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

I am always reluctant to move non-established closers into the top tier, but Benoit and Henderson have both earned it with their performances. Benoit is in almost no danger of being replaced by Jose Veras or anyone else in the bullpen, and it looks less and less likely that the Tigers would consider a waiver trade. It took a long time, but Henderson picked up right where he left off as closer pre-injury.

Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable

I go back and forth with Balfour nearly every week. His strikeout rates do not inspire confidence, but he gets the saves and the A’s have not considered demoting him once, at least not in 2013.

Rodney tends to live in the third tier when he’s struggling, but resides here when he is going well. For those that doubted Rodney would survive the season as Rays closer, there is a good chance that they are going to be wrong.

Looking at Ziegler’s awful whiff rate hurts my head, but he is getting the job done, making it far less likely that the Diamondbacks will make a change for the sake of making a change. J.J. Putz’s velocity has been up in his last few appearances, but he’s not an elite closer like Rivera or Kimbrel; the Diamondbacks don’t have an imperative to push Putz back into the role if Ziegler is performing.

Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good

Romo is getting the saves, but hasn’t looked dominant in his last few outings. The declining grounder-to-flyball rate isn’t as big of a deal in San Francisco as it might be elsewhere, but I don’t like the somewhat diminished velocity on either Romo’s slider or his fastball. He’s safe, but it’s possible he might lose some opportunities down the stretch if the Giants want to give him a break.

Johnson moves down mostly because he has not had a significant number of opportunities of late. This lack of work combined with a non-elite K rate moves him down a notch.

Farquhar has looked absolutely dominant in the last week or so; this ranking is the obligatory “low” ranking for a new closer. There is a good possibility that Tom Wilhelmsen won’t make it back up to the majors this year and that Farquhar holds onto the job.

Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices

Dane de la Rosa continues to lurk, but Frieri stays here as long as there is no public momentum in Anaheim to replace him.

Tier 5 – On the Bubble

Perez was “fine” before his meltdown against the Tigers on Monday, but his overall numbers aren’t very good so any implosion is cause for concern. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw are the guys I’d stash in a deeper league if you own Perez (see below for more on these pitchers).

Fields has terrific raw stuff, but sometimes looks like a work in progress. In an unsettled bullpen, though, there’s a good chance that Fields gets an extended shot at the job. I touted Jose Cisnero last week but he looked shaky in a save opportunity and the narrow window he had has already closed, as Cisnero was optioned to the minors yesterday. Fields should probably be higher based on his raw stuff, but there’s too much uncertainty to push him any higher.

Hawkins picked up the save on Tuesday and even though Terry Collins said the dreaded “c” word might be the guy for now. It is unclear how long Bobby Parnell will be out, but if you’re in a shallow league, it is best to follow the saves. Deeper league players can certainly take a chance on David Aardsma as well. Aardsma has struggled of late but could wend his way back into the role if this is a longer term issue.

With Wilhelmsen down in the minors, the backups to Farquhar are Yoervis Medina and Carter Capps. Medina is a converted starter who throws a hard fastball to go with a tough slider. His control/command is a bit of an issue, but as Farquhar’s back up he should be fine. Capps was recently recalled from the minors. He is further down in the pecking order, but is a name to keep in mind long term in the Seattle bullpen.

As mentioned above, the Mets bullpen is murky. Aardsma gets mentioned the most frequently, but he has put up really poor numbers this year and wouldn’t be a good bet to hold onto the job. Scott Rice has also been mentioned as an option, but his K% is okay, not great. This is a problem with the Mets pen in general. There isn’t a shut down reliever here; even Parnell wasn’t a whiff machine. Carlos Torres is probably the most deserving in terms of his numbers, but this isn’t a meritocracy.

While Chris Perez has been subpar, Cody Allen has shined. His fastball/curve combo has served him well this year, and the fear of a lot of long balls hasn’t quite materialized. Vinnie Pestano is down in Triple-A now, so I think Allen is next in line. Bryan Shaw has picked up some extra whiffs this year and is the stealth candidate in this pen. He’s worth an AL-only pick-up.

Last week, one of my readers asked me what I look for in a reliever as far as signs that he might lose his job… or signs that a reliever might be the guy waiting in the wings to usurp the job should the closer stumble. I have touched upon these points before in various bullpen pieces, but here are a few things I look at with relievers when deciding whether to add or drop a pitcher to/from my team.


