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MLB Closer Report: Where Does Your Team Stand?

Sunday May 6, 2012

Bryan Sheehan (Baseball Writer): Seeing Mariano Rivera go down with a torn ACL is like driving by a car accident and reflecting on how easily it could have been you in that accident, or in this case- how it could have been your team’s closer cringing in pain on the warning track. And this is the year of the injured closer: from Boston’s Andrew Bailey to San Francisco’s Brian Wilson, closers across the league have been dropping like flies. Other closers, like the Angels’ Jordan Walden, have stayed healthy but haven’t played well enough to keep their coveted ninth inning role. Even though there has only been a month of baseball so far, much has changed for some clubs.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at every team’s closer situation, and breaking down how it got to be the way it is:

NL EAST

Philadelphia (13-15)

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, 0-0, 0.82 ERA, 9 saves

Status: Untouchable

Setup Man: Chad Qualls, 1-0, 3.48 ERA, 10.1 IP

When the Phillies signed Papelbon to a 4 year/ $50 million contract, they expected perfection from a guy who had been the rock in Boston’s bullpen for more than six seasons. That’s what they got, and judging by his lockdown performance, as well as the inconsistency of Chad Qualls, he won’t be moved out of the role of closer any time soon.

Atlanta Braves (17-11)

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, 0-0, 3.27 ERA, 9 saves

Status: Nearly untouchable

Setup Man: Johnny Venters, 2-1, 1.74 ERA, 10.1 IP

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has proven himself extremely valuable to the Braves so far, and at this point the job is his to lose. While the 23-year-old Kimbrel has given up a run in multiple appearances, he has always pulled himself out of jams and has only blown one save so far this year. Behind him, Johnny Venters is doing an incredible job, and will swoop in to take the closer role if Kimbrel explodes; but at this point I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Washington Nationals (18-9)

Closer: Henry Rodriguez, 1-1, 1.50 ERA, 6 saves

Closer to start 2012: Drew Storen

Status: Injury Replacement, but safe for now

Setup Man: Tyler Clippard, 1-2, 4.50 ERA, 12 IP

Rodriguez has been surprisingly solid in the closer role after it was announced that both Drew Storen and Brad Lidge hit the DL early on. While he’s destined to be moved out once Storen, who is currently on the DL after minor elbow surgery, comes back (he hopes to be back before the All-Star Break but could be out for the year, in which case Lidge could take the job), Rodriguez may take over the role of set-up man considering Clippard’s subpar start.

New York Mets (14-13)

Closer: Frank Francisco, 1-1, 6.35 ERA, 6 saves

Status: Shaky

Setup Man: Jon Rauch, 3-1, 2.92 ERA, 12.1 IP

Even though Mets’ Manager Terry Collins said that he had no plans to remove Francisco from the role of closer, doubt remains after a bad April for the 32-year-old. No matter how much Collins or Francisco say that knee troubles felt by the closer this Spring are not to blame, and that this is just how baseball works, I still see a move in the immediate future. Rauch, a former closer in Toronto, has been superb this year, allowing just four runs in 14 outings, and would be the obvious man to replace Francisco.

Miami Marlins (13-14)

Closer: Heath Bell,0-3, 11.42 ERA, 3 saves (4 blown saves)- recently removed from role

Status: Red Alert

Setup Men: Edward Mujica, 0-2, 3.65 ERA, 12.1 IP and Steve Cishek, 4-0, 0.63 ERA, 14.1 IP

Like the Phillies, the Marlins went out and overspent on a closer this offseason to assure themselves a solid ninth inning guy for the future. But unlike the Phillies, their $27 million investment, Heath Bell, hasn’t worked out so well. In full crisis mode, Manager Ozzie Guillen has temporarily taken the ball out of Bell’s hands and has tried both Cishek and Mujica out of the closer role. Looking at stats, the right-handed power-pitcher Cishek has the edge over Mujica, but the more likely option would be to have the two split time as closer once (not “if” because it’s inevitable) Bell gets moved out of the role permanently.

NL CENTRAL

Milwaukee Brewers (12-15)

Closer: John Axford, 0-1, 4.15 ERA, 6 saves

Status: Untouchable

Setup Man: Francisco Rodriguez, 0-3, 6.08 ERA, 13.1 IP

If anyone’s getting replaced in Milwaukee, it will be K-Rod. Off to an erratic start, his ERA ballooned over the 6.0 mark Tuesday after he gave up a pair of runs in an inning of work against the Padres. As for Axford, his ERA is a bit higher than desired but he hasn’t blown a save since April 24 of 2011, and has escaped every jam with Houdini-like precision.

