Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Tom Buskey" Tier.)
Ernesto Frieri (first chair), Scott Downs (second chair), Jordan Walden (third chair), Los Angeles Angels
Brian Fuentes (first chair), Ryan Cook (second chair), Sean Doolittle (third chair), Oakland Athletics
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Stephen Pryor (second chair), Brandon League (third chair), Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard (first chair), Sean Burnett (second chair), Washington Nationals
Casey Janssen (first chair), Francisco Cordero (second chair), Jason Frasor (third chair), Toronto Blue Jays
Shawn Camp (first chair), James Russell (second chair), Casey Coleman (third chair), Chicago Cubs
In 1979, the Blue Jays were two years old. Their closer, Tom Buskey, led the team with seven saves. The team only managed 11 saves on the year. Buskey was bad, too: Even though his ERA was good, he only struck out five batters per nine, and had average control. This was one of those rare cases where a bad team had a bad bullpen and didn't give them many chances. The 2012 Cubs should still manage better, though.
Ernesto Frieri only brings it at 93 MPH, but he's got a little funk in that delivery, and the fastball has a ton of movement. That's how you strike out double-digit dudes per nine over your career, and it's also how you have control problems from time to time. Right now, he's in the lead for the saves going forward -- not because Scott Downs has blown up, or even because his manager gave him the role, but because lefty closers are not a manager's friend. In the free agency era, lefties have been closers about half as much as they 'should have been' according to how many lefties there are in the league. A few more lights-out innings from Frieri, and his role will be affirmed in public.
Brian Fuentes has been showing his mediocre numbers (other than walk rate, which has been excellent this year) for a while now, and blown a few saves. The speculation has begun. As a lefty, maybe he's not the best fit for the role, but then that dings recent callup (and former first baseman) Sean Doolittle and his candidacy for the role. Ryan Cook is the guy with the flashy ERA and WHIP, and he has a nice swinging strike rate. The walk rate is a little high to demand a move, though -- he's walking over five per nine and getting a little lucky to have that ERA. He also had control problems in the minor leagues. If you're desperate for saves, Cook is an own, but Doolittle (and his 94-96 mph gas) is a watch.
Tom Wilhelmsen is the closer in Seattle. So much so that his manager is using him for multiple-inning saves. He has a great story too -- he dropped out of baseball to bartend and enjoy his twenties before coming back to Seattle camp and showing his old velocity and hammer curve and making the team. It's important to mention his control problems -- he's had them on and off in his career and they always threaten to return. If they do, new callup Stephen Pryor might get the call. He struck out Paul Konerko with two on and two out in the seventh inning in his debut -- with a 100-mph fastball. He's also had control problems off and on, but his strikeout rates have been enormous and he's definitely interesting. For now, though, he's being used in the seventh as much as the eighth, so it's hard to say what he is to the team.
Tyler Clippard and Casey Janssen continue to keep the seat warm for their injured closers. Read more on their situations below.
And the worst bullpen in baseball, the one that inspired me to start a mini-series investigating saves in baseball. Bad teams do indeed create save chances, but a bullpen as putrid as the one the Cubs own may not take advantage of them, and might not produce a single mixed-league closer this year. James Russel is barely a good LOOGY if judged by his rates, so he's not listed first here despite earning some saves. Shawn Camp is not exciting, but there are two things he's done his whole career: limit the walks and get ground balls. The ground balls aren't quite there yet this year, but the other 480 or so innings with a great ground-ball rate deserve more weight. He's no Jim Johnson either -- he'll get some strikeouts -- so Camp is the one to own here. Casey Coleman deserves a mention, but doesn't really have proven ability in any of the three main facets of pitching.
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Andrew Bailey (thumb), Boston Red Sox
Kyle Farnsworth (elbow), Tampa Bay Rays
Drew Storen (elbow), Washington Nationals
Sergio Santos (shoulder), Toronto Blue Jays
Andrew Bailey is playing catch at 90 feet but hasn't thrown off a mound. The All-Star break is still the goal. Drew Storen says he expects to start throwing off a mound in the next couple of weeks, and the All-Star break is his goal, too. Kyle Farnsworth says he's two weeks away. Sergio Santos threw off a mound! He could be two weeks away, suddenly.
Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds
Henry Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Rafael Dolis, Chicago Cubs
Is Brian Fuentes next? And does Scott Downs deserve to go here if the Angels go with Ernesto Frieri full-time?
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The Steals Department
We've talked about Ben Revere and Juan Pierre and Michael Brantley here in the past, but it's worth pointing out that they are stealing more bases recently. We've even talked about Jarrod Dyson before, but now it's time to consider him in mixed leagues. Well, as a short-term add. Because Dyson is making a ton of contact when judged by swinging strike rate, and he's one of the fastest three players in baseball. If you'd rather get ahead of the crowd by a move or two, though, Lorenzo Cain could begin his rehab assignment within the next week, and he's a better overall player once you factor in his power. Cain could still go for five home runs and 15 stolen bases in a half-season if his hip is okay.
We talked about the Padres middle infield last week, and it's looking like Everth Cabrera is the pick. They might both hit for poor batting averages, but Alexi Amarista is struggling right now. With the injuries in Los Angeles, there's another middle-infielder callup that might be interesting to deep leaguers -- Elian Herrera. He's playing like he wants to stay, and he has legit speed, but there are a few flaws in his game that kept him in the minor leagues for six years -- he strikes out a little too much and has no power. He doesn't always show good patience either. But right now he's walking and stealing bases, and that's more important than anything for deep league owners looking for speed. Even if he hits .250 from here on out, he's going to be valuable if he keeps playing.