Saving Nolan Ryan – All Aboard the Closer Carousel

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.

Two days into the regular season and two closers have been replaced, while three others have landed on the disabled list. At 1.2% through the season, 16.7% of the teams have different closers today then they planned to have going into the season. That’s not including the Houston Astros who never really had established a closer to plan on. Here’s a look at the what happened on the merry-go-round this week:

Opening Day brought with it a couple of surprises; first it was announced that Matt Lindstrom has won the closing competition in Chicago. Lindstrom has some experience in the closer position, coming in 2009 and 2010, where his combined ERA was 5.10. Lindstrom keeps the ball on the ground and may find some initial success, but Nate Jones out-pitched him in spring and has much better ratios and strikeout rate to be successful; I’d hang on to him.

Ron Roenicke announced that Francisco Rodriguez would hold down the closer position until Jim Henderson’s struggles with his velocity and control were over. Rodriguez has 305 career saves and still has the ability to strike out hitters at a very good rate. This news really came out of nowhere as both Henderson and Rodriguez scuffled in the spring. Henderson faced one batter on Tuesday and struck him out hitting 95 MPH; velocity: check.

Casey Janssen has a mild back strain and will miss the first two weeks of the 2014 season, meaning Sergio Santos will start the season as the Blue Jays closer.  Santos has lights-out stuff, striking out hitters 30+% of the time and keeping the ball on the ground 50% of the time. Janssen has been an excellent closer and it’s hard to imagine him losing his position for the season if he only misses two weeks, but it’s also hard to imagine John Gibbons replacing Santos if he pitches like he’s done in the past. I think Janssen gets his job back, but if he misses more time it could get interesting. Santos needs to be owned and started everywhere now.

Bobby Parnell of the New York Mets has a partially torn elbow ligament which may require surgery. He’ll be treated for two weeks before a decision is made. In the mean time, El Papa Grande Jose Valverde takes over the closing position in New York after pitching his way into a prominent role with his fantastic spring. Kyle Farnsworth is being recalled to shore up the back end of the bullpen. As a Tigers fan, I can tell you this is going to be painful to watch.

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 Chris Perez J.P. Howell Paco Rodriguez
3 Greg Holland Kansas City Royals Wade Davis Kelvin Herrera Aaron Crow
4 Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals Carlos Martinez Kevin Siegrist Jason Motte
5 Koji Uehara Boston RedSox Edward Mujica Junichi Tazawa Andrew Miller

Wade Davis has taken over the setup role in Kansas City left vacant with the injury to Luke Hochevar. Davis has shown the ability to dominate in a relief role; he did it in 2012 (11K/9, 2.43 ERA) and last year opponents hit just .094 against him out of the pen. Wade Davis suffered his first loss of the season on Monday, but he is a power arm in a stacked bullpen and will provide a ton of holds in 2014.

Koji Uehara joins the elite tier after a tremendous 2013 where he posted a 12:1 K/BB ratio. There really is nothing better than a reliever that strikes out hitters at a great clip while walking next to nobody. He’ll be the Sox closer until he retires.

With Brian Wilson going to the DL with elbow nerve irritation, J.P. Howell figures to get some holds. This is a deep bullpen and the Dodgers may not miss a beat here.

Tier Two: Westerns

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

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
6 Joe Nathan Detroit Tigers Joba Chamberlain Al Alburquerque Evan Reed
7 David Robertson New York Yankees Shawn Kelley Matt Thornton Dellin Betances
8 Glen Perkins Minnesota Twins Jared Burton Casey Fien Michael Tonkin
9 Jason Grilli Pittsburgh Pirates Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Bryan Morris

Al Alburquerque got the call in the 8th inning in Monday’s home opener and will likely assume the set up duties for the Detroit Tigers. Evan Reed also made his season debut topping out at 98 MPH; both arms will be key to the Tigers bullpen.

I’m declaring Jason Grilli officially “back” as one of baseball’s premiere closers. He owns a 36% K rate over the past two seasons and if he’s healthy (as he appears to be) he will be dominant.

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 Grant Balfour Tampa Bay Rays Joel Peralta Jake McGee
Heath Bell
11 Sergio Romo San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla Javier Lopez
Jean Machi
12 Steve Cishek Miami Marlins Mike Dunn
Carlos Marmol
13 Ernesto Frieri Anaheim Angels Dane De La Rosa
Joe Smith Kevin Jepsen
14 Joakim Soria Texas Rangers Neal Cotts Jason Fraser Neftali Feliz
15 Sergio Santos Toronto Blue Jays Steve Delabar Brett Cecil Casey Janssen
16 Jim Johnson Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle
Luke Gregerson
Ryan Cook
17 Addison Reed Arizona Diamondbacks J.J. Putz Oliver Perez Brad Ziegler
18 Fernando Rodney Seattle Mariners Danny Farquhar Charlie Furbush
Tom Wilhelmsen
19 Francisco Rodriguez
Milwaukee Brewers Will Smith Brandon Kintzler
Jim Henderson
20 Huston Street San Diego Padres Joquain Benoit Nick Vincent Dale Thayer

Jim Johnson took the loss in his first Athletics game; he’s likely the 4th best reliever on that team. He’s moving down the boards and may end up in the disaster pile before long. This situation merits monitoring as Gregerson and Cook have closing experience.

The Arizona Diamondbacks suffered a significant hit to their bullpen with the loss of David Hernandez. He’ll undergo Tommy John surgery, leaving J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler to take on more prominent roles. Addison Reed looked much better on Tuesday after suffering Monday’s loss.

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
21 Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Mike Adams Antonio Bastardo Jacob Diekman
22 John Axford Cleveland Indians Cody Allen Mark Rzepczynski Bryan Shaw
23 Rafael Soriano Washington Nationals Tyler Clippard
Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
24 Tommy Hunter Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day Ryan Webb
Brian Matusz
25 Latroy Hawkins Colorado Rockies Rex Brothers Matt Belisle
Boone Logan

Tommy Hunter survived his first save opportunity on Monday after hitting Will Middlebrooks and giving up a hard single to Dustin Pedroia. It looked ominous as Ortiz stepped to the plate with two on, with Hunter’s struggles against left handed batters. Ortiz flied out and Hunter struck out Bradley Jr to secure the save.

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
26 Jose Valverde New York Mets Scott Rice Kyle Farnsworth Jeurys Familia
27 Jose Veras Chicago Cubs Pedro Strop
James Russell
Hector Rondon
28 Matt Lindstrom Chicago White Sox Nate Jones Scott Downs Daniel Webb
29 J.J.Hoover/ Sam Leclure/ Manny Parra
Cincinnati Reds Logan Ondrusek Jonathan Broxton Sean Marshall
30 Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields
Houston Astros Matt Albers Kevin Chapman Jesse Crain

J.J. Hoover is no sure bet to get first crack at any save opportunities for the Reds. Hoover struggled in spring training to the tune of a 5.63 ERA and more troubling 7 BB in 8 IP. Jonathan Broxton should get first crack at closing when he returns unless one of the three options runs away with it. With Manny Parra being the only one with the skill set to pull that off, and Bryan Price committing to no one, I’m avoiding this situation entirely.

If Tuesday’s game was any indication, Chad Qualls won’t be first in line for saves in Houston. Qualls was brought into the game with a 6-0 lead with one on in the top of the 8th inning. Qualls gave up 3 singles in his inning of work before getting out of the inning holding on to a 6-2 lead. Matt Albers came in and pitched the 9th in a non-save situation.

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.