As is the case during most seasons, a few closers were terrible right out of the gates, causing their teams to makes changes to bullpen configuration almost immediately. Two-ish closers are already out, and a few more could be on the ropes. Time to take a spin around the Bottom of the 9th.
John Axford blew his first save opportunity of the year in the Brewers’ first game, but aside from allowing a solo HR to Dexter Fowler, he was actually very good in the outing, striking out the other three batters he faced. His next two appearances, not so much. Axford has surrendered five earned runs in 1.2 innings of work in his last two games, and it appears the Brewers have unofficially made a change in the ninth inning.
Jim Henderson came on to pick up a save in Monday’s 7-4 win over the Cubs after Brandon Kintzler made a 7-2 game interesting. Henderson has now made four appearances this year, striking out six and walking none while allowing three hits in four scoreless innings. While his numbers have been great so far, Josh Shepardson pointed out in this week’s Cafe Pod that he’s been statistically similar to John Axford during his professional career, so we may be in for more of the same long-term. The team seems to want Axford in the role long-term, so fantasy owners with a bench and a weak set of closers will want to stash him. Henderson should obviously be owned in all leagues.
Anybody who had watched Carlos Marmol pitch over the last few years knew he had no business holding a closing role for any team, and when Kyuji Fujikawa was signed this offseason, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Marmol. After opening the season as closer, Marmol (like Axford) allowed runs in each of his first three outings and was officially replaced by Fujikawa as the team’s closer.
Fujikawa has a resume of being an elite closer in Nippon Professional Baseball, and I expect him to excel in the role despite his struggles on the day Marmol blew the save that broke the camel’s back. He’d be my top RP pickup of the week where available. Mamol pitched a scoreless eighth on Monday with his tema down 7-2 at the time, but it was an eventful inning, featuring a walk and a hit as well as two strikeouts. While he certainly could get another shot at closer, especially if the Cubs want to build his trade value, his track record suggests that the damage he’ll do to your team’s ratios isn’t worth the handful of saves he might give you. Leave him on the waiver wire.
Kansas City Royals
Greg Holland was one of the better closers in the league once given the job with the Royals last season, posting a 2.17 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 37.1 innings during the second half, when he picked up all of his 16 saves. That level of success should give him a little breathing room in the ninth inning despite allowing four runs on three hits and three walks while recording just three outs in his last two appearances combined. However, the Royals, who aim to be a playoff competitor this season, can ill afford to leave a struggling pitcher in the closing role for too long.
If a change were to be made, Kelvin Herrera would step in and likely be one of the league’s better closers. He has struck out seven of the 12 batters he’s faced this season while allowing just one walk and one hit in 3.1 scoreless innings. While he could be the team’s long-term answer at closer, I think the Royals will hope to keep the boat steady with Holland in the ninth. A guy with Herrera’s stuff should be owned in all but the shallowest of fantasy leagues even if he’s not getting saves, especially in roto leagues with IP limits. Aaron Crow, who earned a save Monday with both Holland and Herrera unavailable, is no better than third in line and can be left on the wire in mixed leagues.
A “change” has been made in Detroit, with Phil Coke on the mound for the team’s first two save opportunities but Joaquin Benoit being named manager Jim Leyland’s preferred choice despite Leyland revealing during the offseason Benoit didn’t seem like a candidate to close. Benoit hasn’t allowed a hit in 3.1 innings over three appearances so far, though he has walked three batters while striking out two. Expect him to be on the mound for Detroit’s next save opportunity.
Coke seemed like only a matchup option in a bullpen-by-committee heading into the season, but he was left in his second save opportunity to face some poor matchups and made his manager pay. He didn’t fare much better in his next appearance (a non-save situation), allowing two runs on three hits to the Yankees Sunday. He still may pick up a save here and there, but he isn’t worth owning in most fantasy leagues. Next up after Benoit may be Al Alburquerque, who has a 1.53 ERA in 58.2 career innings.
The final closer struggling in the early-going is Steve Cishek, who took the loss Sunday by hitting a batter then giving up two singles to give away what would have been the Marlins’ second win. I’d imagine the Marlins aren’t going to win a lot of games this year, so they need a reliable closer to save the opportunities they do have to win. Cishek, who has surrendered four earned runs in 2.1 innings over three appearances, hasn’t been a reliable option in the season’s first week.
However, there aren’t any obvious candidates to take his job away either. Jon Rauch? Chad Qualls? Ryan Webb? None are pitching particularly well and none offer the upside of Cishek, who had two quality seasons under his belt before his poor 2013 start. Any closer with a 15.43 ERA can’t be deemed “safe,” but Miami’s lack of options should give Cishek some time to figure things out. Don’t drop him in fantasy leagues and don’t bother making any speculative Marlin adds.
St. Louis Cardinals
For three appearances, Mitchell Boggs looked like a pretty safe option for as long as Jason Motte was out, but then he surrendered seven runs (six earned) while recording one out after coming into a tied game in the ninth. Boggs’s meltdown came as a result of two hits, five walks and a wild pitch. With so little control of the strike zone, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boggs out of the closing role immediately, though the team hasn’t indicated as such yet.
Trevor Rosenthal pitched the eighth inning Monday’s game before Boggs’s implosion, and he would likely be the next guy to close for the Cardinals. He’s struck out seven batters in five innings so far this season while allowing two earned runs. If Motte has to miss a large amount of the season — and a Tuesday MRI may shed more light on his timetable — Rosenthal could be the team’s closer of the present and the future. He’s worth a speculative add in many leagues.
On the Bubble?
Astros closer Jose Veras has surrendered three earned runs on five hits and two walks in three innings. The Astros aren’t really loaded with closing options, but as a guy with no track record as closer, Veras can’t go too long without putting up a successful closing stretch before the team makes a move.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. 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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