Eno Sarris

Baseball Daily Dose

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Who Steps Up Behind K-Rod?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

There's a little less to talk about this week with the All-Star break cutting our sample down to three or four games since we last updated you. On the other hand, the trade deadline is fast approaching.

Since a closer's value is so role-specific, a change of teams can be disastrous for their value. And yet behind them, the traded closers will create vacuums. Into those vacuums will step new closers to begin the cycle again. Rinse and repeat.

So the step-in move will be the focus of our piece today. The step-in and the trade deadline. We'll try to recap the chances of every closer being traded and who would step in for them if they were. And we'll name the tiers after prominent step-ins in history. Thanks to reader Nash for the tier ideas, and the rest of you, feel free to email me whenever you have a question. I've got to work hard to keep a younger writer from taking my job, you know.

Hey, it just happened to Francisco Rodriguez, it could happen to anyone.

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig" Tier.)

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox

  • Wally Pipp is the boogeyman of veterans everywhere. Anytime a solid but unspectacular older player grabs a knee, someone somewhere makes a Pipp reference. And yet, none of these three closers will be traded this year, so they don't have much to worry about.

  • Maybe eventually (All-Star) David Robertson will tag in to the closer's role in New York, but Mariano Rivera is doing just fine, thank you. Well, not so fine that he will pitch in the All-Star game - his triceps scare will keep him out - but fine enough that he'll be an elite closer all year. Jonathan Papelbon recovered from one of the worst saves of his career with two more regular old ones in the last week, but the rest might do him well. Did you know he's only blown one save all year? Craig Kimbrel is an All-Star, he's young, and he's in control. He hasn't walked a man in 11 straight outings (not counting the All-Star game). In his last 13 appearances, he's allowed FOUR baserunners, total. He's absolutely killing it, and he's Lou Gehrig'ed Billy Wagner's Wally Pipp, kind of.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (8) (AKA: The "Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady" Tier.)

    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    Heath Bell, San Diego Padres

  • Once again, Drew Bledsoe wasn't bad, but Tom Brady has been excellent. There might be a player that gets traded on this list, and there might even be a Tom Brady behind them, but the odds aren't high that both are true.

  • Joel Hanrahan is a madman. He's given up one earned run since June seventh. One. He's only walked one batter in that time frame too. He's striking out fewer batters than he has in his career, but his ground-ball rate is up and his walks are way down. There are some rumors he might be traded, in which case Jose Veras is the favorite and Chris Resop is the dark horse, since he is under team control for longer. A trade is not probable, however. Hanrahan is Pirate property until the end of 2013, which means that the team acquiring him would have to actually give up something of substance. They can probably get other closers for cheaper.

  • <Carlos Marmol costs almost $17 million over the next two years and his team would probably like to be competitive again within that time frame. He's pitched well despite a blown save on the eighth and his customary six walks in his last ten innings. He is safe unless something happens to his health. Kerry Wood, on the other hand, could get traded and could even close on the right team. That's a name to remember./li>
  • Huston Street, Jon Axford, Jose Valverde and Andrew Bailey are all pitching well and are all on contending teams. Well, Jose Valverde's strikeout to walk ratio has bombed thanks to six walks against six strikeouts in his last six outings, so we'll move him down a little. But this is a relatively safe group.

  • Brian Wilson may be an All-Star in name, and have an All-Star save to his name, but he's not an All-Star in game right now. His control has gotten better recently - only two walks in his last ten appearances - but the results have gotten worse. He's blown three of his last five games, and two of them with spectacular home runs allowed. In his last six innings, he's allowed eleven hits and a walk, and putting two guys on per inning is no good. Still, he's the Muslim-cleric-style face of the franchise right now and even if the team likes Sergio Romo, there's not much chance they move Wilson.

  • And then there's Heath Bell. He is very likely to be traded. The Cardinals, Phillies, Angels, Yankees and Rangers are interested. The thing is, it looks like two or three of those teams would still employ him as a closer, so let's not drop him too far. Mike Adams has been excellent for a long time, but he's only under team control for another year after this one. Luke Gregerson is under contract for longer and could be the dude once the Bell has rung for a final time in San Diego.

  • Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie" Tier.)

