Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Re-ranking The Relievers

Monday, April 9, 2012

We're only a few days in, but it seems like there's plenty of material for the first Strike Zone of the year. Let's start things off by re-ranking the relievers.


I'm listing the relievers in their new order, with the preseason order following. The guys with asterisks in front of their names are NOT currently closers.


1. Craig Kimbrel (Atl) - 1

2. Jonathan Papelbon (Phi) - 2

3. Mariano Rivera (NYY) - 3

4. John Axford (Mil) - 4

5. Jason Motte (StL) - 5

6. Joel Hanrahan (Pit) - 6

7. Heath Bell (Mia) - 7

8. Drew Storen (Was) - 9

9. Sergio Santos (Tor) - 8

10. Jordan Walden (LAA) - 10

11. Jose Valverde (Det) - 12

12. *Kenley Jansen (LAD) - 11

13. J.J. Putz  (Ari) - 14

14. Brian Wilson (SF) - 13

15. Brandon League (Sea) - 15

16. Sean Marshall (Cin) - 16

17. Joe Nathan (Tex) - 17

18. Huston Street(SD) - 18

19. Rafael Betancourt (Col) - 21

20. *Addison Reed (CWS) - 20

21. Alfredo Aceves (Bos) - 23

22. Carlos Marmol (ChC) - 19

23. Kyle Farnsworth (TB) - 22

24. Jim Johnson (Bal) - 25

25. Matt Capps (Min) - 24

26. Brett Myers   (Hou) - 26

27. *Aroldis Chapman (Cin) -  27

28. *Greg Holland (KC) - 28

29. Frank Francisco (NYM) - 30

30. Grant Balfour (Oak) - 31

31. Jonathan Broxton (KC) - 32

32. *Vinnie Pestano (Cle) - 35

33. Chris Perez   (Cle) - 29

34. Javy Guerra   (LAD) - 37

35. Hector Santiago (CWS) - 177

36. *Mark Melancon (Bos) - 33

37. *Tyler Clippard (Was) - 34

38. *Matt Thornton (CWS) - 36

39. *Mike Adams (Tex) - 38

40. *Jonny Venters (Atl) - 39 


Addressing a few of these situations: 


White Sox - Everyone thought there was a decent chance the White Sox would open up with a rookie in the closer's role, but it's turned out to be Santiago, not Addison Reed. I'm not so optimistic about the choice. Santiago spent 2 1/2 years in high-A ball before graduating to Double-A last summer. He never had an ERA under 3.50 in any of those stops, and he's now in the majors without ever having pitched in Triple-A. He is pretty interesting, what with the rarely seen screwball and a fastball in the 92-96 mph range, but he should prove inferior to Reed as time goes on. 


Dodgers - Guerra has looked strong right since the beginning of the spring, so my hopes of a quick move to Jansen in the closer's role are fading. Still, it's a long season, and Jansen is so talented that he could well finish the year as a top-30 reliever while serving as a setup man the whole way through. I don't think it will come to that, though.


Indians - I'm taking the chance and moving Pestano ahead of Perez now, even though Pestano gave up a go-ahead homer in Saturday's game. Apart from the facial hair, Perez just doesn't look like a closer at the moment. His velocity is down again, and the Blue Jays were all over him. Pestano may well get the job soon.


Cubs - Marmol and Kerry Wood were sporting identical 27.00 ERAs and 6.00 WHIPs, with both having taken a loss and a blown save through two games. Marmol, though, was able to get one out for a save on Sunday. The Cubs may have no choice but to pull Marmol from the closer's role if he continues to struggle this week, even though they have no legitimate fallback with Wood performing just as terribly. They'd probably try to get by with a committee of Wood and James Russell if they did make the move, but Rafael Dolis is now a legitimate sleeper. I don't think he's ready yet, but he does have closer-type stuff with his mid-90s fastball and slider.


Rays - Fernando Rodney has recorded five outs this season and already has a win and two saves. Joel Peralta looked like the favorite for saves with Kyle Farnsworth out 4-6 weeks with an elbow strain, but now it will probably be Rodney's job until he blows one.


Red Sox - Aceves' weekend was an obvious disaster, with Melancon faring little better. I think Aceves will bounce back, and I trust him quite a bit more than Melancon at the moment. The Red Sox will be under pressure to move Daniel Bard back to the pen if things continue on like this, but it's hard to imagine them making the switch in April. Maybe come May if Bard is struggling to settle in as a starter.


On to the rest of my week one thoughts:


- The velocity readings of both Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum have been pretty scary. Hernandez, who was pushed back to Saturday after originally being scheduled to start Seattle's first game in Oakland, topped out at 93 mph versus the A's and was typically at 89-92 mph. Last year, he averaged 93.4 mph with his fastball, which was down from 94.4 mph in his stellar 2010 season. Lincecum averaged 90 mph with his fastball on Opening Day, down from 92.3 mph last year.


Now those are just one start in both cases. But Hernandez's velocity was similarly down in Japan, and Lincecum's was noticeably down all spring. If it was just one of those occasional spring training dead-arm situations, they should both be bouncing back now.


I'm not panicking in either case. Again, it is early April, not mid-June. Also, both Hernandez and Lincecum are talented enough to succeed with diminished fastballs. Still, I am concerned, particularly with Lincecum. I certainly wouldn't give them away, but I'd trade either pitcher for Zack Greinke right now and consider myself fortunate to have made the swap.


- I remain skeptical that Yoenis Cespedes will hit for average this year, but that is some pretty remarkable power he possesses. My projection called for a .248 average, 20 homers and 72 RBI in 521 at-bats, but now it seems like a good bet that he'll get to at least 25 homers and maybe 85 RBI with the A's already moving him into the cleanup spot.


- Fellow Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo hasn't been so impressive. Watching him this spring, I think he might prove overmatched by tough right-handers as a regular for the White Sox. The team should stick with him -- it's a rebuilding year and it's worth finding out if he can improve -- but manager Robin Ventura's best lineup right now would have Kosuke Fukudome starting over him versus righties.


- Three games in for the Reds and Chris Heisey and Devin Mesoraco have started one game apiece. It was a given that Mesoraco would receive this kind of treatment -- the plan always appeared to be for Ryan Hanigan to get the majority of the starts early on -- but it's troubling that Heisey is taking a backseat to Ryan Ludwick so soon. While it's one thing to go with the hot hand, if Dusty Baker wants to keep alternating left fielders, it's less likely that either will ever get on much of a roll. Heisey deserves a long look, but at the same time, it's entirely possible that Ludwick will prove to be the better option for Cincinnati. It's just that we'll never know for sure if Heisey plays two or three times per week. Obviously, Heisey isn't worth playing in mixed leagues right now.


- Both Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel were very impressive in their first starts against the Twins, but I can never be too optimistic when it comes to Orioles starters; it's just so hard to amass value pitching in Camden Yards and too often facing the AL East powerhouses. There were promising signs: Arrieta showed improved fastball command in his outing and Hammel is back looking like the pitcher he was in 2009-10, as opposed to the guy with diminished stuff last year. I wouldn't try either in a mixed league, but they are worth running out there in AL-only leagues for now.


- I'm not giving up on Colby Rasmus for the year yet, but he is completely lost at the plate right now and needs to be benched in mixed leagues. The Jays will likely keep batting him ninth most of the time and they may sit him in favor of Rajai Davis against lefties.


- If the Diamondbacks decide to pull Josh Collmenter from the rotation this month -- and with the way he's throwing right now, it's a definite possibility -- I imagine they'd probably go to Wade Miley before trying a prospect from the group of Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs. Bauer, who allowed two hits and struck out seven in five scoreless innings in his first Double-A start, could make an impact right away if the Diamondbacks let him, but I doubt they have any intention of bringing him up before June.

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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