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2011 MLB Playoffs: Recap for Sunday October 9th and MLB Notes

Monday October 10, 2011

 

Sam Evans (Intern – MLB reports):  There turned out to only be one game on Sunday, nonetheless it was still an exciting, and important game.  Let’s get to the Recaps!

 

Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers:  ALCS Game Two

Major League Baseball actually called this game at 2:00 PM CT, more than four hours before the game even started.  MLB was obviously trying to the pitchers from a situation similar to Saturday night.  While MLB probably had good intentions, this was a very bad decision.  According to multiple weather reports, it never rained on Sunday at the Ballpark in Arlington.  If the decision makers had just waited a couple more hours we probably would have a game between these two teams on Sunday.  Now, because of MLB jumping the gun, these teams have to play four straight days of baseball.  As a result, Max Scherzer will take the mound for the Tigers this afternoon against Derek Holland for the Rangers.  Game time is 4:19 PM ET, assuming the skies stay clear in Arlington.

 

St.Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers:  NLCS Game One

With all the trash talking leading up to this game, this proved to be a pivotal game for both teams.  Neither pitcher was very sharp, but both offenses showed up ready to battle.  In the top of the first, Matt Holliday had an RBI single off Brewers starter Zack Greinke to give up the Cardinals an early lead.  In the bottom of the first, the Brewers erased the Cardinals’ lead by scoring two runs, courtesy of Ryan Braun‘s 444 foot home run.  Both pitchers battled throughout the second and third innings, until in the fourth when David Freese hit a 3-run home run to give the Cards’ a 4-2 lead.  Freese is having a tremendous postseason, coming tough in the clutch for St.Louis.  In the top of the fifth, Lance Berkman drove in Rafael Furcal to make it 5-2.  In the bottom of the fifth, everything went wrong for Jaime Garcia.   The inning started off with a Corey Hart single, then a Jerry Hairston double.  Next, Ryan Braun jumped on the first pitch and hit a ground rule double to right field.  From there, Prince Fielder crushed Garcia’s first pitch, an 87 MPH fastball, to right center field.  ESPN’s Home Run Tracker had that bomb traveling at 119.2 MPH.  This would make it the hardest hit homer of the season.   A lot is going to be made about the Brewers celebrations after every home run they hit, but I really don’t have a problem with it.  If the Cardinals don’t like it, then maybe they just shouldn’t give up home runs!

Garcia’s main problem with this huge inning was that he stopped throwing his breaking ball.  Out of the 12 pitches he threw, not one was offspeed.  Things got worse for the Redbirds when Octavio Dotel came into the game, and gave up a 2-run home run to Yuniesky Betancourt, of all people.  The Cardinals scored once more in the 7th when Albert Pujols grounded into a double play, but the big 6th inning was enough for the Brewers.  Final score: Brewers 9 Cardinals 6, with Greinke getting the win, Garcia the loss, and John Axford nailing down the save.  These two teams will face off for game two tonight, Monday, at 8:05 PM ET.  Edwin Jackson will get the start for St.Louis, against Shaun Marcum for Milwaukee.

Editor’s Notes:

  • All the talk surrounding Zack Greinke’s comments turned out to be just that, talk.  Once the teams took the field yesterday afternoon, the focus centered on the game itself.  After getting hit fairly hard yesterday, I do not expect we will hear many more harsh words from Greinke during this series.
  • The Tigers are looking very susceptible offensively, especially after the loss of Magglio Ordonez to a broken ankle and Delmon Young to an oblique strain.  The Rangers have caught fire at the right time and should be making a second straight trip to the World Series.
  • The free agency talk won’t talk, even though we are still in playoff mode.  Possible destinations for C.J. Wilson and Prince Fielder have been speculated on for the past few days, as strong or stronger than they have all season.  The reality is the focus should be on the games ahead.  There will be plenty of time to have these discussions between the end of the playoffs and New Years. 
  • A story has come out indicating that the Reds are going to star taking offers for their star first baseman, Joey Votto.  Expect 29 other teams to submit their bids if this is true.
  • Epstein-gate continues to swirl, as the Cubs and supposedly Angels are interested in his services.  My advice if Theo was sitting in front of me?  Stay put.  You are considered a genius in Boston.  Move elsewhere and you run the risk of failing to replicate your magic.  If that occurs, your lustre will get tarnished.  Same advice to Billy Beane.  Stay home and keep your legacy.  The grass is always greener on the other side. 

 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***

 

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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Game 162 and Beyond – Can MLB Top That?

September 29, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): In order to write all of this, I needed to step away from my TV and computer, take a deep breath, and sleep for a while.  The excitement of last night was almost too much for my fragile heart to bear, so the time away to clear my head was necessary.

I find myself repeating, “What just happened??” in my head.  What happened last night was unfathomable.  Not only were there two teams in each league tied for the Wild Card, but both teams that had been leading, suffered epic failures along the way.  Go back to September 1, and the Boston Red Sox held a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Atlanta Braves held an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams chances of reaching the postseason were over 99%.  Nobody could have actually predicted seriously at that time, that both the Cards and Rays would win the Wild Card on the final day of the regular season.  Especially not the way that the AL Wild Card was eventually decided.

The Rays started David Price against the Yankees.  Sounded promising enough, until Price gave up 6 runs in 4 innings.  The game was pretty much over with the score at 7-0 in the Rays’ half of the 8th inning.  3 runs plated in the bottom of the 8th, then Evan Longoria took over the game.  A 3-run home run put them within one run, and Tropicana Field exploded.  Then with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, Rays manager Joe Maddon made one of the gutsiest calls I have ever seen: pinch hit with Dan Johnson.  Johnson was 9 for 90 this season.  He hadn’t gotten a hit since April.  He had 36 hits since 2008.  With one swing of the bat, the pandemonium levels in Florida had never been so high.  Then, as if he hadn’t done enough already, Longoria blasted another home run, this one of the walk-off variety that would vault the Rays to the postseason.

What hasn’t been said about Boston and their collapse? It has been covered by so many people from so many angles.  You could blame the whole organization from top to bottom, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  What happened was an epic collapse, capped off by a 2 out rally by the Baltimore Orioles of all teams in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 162.  The Orioles had nothing to play for but pride, and the love of the game.  Robert Andino’s walk-off single to win the ball game will be remembered by Boston fans for years to come.

Hunter Pence hit a bloop-ish 120 ft infield single to win it for the Phillies over the Braves.  In the 13th inning.  After Craig Kimbrel, the super rookie, blew a lead in the 9th inning.  The game saw the Phillies march out nine pitchers and the Braves used 8, including Scott Linebrink, who eventually gave up the winning run in the 13th.

Chris Carpenter twirled a gem for the Cardinals, a 2 hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and 1 walk against the Astros.  This performance sealed at the very least a one-game playoff game against the Braves had they won.

Wow what a night.

Now onto LDS matchups:

Rays vs. Rangers

The Rays come in with unlimited momentum, and a pitching staff that is so deep, that manager Joe Maddon is having a difficult time naming the starter for game 1.  While Matt Moore seems to be the obvious choice to me, Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis could be viable options as well.**  James Shields would have to go on short rest, and Price pitched last night, so one of the other three will be chosen to go against C.J. Wilson and a Rangers offense that is ready to take on all comers.  Shields will go game 2 and Price go the 3rd.  Beyond that is a toss-up.  For the Rangers, Wilson will go Game 1, Derek Holland game 2, and still undetermined the rest of the way.