    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins

  • Let's get this out of the way. Both women are very attractive. It's just that one is probably attractive-er. Most of these closers are attractive from a fantasy baseball standpoint, and they seem safe. Then again, we once thought "Branniston" was going to last.

  • Joakim Soria has gone from the prized pig to the runt of the litter and is on his way back to winning prizes again. In his last ten appearances, he has twelve strikeouts against one walk with one earned run. He should move up, but then we heard about his no-trade clause again this week. The team does have the cheaper Aaron Crow waiting, so Soria's possible trade situation will keep him in this tier for now.

  • The next two on the list won't be traded away from their teams. All-Star Jordan Walden and former shortstop Sergio Santos are blowing batters away, and both have made significant strides with their control. They are strong relievers. But. Looking at their teams' spots in the standings and the type of closers that are available, it's not crazy to think that their teams could trade for an upgrade at the position. Not likely, but not crazy.

  • Next on the list are two young closers that aren't quite as elite. Drew Storen only has five strikeouts in his last ten innings and All-Star Chris Perez only has 22 strikeouts against 15 walks all year. While Perez has been better of late (nine strikeouts, three walks in last ten innings), both don't quite have that elite upside. What they are, though, is safe. They are young, cheap, and on teams where being young and cheap is important. They'll be fine.

  • Leo Nunez. Leo, Leo, Leo Nunez. He strikes out two-and-a-half times as many guys as he walks and is generally a good reliever. But he's also a fly ball guy with the occasional home run problem. And he hasn't struck out a guy in his last four outings. And his team could trade him at any time because that's what they do. All of this means he has very little fantasy trade value and all you can do is try to handcuff him (Edward Mujica most likely, though lefty Michael Dunn has shown that he can be great if he betters his control) and watch the news feed.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher" Tier.)

    Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles

  • These actors have both had their moments, but the namesakes of these tiers have also both made me want to turn the television off forever. Sometimes these pitchers might make you feel the same way.

  • Kyle Farnsworth has only walked five batters all year, but three have come in his last two outings. No matter. He's been a find for the Rays, and if only we didn't have the rest of his career to look at, he'd be safe. The problem is, there is the rest of his career, and his team has once before shown that they'll trade for a short-term dominant reliever if they think they've got a chance and the getting is cheap. If they get in on any of the closers out there, Farnsworth owners will just have to thank the professor for services rendered and move on. A team that's still in the wild card race won't trade away their closer, though. You could say similar things about Neftali Feliz. He hasn't been as good as Farnsworth, but if anything happens to kill his value it won't be a trade away from Texas. Rather, it would be the arrival of another closer. In Feliz's case, that might sting a little more, since he cost more on draft day. This sort of thing happens when you are dealing with closers.

  • An impassioned reader feels that Brandon League should be higher in these rankings. The problem isn't his blown save in Oakland last week. The problem is that League only has 25 strikeouts in his 36 2/3 innings. If you owned Papelbon you'd have almost twice as many strikeouts. And if 20 strikeouts doesn't seem to matter to you, look at your standings. How many points would you gain with those strikeouts? Even in head-to-head competition, fantasy success means getting as much as possible out of every lineup spot on your roster. That means high strikeout rates are king. Could he get traded? Probably not, since the Mariners have him for another year. David Aardsma is nearing a rehab stint though, and that has to factor into League's value.

  • We've been talking about how hittable Francisco Cordero has been for a long time. We've been itching to move him down in the rankings. Now that he's blown three straight saves and allowed seven runs in his last 3 1/3 innings, the move seems obvious. He still has an ERA under three, but he also has five walks against one strikeout in his last eight outings. Guess who's pitching well behind him and struck out four in his last two-inning hold? Yeah, future closer Aroldis Chapman. Grab Chapman as a handcuff and hope the team doesn't trade for a closer.

  • Kevin Gregg is ugly. Kevin Gregg starts fights. Kevin Gregg has seven more strikeouts than walks. Kevin Gregg has allowed a run in half of his last ten appearances. Kevin Gregg has only blown four saves this year, somehow. Kevin Gregg may just retain the closer's role the whole year despite have the superior Koji Uehara behind him. Kevin Gregg won't be traded and his team won't trade for a closer. In conclusion, Kevin Gregg.

  • Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.

    continue story »
    Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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