Saving Nolan Ryan – Bruce Ron don(e)

Throughout 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.

Bruce Rondon has torn ligaments in his elbow and will have Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss all of 2014. Rondon was my favorite sleeper to dominate the holds category in 2014, with his 2.29 ERA and 28% K rate in the second half of 2013. He also was exceptional in high leverage situations with a 7:1 K/BB ratio. The Tigers are left with Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque in the 8th inning role setting up Joe Nathan. Alburquerque’s strong K rate make him a good speculative grab to be first in line for holds. Corey Knebel is a name to watch as the Tigers are going to need bullpen help sooner than later. He throws mid to high 90s heat with an excellent curveball. Knebel was the Texas Longhorns closer for 3 years before the Tigers drafted him in June with the intention of turning him into a starter.  He dominated low A with a 35% K rate while holding hitters to a .131 batting average against. Somewhere along the lines the plan changed and Knebel stayed in his relief role during the Arizona Fall League. With the current needs of the Tigers, this 22-year-old could find himself moving very fast through the system and into a prominent spot in the Tigers pen in 2014.

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 Luis Avilan David Carpenter Jordan Walden
2 Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Brian Wilson Chris Perez Paco Rodriguez
3 Greg Holland Kansas City Royals Kelvin Herrera Tim Collins Aaron Crow
4 Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals Carlos Martinez Kevin Siegrist Jason Motte

Just four superheroes remain; the Avengers of baseball relief pitching. These four offer elite strike out rates and ratios, while pitching for excellent ball clubs, providing plenty of saves throughout the season.

Aroldis Chapman had successful surgery to repair facial fractures after taking a line drive to his face last week. When I talk about closer casualties I sure hope none are of this variety ever again! Chapman is expected to miss 6-8 weeks but I’d hold on to him everywhere; he could be a difference maker to you in the second half of the season. Chapman will, barring any setbacks, return to this tier when he is back able to get on the mound. Godspeed young Aroldis.

Carlos Martinez lost the 5th starter position battle; what is the Cardinals rotation loss is their bullpen’s gain. Expect elite numbers from this pitcher who will help all of your ratios, and in points leagues may out-produce most closers. It’s a shame he’s not starting, but pairing Martinez with Trevor Rosenthal will provide dominance in holds and points leagues.

Tier Two: Westerns

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

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
5 Koji Uehara Boston RedSox Edward Mujica Junichi Tazawa Andrew Miller
6 Joe Nathan Detroit Tigers Joba Chamberlain Al Alburquerque Ian Krol
7 David Robertson New York Yankees Shawn Kelley Matt Thornton Dellin Betances
8 Glen Perkins Minnesota Twins Jared Burton Casey Fien Michael Tonkin

Dellin Betances is having an excellent spring; he’s a big 6’8″ imposing presence on the mound throwing mid 90s heat. He’s caught in a numbers game with his one remaining option, but I suspect if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he’ll be a presence before long. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a good source for holds in 2014.

Glen Perkins signed an extension in Minnesota, solidifying his closer profile even further. He really is one of the best in baseball and often goes under-appreciated. Heck, I’m guilty of it putting him at #8 instead of #6.

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
9 Jason Grilli Pittsburgh Pirates Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Vin Mazzaro
10 Jim Johnson Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle
Luke Gregerson
Ryan Cook
11 Grant Balfour Tampa Bay Rays Joel Peralta Jake McGee
Heath Bell
12 Sergio Romo San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla Javier Lopez
Jeremy Affeldt
13 Steve Cishek Miami Marlins Mike Dunn
A.J.Ramos
Carter Capps
14 Ernesto Frieri Anaheim Angels Dane De La Rosa
Joe Smith Kevin Jepsen
15 Casey Janssen Toronto Blue Jays Sergio Santos Brett Cecil Steve Delabar
16 Addison Reed Arizona Diamondbacks David Hernandez Oliver Perez J.J. Putz/ Brad Ziegler
17 Fernando Rodney Seattle Mariners Danny Farquhar Charlie Furbush
Yoevis Medina
18 Jim Henderson Milwaukee Brewers Francisco Rodriguez
Brandon Kintzler
Will Smith
19 Bobby Parnell New York Mets Vic Black
Scott Rice
Jeurys Familia
20 Nate Jones Chicago White Sox Matt Lindstrom Scott Downs Donnie Veal
21 Joakim Soria Texas Rangers Neal Cotts Jason Fraser Neftali Feliz

Jason Grilli is looking good in spring training and all indications are that he’s good to go for the start of the season.