Adrian Beltre had a phenomenal September, earning AL Player of the month, and Mike Napoli has been dominant all year, bashing home runs all over the field.  Michael Young worked his way into the MVP race after a tumultuous offseason that saw him switch positions yet again.  Josh Hamilton is as dangerous as ever, and Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are still hitting home runs at a high rate.  Kinsler actually became only the third 2nd baseman to join the 30-30 club, with 32 HR and 30 SB.  The Rays may not have the prodigious bombers that the Rangers have, but they have athletic, smart ballplayers that never say die.  They ultimately seem like a team of destiny, and I will not discount the fact that they may have the best manager in all of baseball at the helm.

** Note: Matt Moore has been named the starter for game 1.

Rays in 4

Yankees vs. Tigers

So the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and the Tigers have the 10th, about $100,000 between them.  Should be easy, right? Yankees should take this series in 3 games.  Wrong.  Detroit has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball in 2011 in Justin Verlander, who should win the Cy Young vote unanimously.  He should also garner serious MVP interest.  Against him will be CC Sabathia, who has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball the last 7 or 8 years.  Doug Fister was brought in to shore up a shaky Tigers rotation, and with Max Scherzer, the Tigers look like they have a pretty decent chance.  Behind Sabathia will be rookie Ivan Nova, who I am not sold on, and after him is Freddy Garcia, who is having a fine year, but is nowhere near the pitcher he used to be.

Robinson Cano has been his usual stellar self playing 2nd base for the Yankees, but there were a lot of subpar seasons by other Yankees.  Derek Jeter was better than last year, A-Rod was almost nonexistent for a lot of the season, and aside from Curtis Granderson, the lineup struggled to find consistency.  The Posada soap opera continues, but giving Jesus Montero more at bats needs to happen.  The kid can swing it.  The Tigers have another MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez has been stellar, and they have a young kid behind the plate named Alex Avila who could be in line for a Silver Slugger award.  The Tigers are younger, and hungrier to win, but the Yankees have more overall talent.  Even if their roster is aging, and this one should go down to the final out.

Tigers in 5

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

The two best managers in the NL this year; Kirk Gibson of the DBacks and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers square off in this ultimately tight series.  Arizona did it this year with a cast of relative nobodies and no real superstar other than Justin Upton.  The Brewers have Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Zack Greinke, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.  They have star power up and down the lineup and rotation, and they have a great fan base.

Ian Kennedy may be a Cy Young candidate, but the Brewers have more depth in their rotation.  Yovani Gallardo will oppose him in game 1, followed by Shaun Marcum and Greinke, who will be opposed by Josh Collmenter and Daniel Hudson.  The Brewers also have the dominant back-end of the bullpen in K-Rod and John Axford, who was 46 for 48 in save opportunities.

Brewers in 5

Cardinals vs. Phillies

Prince Fielder just missed his 11th straight season of .300/ 30 HR/ 100RBI.  He hit .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI.  The cards are not just a one trick pony, however, as Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina have been stellar all season long.  If they can get solid contributions from their secondary players they could make the series interesting.  The Phillies, like the Brewers, have tremendous star power in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.  Not to mention one of the best deals of the year in Hunter Pence.  They have a veteran presence filled with guys who have been to the postseason five years in a row, and have the ability to hit any team’s pitching.

If you ask anyone who knows anything about baseball what team has the best pitching, the unanimous decision would go to the Phillies. The 4 Aces look to lock up Philly’s second World Series in the last 4 seasons.  Led by Roy Halladay, or Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels, every team in the postseason should be scared.  It is not very often that a team could have 3 pitchers in the top 5 for the Cy Young Award, but it could happen this year.  Roy Oswalt will pitch game 4 if necessary.   Tony La Russa has decided to open the series with veteran Kyle Lohse, which seems asinine.  Edwin Jackson will go Game 2 and Chris Carpenter game 3.  Jaime Garcia, who could be their most talented pitcher, will throw game 4 if necessary.

Phillies in 4

All 4 series should play pretty close, and the series I am most excited to watch is Arizona vs. Milwaukee.  If Game 162 was any indication of what is to come of the postseason this year, then everyone needs to grab their popcorn and beverages, get bunkered down, and get ready for a long, gruelling, exciting month of baseball. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

Drew Taylor Interview: The Story of an Intercounty League Pitcher

Wednesday  September 21, 2011

 

 

MLB reports:  We are proud today to feature on MLB reports:  Drew Taylor, former Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays prospect pitcher, currently playing in the Intercounty Baseball League.  Based in Ontario, Canada, the Intercounty League has produced several major league players including Rob Butler, Rich Butler and current Brewers closer, John Axford.  Drew’s baseball blood lines run deep, as his father Ron Taylor is former MLB pitcher himself.  Part of the 1969 Miracle Mets during his playing career, Dr. Taylor is a long time team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays.    From getting signed by the Jays, having a World Series champion pitcher as a father, recovering from injuries and life in the Intercounty League and working towards becoming a doctor, we covered many topics with Drew.  For a great baseball tale from a different part of the game, we present our recent interview with Drew Taylor:

MLB reports:  Welcome to the Reports Drew.  Thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this interview.  First question we always like to ask: who was your favorite baseball player growing up, that you most idolized and patterned your game after?

Drew Taylor:  I always loved to watch David Wells pitch when I was younger. As a lefty I learned a lot about setting up hitters and how to use a curveball effectively against left- and right-handed batters. I also loved his approach. He went right after hitters no matter who they were and rarely fell behind in the count. A true lefty – he was a character on and off the mound. I had the chance to get to know him a little when he was playing in Toronto. When I was in high school, I threw a bullpen in Spring Training for the Jays. I didn’t know I would be throwing that day so I only had my first baseman mitt with me. He gave me a glove to use and watched me throw giving me some pointers after the pen, very generous; he is the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back. I also learned a great deal from watching him that day in the way he treated people and engaged with fans asking for his autograph. Down to earth.

MLB reports:  Which current MLB star do you most admire and why?

Drew Taylor:  I would have to say Travis Snider. I played with Travis our first year in the Blue Jays minor leagues and actually lived with him for the first part of the season. He came into the Jays straight out of high school and was thrust into a system that was known for drafting mostly college athletes. Here he was living with Jeff Gilmore, who graduated early from Stanford and had already begun a Masters in History and myself, already with Undergraduate and Masters degrees from the University of Michigan. But in truth, Travis was probably the most mature of the group of us. As I got to know Snider I found out why. He had faced a great deal for a kid of his age. There have been a number of articles written him since he broke into a big leagues focusing on what he and his family went through while he was in high school.  If you haven’t read them, I suggest you look them up.  I won’t go into all the details here, but in short when his mother was dealing with serious health issues, he was placed in a difficult situation at a very young age. As the only son, he stepped up to be a rock for his family. There are a lot of talented athletes that get drafted and Snider is definitely one of them.  Sometimes though it is experiences like these that separate the men from the boys and dictate who will have the resolve and discipline to make the jump to the big leagues.

MLB reports:  Reflecting on your career to-date, what are your proudest accomplishments on the baseball field?

