Saving Nolan Ryan – The Oakland Bullpen

Saving Nolan RyanThroughout the season, I’ll be looking at bullpens for all 30 major league teams.  As closers fall off one by one (and they will), I’ll prepare you for who is next in line.  For holds leagues, I’ll list the most likely arms on each team to come through for you.  Finally, I’ll list a sleeper from each bullpen that may find themselves in a key role that you need to keep an eye on.

Through Sunday’s games the Oakland Athletics, despite recently demoting their closer, have the 2nd best bullpen in the American League with a 2.61 ERA.  If you take Jim Johnson’s numbers out the bullpen looks like this:

32.2 16 4 10 26 1.10 0.81

In 2013, Oakland had the second best bullpen ERA in the AL after the Kansas City Royals.  Grant Balfour left via free agency, but the team added Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Fernando Abad.  Eric O’Flaherty (signed from Atlanta) figures to return in the 2nd half of 2014 while Dan Otero and Drew Pomeranz are a couple of young supporting arms.  This is a bullpen that can go head to head with any in baseball now that Johnson isn’t in the closer role and could very well successfully use a closer committee with the talent they have.  For fantasy owners the question is: Will someone step up and become the favorite for saves?

1. Luke Gregerson: Right-handed pitcher has 5 seasons under his belt with a combined ERA of 2.85 with a strikeout per inning.  During those years he saved 17 games and had 132 holds as the primary set up man in San Diego.  As the right-handed portion of the current closer by committee, Gregerson should be the first in line for saves and the first picked up in fantasy leagues.

2. Sean Doolittle: This third year left-handed pitcher has also averaged a strikeout per inning in his career with his mid-90s fastball.  Melvin has given every indication that Gregerson and Doolittle will be his first options depending on match-ups, with Doolittle getting the save on Sunday facing Abraham Almonte, Brad Miller and Robinson Cano. Last night Doolittle got the save opportunity and quickly gave up a double to Calhoun and then a two run homer to Mike Trout. Doolittle should be monitored for now, but he doesn’t appear to be taking the job from anyone yet.

3. Ryan Cook: Cook has the mid to high 90s fastball to go with his closing experience to run away with this job.  The problem is that he has just returned from a spring shoulder injury and his velocity has been in the low 90s.  Melvin is easing him back into late inning situations with the hopes his velocity will improve. Ryan Cook can be ignored unless the situation drags out for another week or two.

4. Jim Johnson: 10 million dollars usually buys a second chance. Johnson has saved 101 games the last two seasons and while his peripherals have never screamed stud closer, he keeps the ball on the ground and can be effective.  In 2014, he has a 47% GB rate to go with a 22% K rate; numbers that defy the 11.81 ERA he had when he lost the closing gig. In three games since, he’s pitched 5 shut out innings picking up two wins dropping his ERA to 7.56. Johnson should be held or picked up in any leagues where he was dropped.

Tier One: Super Hero Motion Pictures

These closers have superhuman abilities and are dedicated to protecting your team from the evils of Dr. Blown Save, hereafter referred to as B.S.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
1 Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves David Carpenter
Luis Avilan Jordan Walden
2 Greg Holland Kansas City Royals Wade Davis Kelvin Herrera Aaron Crow
3 Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Chris Perez Brian Wilson J.P. Howell
4 Koji Uehara Boston RedSox Junichi Tazawa Edward Mujica
Chris Capuano
5 Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals Carlos Martinez Kevin Siegrist Jason Motte

Koji Uehara’s MRI came back clean, after being off for nearly a week with shoulder discomfort.  He’ll rejoin the team without a DL stint.  Mujica got the save chances in his absence and is the handcuff to own; a great signing by the Boston Red Sox.

Craig Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since Saturday, and after not appearing in a save situation on Monday it was disclosed that he has been dealing with a sore shoulder.  Both Kimbrel and the Braves are saying it is nothing serious, but I’m grabbing David Carpenter now everywhere I can. Stay tuned.

Brian Wilson has been activated from the DL and will get the lions share of holds chances in Los Angeles. Paco Rodriguez was optioned to make room for Wilson.

Tier Two: Westerns

These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
6 David Robertson/Shawn Kelley
New York Yankees Adam Warren Matt Thornton Dellin Betances
7 Glen Perkins Minnesota Twins Jared Burton Casey Fien Michael Tonkin
8 Jason Grilli Pittsburgh Pirates Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Bryan Morris
9 Grant Balfour Tampa Bay Rays Joel Peralta Jake McGee Heath Bell

Shawn Kelly has assumed the closer role while David Robertson is on the disabled list until April 22.  He may need a few extra days making Kelley a good grab for one more week.  Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances (and Cesar Cabral) have combined to pitch 13+ shutout innings for the Yankees.  This bullpen has the chance to be pretty darn good.

Grant Balfour has moved into the Cowboy section with his excellent start to the season, converting each of his 4 save opportunities.  Balfour has been one of baseball’s best performers for the past three seasons.