Houston Astros (13-14)

Closer: Brett Myers, 0-0, 1.04 ERA, 7 saves

Status: Extremely Safe

Setup Man: Brandon Lyon, 0-1, 3.24 ERA, 8.1 IP

When I first heard that Brett Myers would be the Houston Astros’ closer for 2012, I laughed. But Myers seems to be laughing louder, surprising many with an extremely hot start. Opponents are hitting just .138 against him, and he’s allowed just four hits and one run all year. His second stint as a closer (the first coming with the Phillies in 2007), Myers has found a way to get batters out and save ballgames.

Pittsburgh Pirates (12-15)

Closer: Joel Hanrahan, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 5 saves

Status: Safe

Setup Man: Jason Grilli, 1-1, 3.27 ERA, 10 IP

For all of the Pirates’ troubles, the largest of which is an almost non-existent offense, the bullpen is not a concern. Hanrahan has been holding down the fort, and setup man Jason Grilli has also been unexpectedly good. That being said, neither Grilli nor anyone else in the Pirates’ bullpen are good enough to wrestle the closer job away from the always solid Hanrahan. There may be a trade coming this season. But until then, Hanrahan is the “man” in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Cardinals (16-11)

Closer: Jason Motte, 1-1, 3.12 ERA, 4 saves

Status: Safe

Setup Man: Fernando Salas,0-1, 6.10 ERA, 10.1 IP

Like in Milwaukee, the only change that could be made anytime soon in the bullpen is the ejection of the setup man. While Motte has been solid, Salas has struggled a bit to find his game early on. Motte has pitched decently, and has the advantage of being unofficially named the closer for the back-end of the team’s 2011 World Series run, and has become a bit of a fan favorite in his four-plus years with the club.

Cincinnati Reds (13-13)

Closer: Sean Marshall, 0-2, 4.82 ERA, 5 saves

Closer to start 2012: Ryan Madson

Status: Injury replacement, toss-up

Setup Man: Aroldis Chapman, 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 13.1 IP

Ryan Madson was the absolute loser of the 2011-12 Free Agent Closer Scramble. After signing a one year deal with the Reds, it was announced that he would miss the entire year to have Tommy John surgery. For now, Sean Marshall has stepped in to the role of closer, but based on the performance of Cuban youngster Aroldis Chapman this arrangement might not last long. Chapman, who broke into the league with much buzz about his fireballing ability, hasn’t given up a run yet in his ten appearances. At this point, the closer role belongs to Marshall, but if he slips up Chapman will dash right in.

Chicago Cubs (10-16)

Closer: Carlos Marmol, 0-1, 5.59 ERA, 2 saves COMMITTEE”

Status: Absolute, run to the bomb shelter and hide in a corner, this is not a drill, crisis

Setup Man: Committee

I was all ready to write about how Marmol is “wild, but what else is new”, but within the past 24 hours it was announced that the Cubs have removed the hurler in favor of a “closer by committee.”  According to the linked article, lefty James Russell and righty Rafael Dolis are likely to share the closing duties, but personally I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kerry Wood (who was recently activated from the DL) get some time closing out games. Things are not looking good right now in the Windy City for the club that hasn’t won it all in over 100 years.

NL WEST

San Diego Padres (9-19)

Closer: Huston Street, 0-0, 0.93 ERA, 4 saves

Status: Untouchable, if he’s healthy

Setup Man: Luke Gregerson, 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 12 IP

Street has come out of the gate as one of the hottest closers in the MLB. He has been nearly unhittable, allowing just three hits in his 9.2 innings of work and keeping an incredible WHIP of 0.51. On Friday, though, Street left a game with an apparent shoulder injury. If he can avoid the DL, he’ll remain one of the top closers in the game. If he hits the DL, the Padres’ situation becomes complicated. In addition to Gregerson, Andrew Cashner is another option to replace Street. On the year, Cashner is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA, and has struck out 11.

Colorado Rockies (12-14)

Closer: Rafael Betancourt, 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 6 saves

Status: Rock Solid (get it?)

