Pecking Order: What OPS-against can do for you

It was a big week for J.P. Howell, who picked up saves on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. The Rays won those four games by a total of just five runs, and Howell allowed just one base runner and struck out six over that span. During the 110 appearances he's made in the past two seasons (136 IP), Howell's held opponents to a .195 average, struck out 146 and walked 55. His 2009 OPS-against (a statistic I'm growing quite fond of) is pretty fierce too, at .550. OPS-against might actually be new favorite indicator, coupled with defensive-independent pitching, on where I rank my closers leading into next season.

Along with Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan -- who has a .155 BAA -- has arguably been the AL's most dominant closer in 2009. Nathan is third in baseball in saves with 26 and his 2009 OPS-against is a career low .439. Rivera's OPS-against is currently .556, but he finished 2008 with a .423 OPS-against -- the lowest mark of his illustrious career. Interestingly enough, Joey Devine's OPS-against last season was just .395, albeit in a limited 45.2 innings of work (Devine had Tommy John surgery and is eyeing a 2010 return). Rivera trails only AL saves leader Brian Fuentes this season after notching saves on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday -- the same days as AL East counterpart Howell.

Jonathan Broxton rebounded well from his apparent toe injury, and currently sports a ridiculous OPS-against of .441. It's best among NL closers except for Rafael Soriano's .431 mark. Both have been devastating to NL hitters this season. Here, take a look at the top 20 closers with respect to OPS-against and their 2009 ranks (*among pitchers with at least 20 IP):

As you can see, the most effective pitchers in OPS-against tend to be the ones doing the best job helping out their fantasy teams. Aside from Trevor Hoffman, the leaders in this category also sport some of the highest K/9 rates. So make sure you check out the 2009 OPS-against numbers before next year's draft when targeting your closers.

In other news, Bobby Jenks has been making things interesting in Chicago. In five games since July 10, he's allowed 10 hits and 7 runs (6 earned). Leading by a run on Monday, he loaded the bases but struck out the side to notch his 22nd save. On Tuesday, he relieved Clayton Richard, allowed a leadoff single to Jason Bartlett, hit Evan Longoria, gave up another single to Ben Zobrist that loaded the bases, and walked Pat Burrell. Carlos Pena hit the game-winning sacrifice fly that scored Longoria. On the other hand, I'm not as concerned about the recent blown save charged to Scott Downs. The Kentucky native allowed an infield single to Ryan Garko, and subsequent small ball -- which included a sacrifice, a throwing error and an intentional walk -- sealed his fate and a 2-1 Indians victory.

Statistics through July 23.

Matt Capps, PIT20-for-22 (91%), 31 IP, 23 Ks, 5.81 ERA, 1.68 WHIPNext in line: John GrabowThird in line: Jesse Chavez/Joel Hanrahan

Fernando Rodney, DET20-for-20 (100%), 40 IP, 35 Ks, 3.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIPNext in line: Brandon LyonThird in line: Bobby Seay/Ryan Perry

Scott Downs, TOR9-for-11 (82%), 3 HLDs, 30.1 IP, 32 Ks, 2.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIPNext in line: Jason Frasor/Jeremy AccardoThird in line: Jesse Carlson

Andrew Bailey, OAK10-for-14 (71%), 56.2 IP, 66 Ks, 2.06 ERA, 0.97 WHIPNext in line: Michael WuertzThird in line: Brad Ziegler

Brad Lidge, PHI19-for-25 (76%), 34.1 IP, 37 Ks, 6.82 ERA, 1.78 WHIPNext in line: Ryan MadsonThird in line: J.C.Romero/Chad Durbin

Chad Qualls, ARI18-for-22 (82%), 39.2 IP, 33 Ks, 3.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIPNext in line: Jon Rauch/Juan GutierrezThird in line: Dan Schlereth/Tom Gordon (DL)

Kerry Wood, CLE12-for-16 (75%), 32.2 IP, 37 Ks, 5.23 ERA, 1.44 WHIPNext in line: Chris PérezThird in line: Rafael Betancourt

C.J. Wilson, TEX9-for-11 (82%), 8 HLDs, 43 IP, 39 Ks, 2.93 ERA, 1.28 WHIPNext in line: Darren O'DayThird in line: Eddie Guardado

I don't know if it's the smart move, but I picked up San Diego rookie pitcher Mat Latos and dropped Matt Capps in a relatively deep (4 SP, 3 RP, 3 P) head-to-head league with the following pitching categories: W, CG, SV, ERA, WHIP, K/9. Most of the 10 teams carry three closers, and I have five -- I'm now down to Rivera, David Aardsma, Francisco Cordero and Atlanta's lefty time-share closer, "Speedy" Mike González. Aside from the occasional save, Capps just wasn't getting it done in ERA, WHIP and K/9 (5.82/1.68/6.68). Let me know if you think I'm crazy. I tried to move him last week to no avail, but I had to act fast since Latos would have been free-agent-eligible on Wednesday. Fernando Rodney continues to be blessed with a perfect save rate, although he's still entrenched in the bottom third of starting closers I'd recommend owning. Just when I consider putting Andrew Bailey "On Board," word gets out that the rookie reliever received a hyaluronan (brand name Synvisc, for all you sticklers out there) injection in his left knee. Hyaluronan is like motor oil for balky or arthritic knee joints; it's present in normal joint fluid and responsible for its lubricating properties. Since I'm not an orthopedic surgeon and I'm not intimately familiar with Bailey's situation, I don't know what the long-term prognosis is, but this news would worry me as a keeper league owner.

The hottest fodder in town may still be George Sherrill (the Cubs are interested in having him setup Kevin Gregg), but Kerry Wood and Chad Qualls continue to be mentioned as possible pawns in the late July trading hi-jinks to which we've all grown accustomed. With each passing day, their values take hits, since neither would likely be closing for a contender -- unless it's the Tigers.

Frank Francisco, TEX -- Walking pneumonia -- 15-Day DL (Retroactive to July 11)

Walking pneumonia is no joke, and while the prognosis is much better for 6-3, 230-pound 29-year-olds than the immune-deficient and elderly, those affected need their rest. The Rangers recalled RHP Willie Eyre to replace Francisco, but C.J. Wilson takes over regular closing duties until Francisco returns (he's eligible to come back Saturday in Kansas City if he responds to medication). Francisco was first bothered by flu-like symptoms on Saturday night but got worse over the weekend.

Matt Lindstrom, FLA -- Sprained right elbow -- 15-Day DL

Lindstrom has been out since June 24 with a right elbow sprain, but will face live hitters in a simulated game Wednesday against minor-leaguers. Lindstrom, who threw his third bullpen session Sunday, will begin a rehab assignment next week and re-join the Marlins in a couple weeks if all goes well.

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

Percival is still receiving daily chiropractic and muscle therapy treatment in California while he helps coach his son's Little League team. No word on whether or not he's ready for a comeback attempt, but I'm assuming an '09 return is not a possibility.

Rafael Soriano, ATL13-for-14 (93%), 44.2 IP, 60 Ks, 1.41 ERA, 0.85 WHIPMike González, ATL9-for-13 (69%), 9 HLDs, 44 IP, 57 Ks, 3.27 ERA, 1.23 WHIPNext in line: Peter Moylan

Mike MacDougal, WAS5-for-5 (100%), 19 IP, 8 Ks, 2.37 ERA, 1.68 WHIP (NL Stats only)Next in line: Joe BeimelThird in line: Julian Tavarez/Sean Burnett

Leo Nunez, FLA6-for-9 (67%), 13 HLDs, 42 IP, 41 Ks, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIPDan Meyer, FLA2-for-2 (100%), 13 HLDs, 37.2 IP, 34 Ks, 1.91 ERA, 0.93 WHIPNext in line: Brian Sanches/Kiki CaleroThird in line: Luis Ayala/Brendan Donnelly

Mariano Rivera, NYY27-for-28 (96%), 41 IP, 44 Ks, 2.20 ERA, 0.85 WHIPNext in line: Phil HughesThird in line: Alfredo Aceves/Phil Coke

Joe Nathan, MIN26-for-28 (93%), 37.1 IP, 46 Ks, 1.21 ERA, 0.72 WHIPNext in line: Jose MijaresThird in line: Matt Guerrier/Jesse Crain

Jonathan Broxton, LAD23-for-25 (92%), 43.2 IP, 71 Ks, 2.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIPNext in line: Ramon TroncosoThird in line: Guillermo Mota/Cory Wade (DL)

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS24-for-26 (92%), 40 IP, 41 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIPNext in line: Takashi SaitoThird in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Heath Bell, SD24-for-25 (96%), 38.1 IP, 43 Ks, 1.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIPNext in line: Edward MujicaThird in line: Greg Burke

Joakim Soria, KC14-for-16 (88%), 25 IP, 32 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIPNext in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM23-for-26 (88%), 44.2 IP, 45 Ks, 1.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIPNext in line: Bobby ParnellThird in line: Brian Stokes/Billy Wagner (DL)

Trevor Hoffman, MIL22-for-24 (92%), 28.1 IP, 21 Ks, 1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIPNext in line: Todd Coffey/Carlos VillanuevaThird in line: Mitch Stetter

Bobby Jenks, CWS22-for-25 (88%), 34 IP, 35 Ks, 4.24 ERA, 1.29 WHIPNext in line: Scott Linebrink/Matt ThorntonThird in line: Octavio Dotel/Tony Peña

Francisco Cordero, CIN22-for-23 (96%), 38 IP, 32 Ks, 1.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIPNext in line: David WeathersThird in line: Nick Masset/Jared Burton

David Aardsma, SEA22-for-24 (92%), 44.1 IP, 53 Ks, 1.83 ERA, 1.17 WHIPNext in line: Mark LoweThird in line: Sean White

Ryan Franklin, STL22-for-23 (96%), 35.1 IP, 28 Ks, 0.76 ERA, 0.79 WHIPNext in line: Jason MotteThird in line: Kyle McClellan

Brian Wilson, SF24-for-28 (86%), 42.1 IP, 47 Ks, 3.40 ERA, 1.18 WHIPNext in line: Jeremy AffeldtThird in line: Sergio Romo

Huston Street, COL23-for-24 (96%), 40.1 IP, 45 Ks, 2.68 ERA, 0.97 WHIPNext in line: Manny Corpas (DL)/Matt DaleyThird in line: Joel Peralta/Alan Embree

Brian Fuentes, LAA29-for-32 (90%), 33.2 IP, 36 Ks, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIPNext in line: Jason BulgerThird in line: Justin Speier

José Valverde, HOU10-for-14 (71%), 23 IP, 27 Ks, 3.13 ERA, 1.09 WHIPNext in line: LaTroy HawkinsThird in line: Chris Sampson/Chad Paronto

J.P. Howell, TB10-for-15 (67%), 46.2 IP, 56 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIPNext in line: Dan WheelerThird in line: Randy Choate

George Sherrill, BAL20-for-23 (87%), 38.1 IP, 35 Ks, 2.35 ERA, 1.10 WHIPNext in line: Jim JohnsonThird in line: Danys Báez/Cla Meredith

Kevin Gregg, CHC18-for-21 (84%), 44.1 IP, 43 Ks, 3.25 ERA, 1.24 WHIPNext in line: Carlos MármolThird in line: Angel Guzman

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