The CLOSER: Fields of Dreams, Bullpens of Nightmares

The Closer Logo 1I went on the record: Pay for saves in 2015. There seemed to be a handful of top options. Then there were some acceptable middle tier guys that seemed reliable. Then there were the dregs; these are the guys that harm your roto numbers even if they are closing games. Pay for saves.

Paying for saves wasn’t paying off in the early going. Aroldis Chapman struggled with his control; Craig Kimbrel looked stunningly mortal; Greg Holland couldn’t seem to get started. They were being outshined by relievers drafted several rounds later. People asked me why they should pay for Kimbrel when they could have had Drew Storen? Why go for Chapman when they can get Glen Perkins? Why draft Holland when they can have Cody Allen?

But as the year has gone on, you can see the benefits of taking a closer early. Kimbrel and Chapman have regained their vintage form. I suspect they will maintain it for the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, Glen Perkins is slowing down when we need him most. (That happens with lots of relievers this time of year.) And with poor Drew Storen we see that sometimes job security has nothing to do with performance. I grant you Holland his been shaky; Holland and Allen have basically been the same guy, but I still like Holland more than Allen going forward.

Now you could say I’ve cherry picked examples. Zach Britton, who has not slowed down and has been great, was taken around the same time as guys like Storen and Perkins. I can’t deny that, but I will say that you are the one cherry picking. I’ve picked a bunch of cherries and missed once in a while, while Britton stands out from his group. You are more likely to crap out on closers the longer you wait. All closers have their bad stretches, but as you know, the cream rises to the top. The crap is at the bottom of the toilet bowl – and there is sits, right next to Fernando Rodney.

And while there hasn’t been as much turnover in the ninth inning this year, boy have we seen some really bad bullpens. It took a while for some of these like Arizona and Toronto to get settled. Meanwhile: Seattle, Colorado, and the like – you have gotten what you paid for.

Coming into this week, you had to be very, very nervous with an ownership stake in the Seattle bullpen. Our buddy Lloyd McClendon said that Carson Smith has been dealing with fatigue and Fernando Rodney has been tipping his pitches. (Plus they were heading into Coors Field.) Fatigue might be a reasonable excuse for Smith’s struggles. He’s pitched a lot and might not be used to this kind of workload. He took three consecutive losses. Maybe McClendon was right about his lack of “man muscles.”

I’m just kidding, Lloyd McClendon is never right. And Rodney tipping pitches? That is something that a manager says to protect their guy when he’s getting rocked. Unfortunately, Rodney has been getting rocked since the season began. It’s a little late to make excuses like that for his performance.

Nevertheless, McClendon falls asleep counting ways in which he can wedge Rodney back into the ninth inning conversation. And on Monday Smith converted the save but gave up a few runs in the process. So you can see what’s coming. The Mariners have a 2-run lead. Under the auspices of giving Smith a breather, he merely faced two batters in the eighth. Joe Beimel retires a lefty to start the ninth (OK, you couldn’t see everything coming.), and then here comes Rodney to close it out. And here comes big Ben Paulsen doubling in one run and scoring another to tie it.

Where do we go from here Seattle fans. You might not like it but I’m guessing Smith is the guy to ride to the finish. Even if he is gassed, he might have the stuff to succeed. You know Rodney sucks and Mark Lowe just got dealt to Toronto. If you have lost your faith in Smith and are in a tight saves chase, you would grab Tom Wilhelmsen who grabbed a couple of under-the-radar saves in the past month. I don’t like placing that much faith in Wilhelmsen. If you are with me you might grab Biemel who could grab a cheap save or two if the situation dictates it.

Meanwhile, John Axford was in trouble as we went to press and now he is out as closer for the Rockies. We’ve discussed several names for the Rockies throughout the year, but it looks like Tommy Kahnle is going to be the man getting saves for the time being. He pitched in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game to keep his team close, which is exactly when you use your closer if save opportunities have been scarce. Pick him up if you need saves, but don’t bid with abandon. Coors Field is a funny place.

The Closer LogoThe Closer Grid

Not a whole lot of movement this week after all the shenanigans we’ve seen lately. As we mentioned, check the news and notes after you look at the grid. For first-timers, closers are ranked from best to worst and we’ve included ratings for job security:
1 = solid, 2 = secure for now, 3 = shaky, and 4 = worrisome.