Drew Taylor: I transferred for my sophomore year to the University of Michigan from Georgia Tech in 2003. I came into a program that had a great history but had struggled in the past few seasons, finishing only 21-32 the previous year. Rich Maloney had moved from Ball State to the Michigan to take the helm as head coach. He called each player in one by one before the season, sat us down and laid out what he expected of us. It was the first time a coach had talked to me that way. He demanded excellence and explained how each one of us as individuals could contribute to the team’s success. I owe a great deal to Rich and would not have had the success I had that year without his ability to inspire his athletes and instill confidence in them. He turned that program around and we ended up 30-27 that year, climbing to 43-21 and winning the Big Ten by the time I graduated. “Those who stay will be champions.” I personally ended up 9-1 in 2003, making the All-Big Ten and All-Region Teams and was given the Geoff Zahn award for Michigan’s top pitcher. After pitching only 9.1 innings the previous year, this was a big turnaround for me. Rich knows how to get the most out of his players and I hope he remains a college coach so I can send my kids his way one day.

MLB reports:  You were signed in 2006 by the Toronto Blue Jays after the draft. Were you scouted by certain teams before the draft and were you expecting to be drafted?

Drew Taylor:  The most amount of attention I received was probably in 2001. My velocity shot up during my final year of high school and while pitching for the Ontario Blue Jays the summer before starting university. I had a number of clubs call and make offers, including the Rockies, Blue Jays, and Braves, to see if I would forgo school to sign professionally. But I was dead set on getting my education. While at Michigan, I had a great sophomore year going 9-1 and followed it up with a good showing in the Cape League which drew some attention again. Then during my draft eligible Junior year I ended up injuring my shoulder in my first start of the year. I tried to come back and pitch a couple of times, but ended up having to shut it down for the season. That effectively ended any chance I had of getting picked up in the draft, so I focused on my rehab, knowing that I would be back at Michigan the next year and would have to prove I could compete all over again. In 2006, the Blue Jays called right after my final game and signed me to a free-agent contract. I reported to camp two days later.

MLB reports:   Being signed by your hometown Jays must have been very special.  What were your feelings after the draft and what was the process like up until the time you were signed?

Drew Taylor:  Being signed by your hometown team is always special, but there were so many things on the go I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down and enjoy the feeling. When I got the call I was in Michigan right after we got back from the NCAA Regionals in Atlanta. It was a little bit of a whirlwind because I had just got back to my apartment when I was told I was leaving again in two days. In those two days, I quickly packed up my apartment and hit the road for Toronto. Kevin Briand and Sean McCann were the scouts that signed me and I went down to the then named SkyDome to meet them and sign my contract. With the papers in, Kevin walked me down onto the field and it finally sunk in.

MLB reports;  As a 6′ 5″ left-handed pitcher and being the son of an ex-major league hurler, what were the expectations you set for yourself once you joined the Jays system?  Did you envision yourself in the major leagues one day and what was your plan to get there?

Drew Taylor:  Everyone who signs a contract, or for that matter who has played baseball at any level has thought about what it would be like to play in the majors. For me, I had a father who had done it for 11 years, and because of that I had the opportunity to be exposed to the game at a high level from an early age. I fully expected to make the majors and as soon as I signed professionally, I set out to realize that goal. Competition increases as you move up in the system and ultimately I never reached my goal of reaching the majors. There are a lot of talented players in professional baseball, many of the guys in the minors have the talent and ability to play in the majors, but lack consistency. At the major league level you have to be able to make adjustments within the same game or within the same at-bat. Realizing how to make these adjustments takes time and experience, which is one of the reasons athletes in baseball require time to mature and develop above other sports. The mental side of baseball is much more important than the physical… as Yogi Berra said “Ninety percent of baseball is mental, the other half is physical.”

MLB reports:  For all the fans that have never experienced minor league baseball before, give us an idea as to what life is like in the minor leagues as compared to what people see in major league stadiums.  The level of competition, amenities and support from the major league team for its minor league system- what is it like?

Drew Taylor:  Night and day. Have you ever watched Bull Durham? Its bang on. The minors consist of a lot of long bus trips, fast food, and tiny locker rooms. The other big difference that people do not realize is how little money players are paid in the minors. Bonus Babies get a big cheque at the beginning, but the weekly salary is barely enough to live on. I would love to see the Major League Baseball Players Union fight for better pay in the minors, but once you make it to the majors I assume those guys try not to even think about the minors again. I don’t see it happening. Another problem is that players in the US and Canada are entered into the draft, while international players are all free agent signs. This means that home-grown talent can only negotiate with the team that drafted them, while international players have the ability to shop around different teams and drive up their signing bonuses. We need to move to a world-wide draft. One thing I will say is that players who make it to the big leagues know what it is like in the minors because they came up through it. Many guys are very good to the guys at lower levels. Especially if they are back down in the minors for rehab starts. One guy that sticks out in my mind that always looked after the guys at the lower levels was Brandon League. He was down for rehab for a while in Dunedin one year and went out of his way for us.

MLB reports:  Injuries unfortunately played a huge part in your career, as it affects many young hurlers.  Please tell us what happened to you health wise and your path through injuries, surgeries and how health affected your career.

Drew Taylor:  I only threw twice in my junior year at Michigan before it was painfully evident that something was not right. I ended up having a small tear in my rotator cuff and a strained bicep. I rehabbed and came back strong enough to get picked up by the Jays. My velocity had never returned fully after my arm injury in University, so I had to find other ways of getting hitters out than just blowing it by them. Additionally, I moved primarily to the bullpen after being a starter my whole life. My mental approach to baseball improved greatly, learning how to set up hitters and get them out not just by beating them with a pitch, but beating them with a pitch they didn’t expect. Instead of facing the same hitters many times in one game as a starter, I was now coming in relief and mostly only had to face batters once. I had to develop the ability to strike out a batter when I came on with runners on base and I focused on improving out pitches. My first year was in Pulaski Virginia in the Appalachian league facing a lot of young free-swingers. I used this to my advantage and ended up striking out 37 in 27 innings. As you move up through the system, hitters have a much better approach and wait for you to throw a pitch they are looking for or for you to make a mistake. You have to improve with them, or you will get left behind.

MLB reports:  For those fans that aren’t aware, your father is Dr. Ron Taylor. A team doctor for the Jays, your dad was a star pitcher in the big leagues and played on World Championship teams.  What influence did your dad have on your career?  What was your relationship like growing up?

Drew Taylor:  My dad was a huge influence on me. He never pushed me into baseball, or medicine for that matter, they were both my choices.  Once I made the decisions to pursue being a professional pitcher and then a doctor, his support and guidance was bar none. He had a great career in the majors for 11 seasons, winning two World Series with the Cardinals in 1964 and the Amazin’ Mets in 1969. I had a big leaguer at my disposal and he taught me things about playing at a level that very few have made it to. Even when we would sit down and watch a game on TV, we would be talking about setting up hitters and he would always ask me what pitch I would throw next.  The biggest thing he taught me is how to deal with pressure and maintain focus and confidence – something I can take with me in all aspects of life. In 6 appearances in Major League post season games he threw over 10 innings without giving up a run. In 1964 he threw 4 innings in the World Series without giving up a hit, allowing only one base runner on a walk to none other than Mickey Mantle. There definitely were some expectations, and it was very tough to deal with when I had my arm injury and my future in baseball was in question. When I was released by the Phillies in 2008, I came home and he said something that will always stick with me. He told me if he “could only choose one career between baseball and medicine, it would have been medicine.” He has been able to help countless more people as a physician than as a pitcher. If I had kept playing baseball, my window to return to school might have closed. My brother Matthew, has also been a great guy to have around. What he lacked in talent he made up for in knowledge. I still talk shop with him when we watch games and he often comes out to watch me throw, giving me some pointers after the game, whether I want to hear them or not. He works in film, but I always thought he would be great in the front office or as a GM. He knows baseball, better than me.

