Seriously, when did we get to the point where every discussion involving closers turns into a bitch session where grown men turn into the biggest crybabies you’ve ever seen? You can’t even mention the word ‘saves’ without some guy chiming in with some hard-luck, sad-sack story about how his guy lost his job, blew the save, roasted his ratios, whatever. My patience wears thin and my sympathy for these bellyachers is, well, non-existent.
I tried to help you throughout the spring. Really, I did. I told you to invest in at least one, if not two, high end closers to not only vault you to the top of the saves category, but to also supplement your ratios and strikeouts. I even went so far to say that it would probably be the best investment you made in your draft. Unfortunately, for some of you that wasn’t enough. I’m getting emails and tweets from some serious gripers who like to lay blame my way because they invested in guys like Jim Johnson, Casey Janssen and Ernesto Frieri, thinking that they were the elites to which I was referring. Next time I’ll spell it out even clearer and specifically mention Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland and Kenley Jansen.
But enough of this “I told you so” crap. No sense in beating a dead horse, crying over spilt milk or whatever favorite cliché you’d like to insert here. It’s all about moving forward and doing what you need to do, not just to survive, but to thrive. So with that, let’s look at some of the unrest that’s been cropping up in bullpens lately and see if we can’t help you to be more proactive.
Toronto Blue Jays
Suddenly Sergio Santos isn’t the poster child for cheap saves on the waiver wire, is he? After back-to-back disasters in which he allowed a total of six runs over the course of one inning, Santos was informed by manager John Gibbons that he [Gibbons] would look for alternatives to start closing out games. The problem, however, is that there’s really nobody there. Casey Janssen is apparently still a couple of weeks away as he is only just now heading to Double-A New Hampshire to begin his rehab outings. They Jays are saying that he’s slightly ahead of schedule, but that just makes you wonder if it’s because he’s doing better or the team is just crazy desperate. If it’s the latter, then that could leave Janssen more susceptible to a recurring injury.
As for the other options currently residing in the Toronto pen, the favorite has to be Steve Delabar. Favorite by default though as he’s just the next guy standing in line. But his numbers – 3.86 ERA over 11.2 innings – aren’t too peachy, his strikeout rate has been cut by more than half, his walk rate is up and have you seen what his rebuilt elbow even looks like? Maybe he can keep it together for two weeks until Janssen gets back, but he may need some help which brings us to lefty Aaron Loup. If Gibbons wants to just play the match-ups and go into some sort of temporary patch-job committee approach then these two would probably lead the charge with Brett Cecil likely to get a piece of the action as well.
With Jose Veras demoted and Pedro Strop suddenly trying to do his best Veras impersonation, the Cubs have turned the focus of their mission to finding a proper ninth-inning man towards 26-year-old Hector Rondon. Now, manager Rick Renteria told Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald that he actually hasn’t settled on a choice for a new closer and labels the bullpen situation as “fluid,” but come on. Who are we kidding here? Rondon has a mid-90’s fastball with a low-90s cutter and a nasty slider. He’s currently sporting a 0.63 ERA with a 3.75 K/BB over 14.2 innings. His swinging-strike percentage is consistently over 10-percent and when he isn’t missing bats, he’s inducing weak ground balls at a rate of 51.4-percent. And of course, let’s not forget that he has been handed the ball twice now in save situations, most recently this past Friday, and he’s walked away with two scoreless innings and a pair of saves. If that’s not enough, then let’s also add the fact that there’s absolutely no one else in the bullpen who deserves a look ahead of him. James Russell? Nope. He’s blown the opportunity already on more than one occasion. Wesley Wright? Situational lefty. Brian Schlitter? For fear of excessive use of the phrase “he schlitts the bed in the ninth again,” please no. Rondon is where you need to be throwing your FAAB bucks now.
With each day that passes, this pen becomes more and more of a joke. It’s still a committee, but thankfully, after nine earned runs over 1.1 innings (three appearances), Josh Fields is officially out of the mix. Chad Qualls and Anthony Bass seem to be the odds-on favorites to continue holding down the job while Raul Valdes is getting the work when a lefty is needed. Matt Albers is set to come off the DL in a week to join back in the fray, but for me, the dark horse is now veteran left-hander Tony Sipp. With Valdes able to hold down the lefty-specialist role, Sipp could turn into a potential closer now that he’s both healthy and performing up to task. He looked good at Triple-A Tuscon while with the Padres and he continues to impress with on the big stage as well. It’s obviously a very small sample size, but Sipp has been here before and has usually passed with flying colors. Qualls and Bass are still the guys to own for right now, but when the time comes, you’ll want to make sure you are the one grabbing Sipp before everyone else in your league.
This one isn’t nearly as aggravating or potentially disastrous as the previous three, but it bears mentioning given the fact that Jason Grilli was just placed on the disabled list April 26th (retroactive to the 21st) with an oblique strain and could be on their longer than the 15-day minimum. Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb was lost for six-to-eight weeks with a similar injury and hitters like Ryan Braun, Jason Kipnis and Chris Davis all seem to be falling into either the three-to-five or four-to six week range. Mark Melancon will assume the ninth-inning responsibilities and most agree that the 29-year old right-hander has the ability to steal away the job on a permanent basis.
There’s plenty to like about both pitchers and when each are at the top of their respective games, both make for solid closers. Grilli is more of a strikeout pitcher who misses a ton of bats (14-plus percent swinging strikeout rate) while Melancon, who also has a solid swinging-strike percentage as well (just under 12-percent), is more of a ground ball specialist who doesn’t mind pitching to contact as batters have trouble getting good wood on his cutter. The question is, which guy is the best choice for the closer job? If you’re manager Clint Hurdle, you have to think that Melancon is the safer bet, especially if you trust the defense behind him. If he’s a little off, the infielders can pick him up with strong play. If you go with Grilli and he’s off, well…just look at that 20-percent HR/FB he’s sporting right now.
A lot will depend on how long Grilli is out and how successful Melancon is during his absence. If Grilli misses a month and Melancon cruises, then Hurdle may not want to upset the balance of his bullpen and just slot Grilli back into a set-up role. Of course, Hurdle may also not want to upset the dynamic and go with the whole anti-Wally Pipp, “a guy isn’t losing his job because of an injury” mentality. This situation definitely bears watching as we simply won’t have it sorted out until both are healthy. If you own one, you better make sure you also have the other.
And just a quick touch on the A’s as manager Bob Melvin finally announced that Johnson is officially back in the mix for saves in Oakland. A report from MLB.com’s Jane Lee has Melvin praising Johnson’s performance since being pulled from the job – six appearances with 7.2 scoreless innings and a 7:2 K:BB – and cites how the pitcher has put himself back in position to re-take ownership of the job. However, and seriously, who the hell knows why, he’s not going to just give him the job back outright. Melvin wants to continue this inane committee approach which has failed miserably. Hopefully this is just lip service and Melvin will start to give Johnson consistent chances and basically just give him the job back without a major announcement. However it gets handled now, the fact of the matter is that Johnson is about to get his job back and those fantasy owners who stuck through these last couple of weeks with him will be handsomely rewarded for their patience.
There’s been no change in most of the situations around the majors, but here’s a look at the new Closer Grid as those bottom-feeders in red have had some adjustments made.
*Expected to return from DL this week
**Currently on the DL