Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Pete Alexander" Tier.)
Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Andrew Bailey (first chair), Junichi Tazawa (second chair), Koji Uehara (third chair), Boston Red Sox
Joaquin Benoit (first chair), Phil Coke (second chair), Al Albuquerque (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Edward Mujica (first chair), Trevor Rosenthal (second chair), St. Louis Cardinals
Jose Veras (first chair), Rhiner Cruz (second chair), Hector Ambriz (third chair), Houston Astros
Shawn Camp (first chair), Carlos Marmol (second chair), Chicago Cubs
Pete Alexander had 2198 strikeouts! He also had the lowest strikeout rate of any pitcher with more than 5000 innings. He didn't even strike out four batters per nine. But he was there. He was there.
Jim Henderson just needs to hold on -- and John Axford needs to keep sucking -- in order to move up in the rankings. He's obviously got gas and strikeouts (more than Axford, even), but inertia is on Axford's side, probably. Is that paradoxical? Henderson is the closer now, but you have to think that Axford is the name that you think of as the Brewer's closer first. So inertia says he'll get back in the role once he's 'right.' Anyway, Axford threw a scoreless, one-hit, no strikeout, no walk seventh inning Tuesday night. Needs more information, but the prospect of a year-long closer with Henderson's strikeout rate means Hendo leaps to the top of the bottom tier.
Andrew Bailey is fine when he's healthy, and he's a must-own when Joel Hanrahan is not. Right now, it looks like The Hammer will just be out two weeks to rest his hammy, but if that turns into something worse, Bailey might crack double-digits in saves. Junichi Tazawa has a starter's arsenal and nice velocity in the pen, so if Bailey gets hurt while Hanrahan is hurt -- you know this is a possibility -- Tazawa might get a few saves, too.
We've listed Joaquin Benoit as the closer for the Tigers all year… and he doesn't have a save yet. That's okay, they only have two saves all year, and one was a three-inning Drew Smyly operation, and the other was a two-batter lefty-on-lefty matchup for LOOGY Phil Coke. Neither tells us more than the fact that manager Jim Leyland says Benoit is just about as much a closer as he has, and the fact that Benoit lacks the splits of his bullpen mates. There's a research idea right there -- does a lack of platoon splits predict a closer change?
The nominal closer in St. Louis also doesn't have a save. But Edward Mujica was warming in the right spots to suggest he is the closer, and his manager says he'll be tried in the role. You know who owns the best velocity and strikeout rates in that pen, though? Trevor Rosenthal. He's still my pick, even if I have to begrudgingly listen to the manager in this situation. It's his team, not mine.
And then you have the two worst pens in baseball. With Kyuji Fujikawa nursing his forearm for the second time this season -- this time on the disabled list -- the Cubs will probably turn to a platoon between Shawn Camp and LOOGY James Russell. But Camp blew a big one against the Giants the other day, Russell can't get righties out, and now the rumor is Carlos Marmol is back in play. Oof. Jose Veras is probably the closer in Houston… right? Rhiner Cruz has gas but no strikeouts (two in 8 2/3 innings). Until Josh Fields is healthy, there's no obvious sleeper in this pen.
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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (hamstring), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (forearm), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (triceps), Blue Jays
It looks like we have a reason for some of the struggles of Joel Hanrahan -- might have been his hammy. Two weeks might be all it takes. Kyuji Fujikawa actually sat during spring training for a forearm issue, so this is sort of an ongoing thing. He leaves the Cubs bullpen without a decent pitcher, really. Ryan Madson thinks May 1 will be his return date. That's also the date Jason Motte finds out if he'll have TJ surgery. Sergio Santos should be back in two weeks.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Is Carlos Marmol back? Will John Axford reclaim the throne? Both are seriously wild, but that hasn't stopped all those wild closers in the past.
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The Steals Department
The Marlins *said* that Chris Coghlan was supposed to platoon with Justin Ruggiano, it just hasn't worked out that way. Coghlan doesn't add much value with his bat, and his defense is no better than Ruggiano's, so it didn't make much sense, even if platoons are generally a good way to get value out of flawed players. Well, now Justin Ruggiano is starting against pitchers of both handedness, and that's good news for fantasy owners. Right now, it's tempting to say that Ruggiano cut his strikeout rate and might have a good batting average once his batting average on balls in play gets right, but the dude is still whiffing at his career rate. Expect more strikeouts even as more balls find grass, and basically about the same batting average he's showing now. That's fine, even at .250+, double-digit power and speed plays well in most leagues.
In deep leagues, there's something to be said for predictability. You know Craig Gentry will play against lefties, and you know that his .294/.367/.397 line against lefties -- even if it only comes in 204 career at bats -- will make him useful against southpaws. And after 445 career at-bats overall, the Rangers' center fielder has 35 stolen bases. That's legit speed that you can slot into your lineup a couple times a week. Deep leaguers with deep benches should think about him. Especially now that Julio Borbon is about to be traded out of town (Borbon might make an interesting pickup, depending on where he ends up, by the way) Gentry looks safe and useful, even if his ceiling is fairly low.