With a quiet week on the closer front, let's turn our focus to the setup men who make saves possible. These hurlers aren't netting saves now, but for many of them, it's just a matter of time.
Any conversation about setup men has to start in San Diego. The Padres -- who lead the MLB with a 2.28 bullpen ERA -- sport not one, but four setup men who are worth owning in deep NL-only leagues. Mike Adams (1.35 ERA, 10.46 K/9) leads the quadrumvirate. If/when Heath Bell is traded, Adams should get the first shot at the ninth inning at Petco Park. He's a must-have handcuff for any Bell owner. Shortly behind Adams in the pecking order are Luke Gregerson (2.67 ERA, six holds), former Diamondbacks closer Chad Qualls (2.01 ERA) and Ernesto Frieri (2.17 ERA, 10.55 K/9). None of these guys will hurt your team, and given Adams' injury history, any one of them could be closing in September.
In Atlanta, the setup man is outpitching the closer. Left-hander Jonny Venters sports a 0.50 ERA, a league-leading 83.3-percent ground ball rate and an immaculate 0.76 WHIP. Craig Kimbrel (2.79 ERA, 17 saves) has been more fallible than Venters, but he's not losing the job anytime soon. Still, Venters' excellent ratios have a place on any roster, and the only concern is how he will hold up over an entire season (he's leading all relievers with 35.2 innings pitched).
Daniel Bard was the Red Sox's best reliever in 2010, and he's having a similarly excellent season in '11. Bard has struck out 30 batters against only seven walks, and he's second in the AL with 11 holds. With Jonathan Papelbon heading for free agency in '12, Bard is the closer of the future in Beantown.
Conversely, one setup man who is owned in way too many leagues is former Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin (still owned in 16.4 percent of ESPN leagues). Franklin (7.52 ERA, 11 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched) never had closer's stuff to begin with and he's not going to reclaim the ninth inning from a red-hot Fernando Salas (1.69 ERA, 10 saves). Those of you still holding on to him should cut ties -- now.
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
After giving up six earned runs in 0.1 innings on May 31, Marmol was at it again on Sunday, allowing one run on two hits in the ninth inning. Maybe Marmol has a secret grudge against Carlos Zambrano (who started both of those games), but regardless, the closer's job isn't in danger -- yet.
Since blowing a save against the Royals on May 27, Feliz has turned a corner. He's given up only three hits in 3.2 innings, and most important, he hasn't walked a batter since May 25. The window is rapidly closing, but buy low if you still can. ... Bailey blew his first save opportunity of the season on Saturday, and the closer is still unable to pitch back-to-back days. Better days lay ahead for Bailey, but in the meantime, Grant Balfour should pick up a save or two. He's a must-have handcuff for any Bailey owner.
Those of you who gave up on League after he served up 10 runs in 3.0 innings in mid-May are kicking yourselves now. Since that disastrous stretch, the Mariners' closer has been locked in, yielding zero runs along with six saves. He's a must-own in every league. ... Storen has given up eight earned runs in his last 4.5 innings and it's officially time to be concerned. The key to Storen's season thus far has been location, and he can't seem to find the strike zone right now. Tyler Clippard (2.08 ERA, 10.90 K/9) makes a nice speculative add in NL-only leagues.
Soria threw two perfect innings on Monday night, and in the process he regained the trust of Royals manager Ned Yost, who reanointed Soria as closer following the game. It's too soon to tell if Soria is over his early-season struggles (5.33 ERA, five blown saves, 1.33 HR/9), but he should be owned in 100 percent of leagues. ... Kevin Gregg notched his fourth consecutive save on Monday night and he's looked much better as of late. Gregg's peripherals won't blow you away (1.00 K/BB, 38-percent ground ball rate), but he's getting the job done and should be owned in all leagues.
Neck pain, not the forearm issue, is keeping Padilla on the DL after he was slated to rejoin the Dodgers last Friday. Manager Don Mattingly seems loyal to Padilla, so those in search of saves should keep a close eye on Padilla's status. ... Lyon made his first rehab appearance on Sunday. But barring a complete meltdown from current closer Mark Melancon, Lyon is unlikely to close in the short term. He was horrible before landing on the DL (7.15 ERA, 3.97 K/9, four blown saves).
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: