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Closer rankings

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Brad Ziegler has a deep, dark secret. He's lucky -- downright blessed -- to get as many guys out as he does. He does it with smoke and mirrors and was aided by a ridiculously low BABIP delivery. Really, his Batting Average on Balls In Play was unequivocally low -- .246 -- but I just wanted a chance to use the "strikethrough" option like a cool blogger.

As a righty submariner (a baseball rarity) Ziegler put up an astounding 1.06 ERA in 59.2 innings pitched in 2008 -- his first year in the majors. But he posted a low strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.36 -- just 30 Ks to 22 free passes) and at 29, he's probably not going to get much better. He may have tied a major-league record last season by starting his career with 39 scoreless innings, but now he's ready for a serious regression from his crazy '08 numbers. The man who was nearly killed by a Fred Lewis liner in 2004 posted a solid groundball rate last year (59.7 percent) and might even save 30-plus games when this season's in the books. But Ziegler isn't really the shut-down closer his current job status, ERA and his WHIP project him to be. In fact, he's closer to Chad Bradford than Chad Cordero. Against lefty hitters, Ziegler allowed a .790 OPS but limited right-handed hitters to a lowly .490 mark. The great Mariano Rivera, for example, posted a 1.40 ERA last year -- not quite as low as Ziegler's, but Rivera's OPS against split .365/.483 (LH/RH) showed little discrimination.

Bradford, who from 2001 to 2004 was a thriving specialty reliever for the A's, also had his success limited to facing right-handed hitters. The veteran's ERA stayed around 3.00 for his entire career until 2004, when he had a setback -- mounting back pain due to his submarine delivery. Ziegler could be in line for similar problems, and a much-higher ERA, if he's forced to face hitters from both sides regularly. Managers are probably just itching to throw a hefty lefty to the dish to face Oakland's right-handed, submariner closer with men on base.

Ziegler's role has become somewhat stable due to Joey Devine's elbow problems, but the "Kansas Torpedo" (my nickname for him -- I know it makes no logical sense) is probably better suited for a platoon. Watch for him to struggle and get some closing assistance from left-hander Jerry Blevins, who in 2008 allowed just .193/.254/.228 -- a .482 OPS -- against lefties.

There's still too small a sample to begin displaying 2009 statistics, so for now, the 2008 stats appear under each starting closer in italics. Let's get to the pecking order.

Mariano Rivera, NYY39-for-40 (97.5%), 70.2 IP, 77 Ks, 1.40 ERA, 0.67 WHIPIn Baltimore on Opening Day, Phil Coke entered a close game and left a fastball over the plate against Gregg Zaun, who doubled. César Izturis then jacked his next offering over the outstretched, fan-hounded glove of Johnny Damon. Those inauspicious beginnings aside, Jonathan Albaladejo and Damaso Marte looked OK.Next in line: Damaso MarteThird in line: Edwar Ramirez, Brian Bruney

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS41-for-46 (89.1%), 69.1 IP, 77 Ks, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIPOn Tuesday, Papelbon struck out two and sealed a 5-3 Boston win. He's 1-for-1 so far, but Hideki Okajima got lit up. Tampa Bay scored one run off Josh Beckett and two in the eighth off Okajima before Justin Masterson pitched out of a jam and Papelbon registered three outs for the save.Next in line: Hideki OkajimaThird in line: Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen

Joe Nathan, MIN39-for-45 (86.7%), 67.2 IP, 74 Ks, 1.33 ERA, 0.90 WHIPNathan's shoulder looks fine heading into the season, although he hasn't seen much work. We're also still waiting to see that cutter.Next in line: Jesse CrainThird in line: Craig Breslow, Luis Ayala

Brad Lidge, PHI41-for-41 (100%), 69.1 IP, 92 Ks, 1.95 ERA, 1.23 WHIPLidge went an inning in the 4-1 loss to the Braves and looked fine. He struck out one and retired the three batters he faced.Next in line: Ryan MadsonThird in line: Chad Durbin

Joakim Soria, KC42-for-45 (93.3%), 67.1 IP, 66 Ks, 1.60 ERA, 0.86 WHIPI knew that it wouldn't take Royals fans long to develop a distaste for Kyle Farnsworth, who gave up three earned runs, four hits and a dinger in his first appearance for K.C. The guy knows how to beat up charging batsmen, but he can't get dudes out.Next in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Mahay

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM62-for-69 (89.9%), 68.1 IP, 77 Ks, 2.24 ERA, 1.29 WHIPSo far, so good with K-Rod and J.J. Putz who each went an inning and put the finishing touches on Johan Santana's Opening Day win.Next in line: J.J. PutzThird in line: Pedro Feliciano