Setup Man: Matt Belisle, 1-2, 2.77 ERA, 13 IP

After closer Huston Street was dealt to the Padres this offseason, Betancourt emerged as the team’s rightful closer, and has been justifying his promotion with solid play so far this season. His position was almost surely secured after a 4 year/ $16 extension signed this January. He did blow his first save of the year on Wednesday, but the nine-year veteran pitcher hasn’t misstepped otherwise.

San Francisco Giants (13-14)

Closer: Santiago Casilla, 0-1, 1.69 ERA, 5 saves

Closer to start 2012: Brian Wilson

Status: Injury replacement, Safe

Setup Man: Sergio Romo, 1-0, o.00 ERA, 7 IP

After the Beard got bit by the Tommy John surgery bug, Casilla emerged as the main candidate for the closer role in San Francisco. At first it was unclear whether Casilla would split time with Romo as closer, but so far the job seems to be Casilla’s alone. With a sub-1.0 WHIP and just two earned runs surrendered, he’s doing a great job convincing Bruce Bochy that he belongs in the ninth inning role.

Arizona Diamondbacks (14-14)

Closer: J.J. Putz, 0-2, 5.79 ERA, 6 saves

Status: Somewhat Shaky

Setup Man: David Hernandez, 0-1, 2.70 ERA, 13.1 IP

Last year, Putz was one of the best closers in the league. 45 saves and a 2.17 ERA placed him right up there with the elite closers. But this year has been a bit different. He has blown two of eight save chances, and his ERA is more than double what he had in 2011. The situation in Arizona, where a National League high five saves have been blown, is not a crisis yet, as Putz is showing positive signs: he hasn’t walked a batter in 9.1 innings and the majority of his earned runs have come off of home runs, a very fixable problem (his lack of walks shows that his control is good most of the time). Putz’s job may also be secured, slightly, by the lack of stars in the D-Backs’ bullpen.

Los Angeles Dodgers (18-9)

Closer: Javy Guerra, 1-2, 5.56 ERA, 8 saves

Status: Extremely Shaky

Setup Man: Kenley Jansen, 2-0, 2.87 ERA, 15.2 IP

Right now, the closer role isn’t entirely decided in Los Angeles. Guerra technically owns the role, but his inconsistent play, along with Jansen’s nice start, has left a bit of debate over who will close as the season moves on. The situation was complicated further by a concussion scare after Guerra to a line drive to the jaw on April 25, but he hasn’t missed any time and remained as the club’s closer. Manager Don Mattingly has shown confidence in Guerra’s ability, but said  that he would change his role if necessary.

AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles (18-9)

Closer: Jim Johnson, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 8 saves

Status: Extremely Safe

Setup Man: Pedro Strop, 3-1, 1.80 ERA, 15 IP

It may sound weird, but right now the Orioles are in the best position when it comes to closers in the AL East. Jim Johnson hasn’t given up a run in 11 games, and has allowed only six hits. What’s more, his shutdown performances include games against the Yankees and Red Sox. If he keeps pitching well, there’s no telling what the O’s can do this year. While he’s not untouchable, his dominance has put him ahead of fellow relievers Strop, Kevin Gregg and Luis Ayala, who have all seen some time as setup men this year.

Tampa Bay Rays (19-9)

Closer: Fernando Rodney, 1-0, 0.73 ERA, 9 saves

Closer to start 2012: Kyle Farnsworth

Status: Injury Replacement, Extremely Safe

Setup Man: Joel Peralta, 0-1, 5.68 ERA, 12.2 IP

Rays fans may have groaned when they first heard Farnsworth would be out for a few months because of elbow problems, but the Fernando Rodney has really taken advantage of the opportunity and dominated the competition.  He hasn’t blown a save yet, and has only given up one earned run and walked just two in his 12.1 innings of work. When Farnsworth comes back, I can see him staying as the setup man and letting Rodney close if this kind of play continues.

Toronto Blue Jays (16-11)

Closer: Francisco Cordero, 1-1, 5.73 ERA, 2 saves

Closer to start 2012: Sergio Santos

Status: Injury Replacement, Somewhat Shaky

Setup Man: Committee

At first glance, it looks like Cordero is on very shaky ground and should be thrown out of the closer spot. But, according to Manager John Farrell, Cordero, “is [their] closer, and that’s the way it will remain” no matter how rough his start has been. That start includes two blown saves, and only one appearance that would be considered a “1-2-3 inning”. The good news is that Santos, who is currently on the DL with a shoulder injury, should be back throwing in about two weeks, and Cordero can return to the role of setup man.

New York Yankees (14-13)

Closer: David Robertson 0-0, 0.00 ERA 12 IP or Rafael Soriano, 2-0, 2.00 ERA, 9 IP

Closer to start 2012: Mariano Rivera

Status: Injury Replacement, unknown

Setup man: Robertson or Soriano, depending on who is the closer

Wow. A Mariano-less Yankees club. It is unsure whether Robertson or Soriano will take over for the all time saves leader, but most likely the time will be split until a clear choice is revealed. Both Robertson and Soriano have the stuff to be a closer, and Soriano has the experience, a closer for Tampa Bay in 2010. Robertson, though, is younger (27 compared to 32) and may have a better long-term future closing than Soriano. This is all assuming that Rivera, who has shown to be somewhat ageless, can’t come back in 2012 after tearing his ACL. But for now, it looks like Rivera is done for the season and Robertson has the edge to become the new closer for the Bronx Bombers.

Boston Red Sox (11-15)

Closer: Alfredo Aceves, 0-1, 7.45 ERA, 5 saves

Closer to start 2012: Andrew Bailey

Status: Injury Replacement, Red Alert

Setup Man: Hard to tell

The Red Sox are in desperate straits. Their normal closer, Andrew Bailey, is out until at least the All Star Break after thumb surgery, Bobby Jenks is on the 60 day DL after back surgeries and also faces DUI charges, and Mark Melancon pitched so poorly that he was sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket. This is all piled on top of the fact that Aceves is doing terribly, creating a bleak outlook for last-place Boston’s season. I see a trade coming to improve bullpen depth.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians (14-11)

Closer: Chris Perez, 0-0, 3.09 ERA, 10 saves (league leader)

Status: Extremely Safe

Setup Man: Vinnie Pestano , 1-0, 2.13 ERA, 12.2 IP

After blowing a save on Opening Day, Perez has been perfect and now leads the MLB with 10 saves. He’s been pretty solid, keeping a 1.11 WHIP and walking five so far. Behind him, Pestano has also been pretty solid, as evident by his sub-1 WHIP and 18 Ks in just under 13 innings.

Kansas City Royals (9-17)

Closer: Jonathan Broxton, 0-0, 1.86 ERA, 5 saves

Closer to start 2012: Joakim Soria

Status: Injury Replacement, Extremely Safe

Setup Man: Greg Holland*, 0-2, 11.37 ERA, 6.1 IP (*Holland has been hurt recently, which may explain his numbers. He is currently on the DL but will be back in two weeks)

Soria was another Tommy John candidate this offseason, and Broxton has been downright fantastic in his 9.2 innings thus far. Eight hits, four walks and seven strikeouts contribute to his 1.24 WHIP, and while his save opportunities are limited because of the team he plays for, he has only blown one of his opportunities. There isn’t much in the way of other relievers that might challenge Broxton for the spot, another reason he’s pretty safe as the Royals’ closer, as little as they might need him.

Chicago White Sox (13-14)

Closer: Chris Sale, 3-1, 2.81 ERA in 5 starts * (It was announced Friday that Sale would be moved from the rotation to the closer role)

Closer to start 2012: Hector Santiago

Status: replacement (talent), remains to be seen

Setup Man: Santiago, 0-1, 6.75 ERA in 8 IP

The Sox announced on Friday that Sale was feeling some tenderness in his arm, and that instead of placing him on the DL they would move him to the closer role. Huh??!! Doesn’t make much sense to me, but the rookie Santiago was underperforming, and his replacement was inevitable. Reportedly, Sale is unhappy about the move to the closer role, but then again so was Brett Myers and look how well that has turned out this year. Sale as a closer could either be a total catastrophe that ends with him being put on the DL, or a huge success like with Myers in Houston. I’m still scratching my head at this one.

Minnesota Twins (7-19)

Closer: Matt Capps, 0-1, 4.50 ERA, 5 saves

Status: Somewhat Shaky

Setup Man: Glen Perkins, 0-1, 5.23 ERA, 10.1 IP

Matt Capps, who signed a $4.5 million, one year deal with the Twins this offseason, hasn’t had the best start. At the same time, he could have a much worse start, and one earned run this early on in the year makes a huge difference on ERA. Behind him is the extremely capable Perkins, who is also off to a rough start but was groomed to be Capps’ successor after the 2011 season (this plan of course was delayed after Capps signed for 2012). If Perkins was doing well it would put more pressure to bump Capps. But for the 7-19 Twins, it seems like misery loves company.

