Have all closers gone crazy?

The new face of ninth-inning trust. (US Presswire)

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.

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  1. Mark Himmelstein said...

    I pointed this out in another post, and while he’s probably third in line on his team right now, Bobby Parnell is currently pitching very well behind the kings of mediocre late inning relief—Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. He’s intentionally pulled the fastball velocity back a bit (down from around 97 average last year to around 95, though he did hit triple-digits for the first time yesterday) and traded his slider for a knuckle-curve he learned last year from Jason Isringhausen and it’s done wonders so far in the early season. 15 Ks, 2 BBs, and a 53% ground ball rate through 10.1 innings.

    Francisco’s two year deal buys him some leash, and Rauch has actually been okay so far too just by virtue of throwing strikes (he got pretty mercilessly squeezed last night before Byrdak let his baserunners score on Helton’s grand slam), but Parnell’s looking like he could be the best reliever in the Mets pen. If he keeps it up he’ll firmly place himself right in that grey speculative add/viable middle relief territory of mixed league relevance.

  2. Hummingbirds said...

    The White Sox closer situation is also volatile. It looks like Thorton will get the first crack at saves after Hector Santiago, but I can’t imagine that Addison Reed doesn’t factor into the equation fairly soon.

  3. Paul Singman said...

    Jonathan – That was a point I was trying to make, that around 1-2 teams this year are ruined/severely impaired simply through closer injuries. Good to hear you’ve been able to manage pretty well it looks like.

    Mark – I like Parnell as well though unfortunately he’s getting a little unlucky with balls in play so his actual stats don’t look as dominating as his peripherals that you mention. The Mets face a fairly light hitting schedule for the next few weeks so I don’t see a closer change in the near future all too likely.

    Thunderbirds – Yup, since writing this both the White Sox and Dodger’s bullpens have been shaken up without Guerra or Santiago officially being removed.

  4. Jonathan said...

    It’s killing me. I’m in a three reliever league and I ended up going with Madson, Soria and Aceves in my draft.

    I’m now running with Balfour, Marshall and Rodney, though. That’s working out far better than it has any right to, so far.

  5. Matt C said...

    J.J Putz’s velocity is down and he’s abandoned his slider entirely, which suggests that the elbow is still not quite right.  I expect to see David Hernandez closing before the All-Star break.

  6. JFree said...

    I’m always a fan of a pitcher who has to get four strikeouts in one inning. Looking at the pitch count in that inning – 3 strikes looking, 7 strikes swinging, 7 foul balls, 3 balls, and 1 strike swinging wild pitch in the dirt. Tough inning

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