A pitcher who strikes out a fair amount of batters and/or generates a good deal of swinging strikes is dominant and mitigates risk of even the lucky banjo hits that might fall in. Craig Kimbrel is an obvious example of a dominant closer, but any pitcher who strikes out over 11 batters per nine innings fits the bill.


Does the pitcher throw strikes? The aforementioned banjo hits drive a manager nuts, but a reliever that walks the park isn’t going to last that long in the ninth. Carlos Marmol was dominant enough that he survived with a horrible walk rate for a long time, but most pitchers don’t.

Pounding the Ground

Nothing is more deflating to a team than losing a game in the ninth on a home run. Pitchers that can keep the ball in the park might blow a save now and again, but they won’t lose in this nightmare fashion. While I’d still take a dominant pitcher with a high whiff rate over a pedestrian pitcher with a poor whiff rate, keeping the ball in the park helps any pitcher.

On the $ Values

Dollar values in the charts below represent my 2012 dollar valuations for 5×5 “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.

Earnings Through Games of Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Closer Earnings to Date

Overall Rank




Craig Kimbrel



Joe Nathan



Kenley Jansen



Greg Holland



Edward Mujica



Mariano Rivera



Glen Perkins



Koji Uehara



Jim Johnson



Grant Balfour



Aroldis Chapman



Sergio Romo



Casey Janssen



Addison Reed



Mark Melancon



Steve Cishek



Joaquin Benoit



Rafael Soriano



Jim Henderson



Fernando Rodney



Jonathan Papelbon



Rex Brothers



Brad Ziegler



Kevin Gregg



Chris Perez



Huston Street



Ernesto Frieri



LaTroy Hawkins



Danny Farquhar



Josh Fields


Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers

Overall Rank




Jason Grilli



Bobby Parnell



Drew Smyly



Jose Veras



Tyler Clippard



Alex Torres



Justin Wilson



David Robertson



Aaron Loup



Luke Hochevar



Luis Avilan



Brett Cecil



Neal Cotts



Tanner Scheppers



Darren O’Day



Tommy Hunter



Paco Rodriguez



Ryan Cook



Luke Gregerson



Casey Fien



Brandon Kintzler



Cody Allen



Trevor Rosenthal



Heath Bell



Jordan Walden



Alfredo Simon



Tom Wilhelmsen



David Carpenter



Sean Doolittle



Caleb Thielbar


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Mike- what's keeping Mujica from your top tier? I just traded for him thinking he's been money.
I'm not sold on him a an elite option. He has been great at times, but he also has stretches where he looks ordinary.
Johnson has the 2nd most saves (7) in the past 28 days in all of MLB, is tied at 4th (4) with five others in the past 14 days, and tied at 2nd (3) with three others over the past 7 days. He leads the AL in saves this season. He led the AL in saves last season.
I know he's a low K guy for a closer and had a horrendous June so I wouldn't put him in the top tier either. But 3rd tier and in the bottom half of closers overall?
If I was Jim Johnson I'd be insulted.
I don't differentiate the pitchers within each tier.

I hope Jim Johnson has better things to do with his life.
So you don't think baseball players should read Baseball Prospectus?
I think baseball players - like any other people - should do whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm others or themselves.
Yea but that's not what you said. You said you hoped Jim Johnson had more interesting things to do than read Baseball Prospectus, which is surprise coming from a staff writer. Such a comment insults BP writers and readers, and it promotes the idea of a computer nerd sabermetrician separated from the real baseball world.
It seems fairly obvious to me that this wasn't my intent. I think it would seem obvious to any fair minded reader that this wasn't my intent either. And I didn't say "I hope Jim Johnson has more interesting things to do than read Baseball Prospectus"; those were your words, not mine. I can't even say you're reading something into something I said, because you literally took what I said, turned it into something different, and accused me of doing something I didn't do.

This seems like an obvious statement that doesn't seem to need to be made, but anyone and everyone is welcome and encouraged to read Baseball Prospectus. Hopefully, this puts this manufactured issue to rest.
Hi Mike,

I didn't mean my comment to be nasty. Just that I think Johnson deserves more credit than you're giving him. The article states he's not getting "a significant number of opportunities of late." But the save numbers show he's keeping a fine pace of continuing to be among the MLB leaders in saves.

On the ranking issue, I count 19 pitchers in tiers one and two which puts the tier three guys at 20 to 25. So regardless of whether they are ranked within the tier you have Johnson as clearly in the bottom half.