MLB Analysis: It's Not Easy Being a Closer These Days
Between fragile tendons, managerial impatience, and the risk of food poisoning, times are tough for the current crop of major league closers. Of the thirty players drafted as closers in the preseason, depending on when your draft was, about seven of those pitchers are currently on the DL, a few for season-ending injuries.
Additionally, O's closer Jim Johnson was recently hospitalized for a few days with food poisoning, and Jordan Walden, owner of a WHIP north of 2.00, has been temporarily relieved of his duties.
Walden is not the only pitcher to have held a closer title with a WHIP over 2.00, though. Before hitting the DL, Sergio Santos and Brad Lidge both were allowing over two baserunners per inning. Heath Bell and Alfredo Aceves are currently over that mark. John Axford, Carlos Marmol, Hector Santiago, Frank Francisco, and Jose Valverde are all dangerously close.
If you drafted a closer in the preseason, there is about a 30 percent chance he is no longer closing, making 2012 look like it will be a tough one for fantasy owners where saves are concerned. Put another way, Chris Perez is pitching like Chris Perez, with a 1.50 WHIP and 4.50 ERA, and you don't hear any of his owners complaining. At least not yet.
Not all is bleak in the closer landscape, though. Some of the well-established closer brands, such as Mo and Paps, are living up to their reputation, and there have been a few pleasant surprises, too. Huston Street has managed to stay healthy in Petco's safe confines, and Joe Nathan has avoided becoming the human piñata some thought he would down in Arlington. Fernando Rodney and Henry Rodriguez have been successful as replacement closers.
It is important to keep in mind that we are one month into the season, and many of these pitchers have thrown fewer than ten innings total, so obvious small sample size caveats apply. If a pitcher can throw one scoreless inning and have his ERA drop almost a full point, you know it's too early to make strong judgments.
Now for a few closer notes you may find relevant:
— Grant Balfour is pitching his way into a trade with a contender with a 1.38 ERA and six saves in ten innings with a sufficient number of strikeouts. Brian Fuentes is probably next in line for saves, but he truly is not a closer-worthy pitcher these days. Fautino de los Santos was once considered the sleeper option in the A's bullpen, but he completed just three shaky innings before getting sent down to Triple-A.
Ryan Cook, a throw-in from the Trevor Cahill trade, has looked stellar this season, allowing just one hit in ten innings with eight strikeouts (four of which came in one inning). Those in deeper leagues can add him to their radar, and he soon will be worth stashing if he keeps it up.
— Another closer trade candidate is Brett Myers despite comments from the Astros GM denying such rumors. Either way, Wilton Lopez has pitched well this year and is someone else to keep an eye on.
— My favorite bullpen prospect, Shawn Tolleson, is currently making a comedy routine of Double-A batters, with 15 strikeouts in eight innings, no walks and no runs allowed. The Dodgers bullpen has been a legitimate entity this year with Javy Guerra holding down the ninth-inning job and Kenley Jansen and Josh Lindblom pitching well. I don't believe there is much fantasy relevance to Tolleson this year, but he's a fun name to watch at the very least.
Any relievers catch your eye this year? Feel free to share in the comments.
Paul has been managing fantasy baseball teams for many seasons and writing for THT Fantasy over the past three years. He is currently a student at UPenn welcomes readers' thoughts at his email here or in the comments below.
Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.