Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Astros 1, Mets 0, April 15, 1968" Tier.)
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
Jose Veras, Houston Astros
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Mets again. And this time they lost on a balk and an error and some stupidity all wrapped up into a loss. What made it bad? This loss came in the 24th. People had to wait a really long time to see a single, a bunt, a balk and an error turn a tie game into a loss. That must have sucked. Thanks to the Mets for three of our worst endings of all time…
Kevin Gregg's strikeout rate is starting to fall -- he has three strikeouts in his last five outings -- and that was fairly predictable. Despite bad walk rate peripherals, his walk rate is holding steady though. He could be the closer all year in Chicago and make this ranking look bad. On the other hand, his name is now coming up in trade talks, and he'd probably only close in Detroit if he gets traded.
I own Jose Veras in three or four leagues and am totally happy with his cheap production. His walk rate (best of his career) is a surprise, but this is the first year of his career that he's had an average first-strike rate. Perhaps he can keep it up! The pen around him is just terrible, and his team won't give him many chances, but if he can strike out guys in the double digits, and keep his walk rate down, he'll be a valuable piece despite his flaws. Basically, Steve Cishek is the same story, but the Marlins took so long between save chances that it looked like he had lost his job. Maybe he had. But nobody stepped forward to take the job, and now he's settled down. He also has his flaws -- sometimes he's wild, his strikeout rate is only average for a closer, and the aforementioned team stuff -- but he's useful, and nobody's going to take the job from him. That's enough for him to climb out of the bottom tier. He's walked one guy in June, against 11 strikeouts, in ten innings. That'll do.
Fernando Rodney had a Kimbrel on Sunday. Seriously. Three strikeouts, no base runners. He's still walking the lineup most of the time, and I still own Jake McGee in a few of my deepest leagues, but I'm no longer sure they'll make a switch. It's kind of crazy to see those walk rate numbers next to a closer, but in my research, walk rate hasn't been a good predictor of closer changes anyway.
Huston Street had been putting up zeroes, for the most part, since he returned from the disabled list, but that masks all that's wrong with the closer. For one, he's only struck out two guys in six innings since he's returned. He's given up three home runs. His velocity is down even further -- he's not even cracking ninety these days. When he got smoked by the Dodgers on Sunday, it was almost inevitable. He doesn't look healthy. Luke Gregerson and Dale Thayer are absolutely ownable, with Gregerson (despite his somewhat erratic fill-in job for Street) a nose ahead.
Heath Bell turned into a pumpkin overnight. Suddenly he's giving up two homers per nine innings! A homer per game for five straight outings will do that to you. He says he's found something wrong with his delivery and can fix it, but it probably doesn't matter. J.J. Putz is almost done with his rehab. It might actually matter -- if Putz goes down again, maybe it's David Hernandez that gets the call next time.
Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "AL 7, NL 7 July 9, 2002" Tier.)
Joaquin Benoit (first chair), Drew Smyly (second chair), Jose Valverde (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Yoervis Medina (second chair), Oliver Perez (third chair), Seattle Mariners
Jim Henderson (first chair), Francisco Rodriguez (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Koji Uehara (first chair), Junichi Tazawa (second chair), Andrew Bailey (third chair), Boston Red Sox
Vinnie Pestano (first chair), Joe Smith (second chair), Cody Allen (third chair), Cleveland Indians
Rex Brothers (first chair), Wilton Lopez (second chair), Colorado Rockies
You know what's worse than ending in a tie? ENDING A GAME THAT DIDN'T MATTER IN A TIE.
And ending a game in a tie seems preferable to the work that Jim Leyland has to do right now. He's angry about it too, asking reporters what they would do about the situation. He's probably sending signals to his General Manager (or even voicemails), but for now, it's the best pitcher in the pen that's the closer. The problem with going with Joaquin Benoit all year is that he supposedly isn't good in back-to-back situations. Well, he's done it four times this season and been fine. And if he doesn't get every single save opportunity, but is the closer most of the time the rest of the year, he'll move out of this tier. With 37 strikeouts and nine walks in 31 1/3 innings, he's the best option they have… on the roster right now. Doesn't mean they won't go get a guy. Drew Smyly is interesting, but as a lefty, he's half as likely as a righty to get the job, and his multiple-inning usage suggests that he's either still got one foot in the starting rotation, or he's needed as a bridge to the pen.
