StrategyMay 2, 2012

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Bottom of the 9th: Year of the Poser Closer

By R.J. White

What a April that was. Here are the names of the guys that entered spring training as supposed closers but currently sit deposed, disabled or both: Andrew Bailey, Matt Thornton, Joakim Soria, Jordan Walden, Kyle Farnsworth, Sergio Santos, Ryan Madson, Brian Wilson and Drew Storen. That’s nearly a third of the league. Already! And it could be getting worse. More after we tier up the Bottom of the 9th.

Safe (but no one’s really safe)

ARI J.J. Putz
ATL Craig Kimbrel
BAL Jim Johnson
CIN Sean Marshall
CLE Chris Perez
COL Rafael Betancourt
HOU Brett Myers
KC Jonathan Broxton
MIL John Axford
NYY Mariano Rivera
PHI Jonathan Papelbon
PIT Joel Hanrahan
SD Huston Street
SEA Brandon League
SF Santiago Casilla
STL Jason Motte
TB Fernando Rodney
TEX Joe Nathan
WAS Henry Rodriguez

Safe … For Now

BOS Alfredo Aceves
Sure, Aceves hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances, racking up three saves along the way. But when your streak of four scoreless innings brings your ERA all the way down to 10.29 and your WHIP to 2.00, it’s not quite time to break out the champagne. He’s given up eight runs on five hits and four walks in two games without recording an out, but he’s allowed just three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings in his other eight games. He’s almost safe, though.

CHC Carlos Marmol
Marmol has appeared in 10 games yet has just one save (and two blown saves). That successful save was of the one-out variety, a game in which he walked a batter. That’s been a Marmol theme in 2012 — he has nine walks versus just six Ks in 7.2 innings. Kerry Wood should be back within the next few days, so Marmol’s running out of time to get things together, despite the team’s supposed commitment to their closer.

DET Jose Valverde
I believe any closer not named Mariano Rivera is vulnerable at any time, so let’s demote Valverde to “Safe … For Now” status. He wasn’t as perfect as his 49-for-49 record made him out to be last year. His peripherals have gotten worse; Valverde has a 6/7 K/BB ratio after surrendering free passes in five straight games. He was ugly in a non-save situation against the Yankees this weekend, and could be a victim of an eventual shakeup for a team with World Series aspirations.

MIA Heath Bell
Uneventful save alert! After looking horrendous in April, leading to two consecutive ugly appearances to close out the month, Bell sent the Giants down in order in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday to record his third save. He also has three losses and three blown saves, which is why he ends up here. The owner of a puzzling 5/8 K/BB ratio, Bell may find himself on the DL sooner rather than later if he doesn’t build off Tuesday’s save. Steve Cishek is next in line.

Not Very Safe at All

CHW Hector Santiago
Santiago had a rough Wednesday last week, giving up three runs on five hits while recording just one out to blow his second save of the season. He’s actually been quite good overall, with a 10/1 K/BB ratio to his credit. However, he faces stiff competition throughout the bullpen in the forms of Matt Thornton and Addison Reed. Consider Santiago the closer, even though Thornton picked up the last save for the team. All three guys should be owned in most leagues.

LAD Javy Guerra
Guerra’s sore foot opened the door for Kenley Jansen to run with the closer job, and he was able to lock down two saves over the weekend. However, Guerra was back in the ninth inning on Tuesday, pitching a scoreless inning for a save despite putting three guys on. Guerra has eight saves, Jansen has two, and yet it seems like Jansen will be the guy to lead the team in saves. I’d use Guerra’s eighth save as an opportunity to sell high.

MIN Matt Capps
When you’re Matt Capps in the ninth inning, you’re never safe. Capps has done just about as well as expected this year, giving up five runs in eight innings while recording just three strikeouts. He’s given up runs in four of his last appearances, and a change should come soon. The guy I’d watch out for is Jared Burton, who has a 9/2 K/BB ratio in 10 innings after a quality spring performance. If you’re turning over every rock looking for saves, grab Burton.

NYM Frank Francisco
Francisco has incredibly given up runs in five of his last six appearances, walking four while striking out three and recording only two saves during that stretch. A change could be around the corner at any minute. Jon Rauch seems the likeliest to take over thanks to good-on-the-surface ratios, but Bobby Parnell is sporting a wicked 15/2 K/BB ratio in 10.2 innings this year. The team gave him a shot last year and he came up short, but who doesn’t love second chances?

OAK Grant Balfour
The A’s flashed the warning signs regarding Balfour’s grip on the closing job when they had to remove him from Tuesday’s game. After entering with a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Balfour put four guys on base while recording just one out, and he ended up with two earned runs charged to him. That gives him just one clean appearance in his last four trips to the mound. Ryan Cook has allowed just one hit in 11 innings this year — he’s the guy I’d add to speculate.

TOR Francisco Cordero
Cordero has blown two straight save opportunities and given up runs in six of his 11 appearances this year. His ERA is 5.73, his WHIP at 1.91. It seems to be time for a change soon, but who do you go with? Luis Perez has been the team’s best reliever, with just one ugly performance and nine scoreless appearances, but he’s a valuable multi-inning weapon. The ageless Darren Oliver could factor in; he has a 9/1 K/BB ratio in eight innings this year.

Now Closing

LAA Scott Downs
Jordan Walden only managed to lock up one save this season before being removed from the closer role, though he certainly wasn’t the worst ninth inning guy in the majors this year. The Angels say the demotion is temporary — we’ll see. Downs has picked up two easy saves thus far and hasn’t allowed a run in 9.1 innings this year. The 36-year-old lefty is an unlikely closer for the entire year, but stranger things have happened. Walden belongs on fantasy benches for now.


SF Santiago Casilla has three saves in his last three appearances, earned while striking out six batters and pitching three hitless innings that included just one walk. That’s good enough to move him into Safe territory, making him one of the few closers movin’ on up. If I had one of the guys discussed above, especially one with name value like Valverde or Bell, I’d see if I could flip them for Casilla while also gaining potential profit at another position.

TB Fernando Rodney earned quite a longer leash when Kyle Farnsworth was transferred to the 60-day DL, assuring that he won’t be back for at least another month. Rodney struck out the side against the Mariners for his eighth save on Tuesday, dropping his ERA to 0.79 and his WHIP to 0.71. Congrats if you jumped on the train early, as a dominant relief year from Rodney would be one of the least predictable Bottom of the 9th stories of 2012.

WAS Henry Rodriguez had a rare off night in his last appearance, giving up two runs on three hits while recording just two outs and looking incredibly wild in the process (like, Rick Ankiel wild). It hardly matters as far as job security goes, as Brad Lidge is on the shelf after undergoing hernia surgery. By the time he comes back in four to six weeks, Rodriguez should be locked in as a stud ninth-inning weapon.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and has previously written for FanHouse and Razzball. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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