Closer rankings

It's possible my initial take on Heath Bell wasn't entirely accurate. Sure, I said he was worth a shot in the late rounds of your draft, but I was also pretty wary of recommending him. So far, the veteran righty reliever is 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and a deeper look at his pedigree, peripherals and past numbers reveals he could be an undeniable steal. Plus, he's clearly a fan of the MLB Network over its more established competition, and I'm just as gaga over that revelation the overpowering fastball with nice movement that he throws. I swear when I tune in to MLB Network around midnight and they bombard me with live feeds of the last couple innings of close games, I feel like I'm watching porn for the first time.

So Bell obviously knows his late-night baseball shows, but he wasn't a highly touted prospect. A three-sport athlete in high school, the Santiago Canyon College standout was named freshman All-America in 1997 before being selected by the Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 amateur draft.

He didn't sign, but caught on with the Mets as an undrafted free agent the following year. By 2006 -- when he was traded to the Padres -- he was a respectable middle reliever with a plus fastball, decent changeup and a solid curve/slider combo. In 2007, he posted great numbers, including a 6-4 record in 81 appearances, 93.2 IP, 2.02 ERA, 2 SVs, 102 Ks, and just 30 BBs. He held opposing batters to a .185 batting average and only allowed 0.29 HR/9. His Batting Average on Balls in Play that season was extraordinarily low (.260), but he was still developing as a pitcher and learning to rely less on his breaking stuff. Bell also stranded a stunning 80.9 percent of runners on base in 2007 (for relievers, an LOB% of about 70 percent is the benchmark). While that figure regressed to 73.3 percent in 2008, and his ERA increased to 3.58, Bell still posted a 1.21 WHIP.

If Bell keeps locating his darting fastball and inducing a GB/FB rate of around 2.0, he could be a Top 10 closer in 2009. If he struggles with his command and relies too heavily on his pedestrian breaking balls, he'll finish with a save rate around 75 percent and an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00. I guess what I'm saying is this: If there's another owner loaded with closers who's dangling Bell in trade offers because he's trying to "sell high" after the Padres' hot start, do what you can to get the deal done.

Note: We're still looking at a very small sample for this season, and while I'm wary of delving too much into results unless the situation warrants deeper examination, I've included the 2009 statistics in italics. I've also restricted my comments (outside of the standard "next in line" pecking order protocol) to "On the Fence" and "Closer-by-Committee" situations. Stats include all games up to and including April 14.

Mariano Rivera, NYY 1-for-1 (1005%), 2 IP, 3 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP Next in line: Damaso Marte Third in line: Edwar Ramirez/Brian Bruney

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS 2-for-2 (100%), 3.1 IP, 3 Ks, 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP Next in line: Hideki Okajima Third in line: Takashi Saito/Manny Delcarmen

Joe Nathan, MIN 1-for-1 (100%), 3 IP, 2 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP Next in line: Jesse Crain Third in line: Craig Breslow, Luis Ayala

Brad Lidge, PHI 3-for-3 (100%), 5 IP, 7 Ks, 5.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP Next in line: Ryan Madson Third in line: Chad Durbin

Joakim Soria, KC 4-for-4 (100%), 4 IP, 7 Ks, 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP Next in line: Juan Cruz Third in line: Kyle Farnsworth/Ron Mahay

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 2-for-2 (100%), 3.2 IP, 4 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP Next in line: J.J. Putz Third in line: Pedro Feliciano

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 3-for-3 (100%), 4 IP, 5 Ks, 2.25 ERA, 0.25 WHIP Next in line: Hong-Chih Kuo Third in line: Cory Wade/Guillermo Mota

Bobby Jenks, CWS 2-for-2 (100%), 3 IP, 3 Ks, 6.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP Next in line: Matt Thornton Third in line: Octavio Dotel/Scott Linebrink

José Valverde, HOU 0-for-0 (N/A%), 2 IP, 3 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP Next in line: LaTroy Hawkins Third in line: Doug Brocail

Kerry Wood, CLE 0-for-0 (N/A%), 2 IP, 6 Ks, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP Next in line: Rafael Perez Third in line: Rafael Betancourt/Jensen Lewis

Matt Capps, PIT 2-for-2 (100%), 1.2 IP, 1 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP Next in line: John Grabow Third in line: Sean Burnett/Tyler Yates

Francisco Cordero, CIN 2-for-2 (100%), 3 IP, 4 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP Next in line: David Weathers Third in line: Jared Burton

Brian Wilson, SF 0-for-0 (N/A%), 1.1 IP, 2 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Affeldt Third in line: Bob Howry

Brian Fuentes, LAA 2-for-3 (66.7%),3 IP, 3 Ks, 12.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP Next in line: Scot Shields Third in line: Jose Arredondo

Mike González, ATL 1-for-2 (50%), 4 IP, 6 Ks, 4.50 ERA, 1.75 WHIP Next in line: Rafael Soriano Third in line: Blaine Boyer/Buddy Carlyle

Heath Bell, SD 4-for-4 (100%), 3.2 IP, 4 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP Next in line: Cla Meredith Third in line: Duaner Sanchez

Chad Qualls, ARI 1-for-2 (50%), 3 IP, 5 Ks, 6.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP Next in line: Tony Peña Third in line: Jon Rauch

Joel Hanrahan, WAS 0-for-0 (N/A%), 2 IP, 3 Ks, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP Next in line: Joe Beimel Third in line: Saul Rivera/Steven Shell

George Sherrill, BAL 3-for-3 (100%), 4.1 IP, 5 Ks, 6.23 ERA, 2.08 WHIP Next in line: Chris Ray Third in line: Jamie Walker

Frank Francisco, TEX 1-for-1 (100%), 4.1 IP, 6 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.23 WHIP Next in line: C.J. Wilson/Eddie Guardado Third in line: Jason Jennings

Matt Lindstrom, FLA 1-for-2 (50%), 3 IP, 2 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP Next in line: Leo Nunez Third in line: Reynel Pinto/Scott Proctor

Kevin Gregg, CHI (NL) 1-for-2 (50%), 4 IP, 6 Ks, 9.00 ERA, 2.75 WHIP Lou Pinella confirmed that Gregg's struggles with pitching more than one inning means he'll be exclusively used as a three-out guy this season. This is probably best considering the shut-down setup man the Cubs have in Carlos Marmol. According to the Cubs' Web site, Gregg isn't deterred and knew there would be some knee issues following major surgery: "I've talked to the doctor who did my surgery and talked to the team doctors....They say I'm doing pretty good, as far as the amount of soreness I have. It's working in my favor." Next in line: Carlos Mármol Third in line: Aaron Heilman/Jeff Samardzija (minors)

B.J. Ryan, TOR 1-for-2 (50%), 2.2 IP, 1 K, 13.50 ERA, 3.38 WHIP He's still in limbo after his bad start, but the crafty veteran lefty hasn't had much of a chance to redeem himself yet. Next in line: Scott Downs Third in line: Jesse Carlson/Jason Frasor

Huston Street, COL 1-for-1 (100%), 2.2 IP, 2 Ks, 10.13 ERA, 2.25 WHIP The obviously catastrophic performance expressed in these '09 numbers was actually a non-save situation. Can't fault him for that, so for now, Street is still the man. Next in line: Manny Corpas Third in line: Alan Embree/Taylor Buchholz (elbow)

Fernando Rodney, DET 2-for-2 (100%), 3 IP, 3 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP Rodney has been solid in a closing role and won't yield to fast-track rookie fireballer Ryan Perry unless he struggles getting outs in the ninth. Joel Zumaya looked okay in a Class A Lakeland appearance, and although the Chula Vista native was apparently under the weather, there were no shoulder problems to report and his fastball velocity was in the mid-90s. Next in line: Brandon Lyon Third in line: Joel Zumaya/Ryan Perry

Troy Percival, TB 1-for-1 (100%), 1 IP, 0 Ks, 9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP Dan Wheeler's got great stuff, but he does melt down once in a while, just like he did in the ninth against the Yanks on Tuesday night. Still, Wheeler will take the reins from Percival if the veteran closer has any setbacks. Next in line: Dan Wheeler Third in line: Grant Balfour/Jason Isringhausen (DL)

Brad Ziegler, OAK 2-for-3 (66.7%), 6 IP, 5 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP Ziegler hasn't done anything to lose his job yet, but will probably need lots of help from Russ Springer, Santiago Casilla and lefty Jerry Blevins if Joey Devine is lost for the season. Next in line: Jerry Blevins/Russ Springer Third in line: Santiago Casilla

Brandon Morrow, SEA 2-for-2 (100%), 3.2 IP, 5 Ks, 7.36 ERA, 1.91 WHIP David Aardsma would probably be the everyday closer if he could cut down on his walks, but he's definitely got the best stuff in the next to Morrow. So far this season, the Mariners pen has been collectively solid: 19 IP, 2.37 ERA, .154 BAA -- although Morrow did get knocked around like a Weeble in his non-save situation last week. Next in line: David Aardsma Third in line: Mark Lowe/Roy Corcoran

Carlos Villanueva, MIL 1-for-2 (50%), 4 IP, 4 Ks, 11.25 ERA, 1.75 WHIP Villanueva has been shaky thus far. Amazingly, the remedy for the Brewers bullpen hypertension might actually be more Todd Coffey -- who has probably replaced Seth McClung as the most likely candidate to supplant the current closer. There's still not a pressing need to rush Trevor Hoffman back, but the Brewers brass wants a return on their investment in the future-HOFer pretty soon. Next in line: Todd Coffey Third in line: Seth McClung/David Riske

Ryan Franklin, STL 1-for-1 (100%), 2.2 IP, 2 Ks, 1 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 0.38 WHIP Oft-injured starter and former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter is headed to the DL with a strained rib-cage muscle, according the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The veteran pitcher's injury was sustained while batting and doesn't directly impact the St. Louis bullpen, but it's thought that Carpenter could be out for several weeks. That means that Chris Pérez might be called up from Triple-A, and he'll likely be in line for some save opportunities. Next in line: Jason Motte Third in line: Brad Thompson/Chris Pérez

Trevor Hoffman, MIL No exact word when Hoffman will be ready to rejoin the team, but the recent news is encouraging. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that he felt good Monday playing catch, and there are plans for bullpen sessions this week. If all goes well in the ensuing rehab outings, he could be back before May.

Joey Devine, OAK Devine has been placed on the 60-day DL and his elbow injury appears to be serious. He's in for more testing -- a bone scan and CT scan with Dr. Andrews -- and some type of surgery is likely. We'll know more by the end of the week.

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