  Team Security Closer Set Up Lurker
1 Reds 1 Aroldis Chapman J.J. Hoover Ryan Mattheus
2 Dodgers 1 Kenley Jansen Jim Johnson Yimi Garcia
3 White Sox 1 David Robertson Jacob Petricka Zach Duke
4 Padres 1 Craig Kimbrel Joaquin Benoit Brandon Maurer
5 Yankees 1 Andrew Miller Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
6 Orioles 1 Zach Britton Darren O’Day Chaz Roe
7 Angels 1 Huston Street Joe Smith Fernando Salas
8 Royals 1 Greg Holland Wade Davis Kelvin Herrera
9 Nationals 1 Jonathan Papelbon Drew Storen Casey Janssen
10 Twins 1 Glen Perkins Kevin Jepsen Trevor May
11 Pirates 1 Mark Melancon Joakim Soria Tony Watson
12 Cardinals 1 Trevor Rosenthal Kevin Siegrist Steve Cishek
13 Red Sox 1 Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa Alexi Ogando
14 Mets 1 Jeurys Familia Tyler Clippard Bobby Parnell
15 Phillies 1 Ken Giles Luis Garcia Jeanmar Gomez
16 Brewers 1 Francisco Rodriguez Jeremy Jeffress Will Smith
17 Rangers 2 Shawn Tolleson Sam Dyson Keone Kela
18 Rays 2 Brad Boxberger Jake McGee Steve Geltz
19 Indians 2 Cody Allen Bryan Shaw Zach McAllister
20 Marlins 2 A. J. Ramos Mike Dunn Carter Capps-(DL)
21 Astros 2 Luke Gregerson Pat Neshek Will Harris
22 Dbacks 2 Brad Ziegler Daniel Hudson David Hernandez
23 Blue Jays 3 Roberto Osuna Aaron Sanchez LaTroy Hawkins
24 Giants 3 Santiago Casilla Sergio Romo Hunter Strickland
25 Braves 4 Arodys Vizcaino David Aardsma Jason Frasor
26 Cubs 4 Hector Rendon Jason Motte Pedro Strop
27 Athletics 4 Edward Mujica Fernando Rodriguez Sean Doolittle-(DL)
28 Tigers 4 Alex Wilson Bruce Rondon Al Alburquerque
29 Rockies 4 Tommy Kahnle Rafael Betancourt Justin Miller
30 Mariners 4 Carson Smith Fernando Rodney Tom Wilhelmsen

Last week I probably overreacted by moving Juerys Familia down to a 2, but I’ve remedied that. This week’s overreaction is moving Cody Allen down to a 2. He has given all of us many reasons to overreact this season, so in fact this might be overdue. He has struggled since the break and while I don’t think a change in imminent, he has definitely not put everything together like I’d hoped.

Alex Wilson has a 1.57 ERA despite getting off to a rocky start in April. If you read this column last week, you know I was a little nervous about his ability to keep the job. This was not performance related as Wilson was clearly the best pitcher in the Detroit pen, but he doesn’t fit the classic closer profile and you never know what kind of decisions Brad Ausmus (or any manager really) will make. So far, so good on this front. Wilson recorded his second save this week and those of you who spent some FAAB money on him might be getting a nice bump down the stretch.

My Pet Peeve/Utter Hatred: Intentionally walking the bases loaded. It happened in the tenth inning on Tuesday night; no surprise that it was those quirky Rays that did it. If you look at this situation it “makes sense” on the surface level: Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera are both sizzling, but I hate that you give a guy no room for error. This is not a saber-friendly idea, but I have to think that the pitcher loses a little bit of confidence. On the more stat-friendly front, the Rays were more likely to lose the game after this bit of strategery. As it turned out, Boxberger decided that this walking thing suited him and the Rays lost the game when he walked in the winning run..

The Closer hero Carter Capps went down to an injury this week. Word is that he will be back after his 15 days are up, but I hate to see a run like this get disturbed. It looked like Capps might have been getting saves, as A.J. Ramos has been struggling lately. Mike Dunn is next in line for now.

An early season relief hero, Yimi Garcia recently returned from a brief stint in the minors. He was sent down to get some rest more than anything else, but he has been struggling for a while. With Kenley Jansen entrenched in the ninth, Garcia is not in line for saves any time soon.  I’m guessing if he is still on your team I can refer you to our fantasy football coverage.


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Michael Zakhar

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Michael lives in New Jersey with his beautiful wife Virginia and his adorable son Johnny. We enjoy going to see the Lakewood BlueClaws, who play 20 minutes from home. In addition to baseball, Mike loves reading, music and professional wrestling.