MLB reports:  To go along with the Jays connection, you mentioned to me that you know Pat Gillick well.  Please tell us your relationship with Pat and the Phillies organization.

Drew Taylor:  After my second season with the Blue Jays, they let me go and I immediately got a call from the Phillies asking me to attend spring training in Clearwater next year. Pat is one of the greatest minds in baseball and has been a mastermind behind winning teams and franchises since he started as a General Manager. He is always at ground level watching his players from rookie ball up to the majors and has a huge presence at camp. When he was with the Blue Jays, he became great friends with our family and recently invited us down to watch the induction ceremony at Cooperstown. It was my first time there and a tremendous experience to see the rich history the sport has and its influence and presence in North America and around the world. Bobby Cox, who was also formerly with the Blue Jays was down at the induction as well and they told me the story of how I ended up being named Drew. My parents were deciding between Forrest or Andrew and Bobby suggested they just call me Drew. I am glad he did. Forrest Gump came out when I was 11… that would have been a rough year…

MLB reports: You currently play for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario, Canada.  Many famous players came through the IBL, most notably John Axford of the Brewers.  For fans that are not familiar with the league, please tell us more about playing baseball in the IBL and the Leafs’ organization.

Drew Taylor:  The Intercounty Baseball League started in 1919 and was founded as a minor baseball league feeding the majors. Now it remains as an independent league. It has a great deal of variety in players and level of experience. Many of the players have had professional experience in affiliated ball and are at the end stages of their career. The rest of the players are comprised of current or former university and college athletes trying to get signed to professional contracts or who want to maintain playing baseball at a high level of competition. Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Spoljaric, Jesse Orosco, John Axford, Pete Orr, Rob Ducey, Rich Butler and Rob Butler are some of the major leaguers that have played in the league either before their major league career or afterwards. I have actually had the chance to pitch head-to-head against Spoljaric on a few occasions and it is always exciting to face off against a former big leaguer. The league has a shorter schedule and we don’t play every day, so it allows guys to maintain full-time jobs while playing, which is rather unique. I have been playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past three years while being a full-time student at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital.

MLB reports:   I have read that you have been involved with a number of charity groups surrounding baseball and sports, tell us about that?

Drew Taylor: I have been getting involved in some charities that are doing great work in Toronto and across Canada. I recently participated in Strike Out Cancer in support of Mount Sinai Hospital with an all-star list of actors and hall of famers including Kurt Russell, Roberto Alomar, David Justice, Gary Carter, Gary Sheffield,  Bret Saberhagen, Devon White, and others. This past year the event raised over 1.4 million for research and treatment of women’s cancers. We also participated alongside local athletes, actors, musicians, and personalities in the Bulletproof campaign which sells apparel in support of the Special Olympics. Another fun group of people, Jays Days, get together when the Jays are on the road to watch the game together at Opera Bobs. Proceeds from sales of ball-park hotdogs, popcorn, and refreshments go to Horizons for Youth, a 35 bed youth-shelter dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk youth in Toronto.

MLB reports:  Having attended Michigan and with your father a doctor, a little birdy told me that you were looking at a career in medicine yourself. True or False?

Drew Taylor:  True. I ended up passing on professional baseball out of high school to attend university as I wanted to become a doctor. After finishing my undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Michigan, I was signed by the Blue Jays. At the same time I signed I had sent in my application to medical school. I was accepted and had to make a tough decision. I decided that I would have the chance to go to medical school after playing, but only had one opportunity to play professional baseball.  Thus I continued to play ball. I didn’t want to lose any momentum in medicine, so I applied to the University of Toronto and continued graduate school in the off-seasons. While with the Phillies and now playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Intercounty League, I have been completing my PhD. I will finish this year and will be applying to medical school again.

MLB reports:  How many more years to you see yourself playing baseball?  When your playing career is done, do you see yourself staying in the game and in what capacity?

Drew Taylor:  I will continue to play as long as I enjoy the game and my arm holds up. I broke my elbow this past year and it was a long season of rehab before I was back pitching again. I finished the year strong so it rejuvenated my desire to keep pitching. Once it is over for good I would like to stay involved with baseball and sports in general. My PhD is in Biomedical Engineering and ultimately I want to pursue a career in Orthopedic Surgery, possibly even specialize in upper extremity to compliment my experience dealing my own injuries. My dad is the team Physician for the Toronto Blue Jays.  I would love to follow in his footsteps and serve a professional team.

Thank you again to Drew Taylor for taking the time to join us today on MLB reports.  We highly encourage our readers to post at the bottom of the article any questions and/or comments that you may have for Drew.  As well, please follow Drew on Twitter (@DrewWTaylor).

**Some of the photographs in today’s feature are from the private collection of our guest, Drew Taylor. **

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Top 10 Closers: MLB Saves Leaders

Thursday August 25, 2011

 

 

Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports):  Closers are a topic a lot of people ask about, but I never really got around to writing about.  Mainly because, in my opinion, it is a position that is completely overrated.  While it certainly helps to have a guy that can go in and slam the door and collect saves for over a decade a la Mariano Rivera, it isn’t necessary to have a “closer” to be a contending team.  One need only to look at the top 20 leaders in saves in baseball to notice that the Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz sits 19th with 25 saves, and Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Madson is 20th with 23 saves.  It also doesn’t guarantee success, as Heath Bell, Drew Storen, Leo Nunez, Joel Hanrahan are all in the top 10 in saves, while their teams are not in playoff contention.

 

Top 10 Saves Leaders in MLB as of today:

Pitcher Team Saves K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves 40 14.56 3.53 1.70 1.20 3.1
John Axford Milwaukee Brewers 37 10.86 3.32 2.26 2.36 1.7
Jose Valverde Detroit Tigers 37 8.31 4.79 2.72 4.08 0.2
Brian Wilson San Francisco Giants 35 8.72 5.20 3.19 3.40 0.7
Heath Bell San Diego Padres 35 6.79 3.23 2.55 3.07 0.7
Drew Storen Washington Nationals 34 8.03 2.19 2.77 3.48 0.6
Mariano Rivera New York Yankees 33 8.45 0.92 2.20 2.23 1.8
Leo Nunez Florida Marlins 33 8.31 2.88 4.63 4.02 0.1
Joel Hanrahan Pittsburgh Pirates 32 7.85 2.04 1.73 2.17 1.8
JJ Putz Arizona Diamondbacks 32 8.28 2.17 2.76 3.10 1.0

I look at this list and a few things come to mind:

1)      Craig Kimbrel is absolutely filthy.

2)      Mariano Rivera is still one of the very best.

3)      Closers are more overrated than I originally expected.

4)      A lot of saves does not equal success.

5)      Craig Kimbrel.  Wow.

Craig Kimbrel is having the best year ever for a rookie closer.  It isn’t even September and he has 40 saves.  Not only that, but he is striking out more than 14 batters per 9 innings.  His FIP is a ridiculous 1.20, and his WAR is at 3.1, which is 1.3 higher than any other closer in the Major Leagues.  His ground ball rate is 43.7% and has only given up 1 home run in 63 2/3 innings.  If the Braves end up winning the Wild Card and have a lead late in games, the shutdown duo of Johnny Venters and Kimbrel should be able to save the game for the Braves in most instances.

John Axford has had a strange way to becoming one of the premier closers in all of baseball.  It took him many years to get there, but under the tutelage of Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, whom Axford took his job from, he has flourished.  In 2010, Axford had 24 saves after taking over for Hoffman mid-season, and this year’s 37 so far are tied for 2nd in the big leagues.  Axford gets over 50% ground balls, and keeps the ball in the yard, two main factors for his success.

