will pitch in high impact situations versus right-handed and left-handed batters respectively when Lewis is unavailable.
Scaring up tomorrow's relief heroes on today's pile of the overlooked or undervalued.
Game Five of the 2008 World Series will long be remembered for its umpires' Beatles-inspired belief that, as John Lennon sang, "When it starts to rain, everything's the same," a philosophy which prevented sundry sodden millionaires (and Carlos Ruiz) from seeking shelter until the middle of the sixth. Despite the headlines garnered by this debacle, however, an equally intriguing story lay behind the first two relievers that Joe Maddon sent to the mound when play resumed two days later. Why does this tale of two stoppers matter? Because not long before they found themselves charged with holding the Phillies at bay in the highest of high-leverage situations, Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell were readily available. While the Rays made a point of adding this particular pair, the auction for relief help really never ends; by examining two who got away, future bidders may improve their chances of spotting tomorrow's bargains.
That Balfour and Howell were on the spot at that juncture wasn't a surprise given the duo's regular-season performance. They had been charged with similarly demanding duties (and fulfilling them capably) for some time, placing fourteenth and seventh, respectively, among major league relievers in WXRL. The farther back we go, however, the more unlikely it appears that anyone could have predicted the tandem's development into the two-headed anchor of a pennant-winning bullpen. Exactly a year before their pressure-packed outings in the World Series, the pair were coming off of disappointing 2007 campaigns followed by almost four weeks' worth of offseason. Both had posted impressive lines in Triple-A (Howell, a starter prior to this season, led the International League in strikeouts), but ERAs near eight in the majors led to the ominous appearance of labels like "journeyman" and "Quadruple-A pitcher" in their BP2K8 player comments. PECOTA wasn't especially optimistic, either; each hurler handily exceeded his 90th-percentile forecast, though it's important to note that both Howell's and Balfour's projections featured big Improve/Breakout Rates.
Managerial machinations and unexpected heroes make for a wild late night out.
PHILADELPHIA-It was almost time for breakfast when the last of the Phillies' players exited the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park this morning. Rain delayed the start of Game Three of the World Series on Saturday night until 10:06 p.m. ET, the latest a first pitch has ever been thrown in the history of the Fall Classic. When the game ended with the Rays playing a prevent defense and the Phillies finally getting their first big hit with runners in scoring position in the series (if you can classify a hit that traveled no more than 50 feet as big), it was 1:47 a.m., 13 minutes before last call in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Rays' relief rebound ranks as the most profound pen improvement on record.
You wouldn't know it given the way that their bullpen pitched at times during the latter portion of the American League Championship Series, but the Rays likely wouldn't have reached this year's World Series without the remarkable turnaround achieved by that unit. By a couple of measures, the performance of the Tampa Bay bullpen qualifies as historically significant.