We kept Tom Wilhelmsen in the first chair to represent the fact that we still like him best going forward. Carter Capps fell apart at the wrong time, Yoervis Medina has the same flaws as Capps (control, platoon splits), and Oliver Perez is a lefty whose walk and homer rates are much worse against righties than lefties. The team sounds like they want the bartender to close, too, since they are calling it a 'break' and not a change. Wilhelmsen says it's control of his curveball that's lacking, and he looks like he's right. According to BrooksBaseball.net, he's throwing balls with the curve 47% of the time now, up from 40% before this season. That's significant. The last time out, though, Wilhelmsen got a Kimbrel without the save, so maybe he's righting the ship. A couple more outings like that and he'll be officially back in the role. He shouldn't be dropped.
Francisco Rodriguez got his 300th save. Jim Henderson should get the next save, and the rest of them, since he's on a rebuilding team and is actually under team control next season. It wasn't worth putting Rodriguez in the first chair for those two saves.
Andrew Bailey's velocity chart was actually a harbinger of doom, maybe. He was still getting the whiffs, so I thought he might be okay, but this chart is not good. Junichi Tazawa has more gas than Koji Uehara, and that's why I gave him the nod last time, but it looks like it's Uehara this time. Supposedly he can't go back-to-back either, but he's done it four times this year. He'll give up a few too many homers though, and he's actually showing the worst walk rate of his career, so this isn't set in stone. The team had to do something when Bailey gave up four homers in six outings and blew four opportunities to close out the game. Baiey's getting whiffs, but they aren't coming from his four seamer or curve, and he can't get the curve over for strikes (54% balls). He's still the best option when he's right, so he doesn't seem droppable just yet.
Rafael Betancourt is back into the closer role Friday, but Chris Perez may not be so lucky. He did pitch better in his last rehab start, and has pronounced himself ready. Both temporary closers here at the bottom of the list are probably out of a job soon, but it's Vinnie Pestano that's a nose ahead.
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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
J.J. Putz (elbow), Arizona Diamondbacks
Chris Perez (shoulder), Cleveland Indians
Rafael Betancourt (groin), Colorado Rockies
Looks like Chris Perez, Rafael Betancourt and J.J. Putz might all be back this weekend. Adjust your life and rosters accordingly.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Is Tom Wilhelmsen supposed to be here? Or will he avoid the shame?
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The Steals Department
Peter Bourjos is dealing with a thumb injury, and before that it was a hamstring injury that kept him out a month-plus. But his strikeout rate is down, and if that holds, he could put up one of the better batting averages of his career, even when the batted ball luck calms down. He's slapping the ball on the ground more than he ever has, but that might allow him to take advantage of his speed, and he wasn't going to hit many more than ten homers in a full season anyway. You can expect a batting average over .265, a handful of home runs, and then the stolen bases. He only stole three last year, but before that he was a consistent performer in the category. Call him a 25 stolen base guy, true talent. If that's not exciting, it should be. There will probably be half as many 30-steal guys this year as there were last year, and that makes the 25-steal guy the new 30-steal guy. He's probably a better own -- if he stays healthy -- than Denard Span (who has had his own health issues), for what it's worth.
Lorenzo Cain is still the starter in Kansas City. But he has his flaws. He strikes out too much, he doesn't walk enough, he should be showing more power, and he gets caught a bit much on the base paths. Jarrod Dyson also doesn't walk enough, but he strikes out less, and is a burner on the basepaths. He's started two straight games in Kansas City since he came back from the disabled list, and that alone makes him interesting in deep leagues. Last year he stole 30 bases in basically a half-season of plate appearances (330), so once he gets on base, he's going. He could be a one-category find even in a part-time role.