StrategyMarch 21, 2012

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Bottom of the 9th: Royal Pain - 1 comments

By R.J. White

Welcome to the Bottom of the 9th. I’ll do my best to keep you appraised of all newsworthy closer developments throughout the season, but honestly, you guys do a great job of that every year in the Cafe’s annual closer thread. I’ll add a little commentary along the way, but please feel free to propose counterarguments or further insight in the comments section at the end of the article. The big closer news of the week takes us to Kansas City.

Royal Pain

Joakim Soria (3.1 IP, 7 ER, 10 H, 1 BB, 3 K this spring) has been served a diagnosis and a concurring second opinion, and it’s not good. The KC closer has damage to his ulner collateral ligament that almost assuredly will lead to Tommy John surgery. I previously called for a Soria trade at Razzball, and though this news is far more troublesome, it has virtually the same effect to my suggested sleeper pick of Greg Holland (7 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 11 K this spring).

As I pointed out a week ago, Holland had a penchant for making bats miss his pitches last year, finishing third in contact rate behind only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. As you would expect, he finished with a very low ERA, 1.80. A 2.27 FIP and 2.67 xFIP finds little fault in his 2011 output. He relied on a killer slider, throwing it about as much as his fastball.

Popular theory contends Jon Broxton’s (3 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 K this spring) closer experience should make him the favorite for saves, but who knows what condition he’s in after having elbow surgery late last season. The team has been understandably cautious with him thus far this spring, and the only argument I can see for giving him save opportunities out of the gate is if they think he can build a little trade value and bring back a decent prospect at the trade deadline. It’s hard to believe he’s ready for the role after three spring innings.

Another name for which to watch out is Aaron Crow (7 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 7 K this spring), who the team is moving back from a starting competition to the bullpen after the Soria news. Crow was nominally the closer for a few weeks in 2011, though he didn’t have the chance to nab a save at the time. The owner of a good 2.76 ERA last year, Crow was otherwise a bit mediocre, posting a HR/9 of 1.16 and a BB/9 of 4.50. An unsustainable strand rate contributed to his low ERA, and his 2011 peripherals would make me hesitate to put him in the closer role. He hasn’t been any better with walks this spring, though work as a starter can be partially at fault for that.

That brings us back to Holland. The faults expressed of the other two closer candidates pale in comparison to any wrongs you can find with Holland. He’s the best reliever in the Royals bullpen, and there’s a fair shot that was true even before the Soria injury. Holland has looked great this spring, pitching seven innings while allowing just four hits and a walk, with 11 strikeouts to his credit.

If you’ve already drafted, scoop Holland up if he’s somehow available. If you’re yet to draft, add his name to the mid-tier closer rankings. If I were drafting today, I’d place him 23rd in the Cafe Rankings, ahead of Kenley Jansen, Jim Johnson, Brett Myers, Javy Guerra, Matt Thornton and lesser options. If KC confirms that he’s the team’s closer, he then vaults to 17th, above Huston Street, Carlos Marmol and others.

Other Notes

The A’s have named Grant Balfour (5.2 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 4 BB, 4 K) the closer, as we expected. It certainly wasn’t by virtue of anything he’s done this spring, as a 7.94 ERA and 2.29 WHIP can attest. Still, he had a near 3.0 K/BB ratio last season, and he should be effective if he keeps the job. We had him at 31 in our rankings, and I’d put him under Greg Holland and just ahead of Kenley Jansen with this news.

Matt Thornton (3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K this spring) is looking like the best man for the job in Chicago, although Jesse Crain (3 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 3 K, oblique injury) has been mentioned as candidate 1A by manager Robin Ventura. Addison Reed (5.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 6 K) may not factor in right away, but I still like him best over the course of the entire season.

Chris Perez (no spring stats) pitched a little batting practice on Wednesday, and it’s not inconceivable that he’ll be ready by Opening Day. However, I’d still caution using a draft pick on him this year. His peripherals were probably the worst by any closer last year. His K rates by year since joining the big leagues in 2008: 9.1, 10.7, 8.7, 5.9. That’s a very disturbing trend at a position where you have to be able to strike guys out. Vinnie Pestano (7.1 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 8 K this spring) is going to be a factor this year.

The Dodgers have said that Javy Guerra (3.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 3 K this spring) is the guy at closer, and while there’s still a place for Kenley Jansen’s (5 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 5 K) ridiculous K rate on your roster, don’t draft him expecting saves, as he’ll need an injury or a complete dud from Guerra to make it so.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. 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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One Response to “Bottom of the 9th: Royal Pain”

  1. User avatar Izenhart says:

    Good article. I’m a believer in Jansen getting saves at some point in the season. I think Guerra played over his head last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a 4.00 ERA pitcher. If this happens and Jansen is dominating, the leash will be short.

    I think the Royals will start out with a committee of Holland and Broxton. There’s not enough confidence in Broxton to take the job fully just yet. It may come down a game of 1 musical chair, and whoever blows the first save between them is out, so long as the other guy seizes the opportunity and doesn’t start blowing saves as well. I agree they would ultimately like to use Broxton for trade bait, but if Broxton isn’t looking sharp, there won’t be many takers.


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