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, PIT 20-for-22 (91%), 31 IP, 23 Ks, 5.81 ERA, 1.68 WHIP Next in line: John Grabow Third in line: Jesse Chavez/Joel Hanrahan

Fernando Rodney, DET 20-for-20 (100%), 40 IP, 35 Ks, 3.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Lyon Third in line: Bobby Seay/Ryan Perry

Scott Downs, TOR 9-for-11 (82%), 3 HLDs, 30.1 IP, 32 Ks, 2.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP Next in line: Jason Frasor/Jeremy Accardo Third in line: Jesse Carlson

Andrew Bailey, OAK 10-for-14 (71%), 56.2 IP, 66 Ks, 2.06 ERA, 0.97 WHIP Next in line: Michael Wuertz Third in line: Brad Ziegler

Brad Lidge, PHI 19-for-25 (76%), 34.1 IP, 37 Ks, 6.82 ERA, 1.78 WHIP Next in line: Ryan Madson Third in line: J.C. Romero/Chad Durbin

Chad Qualls, ARI 18-for-22 (82%), 39.2 IP, 33 Ks, 3.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIP Next in line: Jon Rauch/Juan Gutierrez Third in line: Dan Schlereth/Tom Gordon (DL)

Kerry Wood, CLE 12-for-16 (75%), 32.2 IP, 37 Ks, 5.23 ERA, 1.44 WHIP Next in line: Chris Pérez Third in line: Rafael Betancourt

C.J. Wilson, TEX 9-for-11 (82%), 8 HLDs, 43 IP, 39 Ks, 2.93 ERA, 1.28 WHIP Next in line: Darren O'Day Third 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, ATL 13-for-14 (93%), 44.2 IP, 60 Ks, 1.41 ERA, 0.85 WHIP Mike González, ATL 9-for-13 (69%), 9 HLDs, 44 IP, 57 Ks, 3.27 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Peter Moylan

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

Leo Nunez, FLA 6-for-9 (67%), 13 HLDs, 42 IP, 41 Ks, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP Dan Meyer, FLA 2-for-2 (100%), 13 HLDs, 37.2 IP, 34 Ks, 1.91 ERA, 0.93 WHIP Next in line: Brian Sanches/Kiki Calero Third in line: Luis Ayala/Brendan Donnelly

Mariano Rivera, NYY 27-for-28 (96%), 41 IP, 44 Ks, 2.20 ERA, 0.85 WHIP Next in line: Phil Hughes Third in line: Alfredo Aceves/Phil Coke

Joe Nathan, MIN 26-for-28 (93%), 37.1 IP, 46 Ks, 1.21 ERA, 0.72 WHIP Next in line: Jose Mijares Third in line: Matt Guerrier/Jesse Crain

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 23-for-25 (92%), 43.2 IP, 71 Ks, 2.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIP Next in line: Ramon Troncoso Third in line: Guillermo Mota/Cory Wade (DL)

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS 24-for-26 (92%), 40 IP, 41 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP Next in line: Takashi Saito Third in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Heath Bell, SD 24-for-25 (96%), 38.1 IP, 43 Ks, 1.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP Next in line: Edward Mujica Third in line: Greg Burke

Joakim Soria, KC 14-for-16 (88%), 25 IP, 32 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP Next in line: Juan Cruz Third in line: Kyle Farnsworth

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 23-for-26 (88%), 44.2 IP, 45 Ks, 1.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP Next in line: Bobby Parnell Third in line: Brian Stokes/Billy Wagner (DL)

Trevor Hoffman, MIL 22-for-24 (92%), 28.1 IP, 21 Ks, 1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP Next in line: Todd Coffey/Carlos Villanueva Third in line: Mitch Stetter

Bobby Jenks, CWS 22-for-25 (88%), 34 IP, 35 Ks, 4.24 ERA, 1.29 WHIP Next in line: Scott Linebrink/Matt Thornton Third in line: Octavio Dotel/Tony Peña

Francisco Cordero, CIN 22-for-23 (96%), 38 IP, 32 Ks, 1.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIP Next in line: David Weathers Third in line: Nick Masset/Jared Burton

David Aardsma, SEA 22-for-24 (92%), 44.1 IP, 53 Ks, 1.83 ERA, 1.17 WHIP Next in line: Mark Lowe Third in line: Sean White

Ryan Franklin, STL 22-for-23 (96%), 35.1 IP, 28 Ks, 0.76 ERA, 0.79 WHIP Next in line: Jason Motte Third in line: Kyle McClellan

Brian Wilson, SF 24-for-28 (86%), 42.1 IP, 47 Ks, 3.40 ERA, 1.18 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Affeldt Third in line: Sergio Romo

Huston Street, COL 23-for-24 (96%), 40.1 IP, 45 Ks, 2.68 ERA, 0.97 WHIP Next in line: Manny Corpas (DL)/Matt Daley Third in line: Joel Peralta/Alan Embree

Brian Fuentes, LAA 29-for-32 (90%), 33.2 IP, 36 Ks, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP Next in line: Jason Bulger Third in line: Justin Speier

José Valverde, HOU 10-for-14 (71%), 23 IP, 27 Ks, 3.13 ERA, 1.09 WHIP Next in line: LaTroy Hawkins Third in line: Chris Sampson/Chad Paronto

J.P. Howell, TB 10-for-15 (67%), 46.2 IP, 56 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP Next in line: Dan Wheeler Third in line: Randy Choate

George Sherrill, BAL 20-for-23 (87%), 38.1 IP, 35 Ks, 2.35 ERA, 1.10 WHIP Next in line: Jim Johnson Third in line: Danys Báez/Cla Meredith

Kevin Gregg, CHC 18-for-21 (84%), 44.1 IP, 43 Ks, 3.25 ERA, 1.24 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Mármol Third in line: Angel Guzman

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.