Jose Valverde is one of the closers whom I find to be overrated.  Part of his success can be attributed to a lucky .250 BABIP.   He also walks close to 5 batters per 9 innings, which is extremely high, especially when he does not strike out a very high number of batters.  Valverde may appear to be very good with 37 saves, but his 0.2 WAR suggests that he is basically a replacement level pitcher.  Surely he is not worth the $7M he is being paid.

Brian Wilson is loved by many in the game.  He is funny, has a strange personality, (which seems to be perfectly suited for the bullpen) and he has an outrageous beard.  Since 2008, he has accumulated 162 saves, so he is very valuable at the back-end of the Giants’ bullpen.  He keeps the ball on the ground, with a career 50% ground ball rate, but he walks a ton of batters (5.20/9IP).  He gets a lot of save opportunities because the starting rotation is very good, and his team doesn’t score many runs, so there are a lot of close games. 

Heath Bell has put up some ridiculous numbers over the last few years, but these numbers come with half of his games played in the cavernous PETCO Park.  While his last two seasons had his K rate over 10, he sits at 6.79 for this season.  His ground ball rate is also down 5% to 43.  Although his ERA is a good 2.55, his xFIP is 3.89, and like Wilson, gets saves because of an anaemic offense that results in his team often being in close games.

Drew Storen is another of the Washington Nationals’ young phenoms.  He moved up the ranks, throwing only 53 2/3 innings in the minor leagues before making his debut in 2010.  He has been a tad lucky as his BABIP is .241, but he gets a lot of ground balls, so the hits will even out.  He also gives up a higher than average home run per fly ball rate at 11.1%.  Storen doesn’t walk many, and as he matures, should probably strike out a higher number.  When Washington starts winning more games, he will have even more opportunities for saves.

Mariano Rivera is up to his usual tricks. Even at 41 years old, he is carving up hitters with his signature cut fastball.  Rivera has a ridiculous 9:1 K:BB ratio, as well as getting ground balls 47% of the time.  His WAR sits at 1.8, tied for second best for closers.  The only question is when will this guy ever slow down?

Leo Nunez of the Florida Marlins may be the most overrated closer in baseball.  Nunez doesn’t get a lot of ground balls, nor does he strike out a ton, as he gives up a ton of fly balls (49%) and home runs (8 in 56 IP).  Nunez’s ERA of 4.63 actually looks worse than his 4.02 FIP, so he has been a little unlucky, but still not very good.

Joel Hanrahan has found a home at the back-end up the Pirates’ bullpen, and is thriving there.  While his K rate has dropped to 7.85/9 IP from almost 13 last year, he has walked less batters.  Hanrahan has been able to induce ground balls on over half of his plate appearances, and only given up 1 home run in 57 1/3 innings.  His stellar numbers have allowed him to tie Rivera for 2nd in closer’s WAR this year.

JJ Putz’s resurgence as a closer this year comes as no surprise to many.  Last year as a setup man for Bobby Jenks with the Chicago White Sox, Putz’s K rate was just below 11/9IP, while he walked only 2.5 per 9 innings.  He hasn’t put up the same strikeout numbers this year, but he is walking less batters.  Putz’s WAR of 1.0 puts him towards the top of the list of closers.

 

Out of the top 30 relievers in WAR, only 9 are full-time closers.  Francisco Rodriguez is among those pitchers, but since he does not close games since traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he was not counted.  Although this doesn’t mean that just ANYONE can close games and earn saves, it does show that many pitchers who have not been given the opportunity probably could get the job done.  

 

 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

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Top 5 Closers Available at July 31 MLB Trade Deadline

Friday July 22, 2011

 

MLB reports:   The MLB Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching.  With only nine days to go, MLB teams need to decide if they are buyers or sellers.  Right up until July 31st deadline, the baseball world will be buzzing on potential deals.  While transactions can occur after July 31st, the respective players will need to first pass through waivers, which makes trades more difficult to happen.  Especially in the category of closers, who are sought after by almost every team.  Whether to obtain a 9th inning stopper or upgrade their middle relief, the majority of MLB teams are currently on the prowl.

There are some contending teams would love to add a closer, including the Rangers and Cardinals.  The host of other teams battling for a playoff spot are ready to take a current closer to pitch the 7th or 8th inning.  To win today in baseball, you usually need 2-3 closer-type pitchers in your pen.  The Brewers recently added Francisco Rodriguez to compliment John Axford.  The New York Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera, although David Robertson has since grabbed the role.  True closers will always be in demand and teams with playoff aspirations will always find room for these guys on their rosters.

As the line between buyers and sellers becomes less blurry, we take a look today at the top five closer candidates to be traded by the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline:

 

1)  Heath Bell:  San Diego Padres

The Rolls Royce of available closers, the Padres are talking to teams on a daily, if not hourly basis on the availability of Heath Bell.  Nearly every team has been linked to Bell in the past few days, from the Rangers, Cardinals, Phillies, Red Sox, Jays and Tigers.  The prize of the closing market, expect the Padres to demand a king’s ransom for his services.  At least two top prospects, with one being major league ready should get this deal done.  With 28 saves and a 2.45 ERA, the 33-year old Bell is having another fantastic campaign before his impending free agency.  The Rangers and Cardinals are most in need of a closer, with the Rangers the most likely destination based on availability of prospects.  The Rangers have the superior farm system and could match up best with the Padres.  The Phillies and Jays are the dark horses according to reports and need to decide if they are willing to pay the price.

 

2)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

A first time All-Star in 2011, Brandon League has raised his stock this year and given the Mariners an interesting trade chip to work with at the deadline.  League has chipped in 23 saves already this year, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.088 WHIP.  With a team friendly contract and under team control for another season, League should draw much interest on the market.  St. Louis seems like a logical choice, as the Cardinals will be looking for a long-term solution to their closing woes.  I cannot see the Mariners dealing in their division and having to face League next year with the Rangers.  A top prospect or two middle prospects should make this one happen.  With the Mariners far out of contention and in complete rebuild mode, a top closer seems like a luxury that the Mariners cannot afford at the moment.  The Mariners need offensive help and need it quickly, with League being one of many candidates likely to leave Seattle by July 31st to replenish the farm system.

 

3)  Frank Francisco, Jon RauchOctavio Dotel, Jason Frasor:  Toronto Blue Jays

If Heath Bells is a Rolls Royce, the Blue Jays are running a used Ford dealership in their bullpen.  Frank Francisco is like a used mustang with transmission problems, while Jon Rauch is a pickup truck without the V8 engine.  The Jays have assembled a collection of the middle-of-the-road closers and setup men this year in their bullpen.  Francisco will likely draw the most attention, despite his mostly awful numbers this year.  At 31-years of age and throwing big time heat, Francisco still has potential.  Rauch has served as the Jays closer for much of the year and could be in demand as well.  Octavio Dotel, the eldest member of the pack, has bounced around during his major league career and could be a useful trade deadline pickup.  The most effective reliever though for the Jays has been Jason Frasor and a smart team should consider him.  While the Jays are unlikely to offer any true closers to contending teams, there are middle relief candidates to be had.  Expect the Phillies to come calling and pickup one of the above.

 

4)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

For those teams that like to play with fire, closers don’t get more dangerous than Kevin Gregg.  A 4.00 ERA and unsightly 1.583 WHIP are not numbers that scream out lock-down closer.  Gregg has shown though the ability to get hot at times during his career and will be considered by many teams over the next week.  Signed through next year, the Orioles will look mainly for salary relief in shedding Gregg’s contract.  Personally, I wouldn’t consider Gregg if I was running a team.  But somehow he will likely move by July 31st.

