Bullpen Report: Saves are tricky to predict
When making prediction, you have to look back and learn. Our Nando Di Fino analyzes some old predictions, how they fared and where to go from here in his latest Bullpen Report.
Back in May, I introduced the masses to the CloserTron 2010. It's a silly little machine that predicts who will be closing games for teams at certain points in the season. Since we are clear of the All-Star break -- the first major point used in the original columns -- I wanted to take a look back and see what went wrong (plenty!), what went right (the easy ones!), what we could learn from it (never trust a saves sleeper coming off Tommy John!), and offer a revision of the September 15 predictions (welcome back, John Axford!), where necessary.
I give you ... the CloserTron 2011! With twice the battery power!
American League East
Point to the CloserTron for saying a pitcher who led the majors with 51 saves last season would still have his job in July!
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I'm sticking with Tommy Hunter. Not because of anything bad that Johnson has done, just because if something happens to Johnson, and Hunter takes over, I'll never forgive myself for turning my back on him and his 2.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and massive jump in velocity (from 91.6 mph to 95.7 mph) since being made a full-time reliever this year.
I suppose the CloserTron should get points for correctly predicting it wouldn't be Andrew Bailey at the All-Star break.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Before Bailey went on the DL, I kept going back and forth on this one. Bailey hadn't given up an earned run in 5 1/3 innings this month, but Uehara hadn't allowed one in 8 1/3. They had equal strikeout potential, and both had given up just one walk. Uehara is a older, but Bailey's velocity had been erratic, which suggested, at least to me, that maybe he was still hurt. And just when I finished doing all this research, Bailey went on the DL. So I have to go with Uehara here by default, and anoint Junichi Tazawa the new closer-in-waiting.
Closer at the All-Star break: Mariano Rivera
Original guess for closer on September 15: Mariano Rivera
I'm not sure there's much to add here.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Rivera has 30 saves at the break, along with a second half that promises to be epic in proportion, as the game's greatest closer goes on a goodbye tour and tries to get the Yankees into another postseason.
McGee got a save on July 11, so we were very close to technically being correct about who would have the last save bef-- ah, you know, I'm not even going to pretend there's something here. McGee is the backup closer, but the job is Rodney's. And Rodney has been very good lately, not allowing a run since mid-June and striking out 20 in his last 12 innings.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Fernando Rodney. But I still say he heads south with his numbers again. I'm not buying a full-on 2012 renaissance.
My thinking then was that Janssen's shoulder troubles would act up (they did, to a degree) and Santos would ride in and save the day, until Janssen's return. I suppose I'm guilty of over-estimating Santos' recovery abilities, and under-estimating Janssen's threshold for shoulder pain.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Casey Janssen. And Santos has been supplanted as the backup by both Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar (although it's hard to tell which one would get the first crack at it if something happened to Janssen).
American League Central
Holland's pretty nasty. And underrated. And all those cries for him to be replaced by Kelvin Herrera earlier this season are but a distant memory.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Unless something crazy happens -- like the team being so impressed with Luke Hochevar in relief that they feel the need to swap Holland for help elsewhere -- it's going to be Holland the rest of the way.
To be fair, Valverde still got his owners nine saves.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Francisco Rodriguez. Just because going out on a limb is fun, Rodriguez is underrated, and I still think the team likes Benoit in middle relief, based on the fact that they passed him over for Bruce Rondon and Valverde (and I'm preety sure Al Alburquerque was in the mix, too) earlier this year.
This wasn't an incredibly weak limb to go out on here.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I can't see the team unloading Reed in any deadline deals. I think he's still there in two months, closing games.
This one also didn't require much hard-hitting analysis.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Like Reed, I would guess Perkins survives any deadline deals.
There was a little scare with a shoulder injury, but Perez has returned to the closer role and has been a borderline stud. In 10 games dating back to June 28, Perez has a 0.90 ERA and seven saves.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I have Perez ranked 12th among all closers, and I'm tempted to bring him higher every day. I'm banking on the Indians continuing their winning ways in the second half, giving Perez plenty of opportunities to nail down saves over the final 67 games of the season. Barring another shoulder setback, he should be the closer on Sept. 15.
American League West
Like Greg Holland, Balfour is one of the most underrated closers in the game.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Again, no revisions here. I'm sticking with Balfour, who has given up an earned run in just one of his appearances since June 1.
The original thinking here was a little outside-of-the-box: the Rangers, slipping out of playoff contention, would make a move sending Nathan -- a free agent, outside of having a team option for next year -- off to another team for some younger parts.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I'll be bland and say it's Nathan. The Rangers look like buyers in the Matt Garza sweepstakes and currently hold the second wild card spot. This was never about Nathan's talent, just about a bad prediction on Texas' 2013.
We were sweating this one out a little bit, but Wilhelmsen basically snagged the closer job back just before the break, getting a flawless save on July 14.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: This has not been a very good run for Wilhelmsen -- a 7.82 ERA in his last 13 appearances. But he's benefiting from not having anyone in the bullpen challenging him for saves. Oliver Perez looked formidable, but he's probably going to be used in lefty/lefty situations. And Yoervis Medina never seemed to really slot into the closer role. Maybe the Mariners sell off some bats to a contender for a reliever (Joba Chamberlain?) who could supplant Wilhelmsen, but I'm going to roll the dice, shrug, and say Wilhelmsen remains the closer in September.
Veras has 18 saves for a rebuilding Houston team. His 1.07 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 have made him a decent saves option in most leagues.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Veras has a team option for 2014, and he's proven that he can get the job done when called upon at the end of a game. I can see how he'd be attractive to a contender in need of bullpen help, but the Astros can very well hold on to him and exercise next year's option. So I'll give up on the Fields idea and guess that Houston sticks with Veras.