Detroit Tigers (13-13)

Closer: Jose Valverde, 2-1, 6.17 ERA, 4 saves (two blown)

Status: Shaky

Setup Man: Joaquin Benoit, 0-1, 3.97 ERA, 11.1 IP

Valverde had a terrible April. While he led the league last year with 49 saves, he has only picked up four so far, and his walk/strikeout numbers look really, really bad (he has 7 walks and just one more strikeout). Possibly the one thing keeping him a closer right now is the unpreparedness of Benoit, who started slow as well. The most reliable arm in the bullpen right now is Octavio Dotel,who has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings for Detroit, his 13th team in 14 pro seasons. Manager Jim Leyland has shown some confidence in Valverde, though, and believes he’ll start to get his engine running in the Motor City.

AL WEST

Seattle Mariners (12-17)

Closer: Brandon League, 0-2, 2.57 ERA, 7 saves

Status: Safe

Setup Man: Tom Wilhelmsen, 1-1, 2.70, 16.2 IP

League is doing well in Seattle, but so is Wilhelmsen. League’s job is helped by the fact that most of the games he will throw in will be against the slumping Oakland and Los Angeles’ offenses, or in the pitchers’ haven that is Safeco Field in Seattle. The only flag for League so far is that he has blown two saves in nine chances, but those two games were the only times League surrendered any runs. Like Hanrahan, League could turn out to be trade bait come July. Keep an eye on this one.

Texas Rangers (18-9)

Closer: Joe Nathan, 0-2, 3.09 ERA, 7 saves

Status: Safe

Setup Man: Mike Adams, 0-1, 2.31 ERA in 11.2IP or Alexi Ogando, 1-0, 0.61 ERA in 14.2 IP

The Rangers have arguably the strongest bullpen in the MLB. Nathan is doing well as the closer, converting seven of eight opportunities so far, and his 3.09 ERA and 1.031 WHIP are respectable. Adams has also been doing well, while Ogando has been tearing up the competition. In fact, Ogando has only allowed six hits in 2012, giving him a microscopic WHIP of 0.41. A converted starter, Ogando will most likely have to wait until Nathan’s contract expires at the end of the 2013 season to claim the title of closer. That is, unless Ogando does end up going back to the rotation one day.

Los Angeles Angels (11-17)

Closer: Scott Downs, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 saves (9.1 IP)

Closer at start of 2012: Jorden Walden

Status: Replacement (talent), safe so far

Setup Man: most likely Ernesto Frieri, 1-0, 2.13 ERA, 12.2 IP w/San Diego

The Angels could be doing better in their bullpen, but it’s the least of their worries. With the addition of Frieri, they have a safety net if Downs doesn’t perform, but judging by his numbers in April (and Early May) he’s going to be just fine. The Angels should let this play out, and stick to worrying about Pujols and their six games-under-500 record.

Oakland Athletics (14-14)

Closer: Grant Balfour, 0-1, 4.40 ERA, 7 saves

Status: Somewhat Shaky

Setup Man: Brian Fuentes, 2-0, 3.75 ERA, 12 IP

Balfour hasn’t been terrible: he has blown two saves already but converted seven and opponents are hitting right around .200 against him. His 4.40 ERA leaves a little to be desired, but there’s no reason to give to ball to Fuentes just yet. Also holding an ERA around four and a half until a shutout, two inning performance Saturday night, Fuentes could have started 2012 off better to impress Manager Bob Melvin and prove he should have been picked over Balfour. Alas, he wasn’t picked over Balfour and he hasn’t been overly impressive. So until one falters even more, the order will stay the same.

Today’s feature was prepared by  Baseball Writer, Bryan Sheehan.  You can follow Bryan on Twitter (@BaseballHipster), read his interviews with Phillies’ minor league prospects at PhightingOn.com, and catch him writing the occasional article for ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com. Tweet him about this article and give him a follow and he will follow you back!

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Posted on May 6, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, Players: Fantasy Baseball Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on MLB Closer Report: Where Does Your Team Stand?.

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