StrategyMay 29, 2009

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Closer Complex: Rays to A’s

By Matthew Robertson

First off, I would like to thank R.J. for doing an exceptional job filling in for me as reality literally got in the way of fantasy for me last week. Since then, I’ve gotten multiple questions on a few closer situations with none being more numerous and important than in Tampa Bay and Oakland. While there really isn’t anything concrete as to which pitcher will take the reigns for each team, it does lead to a few relievers entering into the foray of the closer rankings.

Tampa Bay continues to be a very speculative situation since the aging Troy Percival went down with injury. Also, it was reported that Percy’s injury is serious enough that his career may in fact be over. So, who do I think will take over the TB closer job? Well, those investing in Joe Nelson have another thing coming, as he’s simply not even average and at 35, his best is behind him. Then we have the veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen, who was hit around in the minors before his promotion. Izzy is only seven saves away from 300 and it would be nice to see him get there, but the cost will likely not be worth the effort, as his stuff just doesn’t fool anyone anymore. Isringhausen might be the first guy in line until someone steps up, but he’s only treading water. I think the most apparent thing is that if J.P. Howell was a righty he’d certainly be the closer, but alas he is not. Still, Howell’s consistency against righties is impressive but left-handed batters are currently hitting .321 off him. This leads me to doubt his ability to close against a lefty-heavy lineup. Dan Wheeler might be the safest bet, but he’s attempted closing in the past and has proven he can’t be counted on. Fireballer Grant Balfour has simply not pitched up to his abilities. So at this point, I’d rank them Isringhausen, Wheeler, Howell, Nelson, and Balfour, but I think Howell might be the best guy to have overall for the rest of the season.

There has been talk that Jose Valverde could be traded from Houston to Tampa Bay, but I doubt this will happen, as Valverde is a pending FA this year and the Rays would have to give up more than he’s likely worth to get him. It’s always nice to be aware of potential rumors though. Also, interestingly enough, during this time of closer uncertainty, potential relief convert Jeff Niemann has begun pitching very well, and he’s captured a spot in the Rays rotation for the foreseeable future. David Price has also been brought up and will soon lay siege as a starter. So, those wanting either pitcher to close are going to be sadly disappointed. These are some interesting pitchers in the minors that could be called on to help. Triple-A closer Winston Abreu is 32 but he currently has a 1.71 ERA with a 38/8 K/BB ratio in 26.1 IP and could be called on to help. Jeremy Hellickson is pitching very well in Double-A and could strategically be brought in to pitch relief like Price did last season. Still, I truly believe that Jake McGee will be the future closer of the Rays when he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Check out this post-surgery video of McGee.

The Oakland Athletics closer spot has been one I’ve looked at for some time. I think they are doing the smart thing in using Brad Ziegler as more of a situational reliever rather than a closer, as he doesn’t have the correct makeup for that. This has led many to believe that rookie Andrew Bailey will claim the role ahead of others such as Santiago Casilla and Michael Wuertz. This seems to be the way that things are currently heading but Bailey’s inexperience still leads me to believe that he’s going to suffer from some large doses of growing pains, and I’m not sure I’d like to see him go through those pains in the ninth inning right now. Those owners adding Bailey might want to take a flier on Casilla. So, right now I’d rank them Bailey, Ziegler, and Casilla, with the future rankings of Casilla, Bailey, and Ziegler. On the farm front, closer phenom Henry Rodriguez is in Triple-A and has yet to give up a run in three outings with an 11/1 K/BB ratio in five IP. Yes, you read that correctly, 11 strikeouts with just one walk in five innings. I’ve mentioned him before but pay attention, as Rodriguez and his triple-digit heater should see the majors this year.

Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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