 

5)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Another up-and-down closer in the Gregg mold, Leo Nunez is quietly having a very solid season for the Florida Marlins.  Up to 27 saves, with a 3.22 ERA and 1.187 WHIP, Nunez might actually be the best affordable option on the closers market.  The Rangers and Cardinals will sniffing around here, as will the Red Sox, Indians and Tigers.  As the Marlins and Tigers have matched up well before in trades, I can see this swap happening.  The Tigers have the ability to surrender a decent pitching prospect and can use Nunez down the stretch as Valverde insurance.  With the Tigers in contention and the majority of their bullpen being fairly unstable for most of the year, Nunez might be a late inning option that the the Tigers can ill-afford to miss out on.

 

Send us your comments and opinions on available closers for the trade deadline.  Other names thrown around have been Joakim Soria, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes.  The trading of players, especially closers, is especially reliant on the competitiveness and status of a team in the standings.  With so many teams still in their respective races, there are not as many top bullpen arms available at this point in the season.  But come August, as more teams continue to drop out, expect to see even more trade activity.  Exciting times, as the MLB pennant races continue to heat up, and baseball trade talk is on everyone’s lips.

 

 

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MLB Closers Report 2011: Who is in, Who is out

MLB reports:  I get several messages a day on the state of the closers in major league baseball.  Questions asking me which players have a closing job, which are about to lose their job and which players are most likely to get save opportunities.  In my fantasy baseball days, I used to call it fishing for closers on the waiver wire:  waiting for a closer to underperform and/or get injured and lose their job and immediately pick up the heir-apparent to the throne.  How are the thirty major league teams doing in the closer department?  Let’s take a closer look at each team and find out:

1)  New York Yankees:  Mariano Rivera

With seven saves in eight opportunities and a 1.93 ERA, Mo is as automatic as they come.  Even at his advanced age, Mariano is a #1 fantasy closer, if not the top closer.  Rafael Soriano is the next in-line, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

2)  Colorado Rockies:  Houston Street

Although health is often a concern with Street, seven saves in seven opportunities with a 2.03 ERA is not.  Street has really come into his own in Colorado and as long as he can stay healthy, he is becoming nearly automatic out on the mound.  Add in fourteen strikeouts and Street is as dangerous as they come.  Lidstrom has been spectacular as well to start the year, but with health and performance issues surrounding him in the past, Lidstrom at best is a filler in case of an injury to Street.  A solid #2, Lidstrom will form a solid 1-2 punch with Street all season long (on the field and likely on the DL at some point).

3)  Atlanta Braves:  Craig Kimbrel

The youngsters debate should be over.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 0.96 ERA.  2/14 BB/K ratio.  Kimbrel is clearly the man in Atlanta.  While Venters is very talented and the next in line should Kimbrel falter, the rope for Kimbrel grows by the day.  Atlanta appears to have found its closer for the next decade.

4)  Cleveland Indians:  Chris Perez

With the hot start of the Indians, Perez has been enjoying the ride.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 2.25 ERA.  One area for concern:  four strikeouts in eight innings pitched.  Although Perez is becoming craftier on the mound, low strikeouts for a closer generally leads to disaster.  The Indians have some decent arms in the pen, including Rafael Perez.  But the Perez of choice is Chris.

5)  San Diego Padres:  Heath Bell

The second coming of Trevor Hoffman, Bell is a perfect five for five in save opportunities with a 1.00 ERA.  Having Bell on the Padres is like driving a brand new Mercedes while living in a bachelor apartment on the wrong side of the town.  An unnecessary luxury in many observers’ estimation.  Beware that a hot Bell will have trade rumors surround him all summer long.  The Padres have literally 4-5 closing options in the pen, so this situation is far from settled if Bell is dealt.  I could see Neshek, Qualls, Gregerson and Adams all getting their shot.  For now Bell is a top five closer unless he leaves San Diego.  If I had to watch one reliever it would be Neshek, who has come back from injury and could claim the job in the event he is called upon.

6)  Los Angeles Dodgers:  Jonathan Broxton

Broxton somehow is a perfect five for five in saves but with a 5.19 ERA, the end is likely coming near.  The hope for many baseball analysts, including my own, is that Broxton can turn it around and reclaim his form.  Kuo, once healthy, is the likely pick to take over the role.  My dark horse pick is Mike MacDougal, the veteran who has extensive closing experience.  A 1.13 ERA for MacDougal is outstanding, but his 5/6 BB/K ratio is nothing to write home about.  Guerrier may also get a look, but Kuo is the consensus pick to take over at some point.  I would like to sit here and guarantee that Broxton will recover and return to form, but I can’t promise that.  It could happen, but with each passing rocky outing, even I am starting to have my doubts.  My plan would be to remove Broxton from the role and let him work out in his kinks.  In the interim I would insert MacDougal to steady the ship and then re-insert Broxton in July.  That would be my plan, but not necessarily the same script for the Dodgers.  Keep a look out as this mess is far from settled.

7)  Philadelphia Phillies:  Jose Contreras (Breaking News:  Now Ryan Madson)

Running an eight inning scoreless run, a perfect five for five in saves opportunities with nine strikeouts, Contreras has become the man in Philadelphia.  But running a close second is Ryan Madson, a 1.00 ERA and 2/10 BB/K ratio.  The long-term solution is Madson and any hint of a Contreras downturn will insert Madson in the role.  I expect this to happen any week now and once Madson becomes the closer, he should keep it until Papelbon joins the team next year (yes, it will happen).  Please do not say Brad Lidge though, that story has been written and re-written too many times.  Injuries and production problems is the story of Lidge.  Hopefully the Phillies are smart and do not go down that road again.  The moral of the story:  Contreras today, Madson soon and Papelbon next year.

(P.S. As I am writing this, Contreras has been sent to Philadelphia for an exam and is on the DL.  Ryan Madson is the closer, funny how quickly things can turn)

8)  Kyle Farnsworth:  Tampa Bay Rays

Another closer with a perfect five for five saves record, Farnsworth owns a 1.23 ERA and zero walks allowed on the season.  I am not sure who this person on the mound is and what he has done with the real Kyle Farnsworth, but whoever this imposter is on the mound I would keep him.  All kidding aside, I am a Farnsworth fan and have wished him well for years.  But after watching him implode in nearly every stop on his major league tour, I remain somewhat skeptical.  Jake McGee, my closer pick has started off slow but with improved numbers down the road could grab the job.  Same with Peralta, although walks tends to hurt his value.  The Rays will be riding Farnsworth like a rented mule until he cannot close anymore.

9)  Neftali Feliz:  Texas Rangers

Another five for five in saves opportunities, Feliz with a 1.08 ERA has a stranglehold on the job.  Recently placed on the DL with a sore shoulder, the Rangers will turn to some combination of Darren Oliver and Darren O’Day , perhaps even Rhodes, until Feliz returns.  Don’t sweat this one, Feliz will be back soon and continuing his climb to the top of the ranks of MLB closers in 2011.  Of concern is Feliz’s 5/6 BB/K ratio, which will have to change for Feliz to be ultimately effective as the closer.  Walks tend to do very bad things to closers in the 9th but based on the the talent in his arm, Feliz will be the go-to-guy this year again.

