The closers market

Could this be the year hitter’s figure out Mo? (Icon/SMI)

The bell has made its final toll for Trevor Hoffman, Mo can’t be the same ol’ Mo forever, and excuse me for not wanting my crème de la crème closer to be coming off Tommy John surgery. Looking at the closer landscape for 2011, it appears to be lacking the lights-out, no-questions options that existed a few years ago.

The ageless Mariano Rivera showed the first signs of his mortality with a K/9 rate that dipped below 7.0 for the first time since 2000. While I still expect him to remain effective in 2011, I certainly don’t feel I can trust him as much as I did a few years ago.

The once-considered “dominant closers of the future,” Jonathan Papelbon and Jonathan Broxton, are now precariously situated as the closers on their respective teams. Joakim Soria could be traded, and Neftali Feliz may find himself in the starting rotation someday.

NL West nutcases Brian Wilson and Heath Bell share none of the concerns of the closers just mentioned and have been extremely effective the past two years, but do not have nearly the security of a Rivera or Joe Nathan circa 2007.

To sum it up, 2011 is looking like a good year to avoid drafting that elite closer in round six, seeing how there is a lack of “elite” options at closer.

Consequently, it should be more tempting to make a minimal investment in closers on draft day and instead plan to ride the closer carousel throughout the year.

However, no one likes to come out of the draft without at least one fairly secure closer, so you may be inclined to draft a middle-of-the-pack closer after the top-tier options come off the board. In theory, I have no problem with that strategy, but here are a couple of closers I would avoid selecting for that role:

Andrew Bailey | Team: A’s | 2010 Stats: 49 IP, 25 SV, 1.47 ERA, 7.71 K/9, 2.39 BB/9

Since taking over the A’s closing role in 2009, Bailey has been lights out, posting an ERA below 2.00 both years. After a dominating rookie season in which he struck out over a batter an inning and saved 26 games (and won him a Rookie of the Year award), his sophomore campaign was less impressive.

Performance-wise, it was still impressive, netting the shiny 1.47 ERA listed above; however, he missed time with back injuries and underwent surgery on his right elbow at the end of the season. Even though reports say Bailey will be ready to assume his closer role by opening day, I have my concerns about how long he will stay in that role.

First off, the noticeable drop in strikeout rate from 9.83 to 7.71 is mildly concerning. I do not believe ineffectiveness is the most likely cause for his removal; however, the more a reliever relies on balls in play to generate outs, the more vulnerable he is to a change in luck. That said, Bailey is pitching in a spacious park with a tremendous defense behind him.

More concerning are the recent signings of Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. Although I do not believe these signings indicate that the A’s don’t trust Bailey or believe he is healthy, they do make him much more expendable. Billy Beane is not one to sit idle at the trading deadline, and Bailey is exactly the type of expendable piece he would move for prospects.

When I sum the injury and trade risk Bailey represents, I probably will let someone else draft him as their “elite” closer.

Francisco Rodriguez | Team: Mets | 2010 stats: 57 IP, 25 SV, 2.20 ERA, 10.52 K/9, 3.30 BB/9

Despite the punching-of-his-girlfriend’s-dad fiasco that ended his season, Rodriguez is heading into 2011 with a contract and the Mets’ closer role. The funny thing is, the Mets are likely to do everything in their power to make sure he does not keep that position for the whole season.

This is because Rodriguez has a ridiculous $17.5 million option for 2012 that vests if K-Rod finishes 55 games. As Eno Sarris at Amazin Avenue explains, 55 games finished is not an easy number for a closer to reach, though most established closers will reach 55 if they stay healthy.

In terms of performance, Rodriguez actually had a good year, with his strikeout rate going up to 10.5 while his walk rate fell to 3.3. Still, I don’t want to own the closer whose management is looking for any excuse to strip of him of his role.

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  1. The Baltimoron said...

    Marmol’s insane K rate makes him elite, with Wilson second.  Other than that, you’re right, it’ll come down to how smart you can scout.  I don’t think Bell is a good option at all, as he’s a solid bet to be dealt before the deadline, possibly to be a setup man for a contender.

  2. Kampfer said...

    I totally agree that Marmol is the elite option with his ridiculous K total and proven ability to prevent the HR. But the sixth round? His success last year mostly based on the suddenly-found ability to throw first pitch strike. Can he keep it going? I doubt it.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Baltimoron & Paul,

    I agree with you on Bell, but people keep lobbying me that Bell will close all year. I wish I could rank Bell lower in my CL rankings, but everyone would just whine at me smile

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