Tier Three: Dramas

As in film this is the largest group assembled. These closers have big questions and real conflicts.  You’ll see their best, their worst and everything in between.  Tragically, some of these closers will not survive the season while others will persevere and triumph.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
10 Sergio Romo San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla Javier Lopez
Jean Machi
11 Steve Cishek Miami Marlins Mike Dunn
Carlos Marmol
12 Joe Nathan Detroit Tigers Al Alburquerque Evan Reed Ian Krol
13 Sergio Santos Toronto Blue Jays Steve Delabar Brett Cecil Casey Janssen
14 Ernesto Frieri Anaheim Angels Dane De La Rosa
Joe Smith Michael Kohn
15 Addison Reed Arizona Diamondbacks J.J. Putz Oliver Perez Brad Ziegler
16 Fernando Rodney Seattle Mariners Danny Farquhar Yoervis Medina Tom Wilhelmsen
17 Joakim Soria Texas Rangers Neal Cotts Jason Fraser Neftali Feliz
18 Francisco Rodriguez
Milwaukee Brewers Will Smith Jim Henderson Brandon Kintzler
19 Huston Street San Diego Padres Joquain Benoit Dale Thayer Alex Torres

Joe Nathan is dealing with “dead arm” symptoms, leaving his owners scrambling for better options to start.  This situation warrants monitoring, though with no other options out of the pen, Nathan has a longer leash than anyone in baseball.  Dombrowski downplayed the injury Monday, but Nathan needs to start producing before his stock falls further.

Count me among those that think Sergio Santos keeps the closing gig even when Casey Janssen returns this weekend.  While he won’t keep up his current 52% K rate, he struck out 31% of the batters he faced in 2013.  He’s been as dominant as any closer in the early going.

Fernando Rodney has been lights out so far with 4 shut out innings, going 3 for 3 in save opportunities while striking out 7 in 3.2 innings.  Danny Farquhar has 4 clean innings too, though he’s walked four batters in his 5.2 innings of work.

Tier Four: Disaster Films

Be prepared for the shipwreck that’s coming. Whether by injury, age or diminishing arsenal these closers are about to be left to freeze and die in the Arctic Ocean.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
20 Rafael Soriano Washington Nationals Tyler Clippard
Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
21 Tommy Hunter Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day Evan Meek Brian Matusz
22 Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Mike Adams Antonio Bastardo Jacob Diekman
23 John Axford Cleveland Indians Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Mark Rzepcynski
24 Latroy Hawkins Colorado Rockies Rex Brothers Matt Belisle
Adam Ottavino

Rex Brothers has done nothing to wrestle the closing role from Latroy Hawkins, walking 7 batters in his first 5.2 innings of work.  Hawkins meanwhile is 2 for 2 in save opportunities and may have extended his leash a little longer with some solid early play.

Mike Adams has returned to the Phillies pen after shoulder surgery, hopefully helping the disaster that has been the Philadelphia bullpen.  Adams will take on the 8th inning role and may be next in line if  when Papelbon falters.

It’s no secret I suspect Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano to fall flat on their faces this year.  Soriano has struck out 8 batters in 4 shut out innings while Papelbon is 3 for 4 in save opportunities with a strike out per inning.  Closers are a funny thing, but I might look to move them if I could get a closer from the dramas.

Tier Five: Mysteries

Secrets, plot twists and unpredictability are all the order of the day. While some leave you asking “whodunit”, the  mystery with others is “what are they thinking?”

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
25 Sean Doolittle/Luke Gregerson
Oakland Athletics Dan Otero Ryan Cook
Jim Johnson
26 Jose Valverde New York Mets Gonzalez Germen Kyle Farnsworth Jeurys Familia
27 Matt Lindstrom Chicago White Sox Nate Jones Scott Downs Daniel Webb
28 Jonathan Broxton Cincinnati Reds Manny Parra Sam Leclure Sean Marshall
29 Pedro Strop/Hector Rondon Chicago Cubs Justin Grimm James Russell Jose Veras
30 Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields/ Anthony Bass
Houston Astros Matt Albers Kevin Chapman Jesse Crain

Aroldis Chapman threw his first bullpen session on Monday night, clearing a big hurdle towards his return to big league action.  The original time frame of a late May return could move up if things continue to progress ahead of schedule.  The Reds bullpen currently ranks last in the NL; the return of Chapman and Sean Marshall will turn that ship around pretty quickly.

Jose Veras has lost his closing position after blowing 2 saves and allowing runs to score in three of his first four outings.  His ERA stood at 12.27 when the Cubs announced they would be making a change.  Pedro Strop would be the favorite to replace him if not for the outstanding performance of Hector Rondon.  Both are strikeout per inning guys, but I’m betting on Renteria playing the hot hand each day making this a situation to avoid for fantasy owners.

Paul Hartman

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Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.