10)  Brian Fuentes:  Oakland Athletics

Fuentes was signed to be a solid lefty in the pen and fill-in closer for the A’s.  Five for six opportunities, Fuentes has been steady for Oakland but sports a brutal 4.66 ERA.  Just like Jonathan Broxton in LA, Fuentes is likely on borrowed time unless he becomes more automatic on the mound.  Add a 5/7 BB/K ratio and the Andrew Bailey watch will continue in Oakland.  While I see Bailey getting the job in the short-run, Fuentes will find a way to reclaim the job by the summer and possibly to the end of the year.  Don’t look now though but Ziegler has not been scored upon this year and could put up a fight as well.  Keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds.

11)  Joel Hanrahan:  Pittsburgh Pirates

Five for five in saves, 2/8 BB/K ratio and a 2.70 ERA translates to increased job security for Hanrahan.  Much like Heath Bell, as Hanrahan performs well he becomes a luxury on a rebuilding Pirates team in need of prospects.  Essentially keeping the seat warm for 2010 all-star Evan Meek, look for Hanrahan to be dealt sometime in the summer and for Meek to take over the closer’s role in 2011 and for the foreseeable future.

12)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

Yet another closer that is five for five in saves, League is holding down the fort until the return of Dave Aardsma.  The 3.68 ERA is ok, but three strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings is not.  League has shown good control with only one walk, but changes are still likely coming in Seattle.  Expect the Mariners to deal Aardsma and/or League during the summer if Aardsma can return and show health.  Given that Aardsma is no guarantee, there is a good chance that League can keep the role for the majority of the year.  But I would not bet on it given his shaky track record… I actually expect a dark horse to emerge at some point in this race.

13)  Carlos Marmol:  Chicago Cubs

Five for seven in saves, Marmol has the security of a long-term deal and is clearly the closer in Chicago.  His 2.53 ERA is interesting, but more telling is his 7/15 BB/K ratio.  Few closers can touch Marmol’s heat and if he could just lower his walks totals, he would become a top-five closer in baseball.  But the walks will unlikely go away this year and expect some interesting moments with Marmol as he works towards 30+ saves in 2011.  Kerry Wood is the next-in-line in case, think of him as Marmol insurance.  Marshall has been steady as well and the one surprise is Samardzija with a 3.65 ERA, but his 14/14 BB/K ratio shows the heat is there but the control is not.  But the Cubs are Marmol’s team.

14)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Totals?  Five for five in saves, which appears to be a standard at this point in the season.  Nunez has a 2.00 ERA and is off to a hot start in Florida.  As the summer months approach, I cannot see Nunez sustaining these numbers and a few bad outings could cost him his job very quickly.  For a strong run, I appear the Marlins making a trade or picking a new horse for the job.  Webb, Dunn and Hensley may all get looks this year, but are unlikely long-term solutions.  Until then, the job is Nunez’s to lose.

15)  Jonathan Papelbon:  Boston Red Sox

For a guy on the heat seat, all Papelbon has done is go five for five in saves, with a 2.16 ERA and a 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Papelbon is as automatic as they come and with his first run into free agency on the horizon, do not expect Papelbon’s role to change in 2011.  Papelbon has an incentive to be a fantasy closing superstar and the Red Sox will happily ride him to first round picks as compensation in the off-season.  While Bard is the heir-apparent with Bobby Jenks always lurking, do not expect this move to happen until 2012, unless injury strikes.  Papelbon will look really good in Philadelphia next year.  Remember you heard it here first.

16)    J.J. Putz:  Arizona Diamondbacks

Putz has been everything that Kirk Gibson could have imagined in Arizona and more.  Five for five in saves (yes, another one), 1.13 ERA and 0/10 BB/K ratio.  Expect Putz to be an all-star this year as he leads a young Diamondbacks team back to respectability.  With no plan b’s on the horizon, Arizona will live by the Putz and die by the Putz.

17)  Joakim Soria:  Kansas City Royals

Ok…ok…ok…. let’s not get too excited people.  Soria’s five saves in six opportunities comes along with a 5.59 ERA and a 5/5 BB/K ratio.  Add ten hits allowed in 10 2/3 innings and you have some pretty ugly numbers for a top-three closer.  With the three-headed monster of Collins, Crow and Jeffress looming, I can foresee some fans starting to call for the head of Soria as the Royals continue to excel.  Don’t see it happening.  I cannot see the Royals continuing their hot start and I cannot foresee anyone unseating the great Soria.  The young Royals pitching squad needs Soria and unless he literally implodes, which I don’t see happening, Soria will be the closer for the next few years.  As the Royals build to be contenders in the next 2-3 years, they will rely on a healthy and productive Soria to carry their bullpen.  Soria is the Royals closer and do not get any other ideas on the subject.

18)  Brian Wilson:  San Francisco Giants

The Giants were the feel good story of 2011 and while the “fear the beard” motto was cute in its time, I think this story is done.  Wilson has to get away from the beard and concentrate on what he does best:  close ball games.  Although five for six in saves this year, Wilson sports a brutal 7.94 ERA a pedestrian 4/6 BB/K ratio.  The World Series champion Giants will give Wilson a lot of rope and I cannot foresee him losing his job.  But with the World Series letdown could come a return to earth for several players, including Wilson.  While he will still get 30+ saves, his numbers are showing that a market correct is in order.  Wilson needs to get re-focused…he is the only game in town as the closer for the Giants.

19)  Brandon Lyon:  Houston Astros

The poster boy for mediocre closers, Lyon remains a frustration year-in and year-out.  Four for six in saves opportunities, with a 4.32 ERA, 13 hits allowed in 8 1/3 inning and a dismal 2/3 BB/K ratio, Lyon is better suited to middle relief than closing.  Lyon is a veteran on a young Astros team and while experience is supposed to help the young pitchers, his stats are hurting the team.  With Melancon and Fulchino pitching so well, a changing of the guard is coming in Houston.  Right now my money is on Melancon becoming the closer by May.

20)  Francisco Rodriguez:  New York Mets

Together with Papelbon, K-Rod had many doubters going into the year.  Legal troubles and a declining team and numbers looked to spell the end for Rodriguez.  His four saves in five opportunities has been great, together with his 2.35 ERA.  His 6/13 BB/K ratio is showing that the arm and heat are back, but so is his wildness.  K-Rod will get 30+ saves in my estimation, but may not so pretty getting there.  Frankie is getting paid the big bucks and will have the job for 2011.

21)  Jose Valverde:  Detroit Tigers

The king of hot starts, Valverde has been four for four in saves on a very inconsistent Detroit Tigers team in 2011.  His 1.04 ERA and 2/9 BB/K ratio have been spectacular.  Valverde will have the job this year as he works towards another free agency run at seasons-end.  Benoit is the closer in waiting and while he will have the job in 2012, will be the filler when called upon.  The Tigers will stick with Valverde, period.

22)  John Axford:  Milwaukee Brewers

Pitching for a contending Brewers team, Axford’s numbers have not cut it this year.  Three for five in saves, 7.36 ERA and a 6/8 BB/K ratio means that Axford is closing on borrowed time.  I still expect Axford to get a little more rope to straighten himself out, but not for much longer.  While Saito was my pick to take over the role at the start of the season, and poor health and inconsistency have plagued him.  Same with LaTroy Hawkins, another failed closer in the Brewers’ pen.  The dark horse for the role is Kameron Loe, the former Rangers starter and Japanese baseball survivor.  Look for Loe, who has been the Brewers best reliever season to get the role any day now and to run with it into the forseeable future.

23)  Drew Storen/ (Sean Burnett):  Washington Nationals

I know your first reaction:  is Sean Burnett not the closer?  A 3.24 ERA, three for four in saves and 0/6 BB/K ratio- is that not closing numbers?  Perhaps, but Burnett is like a mirage in the desert.  You think you are seeing water, but its all an illusion.  Storen with a 0.77 ERA, two for two in saves, six hits allowed in 11 2/3 innings and 4/8 BB/K ratio is the man.  Storen has been groomed for the position is whole life and was drafted as a closer to become the Nationals ninth inning stopper.  Burnett may still get the occasional opportunity but his saves opportunities are coming to an end.  As Storen becomes nearly automatic, the job will be his for the next decade in Washington.

24)  Matt Capps:  Minnesota Twins

The Twins originally said they would bring Joe Nathan along slowly after missing a year due to surgery.  What did they end up doing?  Throwing him straight into the fire and destroying his pitching confidence and stats line.  With a 9.82 ERA and 6/5 BB/K ratio, do not expect Nathan back in the role for a LONG time.  Capps, acquired from Washington for catching prospect Ramos has now taken over the closing duties.  Three for four in save opportunities, 4.09 ERA and a 0/5 BB/K ratio shows that Capps is ready to run with the job.  Minnesota is well-known for steady starting pitching and I look for Capps to finish with a steady amount of saves.  He may not blow hitters away anymore, but with continued control look for Capps to keep the job for most of 2011.

25)  Francisco Cordero:  Cincinnati Reds

For all the doom and gloom coming out of Cinci for Cordero, he has continued to put up great numbers.  Three for three in saves, 2.00 ERA, a stingy five hits in nine innings pitched and 4/7 BB/K ratio.  The changing of the guard is coming though for the Reds as you look at Chapman’s numbers.  Throws 100+ MPH heat, nine scoreless innings, two hits in nine innings with a 7/9 BB/K ratio.  This is another case that unless the incumbent implodes or gets injured, he will retain his role.  The Reds rely on the Veteran Cordero and Dusty Baker is very loyal to his foot soldiers.  Chapman is still showing wildness and the best course is to let him continue to develop as Cordero keeps saving games.  A change is coming in 2012 but until then, Cordero is the Reds closer.  If you like to gamble though, Chapman has a decent shot at the job… he is the heir apparent and the first reliever in line if needed.

26)  Jon Rauch:  Toronto Blue Jays

One of several new additions to the Jays pen, Rauch originally was supposed to keep the role warm for Frank Francisco until he returned from injury.  Rauch on the season has a 2.08 ERA and is three for three in saves opportunities.  While his 4/6 BB/K ratio is pedestrian, Rauch will have the job for the majority of the year in my opinion.  While Francisco has the heat and the strikeout numbers, he has shown to be very inconsistent and erratic in the closers role from his time in Texas.  Francisco will possibly get a shot at the role at some point early on this season, my money is still on Rauch.  With so many closing options in Toronto including Dotel and Frasor, this situation is very difficult to handicap.  At the end of the day, you either believe in Francisco or Rauch as the closer.  My gut is saying Rauch.

27)  Jordan Walden:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The next, great Angels closer, Walden has taken to the role and run with it.  Ten scoreless innings, three for three in saves, three hits allowed in 9 1/3 innings and a 5/10 BB/K ratio are all impressive.  Fernando Rodney, the veteran closer will be breathing down his neck the whole season.  If not for his 8/7 BB/K ratio, Rodney has a 2.08 ERA of his own and only blown save on the season.  As with all young pitchers, Walden will run into some trouble along the way.  The question will be how he handles adversity.  This is one team that I have faced several arguments on this season.  I see Rodney taking back his job while Walden continues to be groomed into the next big thing.  For me, experience and knowledge tends to usually win out and Rodney has an advantage in both departments over Walden.  The job is Walden’s today and for quite some time, but 2-3 blown saves in a week can change things in a hurry.  Another situation to keep an eye on.

28)  Mitchell Boggs:  St. Louis Cardinals

Where is Ryan Franklin?  One for five in save opportunities and with a 7.88 ERA.  Complaining about the fans of St. Louis won’t appease Cardinals management either.  The 27-year-old Boggs is the newest closer on the carousel, with two saves in two opportunities, 1.59 ERA and outstanding 3/13 BB/K ratio.  There are many people jumping on the Boggs bandwagon and for good reason.  The kid is apparently coming into his own and has taken the job by the reigns.  As is the case with Walden, we do not have enough of a track record to know the long-term potential of the kid.  Again, 2-3 blown saves in a week can change the situation in a hurry.  I still expect Franklin to straighten himself out and perhaps reclaim the job later in the year.  But based on his solid work to-date, the closer in St. Louis is Boggs and the job is literally his to lose.  Keep one eye open, just in case.

29)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

Pitching in the Brandon Lyon sea of mediocrity, Gregg has been up-and-down this year for the upstart Orioles.  Two saves in three opportunities, 4.50 ERA, and 4/6 BB/K ratio are nothing to write home about.  Mike Gonzalez with a 10.80 ERA does not appear to be healthy and recovered to be able to compete for the role.  Jeremy Accardo has a 2.08 ERA but an alarming 6/4 BB/K ratio.   Koji Uehara, with a 1.35 ERA and 3/7 BB/K ratio is my pick for the Orioles closing job when Gregg inevitably begins to break down.  The Orioles are lucky to have several options, with Simon originally being my original dark horse until legal troubles slowed down his season.  But based on track history, I really like Uehara’s chances to claim the job by June, if not sooner.

30)  (Jesse Crain):  Chicago White Sox

I certainly saved the worst for last and the White Sox have had their share of bullpen woes in 2011.  With one team on the season, Sale and Thornton have not been the saviors that Sox fans were expecting this year.  With ERAs north of 6.00, neither one is likely to take the role anytime soon.  Ohman and Pena have been fairly weak as well and the last two realistic survivors are Santos and Crain.  Much press has been written on Santos, the converted pitcher who has pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings with five hits allowed a 5/13 BB/K ratio.  While many experts are already picking Santos, I am looking at the dark horse, Jesse Crain to take the role.  The former Twin had a steady 2010 year and has started this year with a 1.74 ERA and spectacular 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Santos is the darling of Chicago with his flame throwing ways, but the more experienced Crain appears to be just what the doctor ordered in Chicago.  A situation that is far from unsettled, Thornton or Sale could grab a hold of the job at any time with some steady consecutive outings.  But based on current numbers and future outlook, if you want my pick- it will be Crain.  With such a strong offense and steady starting pitching, the Sox cannot afford to lose too many games in the 9th if they hope to take the AL Central.  That is where a veteran as the anchor will prove to be best solution in the bullpen.

The state of closers is always a heated discussion in baseball circles every year.  Probably the most volatile position in baseball, approximately 30% of opening day closers will still have their jobs by years-end.  With injuries and failures, closers can come and go on a weekly basis.  Today’s failed starters can be tomorrow’s superstar closers.  Next week’s stoppers can also be minor league filler by August.  All baseball fans, whether fans of teams or fantasy players, all get driven to the point of insanity because of closers.  For every Mariano Rivera, there will be three Jordan Waldens, five Jonathan Broxtons and seven Brandon Lyons.  I hope that you enjoyed reading the state of the union on MLB closers today.  Although situations may have changed while I wrote this article (see Contreras) and even tomorrow, remember to keep an open mind and focus on where the next closers will be.  The most effective relievers in the bullpen will usually get the first crack- it is the ones that can succeed under pressure that will keep their jobs.

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