Two former frontline closers have hit the skids. Have these All-Stars crashed and burned or have they just hit a speed bump?
Joakim Soria, a two-time All-Star, has crashed and burned. He blew his fourth save Monday night, compelling Royals manager Ned Yost to remove him from the closer's role. It was a move Yost had to make. Soria's numbers were down across the board. His strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from an outstanding 4.44 to 1.60, he was giving up 1.29 home runs per nine innings and his groundball percentage dipped to 39.7 percent.
But Soria was also plagued by some bad luck. His BABIP was sitting at .313, he was stranding only 67.1 percent of runners and his HR/FB percentage was abnormally high (12.5 percent up from a career 7.2 percent).
Lucky or not, closing is a results-oriented business. So for now, Soria will be relegated to middle relief. Given his past success, it's too early to cut him in mixed leagues. His velocity hasn't dipped significantly, and a couple lucky bounces could propel him back to respectability.
In the meantime, Aaron Crow is a must-add. The former starter has been dominant as a set-up man (1.33 ERA, 2.89 K/BB) and is expected to receive the lion's share of save opportunities going forward. Unlike Soria, Crow has been extremely lucky this season. He sports a .246 BABIP and has stranded 95.2 percent of base runners. When/if the law of averages catches up with Crow, Soria could get another look. Until then, those in need of saves should look to Crow.
In Texas, Neftali Feliz looks like he has hit a speed bump. The 2010 AL Rookie of the Year has blown three of his past five save opportunities and walked 14 in 18.2 innings. (As a point of reference, Feliz walked only 18 batters in 69.1 innings in 2010.)
The biggest reason for Feliz's troubles is the league's familiarity with him. In '10, batters swung at 50.5 percent of Feliz's offerings and only made contact with 75.6 percent of his pitches. In '11, those numbers have eroded to 45.5 percent and 80.4 percent, respectively. Now familiar with Feliz's style, batters are challenging Feliz to beat them with strikes, and he hasn't been able to.
Feliz's stuff is still nasty, but he needs to make adjustments. Manager Ron Washington is firmly in the reliever's corner, so it looks like he'll have time to work through these growing pains. Given the lack of other solid options within the Rangers' bullpen, owners should exercise patience.
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
Heath BellMariano RiveraCarlos MarmolJonathan PapelbonFrancisco Rodriguez
With the Padres firmly entrenched in the NL West cellar, teams are inquiring about Bell. Thus far, according to reports, the Phillies, Cardinals, Rangers and Angels have all expressed interest in Bell. If he were traded to a team with a less experienced closer, Bell would remain the stopper. It's hard to know, however, what his role would be if he's shipped somewhere with an experienced ninth-inning arm. ... Both Rivera and Marmol have pitched great in May, but the save opportunities (eight combined) just haven't been there. They'll come for Rivera, but the Cubs' anemic play hurts Marmol's value.
Joel HanrahanFrancisco CorderoLeo NunezJ.J. PutzBrian WilsonJose ValverdeRyan MadsonChris PerezAndrew Bailey
Does anyone still fear the beard? Wilson's strikeouts have dipped and his walks have peaked, but he still has 14 saves. Owners who plucked him early aren't crazy about the return thus far, but dominant or not, Wilson is still getting the job done. ... The Diamondbacks are 9-1 in their last 10 games and Putz is a big reason why. He's saved seven games in his last eight appearances and is providing great value for both the Diamondbacks and fantasy owners.
Craig KimbrelJohn AxfordHuston StreetKyle FarnsworthFernando SalasDrew StorenNeftali FelizSergio Santos
Jonny Venters' dominance this season (0.55 ERA) has had some calling for a ninth-inning change in Atlanta. Kimbrel has had some shaky appearances thus far (four blown saves), but his strikeout numbers (13.33 K/9) have bought him an extra-long leash. ... Storen has given up five earned runs in his last three innings. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard have had their own struggles recently, so Storen's job looks safe for now. If his freefall continues, look for Clippard to get the first shot at the ninth inning. ... Street's 16.1 innings in April appear to be catching up with him. The Colorado closer is 4 for 6 in May save opportunities with a 6.75 ERA. This doesn't bode well for him in the long term.
Jordan WaldenMark MelanconBrandon LeagueMatt CappsKevin GreggAaron CrowFrank Francisco/Jon Rauch/Octavio Dotel/Jason FrasorMatt Guerrier/Mike MacDougal/Rubby De La Rosa
With Joe Nathan on the DL, Capps has ample job security. The former National hasn't been very good this season (4.88 ERA, four blown saves), but don't expect a ninth-inning change anytime soon in Minnesota. ... Blue Jays manager John Farrell confirmed the team is taking a closer-by-committee approach going forward, and longtime Toronto reliever Frasor (1.64 ERA) stands to benefit the most. Francisco might be the most dominant of the bunch (10.54 K/9), but he just can't keep the ball in the park. ... It's anyone's guess who's going to close in L.A. Mattingly prefers Guerrier and MacDougal in middle-relief roles, and said he is inclined to turn to one of the recently promoted arms such as De La Rosa in the ninth. De La Rosa is worth a speculative add in NL-only leagues, but mixed leaguers should avoid this situation.
Brad LidgeDavid AardsmaVicente Padilla
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: