Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Calling All Closers

Monday, April 16, 2012


A couple of more big changes to the closer rankings this week. I'll get to those in a minute. First up are some notes:

 

- With Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder) out for at least six weeks, the Red Sox will try to get by with an outfield of Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Darnell McDonald and Jason Repko for now. Carl Crawford (wrist) should be back in early May to help out. Ross is a decent enough play in mixed leagues as an everyday outfielder, while McDonald is now a pretty good pickup in AL-only leagues. Also gaining value is Mike Aviles. He'll be the leadoff man most of the time for now, making him a nice shortstop in mixed leagues.

 

- Johnny Damon didn't have a spring training, so he's likely to need a couple of weeks in the minors before joining the Indians as their left fielder. Contrary to the early reports, there's no opt-out clause in the deal, probably because the league frowned on the idea. When Grady Sizemore returns, it's possible the Indians could keep Damon in left field if he's outperforming Michael Brantley. However, it's enough of a defensive downgrade that Damon would have to play above his 2011 level to make it happen. Damon will be just a borderline starter in mixed leagues upon being activated.

 

- Kirk Gibson's stubbornness is likely playing a role in Josh Collmenter retaining his rotation spot after an awful spring and an 0-2 start that's left him with a 12.86 ERA. It looks like the Diamondbacks will turn to Wade Miley initially if Collmenter loses his spot in the next few weeks, so he's worth picking up in NL-only leagues. The team's top pitching prospects are unlikely to arrive prior to June.

 

- Jordan Pacheco's surprise demotion in Colorado was due to his poor defense. He looked like the early favorite for playing time at third base after Casey Blake was released, but his glove wasn't up to the task. The Rockies are going with Chris Nelson at third at the moment, and he's a fine play in NL-only leagues. It'd be interesting to see them give Eric Young Jr. a look over there. Because of his speed, Young, who was primarily a second baseman in the minors before seeing more time in the outfield in the majors, would be a big-time asset in NL-only leagues and playable in mixed leagues if he could find his way into the lineup most of the time.

 

- The Rockies are also facing questions in center field, with Tyler Colvin's hot spring and Dexter Fowler's lousy one carrying over to the regular season. Fowler has a big edge defensively and likely will prove to be at least Colvin's equal offensively as well. Still, Colvin is certainly swinging it better right now and should be picked up in NL-only leagues.

 

- San Diego's Joe Wieland was rocked by the Dodgers in his major league debut, giving up three homers to the red-hot combo of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. I don't believe he's quite ready for the majors yet, but with Petco on his side, the former Rangers prospect is worth having stashed away in NL-only leagues. He is better than he showed Saturday.

 

- I was hoping to see more from Brian Matsuz in his start Sunday against the Jays, but all of those promising reports from spring training didn't really hold up. His command has deteriorated, and he's not getting swings and misses with his changeup thus far. His four-pitch arsenal doesn't count for a whole lot if he can't get ahead with his fastball or an early breaking ball. I'm not giving up on him, but I was hoping for a much better start based on everything I was hearing this spring.

 

- Kyle Drabek, on the other hand, was quite impressive matched up against Matusz. His changeup has improved, and since he throws 92-95 mph, he has greater margin for error with his fastball and curve than Matusz does. The curve, which once projected as a big-time strikeout pitch, still isn't enough of a weapon to make him a No. 2 starter for the Jays, but he looks like a pretty good play in AL-only leagues right now.

 

- B.J. Upton (back) is due to return during the second half of the week, pushing Ben Zobrist back to the infield. Zobrist has started all 10 Rays games in right field thus far, with Jeff Keppinger starting six games at second base and three more at DH. Keppinger should revert to a platoon role now. Zobrist will probably play some right field against left-handers, but he should be at second most of the time.

 

- Mike Trout is hitting .435/.491/.552 for Triple-A Salt Lake and just scored from first on a groundball single in Sunday's game. Vernon Wells, meanwhile, is batting .229/.229/.429 through nine games for the Angels. I doubt we'll see a switch this month, but if the Angels continue to struggle -- and they're currently 3-6 -- they'll have to ignore the contracts and play their best players at some point.

 

- The Pirates chose to send down Matt Hague to make room for Charlie Morton on the roster over the weekend, but they can't possibly stick with Pedro Alvarez for much longer. He was handed a job despite a brutal spring, and he's started the season 1-for-19 with 12 strikeouts and no walks. He's also committed two errors in six games at third base. There's still hope for the future, but Alvarez is one of the handful of candidates for the worst player in the major leagues right now. He should have opened the season in Triple-A. I'm hardly a big Casey McGehee fan, but he still qualifies as a big upgrade at third for the Pirates.

 

Re-ranking the relievers

 

I'm not planning to do this every week, but I'm feeling the need to re-rank the closers again this week after Drew Storen's surgery and Brian Wilson's upcoming procedure. Wilson, who was ranked 14th last week, is done for the year. Storen, who could make it back by the end of June in a best-case scenario, drops to No. 25.

 

1. Craig Kimbrel (Atl) - 1

2. Jonathan Papelbon (Phi) - 2

3. Mariano Rivera (NYY) - 3

4. Jason Motte (StL) - 5

5. John Axford (Mil) - 4

6. Joel Hanrahan (Pit) - 6

7. Jordan Walden (LAA) - 10

8. Heath Bell (Mia) - 7

9. Jose Valverde (Det) - 11

10. Sergio Santos (Tor) - 9

11. J.J. Putz  (Ari) - 13

12. Brandon League (Sea) - 15

13. Sean Marshall (Cin) - 16

14. *Kenley Jansen (LAD) - 12

15. Huston Street (SD) - 18

16. Rafael Betancourt (Col) - 19

17. Joe Nathan (Tex) - 17

18. Carlos Marmol (ChC) - 22

19. Alfredo Aceves (Bos) - 21

20. Jim Johnson (Bal) - 24

21. *Addison Reed (CWS) - 20

22. Kyle Farnsworth (TB) - 23

23. Brett Myers   (Hou) - 26

24. Frank Francisco (NYM) - 29

25. Javy Guerra   (LAD) - 34

26. Drew Storen (Was) - 8

27. Matt Capps (Min) - 25

28. *Greg Holland (KC) - 28

29. *Aroldis Chapman (Cin) - 27

30. Grant Balfour (Oak) - 30

31. Chris Perez   (Cle) - 33

32. Hector Santiago (CWS) - 35

33. *Henry Rodriguez (Was) - NR

34. *Santiago Casilla (SF) - NR

35. Jonathan Broxton (KC) - 31

36. *Vinnie Pestano (Cle) - 32

37. *Brad Lidge (Was) - NR

38. *Sergio Romo (SF) - NR

39. *Fernando Rodney (TB) - NR

40. *Mike Adams (Tex) - 39

 

Asterisks are included next to relievers who aren't technically closers. Also, note that I'm only providing rankings for 5x5 leagues here; I'm not accounting for holds.

 

Addressing a few situations:

 

- Giants: Casilla and Romo are the new Giants relievers in the top 40. Manager Bruce Bochy intends to go with a committee for now, but it was Casilla whom he favored while Wilson was out last year. He's the one to grab in mixed leagues. I think Jeremy Affeldt is probably a better bet for saves than Romo, but Romo is so strong in ERA and WHIP that he gets the nod here. Another name to know is that of top relief prospect Heath Hembree. I don't expect he'll be a candidate for saves this year, but it can't be ruled out.

 

- Nationals: Davey Johnson opened the season by saying he'd have Lidge and Rodriguez alternate save chances -- literally alternate -- with Storen out, even though that really didn't make any sense. Lidge has gotten both save chances so far, but he blew Thursday's opportunity. Rodriguez probably would have gotten the call Saturday in a 4-1 game, but the Nationals opted to have Edwin Jackson finish up his own two-hitter instead. Johnson may continue to favor Lidge for the short-term, but Rodriguez is the one of the two capable of running away with the job. Still, neither ranks in the top 30 here since Storen should be back in 2-3 months.

 

- Dodgers: Guerra is certainly solidifying his hold on the closer's role with five saves and six scoreless innings to date. Jansen, on the other hand, blew his one save chance when Guerra needed a rest, though he did end up vulturing a win afterwards. I still like Jansen for the season, but I can't justify keeping Guerra out of the top 30 any longer.

 

- Marlins: Bell believes he's already fixed the mechanical flaw that's led to two ugly blown saves in two chances. I'm not particularly concerned about the rough start, though it's probably worth picking up Steve Cishek in any NL-only leagues in which he's available.

 

- Astros: With rumors that the Astros are again trying to offload Myers, it should be noted that Wilton Lopez is probably next in line for the closer's role in Houston. Fernando Rodriguez is another possibility if he continues to pitch well, but I'm not expecting him to.

 

- Indians: Perez pitched a couple of scoreless innings for saves last week, so the chances of a quick move to Pestano in the closer's role have diminished. Pestano still projects as the superior pitcher, but the Indians probably won't make the switch unless they have to.



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



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