Brandon League's week started off promisingly enough, with the news that David Aardsma was not coming off the DL anytime soon. Aardsma, of course, was the incumbent Mariners closer, and League's biggest rival for saves in Seattle.
League greeted this fortuitous news in an odd way. Perhaps empowered by his newfound security within the closer role, he proceeded to give up 10 earned runs in 3.0 innings. In a little over a week, his ERA rose from 2.08 to 7.31.
League's problems largely stem from a lack of variety. According to FanGraphs, League throws a first-pitch fastball 95 percent of the time. When he falls behind, the problem becomes even more pronounced: on 1-0 and 2-0 counts, he has thrown a fastball 100 percent of the time. If League can't learn to rely on his split-fingered fastball more often, his problems will persist.
Working in League's favor, however, is a lack of other solid options within the Mariners' bullpen. Chris Ray, the only reliever with prior closing experience, has given up 14 hits in 8.1 innings. Jamey Wright (1.96) has been reliable, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.85) doesn't portend ninth-inning success. Former starter David Pauley is more dominant than Wright (2.6 K/BB), but he lacks experience in high-leverage situations.
For the Mariners and fantasy owners alike, League remains the best option. He's been plagued by poor peripherals (46.6 percent strand rate and .364 BABIP) that are bound to normalize, and he remains the only pitcher in the Seattle bullpen with a closer's arsenal (6.5 K/BB).
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
Heath BellMariano RiveraBrian WilsonJonathan PapelbonCarlos MarmolNeftali Feliz
Marmol hasn't allowed a hit or a run in May, but the Cubs' ineptitude (17-22) has afforded him only one save opportunity. ... Since the Rangers activated Feliz on May 6, he's shown virtually no signs of rust. The walks are bit of a concern (nine in 12.1 innings) but Feliz still sports a tidy 1.14 WHIP.
Francisco RodriguezJoel HanrahanChris PerezFrancisco CorderoDrew StorenJose ValverdeHuston StreetLeo Nunez
Cordero's strikeout rate is at a career-worst 6.38 per nine innings, but he's salvaged his season (1.96 ERA and seven saves) by inducing ground balls on 52.8 percent of the balls put in play. If his defense falters, Cordero's ERA will skyrocket. ... Nunez leads the league with 15 saves, but he's been less than spectacular in May. Since the calendar turned, he's given up six hits in 7.2 innings and walked more batters than he has struck out. As the Marlins showed last year, they aren't afraid to turn to someone else in the ninth, and Nunez looks like a nice sell-high candidate.
Craig KimbrelJ.J. PutzRyan MadsonSergio SantosJoakim SoriaJohn AxfordKyle Farnsworth
After an up-and-down week, some called for Kimbrel to share the closer role with Jonny Venters (0.77 ERA in 23.1 innings). Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez quickly put that discussion to rest, and Kimbrel (2.29 ERA, 10 saves and 14.19 K/9) has earned his manager's faith. ... What's wrong with Joakim Soria? His velocity has decreased only slightly from 2010, but his strikeouts have plummeted from 9.73 per nine innings to only 5.52 in 2011. He's looked better in May (3.00 ERA in 3.0 innings) so buy low if you can. He may have turned the corner.
Matt CappsVicente PadillaFrank FranciscoJordan WaldenMark MelanconKevin GreggFernando SalasBrian FuentesBrandon League
With both Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo sidelined, Padilla currently has the Dodgers' job all to himself. If Kenley Jansen can stop issuing free passes (5.63 BB/9) he could challenge Padilla for the role. He's worth a speculative flier in NL-only leagues. ... Kevin Gregg blew his third save of the season Monday night. His numbers are still decent (3.52 ERA and 1.63 WHIP), but AL-only owners in need of saves might want to add Koji Uehara (2.65 ERA 0.94 WHIP). ... Dave Duncan vouched for Salas on Saturday and the reliever has the stuff (2.8 K/BB and a 1.15 ERA) to keep the job for the rest of the year. But the Cards' bullpen has been a mess all season and I'm skeptical in the short term.
Jose Contreras/ Brad LidgeDavid AardsmaAndrew Bailey
Contreras is expected to be back with the Phillies before the end of May, but Madson has been stellar in the ninth inning (six saves and an a 0.56 ERA). Expect Contreras to slide into the set-up role when he returns. ... Tommy John seems unlikely for Aardsma, but he won't be back to save the Mariners' bullpen anytime soon.
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: