"AL Closer Watch
Thursday, May 15, 2003
No category causes fantasy owners more angst than saves. With big-names closers carrying exorbitant price tags in trade talks, it pays to be aware of who is line for cheap saves. Here's a look at the closer hierarchy for all 16 AL teams.
Updated every Wednesday
5/07 - 5/13: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2K (0-0, 1 Sv).
Status: Barring injury, Percival keeps getting all the chances. Unfortunately, that hasn't been many chances this season.
Fantasy Insurance: Brendan Donnelly. Francisco Rodriguez remains an attractive option, but Donnelly has been brilliant this season. He has yet to allow an earned run in 21 innings -- although he did allow an unearned run and two hits in an inning of work against the Yankees on May 13. Based on last season's numbers and this season's start, we're willing to overlook his late arrival in the majors.
Other Options: Francisco Rodriguez hasn't pitched in a game where he was protecting a small late-inning lead since April 19. After getting hammered in Toronto on May 3, Ben Weber rebounded with back-to-back scoreless appearances and is a reliable option.
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, BB, K (0-0, 1 Sv).
Status: Julio's ERA took a bit of a beating in a non-save situation against Detroit on May 7, but he was back getting a save two nights later and has all of Baltimore's saves this season.
Fantasy Insurance: Willis Roberts. A blast from the past, Roberts climbs the depth chart thanks to some off weeks from other pitchers. Roberts hasn't been great himself, allowing runs in two of his last three appearances, but he has some closing experience and is limiting opponents to a .240 batting average.
Other Options: Buddy Groom has hit a slump of major proportions, allowing seven hits and five earned runs while recording just two outs in back-to-back appearances in Kansas City. Closing games will be tough as long as right-handed hitters continue slugging .500 against him. Similarly, southpaw B.J. Ryan has become inconsistent and was hit hard against the Royals. Former Braves closer Kerry Lightenberg has a 3.24 ERA but hasn't pitched as well as that suggest.
Boston Red Sox
5/07 - 5/13: 3 G, 3 IP, 5 H, ER, 0 BB, 2 K (0-0, 3 Sv).
Status: Brandon Lyon picks up three saves in seven days to cement his role as Boston's full-time closer, right? Maybe. Lyon went three-for-three in save opportunities, but he gave up a lot of hits. Robert Person's return should keep Lyon owners from feeling safe.
Fantasy Insurance: Person. The veteran settled down after a slow start at Pawtucket, although his overall numbers weren't brilliant. Still, the Red Sox seem intent on giving him some save chances.
Other Options: It's the same cast of characters, plus new arrival Bruce Chen. Alan Embree has been the sharpest, allowing no runs in his last four appearances (three innings). Mike Timlin has seen limited use recently and remains combustible. Ramiro Mendoza has started to come around, but probably isn't a closing option no matter how well he pitches. Chad Fox remains on the disabled list.
Chicago White Sox
5/07 - 5/13: 3 G, 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K (0-0, 1 Sv).
Status: Just like we said, Koch is still the closer. And boy did we feel confident about that while watching Damaso Marte pile up saves. But Chicago manager Jerry Manuel gave Koch a vote of confidence and then watched him work a perfect ninth to preserve a 1-0 win on May 13. He won't get every chance, but it looks like he's back at the top of the depth chart.
Fantasy Insurance: Marte. Despite Koch's save, Marte is hardly out of the picture. He earned saves on May 7 and May 10 and hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 7.2 innings. If you have Koch, it's worth keeping Marte for now. Even if you don't have Koch, Marte will be a quality set-up guy who will get you a few saves.
Other Options: Tom Gordon hasn't picked up a save through all of this, but he remains an option. Past injuries or not, he's looked good striking out 24 in 18 innings.
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, BB, 3 K (0-0, 1 Sv).
Status: Baez remains the first choice out of Cleveland's bullpen. Indians skipper Eric Wedge trusts him enough to let him work more than an inning, as Baez did in picking up a save on May 10. His leash probably isn't long, but he's got slack for now.
Fantasy Insurance: David Riske. Like Baez, Riske escaped duty in the 17-run massacre in Texas, although he gave up two runs the following day. He remains a frequent set-up call in the late innings of close games and has a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Other Options: Only Carl Sadler has pitched 8.2 innings in 16 appearances. That's the definition of a situational reliever, no matter how good an ERA the southpaw has. Terry Mulholland and Jose Santiago have ERAs below 4.00 but awful WHIPs.
5/07 - 5/13: 3 G, 4.2 IP, H, 0 ER, BB, 3 K (0-0, 0 Sv).
Status: The Tigers haven't generated a save opportunity in their last three wins, and given how long it may take them to win another three, any answer to the closing dilemma remain illusory. Our best guess remains Sparks, who has finished a couple of the team's non-save wins and has allowed one run in his last seven innings.
Fantasy Insurance: Franklyn German. Working in just one of the team's last five games, German hasn't had an opportunity to prove he's ready for closing opportunities. No doubt the team would love to let him develop in the role, but he has to show better control. Opponents are hitting just .218 against him, but he has 15 walks in 14.2 innings.
Other Options: He's a longshot, but at least veteran Steve Avery is back in the bigs. The lefty is likely bound for middle relief in the short term, but he did have terrific numbers at Triple-A. Jamie Walker has a 2.78 ERA and just one walk in his last nine appearances after a wild start. He could factor in the closing mix, as could little-used Chris Spurling.
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Clubhouse
5/07 - 5/13: 3 G, 3 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K (0-0, 1 Sv, 1 BS).
Status: MacDougal continues looking far less than perfect, but he continues getting the call in the ninth inning. Could a blown save against Minnesota on May 13 change that? MacDougal didn't return to pitch the 10th after allowing two hits and a run in the ninth. On a more positive note, he's walked just one hitter in his last 6.2 innings.
Fantasy Insurance: D.J. Carrasco. Still lurking in the shadows should MacDougal implode, Carrasco has terrific numbers in set-up duty. He was charged with a blown save on May 13, but has a 0.92 WHIP and a .181 batting average against. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 8.1 innings. If you have MacDougal and have any kind of roster space, add Carrasco for the time being.
Other Options: Jason Grimsley has appeared in 22 of 37 Royals games. Is he too valuable as a set-up option to save for closing duty. Quite possibly. Albie Lopez followed MacDougal on May 13 and promptly gave up two runs in the 10th. About what you'd expect from a guy with a 10.00 ERA.
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, BB, K (0-0, Sv).
Status: Even when proving himself mortal -- allowing three hits and two runs against Boston -- Guardado picked up a save. Few jobs are safer.
Fantasy Insurance: LaTroy Hawkins. Lights-out in set-up work last season, Hawkins is on track for more of the same this season. His record as a closer is spotty at best, but there's little doubt he's the first call after Guardado.
Other Options: Johan Santana appears to have the stuff -- 32 K in 28.2 IP -- to be a dominant starter or closer, but the team is content to use him in middle relief. But if Guardado were to go down for an extended period, it would be worth watching what role Santana took. Juan Rincon is back from the minors and has pitched well.
New York Yankees
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 2 IP, H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K (0-0, Sv).
Status: Save chances haven't been plentiful with the Yankees hitting a slight skid, but Rivera has looked great since returning from the DL.
Fantasy Insurance: Antonio Osuna. Expected back from the disabled list in time for action Wednesday or Thursday, Osuna has a chance to emerge as the primary right-handed set-up option. He had a 1.59 ERA and 13 strikeouts in his first 11.1 innings.
Other Options: Juan Acevedo picked up the saves while Rivera was out, but it's
5/07 - 5/13: 3 G, 3.1 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 3 K (0-0, 3 Sv).
Status: They weren't all perfect, but Foulke picked up three more saves in three opportunities. Oakland has themselves a stud closer.
Fantasy Insurance: Chad Bradford. Oakland's most-used reliever after Foulke, Bradford could step in and fill the void if Foulke got hurt.
Other Options: Lefty Ricardo Rincon struggles against right-handed hitters but owns lefties and could pick up a few situational saves.
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 2 IP, H, 0 ER, 0 BB, K (0-0, 0 Sv).
Status: Sasaki has worked just two innings since returning from the DL, both in non-save siutations, but manager Bob Melvin has made it clear that Kaz is still his closer. Melvin's willingness to use him, despite awful numbers before the DL stint, hints of good job security.
Fantasy Insurance: Jeff Nelson. With Sasaki still finding his sea legs, Nelson picked up a save against Chicago on May 9. He's given up 13 hits in 13.1 innings, but the right-handed Nelson remains Melvin's first choice after Sasaki.
Other Options: Arthur Rhodes is the left-handed complement to Nelson and could pick up a few situational saves, even with Sasaki back in the mix. He has allowed five hits and three earned runs in his last two innings. Shigetoshi Hasegawa has the bullpen's best numbers -- including a 0.40 ERA and 0.85 WHIP -- but he may not be suited for ninth-inning duty.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
5/07 - 5/13: 4 G, 4.1 IP, 2 H, ER, 0 BB, 3 K (0-0, 3 Sv).
Status: Despite saying he wouldn't use Carter for more than one inning, Lou Piniella did just that on May 9. But Carter did just fine with the extra work. Piniella's willingness to use Carter three straight days -- Carter converted both save opportunities and pitched a scoreless inning in the third game -- suggests the closer's job is safe.
Fantasy Insurance: Al Levine. He's not the exciting pick, but Levine, who picked up five saves for Anaheim last season, would be a safe short-term alternative. Opponents are hitting just .203 against him this season.
Other Options: Enjoy John Rocker's 0.00 while it lasts, because that won't be long. Rocker walked two and failed to record an out in his only appearance. Travis Harper has pitched more extended relief this season, but his stellar numbers could earn him late-inning chances at some point.
5/07 - 5/13 2 G, 2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, K (0-0, 1 Sv).
Status: Are the wheels falling off? Not really. Urbina's ERA soared more than two runs after he allowed four runs in an inning against Cleveland, but the damage came in a non-save situation. And Urbina isn't alone as a closer who seems to fall apart when nothing is on the line. Don't worry about his job security.
Fantasy Insurance: Francisco Cordero. Although charged with a blown save after allowing three runs against Boston on May 13, Cordero remains the most consistent late-inning call after Urbina.
Other Options: Lefty Aaron Fultz has come out of nowhere, but his great numbers aren't enough to lift him out of situational duty. Esteban Yan has closing experience, but continues to get shelled.
Toronto Blue Jays
5/07 - 5/13: 2 G, 3 IP, 2 H, ER, 0 BB, 3 K (0-0, 2 Sv).
Status: For a replacement closer, Politte's job is relatively safe. The Jays haven't hesitated to use him for more than an inning. Both saves in this time period came after he entered the game in the eighth inning. With Escobar moving back to the rotation, there just aren't many alternatives.
Fantasy Insurance: Doug Creek. Is Creek really a viable closing option probably not, but the veteran southpaw reliever has the best ERA in Toronto's bullpen.
Other Options: Aquilino Lopez is striking out an obscene number of people -- 24 in 14.2 innings -- but he's also giving up way too many hits. He's intriguing, but he's too inconsistent right now. Brian Bowles had eight saves at Triple-A Syracuse, but he gave up a hit and a run in his first inning with the Jays. He's still waiting for his second inning."