Casey Janssen pitched in his first spring game on Monday topping out at 86mph, allowing two hits in his inning of work. The velocity should hopefully go up in  his remaining spring outings.

Addison Reed, in one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, has been officially named the Diamondbacks closer. Having J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler stink up the joint in spring training couldn’t have hurt.

Nate Jones has not been officially named the White Sox closer yet. I’m really not sure what the hold up is here as he clearly has the best stuff out of the contenders. Like Reed, this is really a no-brainer.

Ron Washington finally revealed his 2014 closer and it is Joakim Soria. Soria is having a spectacular spring and has the potential to put up big save numbers this year. He keeps the ball on the ground (always helpful in Arlington) with a good strike out rate. His inflated BB rate in his brief return from Tommy John last season isn’t in line with his career norms. While there is risk involved with all pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, this is a guy who could be a top 10 option as the season moves on. Neftali Feliz has been assigned to AAA but I would still consider him the heir apparent.

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
22 Huston Street San Diego Padres Joquain Benoit Nick Vincent Dale Thayer
23 Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Mike Adams Antonio Bastardo Jacob Diekman
24 Rafael Soriano Washington Nationals Tyler Clippard
Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
25 Tommy Hunter Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day Ryan Webb
Brian Matusz
26 John Axford Cleveland Indians Cody Allen Mark Rzepczynski Bryan Shaw

Huston Street has now pitched two spring innings striking out four batters without allowing a hit. He looks like he’ll be ready for the start of the season. Joaquin Benoit has looked great as well and this could be a very dominant bullpen (as usual) if Street stays healthy. He’s the most likely closer in this group to move up the rankings.

Tommy Hunter and John Axford have fly ball tendencies and have given up a combined 3 home runs in 14 innings this spring. They’re both pitching well though and may not end up being disasters, yet I’d be surprised if both of them held the position for the entire season. Axford has a better strikeout rate, but he also walks too many for it to give him an advantage over Hunter.

Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano have combined to pitch 12 innings this spring allowing 16 runs (11 earned). These guys can hurt your ratios even if they manage to hold on to their closer roles for the season.

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
27 Latroy Hawkins Colorado Rockies Rex Brothers Matt Belisle
Boone Logan
28 Jose Veras Chicago Cubs Pedro Strop
Blake Parker James Russell
29 J.J.Hoover
Cincinnati Reds Sam Leclure Manny Parra Sean Marshall/ Jonathan Broxton
30 Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields
Houston Astros Matt Albers Kevin Chapman Jesse Crain

In Chapman’s absence, Bryan Price has not committed to anyone, making this a closer by committee. J.J. Hoover figures to get the bulk of the opportunities with Manny Parra and Sam Leclure also figuring into the mix. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton will start the season on the DL but either could be a closing option upon their return, making this a really messy situation for fantasy.

Bo Porter has announced that he will go with a closer by committee to start the season. This is bad news for Chad Qualls and Josh Fields owners hoping to have made the correct grab. Neither is a great option as a part-time closer and they can be ignored in all formats.

Paul Hartman

Written by 

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

3 thoughts on “Saving Nolan Ryan – Bruce Ron don(e)”

  1. Paul,

    I love your analysis and I am glad to see Street, Papelbon and Soriano ranked where they are. Those 3 still have a lot of name value and are being drafted too soon in many leagues.

    I think Uehara deserves a spot in the top tier until proven otherwise, but I can’t argue with the ranking. I also hate to say this to a Tiger fan, but beware some Nathan regression. He will have as long a leash as anyone, but the ratios are going to take a hit this year for sure. I think he may pitch his way down a tier before the end of the season.

  2. Thanks Tommy,
    I love Uehara too…. for me, it’s his age and the fact he hasn’t put together 2 healthy seasons in a row recently. He could end up being the #1 closer in 2014 and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least though. I like him at #5… you’re right; he could have taken Chapman’s spot up top just as easily. I’ll give it some more thought before next week’s report.

    As for Nathan, there are some concerns (fb rate in particular), but it’s a much better ballpark for home runs in Detroit… he won’t be a 1.39 era guy, likely closer to 2.75, but he’s been remarkably consistent for the past 11 seasons. One year with an ERA over 3, or a whip over 1.10. I do wonder how many save opps will be lost in the 8th inning vs how many will be created. If he’s a cowboy, he’s the Lone Ranger ; there’s nobody else in that pen. He could have a 4.00 era and not lose his job, a poor reflection on the Tigers pen.

  3. I didn’t think it was possible, but Jose Valverde will be the primary set up guy in NY. (announced today)

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