Jonathan Broxton, LAD14-for-22 (63.6%), 69 IP, 88 Ks, 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIPBroxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade were all solid in relief Monday, although Kuo did give a couple free passes.Next in line: Hong-Chih KuoThird in line: Cory Wade, Guillermo Mota

Bobby Jenks, CWS30-for-34 (88.2%), 61.2 IP, 38 Ks, 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIPOctavio Dotel picked up a nice win courtesy of the aforementioned Farnsworth's eighth-inning debacle in Chi-town, striking out the side in his one inning of work. Jenks picked up his first save but allowed a hit.Next in line: Matt ThorntonThird in line: Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink

José Valverde, HOU44-for-51 (86.3%), 72 IP, 83 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIPMuch of the Houston bullpen contributed on Tuesday, with LaTroy Hawkins getting touched up and blowing a lead in the eighth. Valverde worked a 1-2-3 inning and Doug Brocail took the win after facing one batter in the 10th.Next in line: LaTroy HawkinsThird in line: Doug Brocail

Kerry Wood, CLE34-for-40 (85%), 66.1 IP, 84 Ks, 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIPWood's back hasn't flared up since the start of camp, and he's only surrendered one earned run in four innings of work -- highlighted by three strikeouts and no walks. The Indians haven't had a closer of Wood's caliber since Jose Mesa, but it remains to be seen how effective the injury-plagued right-hander will be in back-to-back seasons.Next in line: Rafael PerezThird in line: Rafael Betancourt, Jensen Lewis

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Brian Wilson, SF41-for-47 (87.2%), 62.1 IP, 67 Ks, 4.62 ERA, 1.44 WHIPTuesday's game was won by the Giants bullpen, with everybody contributing a little bit of sunshine after Tim Lincecum's struggles. Wilson faced one batter and struck him out, and both Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry were OK, but rookie reliever Joe Martinez took the win. Don't run out to grab Martinez just yet -- he yielded two runs on three hits in just two innings of work in relief of Lincecum.Next in line: Jeremy AffeldtThird in line: Bob Howry

Matt Capps, PIT21-for-26 (80.1%), 53.2 IP, 39 Ks, 3.02 ERA, 0.97 WHIPCapps is 1-for-1 and the Pirates bullpen has been fine so far.Next in line: John GrabowThird in line: Sean Burnett, Tyler Yates

Kevin Gregg, CHI (NL)29-for-38 (76.3%), 68.2 IP, 58 Ks, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIPGregg has struggled in limited work so far, but he did manage to pick up a save on Opening Day. Monitor this situation, because it won't take much for Lou Pinella to pull the trigger and insert Carlos Marmol in as closer.Next in line: Carlos MármolThird in line: Aaron Heilman, Jeff Samardzija (minors)

Francisco Cordero, CIN34-for-40 (85%), 70.1 IP, 78 Ks, 3.33 ERA, 1.41 WHIPNo save situations so far for Cordero, who will need to keep his WHIP under 1.40 to be effective.Next in line: David WeathersThird in line: Jared Burton

Brian Fuentes, LAA30-for-34 (88.2%), 62.2 IP, 82 Ks, 2.73 ERA, 1.10 WHIPFuentes wasn't great in spring training, but he recorded his first save for the Angels when he retired the side in order in the ninth on Monday. It was actually his 18th consecutive conversion, dating back to last season with the Rockies. Jose Arredondo has pitched well and would likely be the closer should Fuentes struggle or sustain an injury. The Angels bullpen could be busy this spring with all the injuries to their starters.Next in line: Jose ArredondoThird in line: Scot Shields

Mike González, ATL14-for-16 (87.5%), 33.2 IP, 44 Ks, 4.28 ERA, 1.19 WHIPGonzalez hasn't had a save situation yet, so I'll disregard his lackluster performance so far. But stay tuned once Rafael Soriano is healthy.Next in line: Rafael SorianoThird in line: Blaine Boyer, Buddy Carlyle

Chad Qualls, ARI9-for-17 (52.9%), 73.2 IP, 71 Ks, 2.81 ERA, 1.07 WHIPQualls' wife gave birth to the couple's first child on Tuesday, so the cagey reliever wasn't at the ballpark. But he did get the save in Monday's 9-8 win over the Rockies.Next in line: Tony PeñaThird in line: Jon Rauch

Joel Hanrahan, WAS9-for-13 (69.2%), 84.1 IP, 93 Ks, 3.95 ERA, 1.36 WHIPThere are a few folks itching to step in if Hanrahan falters, including a good reliever, Joe Beimel, and the rubber-armed Saul Rivera.Next in line: Joe BeimelThird in line: Saul Rivera, Steven Shell

Heath Bell, SD0-for-7 (0%), 78 IP, 71 Ks, 3.58 ERA, 1.21 WHIPBell struck out the side around a one-out walk Tuesday night to record his first save since '07.Next in line: Cla MeredithThird in line: Duaner Sanchez

George Sherrill, BAL29-for-37 (78.4%), 53.1 IP, 58 Ks, 4.73 ERA, 1.50 WHIPChris Ray got spanked around by the Yankees -- so Sherrill's job is safe for now.Next in line: Chris RayThird in line: Jamie Walker

B.J. Ryan, TOR32-for-36 (88.9%), 58 IP, 58 Ks, 2.95 ERA, 1.28 WHIPB.J. blew his first save of the season after a couple weeks of uncertainty regarding his velocity. The veteran couldn't protect a 4-3 lead, instead serving up a solo shot to Brandon Inge. Cito Gaston could pull the plug at any time, though he'll probably give Ryan a few more outings to show he's still got it.Next in line: Scott DownsThird in line: Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor

Huston Street, COL18-for-25 (72%), 70 IP, 69 Ks, 3.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIPThe job is Street's and Manny Corpas isn't too far behind -- although Street has been ruthlessly efficient. He's creating some space.Next in line: Manny CorpasThird in line: Alan Embree, Taylor Buchholz (elbow)

Fernando Rodney, DET13-for-19 (68.4%), 40.1 IP, 49 Ks, 4.91 ERA, 1.59 WHIPNo save situations as of Tuesday night. I've hated the Tigers ever since Kenny Rogerscheated, so I can't wait to watch this debacle play out.Next in line: Brandon LyonThird in line: Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay

Frank Francisco, TEX5-for-11 (45.5%), 63.1 IP, 83 Ks, 3.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIPIt's entirely possible that Mr. Francisco gets himself into some crazy games this season, as the Texas offense is capable of putting up many runs -- and the starters are capable of giving up their fair share. Don't blink in Arlington, because it's going to be a wild ride.Next in line: C.J. WilsonThird in line: Eddie Guardado, Derrick Turnbow

Troy Percival, TB28-for-32 (87.5%), 45.2 IP, 38 Ks, 4.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIPNo action for the Tampa lead-protectors just yet.Next in line: Dan WheelerThird in line: Grant Balfour, Jason Isringhausen (DL)

Matt Lindstrom, FLA5-for-6 (83.3%), 57.1 IP, 43 Ks, 3.14 ERA, 1.45 WHIPLindstrom was a little shaky in converting his first save opportunity, which makes one wonder if he's 100 percent. We'll find out soon enough what he's got.Next in line: Leo NunezThird in line: Reynel Pinto, Scott Proctor

Brad Ziegler, OAK11-for-13 (84.6%), 59.2 IP, 30 Ks, 1.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIPZiegler has a little more job security now that Joey Devine is on the 60-day DL and could be done for the year. Russ Springer and Santiago Casilla will set up Ziegler, who may struggle getting lefties out in tight spots and need some help closing from lefty Jerry Blevins.Next in line: Jerry Blevins, Russ SpringerThird in line: Santiago Casilla

Brandon Morrow, SEA10-for-12 (83.3%), 64.2 IP, 75 Ks, 3.34 ERA, 1.14 WHIP"Brandon Meltdown." That's his new name. Morrow retired a couple guys before walking the bases loaded and taking the loss. As of Tuesday night, his ERA was 40.50. The Mariners could be re-thinking their closer situation.Next in line: Mark LoweThird in line: David Aardsma, Roy Corcoran

Carlos Villanueva, MIL1-for-1 (100%), 108.1 IP, 93 Ks, 11 HLDs, 4.07 ERA, 1.31 WHIPThere's variety in the Milwaukee bullpen with Villanueva, Seth McClung, Todd Coffey and David Riske, so there's no need to speed up Hoffman's return.Next in line: Seth McClungThird in line: Todd Coffey, David Riske

Ryan Franklin, STL17-for-25 (68%), 78.2 IP, 51 Ks, 13 HLDs, 3.55 ERA, 1.47 WHIPJason Motte blew his first save chance, so it'll probably be Franklin assuming the duties the next time up. This could also be interesting.Next in line: Jason MotteThird in line: Brad Thompson, Chris Perez (minors)

Trevor Hoffman, MILDue to his strained right oblique muscle, Hoffman was placed on the 15-day disabled and could join the squad about a week into the season. My feeling is still that if Villanueva and the others pitch well in his stead, they won't rush him back, since strained oblique muscles seem to only get better with rest. He's been playing catch, but he's not ready to return to the rigors of pitching every day.

Joey Devine, OAKDevine has been placed on the 60-day DL and his elbow injury appears to be serious. In all likelihood, he won't be back in 2009.