May 23, 2009

Closers with awesome changeups just aren't fair. One of these tricksters, the much-revered Trevor Hoffman, is having one of the best starts to the season in his Hall of Fame career -- in large part due to the effectiveness of his palmball-grip changeup. But it's not that he's throwing it more. In fact, he's tossing his tyrannical timing-buster only 21 percent of the time, compared to his career average of 29 percent. In 2007, Hoffman was throwing even more changeups -- 33.9 percent -- and saw his peripherals suffer (a career-low 6.91 K/9 and inflated 2.35 BB/9) compared to previous seasons and 2008. Now, he's throwing his slider more than ever and mixing in a devious, late-breaking curve a little bit.

Hoffman's change is effective because it makes his low-90s fastball look like it's a triple-digit heater. And he needs the harder breaking stuff to record outs -- largely because he's not a ground ball pitcher. His recent outing featured three fly ball outs, and of the last 12 batters he's faced, nine have been retired via the flyout. His BABIP so far this season is an absurdly low .120, and as that spikes toward his career BABIP of .278 (the exact same figure as Mariano Rivera's career BABIP -- although Rivera's career GB/FB is 1.84, and Hoffman's is 0.75) there will be a slight regression. Hoffman has yet to walk a batter, and he isn't necessarily missing bats at a ridiculous clip (7.36 K/9), either. In short, Hoffman will probably have a solid season because he's experienced and has learned to keep hitters off balance, but he's not a Top Five closer, and shouldn't be treated as such in trades.

After getting several solid performances from Kevin Gregg, manager Lou Piniella wasn't fazed by the closer's recent outing -- where he served up four hits, including two home runs, and failed to record an out. Gregg could eventually lose his job if he continues to pitch poorly, but Pinella isn't a quick-twitch manager and is unlikely to yank him from the role unless he begins to consistently blow saves.

Brad Lidge, Matt Capps and Kerry Wood all have ERAs over 7.00, but none is in immediate danger of losing his job. There have been rumblings that Lidge is hurt, but his coaches say his stuff is as good as it was last season. For me, his troubles can easily be attributed to his paltry 1.73 K/BB rate.

Capps blew a 1-0 lead, allowing three runs in the ninth on Friday. He insists nothing is wrong with his elbow, but performance -- specifically relating to his control -- suggests that something might be wrong. His 1.13 K/BB ratio is the worst among relievers with at least four saves, and again I must point out that this number usually correlates directly to a closer's success.

Stats as of May 19, 2009.

Matt Lindstrom, FLA 7-for-9 (78%), 15 IP, 15 Ks, 5.40 ERA, 1.60 WHIP Next in line: Leo Nunez Third in line: Kiki Calero

Fernando Rodney, DET 6-for-6 (100%), 16 IP, 11 Ks, 3.94 ERA, 1.06 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Lyon/ Joel Zumaya Third in line: Ryan Perry (minors)

Brad Ziegler, OAK 4-for-5 (80%), 16.1 IP, 12 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.65 WHIP Next in line: Michael Wuertz Third in line: Andrew Bailey

Scott Downs, TOR 5-for-5 (100%), 19.1 IP, 22 K, 1.86 ERA, 0.78 WHIP Next in line: Jason Frasor Third in line: Jesse Carlson/B.J. Ryan

Troy Percival, TB 6-for-6 (100%), 11 IP, 7 Ks, 4.91 ERA, 1.45 WHIP Next in line: Dan Wheeler/Joe Nelson Third in line: Grant Balfour/Jason Isringhausen

LaTroy Hawkins, HOU 5-for-7 (67%), 15 IP, 16.2 Ks, 2.70 ERA, 1.32 WHIP Next in line: Chris Sampson Third in line: Wesley Wright/Geoff Geary (DL)

Huston Street, COL 5-for-5 (100%), 16.1 IP, 18 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP Next in line: Jason Grilli Third in line: Manny Corpas

Fernando Rodney has pitched four innings without giving up a hit, although none of those four appearances were save opportunities. He'll never be out of the woods, mainly because Jim Leyland doesn't care how well fantasy owners sleep at night, and he's prone to blowouts. According to the Houston Chronicle, Jose Valverde's replacement --- veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- was unavailable Sunday because of a sore right hip. Hawkins made enough improvement during the Astros' day off to be available Tuesday. "The chiropractor said I was jammed up," Hawkins said. "And he yanked on me." Wow. When I'm jammed up and somebody yanks on me, it's certainly not the chiropractor. Huston Street retired the side in order in his most recent non-save situation, and has made 10 consecutive scoreless appearances -- including a handful since taking over from the now-irrelevant Manny Corpas.

Street's K/BB stands at 6.00, fourth among closers. Rivera is first at an unbelievable 22.00 K/BB, Scott Downs is second at 11.00 K/BB, and Chad Qualls is third with 9.50 K/BB. While Taylor Buchholz is due back in the Rockies bullpen in mid-June, and could threaten for the closing job, I think Street's job is safe for the time being. Buchholz reportedly had a good 37-pitch bullpen session on Monday. Brad Ziegler has still not pitched in any save situations since April 25, and is not engineered to be a closer. His recent bout with the flu didn't cost him more than a few save opportunities, as the Athletics have struggled, but Ziegler, technically still the team's closer, is still not assured to start racking up saves anytime soon.

Joakim Soria, KC Although he probably won't be activated on Saturday when he's eligible to come off the DL, Soria recently played catch at various distances. Royals manager Trey Hillman said Soria -- sidelined with right rotator cuff inflammation -- felt good during the flat surface exercise. There's still no word on when he'll throw off a mound or when he might return.

Frank Francisco, TEX Francisco threw a bullpen session Monday and participated in a simulated game Wednesday in Detroit. The Rangers closer hasn't appeared in a game since May 6, and went on the DL last Saturday with right biceps tendonitis. He's eligible to return on Friday when the Rangers play in Houston.

José Valverde, HOU Valverde's strained calf will likely keep him out until June. He's been playing catch with fellow casualty and reliever Doug Brocail, who's on the DL with a torn right hamstring.

Joey Devine, OAK Devine underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the remainder of 2009.

Mike González, ATL 6-for-9 (67%), 17.2 IP, 25 Ks, 3.57 ERA, 1.13 WHIP Next in line: Rafael Soriano Third in line: Peter Moylan

Juan Cruz, KC 1-for-3 (50%), 18.2 IP, 13 Ks, 1.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP Next in line: Ron Mahay/Robinson Tejeda Third in line: Jamey Wright/Kyle Farnsworth

George Sherrill, BAL 7-for-9 (78%), 15.2 IP, 14 Ks, 3.45 ERA, 1.53 WHIP Next in line: Chris Ray Third in line: Jim Johnson/Danys Baez

David Aardsma, SEA 4-for-4 (100%), 6 HLDs, 18.2 IP, 19 Ks, 1.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Morrow Third in line: Mark Lowe

C.J. Wilson, TEX 2-for-2 (100%), 2 HLDs, 16.1 IP, 10 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.53 WHIP Next in line: Eddie Guardado Third in line: Darren O'Day

Joel Hanrahan, WAS 3-for-6 (50%), 2 HLDs, 17.1 IP, 22 Ks, 6.75 ERA, 1.67 WHIP Next in line: Joe Beimel/Julian Tavarez Third in line: Kip Wells/Mike MacDougal

David Aardsma took over ninth-inning duties for Brandon Morrow this week and has yet to blow a save in his limited opportunities so far. His job won't be safe for quite a while, but he'll be able to snag a few saves for your squad. Joel Hanrahan is purportedly the closer in D.C., but I consider Washington a team without a closer at this point. Does a ship have a captain after it's been sunk? Or is he just a dead captain? It's probably safe to assume that most teams wouldn't be that interested in Juan Cruz if Soria wasn't on the DL.

The interim Royals closer blew a save Sunday without giving up a hit or a walk in two innings, but got a cheap win when his teammates scored three in the bottom of the eighth. Despite a super-stingy BAA of .117, Cruz is throwing his fastball less and his changeup more than his previous two seasons -- and correspondingly, his peripherals have plummeted so far in '09 (6.27 K/9, 1.30 K/BB). Don't read too much into Mike Gonzalez's third blown save, as the Braves' co-closer still has the second-highest K/9 (Jonathan Broxton is at 14.40 K/9) among firemen. Sure, Rafael Soriano has only blown one save in four opportunities, but that's a tiny sample and his BABIP is low compared to Gonzalez (.252/.326). Over the long haul, Gonzalez is the better option, since his problem has been the long ball, and his 1.02 HR/9 rate should regress toward his career norm of .068. C.J. Wilson picked up a couple saves and is filling in admirably for Francisco.

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS 11-for-11 (100%), 18 IP, 20 Ks, 1.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP Next in line: Takashi Saito Third in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 11-for-11 (100%), 19.2 IP, 20 Ks, 0.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP Next in line: J.J. Putz Third in line: Pedro Feliciano

Mariano Rivera, NYY 7-for-8 (87.5%), 16.1 IP, 22 Ks, 2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP Next in line: Brian Bruney/Phil Coke Third in line: Edwar Ramirez

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 10-for-12 (83%), 20 IP, 32 Ks, 1.35 ERA, 0.60 WHIP Next in line: Cory Wade Third in line: Ramon Troncoso

Joe Nathan, MIN 6-for-8 (75%), 14.2 IP, 15 Ks, 3.07 ERA, 1.09 WHIP Next in line: Matt Guerrier Third in line: Jesse Crain

Heath Bell, SD 10-for-10 (100%), 16 IP, 20 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP Next in line: Cla Meredith Third in line: Edward Mujica

Bobby Jenks, CWS 8-for-8 (100%), 13 IP, 13 Ks, 2.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Octavio Dotel Third in line: Matt Thornton/Scott Linebrink

Trevor Hoffman, MIL 10-for-10 (100%), 11 IP, 9 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.27 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Villanueva Third in line: Todd Coffey

Francisco Cordero, CIN 10-for-10 (100%), 16 IP, 17 Ks, 2.25 ERA, 1.31 WHIP Next in line: David Weathers Third in line: Jared Burton/Arthur Rhodes

Brian Wilson, SF 9-for-11 (82%), 19.2 IP, 20 Ks, 4.12 ERA, 1.27 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Affeldt Third in line: Merkin Valdez

Chad Qualls, ARI 9-for-10 (90%), 15 IP, 19 Ks, 2.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP Next in line: Tony Peña Third in line: Juan Gutierrez/Tom Gordon (DL)

Brad Lidge, PHI 8-for-10 (80%), 18.1 IP, 19 Ks, 7.85 ERA, 1.91 WHIP Next in line: Ryan Madson Third in line: Chad Durbin/Clay Condrey

Kerry Wood, CLE 5-for-7 (71%), 13 IP, 18 Ks, 8.31 ERA, 1.77 WHIP Next in line: Jensen Lewis Third in line: Rafael Betancourt

Ryan Franklin, STL 9-for-10 (90%), 16.1 IP, 14 Ks, 1.10 ERA, 0.67 WHIP Next in line: Jason Motte Third in line: Kyle McClellan/Chris Pérez

Brian Fuentes, LAA 10-for-12 (83%), 13.2 IP, 19 Ks, 4.61 ERA, 1.54 WHIP Next in line: Scot Shields Third in line: Jose Arredondo

Kevin Gregg, CHI (NL) 6-for-7 (86%), 17.1 IP, 19 Ks, 5.71 ERA, 1.73 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Mármol Third in line: Aaron Heilman/Jeff Samardzija

Matt Capps, PIT 7-for-9 (78%), 13 IP, 9 Ks, 7.62 ERA, 2.15 WHIP Next in line: John Grabow/Sean Burnett Third in line: Tom Gorzelanny/Tyler Yates (DL)

You May Like