June 19, 2009

When I was in my last season of Little League, I was my team's closer. I would trot over from first base or third, dig in my plastic spikes, and get to work. My repertoire, though multiplicity-challenged, did feature a straight fastball and fledgling knuckleball that my coach found objectionable. His son, (my catcher) used to tattle on me when I threw it, even though it occasionally fluttered and busted some hitters. I guess the coach just wanted me throw strikes, because the scourge of my young career was the base on balls. I hit guys, too, and naturally, I blew some saves because I couldn't keep the ball in the strike zone. But I was always right back in there when the game was on the line.

So it goes with major league closers. While a few top closers blew saves this week that involved walks, each letdown was during a fairly atypical situation, and somewhat out of their control, so to speak. We all know how Francisco Rodríguez's record was blemished: a Derek Jeter single and stolen base, a pitching-around-turned-intentional walk of Mark Teixeira (you just know K-Rod wanted to go at him), and one slipshod, maladroit bungled popup from Luis Castillo. I've never seen that happen before and doubt I ever will again.

Just back from the DL, Joakim Soria came in with a runner on second to preserve Zack Greinke's 3-2 lead in the eighth and promptly gave up a double to Jhonny Peralta. The misplaced "h" apparently threw him off. Francisco Cordero's troubles started by walking Elijah "Put up yer" Dukes, but after he went 2-2 on Josh Willingham, the skies rained liquid kibosh. After a two-hour delay, he came back to pitch, walked Willingham, struck out Ronnie Belliard, then surrendered RBI singles to Josh Bard and pinch-hitter Alberto Gonzalez. Word is he then cursed the heavens and threatened to punch Zeus in the face.

The moral, if there is one, is even if closers can rely on their teammates, dumb luck, or their best stuff to get the job done, they're still going to blow a few ? especially if they put a guy or two on base. Heck, poor Soria didn't even give up an earned run, and he got the dreaded "BS" next to his name in the box score. How these guys rebound is what makes them viable closers ? even if they're an occasional victim of the baseball gods.

All statistics through June 10.

Frank Francisco, TEX12-for-12 (100%), 19.2 IP, 20 Ks, 0.48 ERA, 0.81 WHIPNext in line: C.J. Wilson/Eddie GuardadoThird in line: Darren O'Day

Chad Qualls, ARI13-for-16 (81%), 25.2 IP, 26 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIPNext in line: Tony PeñaThird in line: Juan Gutierrez/Tom Gordon (DL)

Matt Lindstrom, FLA12-for-14 (86%), 25.1 IP, 25 Ks, 5.68 ERA, 1.82 WHIPNext in line: Leo NunezThird in line: Kiki Calero

Fernando Rodney, DET12-for-12 (100%), 26 IP, 20 Ks, 4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIPNext in line: Brandon Lyon/Joel ZumayaThird in line: Ryan Perry

Matt Capps, PIT16-for-18 (89%), 21.2 IP, 14 Ks, 4.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIPNext in line: John GrabowThird in line: Sean Burnett/Jesse Chavez

José Valverde, HOU2-for-4 (50%), 9.1 IP, 14 Ks, 4.82 ERA, 1.07 WHIPNext in line: LaTroy HawkinsThird in line: Chris Sampson

Huston Street, COL13-for-14 (93%), 27 IP, 32 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIPNext in line: Manny CorpasThird in line: Alan Embree

David Aardsma, SEA11-for-12 (92%), 30.1 IP, 34 Ks, 1.78 ERA, 1.22 WHIPNext in line: Mark LoweThird in line: Miguel Batista

Ryan Madson, PHI4-for-6 (67%), 13 HLDs, 33.1 IP, 37 Ks, 2.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIPNext in line: J.C. RomeroThird in line: Chad Durbin

Frank Francisco is ready to come off the DL, but I'm not ready to proclaim him "On Board" until he gets a few saves under his belt and shows the shoulder stiffness is behind him. He hasn't pitched since a June 3 save at Yankee Stadium. Chad Qualls pitched well on Sunday in a loss to the Astros, his former team. He's still feeling a twinge, but it sounds like he's dealing with it. Ryan Madson may soon be relegated to eighth-inning duties again, as Brad Lidge nears a return from the DL. Jose Valverde turned in a couple solid performances, including striking out the side his last time out on Sunday. It tough to reconcile Fernando Rodney's 4.50 ERA, paltry 1.82 K/BB ratio and humdrum 6.92 K/9 rate with 12-for-12 in save situations, especially considering the calamitous events of June 9, but that's baseball.

Scott Downs, TOR -- Foot -- Possible DL stint

Downs hurt his foot batting in the top of the 10th inning on Tuesday against the Phillies. He was helped off the field, and while initial X-rays were negative, pending results of a Wednesday MRI will probably mean a trip to the DL.

Brad Lidge, PHI -- Sprained right knee -- Return imminent

Troy Percival, TB -- Right shoulder tendonitis -- Return uncertain

Mike González, ATL8-for-11 (73%), 29 IP, 37 Ks, 2.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIPRafael Soriano, ATL5-for-6 (83%), 29.2 IP, 37 Ks, 1.52 ERA, 1.01 WHIPNext in line: Peter Moylan

Andrew Bailey, OAK5-for-9 (56%), 41 IP, 48 Ks, 2.41 ERA, 1.00 WHIPNext in line: Brad ZieglerThird in line: Michael Wuertz

Mike MacDougal, WAS0-for-0 (N/A%), 7 IP, 6 Ks, 1.29 ERA, 1.57 WHIP (NL Stats only)Next in line: Joe BeimelThird in line: Julian Tavarez

J.P. Howell, TB3-for-8 (38%), 4 HLDs, 32.1 IP, 40 Ks, 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIPNext in line: Dan Wheeler/Randy ChoateThird in line: Grant Balfour/Joe Nelson

Jason Frasor, TOR1-for-2 (50%), 3 HLDs, 23.2 IP, 19 Ks, 1.90 ERA, 0.76 WHIPNext in line: B.J. RyanThird in line: Jesse Carlson/Brandon League

This week, I bit the bullet and listed the stats for both Mike González and Rafael Soriano. It's the most balanced and effective pairing I've ever seen, even if it's frustrating to some owners. They have nearly identical (and quite adequate) K/9 rates (11.57/11.53), and Bobby Cox is just playing the cards he's dealt in game situations. It's almost like having two talented running backs in the red zone -- down and distance may determine who runs it in. The Scott Downs injury means the Jays will have to choose among exiled closer B.J. Ryan, Brandon League, Jesse Carlson and Jason Frasor. While League (7 ER in his last 2 IP) and Carlson (8 ER in his last 4.2 IP) were next on the depth chart, they can't be trusted in the ninth. Ryan has pitched well this month, but he's not as impressive an option as Frasor, who's 2.54 FIP (fielding-independent pitching), 1.14 BB/9 and 79.6 LOB% are the best in the Toronto bullpen. He's my huckleberry.

Not surprisingly, Mike MacDougal hasn't nailed down a save since being named the Nats' closer, while the Rays' J.P. Howell has (against Washington, in fact). With Jason Isringhausen done for good (Tommy John surgery) and nobody else capable of assuming the reins, Howell appears to have the job until they make a deal or develop a prospect. Andrew Bailey blew another save on Tuesday, giving him four on the season, and three more than Brad Ziegler, the submarining sap he ousted. Hey, Bob Geren never said this was fair.

Mariano Rivera, NYY15-for-16 (94%), 27.2 IP, 33 Ks, 3.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIPNext in line: Brian BruneyThird in line: Phil Coke

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS16-for-17 (94%), 28 IP, 30 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 1.32 WHIPNext in line: Takashi SaitoThird in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM17-for-18 (94%), 32.1 IP, 351 Ks, 0.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIPNext in line: Bobby ParnellThird in line: Pedro Feliciano

Jonathan Broxton, LAD16-for-18 (89%), 33 IP, 53 Ks, 1.36 ERA, 0.70 WHIPNext in line: Cory WadeThird in line: Ramon Troncoso

Joe Nathan, MIN15-for-17 (86%), 25.1 IP, 29 Ks, 1.78 ERA, 0.91 WHIPNext in line: Matt GuerrierThird in line: Jesse Crain

Heath Bell, SD18-for-19 (95%), 27.1 IP, 32 Ks, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIPNext in line: Cla Meredith/Greg BurkeThird in line:Edward Mujica

Trevor Hoffman, MIL16-for-16 (100%), 20 IP, 17 Ks, 0.45 ERA, 0.65 WHIPNext in line: Carlos VillanuevaThird in line: Seth McClung/Todd Coffey

Joakim Soria, KC7-for-8 (88%), 12.2 IP, 14 Ks, 2.13 ERA, 1.26 WHIPNext in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth

Francisco Cordero, CIN15-for-16 (94%), 28 IP, 26 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIPNext in line: David WeathersThird in line: Arthur Rhodes

Bobby Jenks, CWS14-for-16 (93%), 22 IP, 19 Ks, 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIPNext in line: Matt ThorntonThird in line: Octavio Dotel

Kerry Wood, CLE8-for-10 (80%), 22.1 IP, 27 Ks, 4.84 ERA, 1.43 WHIPNext in line: Matt HergesThird in line: Jensen Lewis

Brian Wilson, SF17-for-20 (85%), 29.2 IP, 33 Ks, 3.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIPNext in line: Jeremy AffeldtThird in line: Justin Miller/Merkin Valdez

Ryan Franklin, STL15-for-16 (94%), 24.2 IP, 18 Ks, 1.09 ERA, 0.89 WHIPNext in line: Jason MotteThird in line: Kyle McClellan/Chris Pérez

Brian Fuentes, LAA17-or-20 (85%), 21.1 IP, 22 Ks, 4.64 ERA, 1.45 WHIPNext in line: Jason Bulger/Justin SpeierThird in line: Jose Arredondo (Minors)

Kevin Gregg, CHC10-for-12 (83%), 28.1 IP, 30 Ks, 4.13 ERA, 1.45 WHIPNext in line: Carlos MármolThird in line: Angel Guzman

George Sherrill, BAL12-for-14 (86%), 24.2 IP, 23 Ks, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIPNext in line: Jim JohnsonThird in line: Danys Báez

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