This was a major whiff for the CloserTron on several levels.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Even though all signs pointed to Madson coming back in May or June -- and it was essentially an open secret that he would take over as closer from Frieri -- Madson hit setback after frustrating set back on his path back to the majors. The result? Frieri is still the closer, and will likely remain in the role through the end of the season.
National League East
I feel a little better about the Ryan Madson thing now.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Kimbrel has given up one earned run since May 7, while saving 16 games in that span. He is as solid a closer as any in MLB.
Storen was originally trotted out to show that Davey Johnson, in almost every season up to 2013, had used his non-closer relievers for a significant (six-ish) amount of saves.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Storen does have two saves this season, so we were kind of right, but the expectation here was Johnson would be giving out many more chances. Soriano is still the team's closer, and will be in September, but even if Johnson doles out a few more saves to the rest of his bullpen in order to keep Soriano fresh, there's no guarantee that Storen -- whose ERA has ballooned to 4.81 after two rough outings earlier this month -- gets the call.Tyler Clippard may have passed him on the closer depth chart.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Despite crazy trade rumors, Parnell will likely stick with the Mets. And if the logic of holding onto a cheap, solid reliever under team control until 2016 doesn't make sense, then give this WSJ story on the terrible history of closers being traded a read.
Even though there's a small chance he's no longer a member of the Phillies past the trade deadline, Papelbon will be one of the few closers in recent years who moves to a new team and still get saves.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: It's a no-lose proposition with Papelbon -- either he remains closer for the Phillies (the likely scenario) or he's getting saves with his new team.
CloserTron and I would like to argue that the theory -- Cishek could be traded away if he had a good first half -- was sound.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Just writing this column, it's pretty apparent that the closer trade market is pretty saturated right now, so the Marlins may not be too aggressive in shopping a player under their control for four more seasons if they're going to get low-balled. I'll guess that Cishek is still closer by September 15, just based on what the current market looks like.
Chapman has become an elite source of saves.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Like Kimbrel and Rivera, Chapman is a start-every-week force who will lose his job only to injury.
I think the important lesson we've learned here, with Madson, Soria, and Wilson, is that closers coming back from Tommy John surgery are not going to be in the mix for saves that season. Joe Nathan (2011) is the exception to the rule, and even he didn't start racking up the saves until mid-July after an early-season stumble.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Edward Mujica has become the 2013 version of Eddie Guardado. I'm not seeing too many reasons to doubt him at this point. In case of injury, though, I'd probably roster Trevor Rosenthal, who has become a stud in holds formats.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: How about Pedro Strop? Kevin Gregg seems like a slam-dunk trade candidate, and Strop looks like a man reborn with the Cubs -- not allowing an earned run in his first seven appearances, striking out a batter per inning, and sporting a 0.67 WHIP. Strop looks like he's back in 2011/2012 form, when he had a 2.34 ERA and almost a striekout per inning.
Grilli has exceeded any and every expectation for 2013.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: He's clawing at the Rivera/Kimbrel/Chapman ceiling. That's how good Grilli has been. And it's all thanks to Gary Sheffield.
|1.||Chad Gaudin, RP, Gaints||12|
|2.||Brad Ziegler, RP, Diamondbacks||11|
|3.||Koji Uehara, RP, Red Sox||8|
|4.||Hector Santiago, RP, White Sox||5|
|5.||Chris Perez, RP, Indians||4|
|6.||Alex Wood, RP, Braves||4|
|7.||Tom Gorzelanny, RP, Brewers||4|
|8.||Brandon Workman, RP, Red Sox||4|
|9.||Joaquin Benoit, RP, Tigers||3|
|10.||Grant Balfour, RP, Athletics||2|
In the CloserTron's defense, the logic -- that Axford would straighten himself out and take the closer role back from Jim Henderson -- was sound. And almost came true.The problem is that Rodriguez -- an x-factor that many of us didn't see coming in early May -- took the job from Henderson instead.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I'd actually stick with Axford here. Rodriguez has lots of deadline-trade potential, and Henderson has a 4.50 ERA since coming off the DL on June 9. Axford, meanwhile, has given up one earned run since May 15. He's 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA and has struck out about a batter per inning in that span. Axford may have nudged his way ahead of Henderson in the closer pecking order.
National League West
Romo's probably going to rise up to that "top closer" tier in next year's drafts. I think there was still a little trepidation this season because of the flip-flopping with Santiago Casilla for a bit last year.
Revised guess at closer on September 15:It's Romo all the way here. Although you might see Heath Hembree get a September call-up (despite the step back he's taken this year in Triple-A) and get a few save chances, just so the team can see what they have, assuming the Giants continue to languish at the bottom of the West standings.
Things here got very messy, very fast. Although points awarded for correctly identifying Heath Bell as Putz's successor.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: Of course, Bell stepped in early, was great for a little while, then had a stretch of five straight games with a home run allowed. Brad Ziegler has three of the team's last four saves, and there really isn't much of a reason to move him out of the role, outside of, "Bell and Putz having saved games before." I'll ride the darkhorse here and say Ziegler is the closer in mid-September. And my backup would be a mysterious third-party closer that the team trades for, as Putz having to build up arm strength doesn't sound encouraging, and I'm not sure the team can trust Bell to avoid those ugly stretches as they try to hold off the surging Dodgers.
Money took a backseat to a spark with the Dodgers, as League's big contract was put aside in favor of Jansen, who is one of the better closers in the game right now.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: As long as his health issues are behind him, Jansen is a stud, with a low ERA and WHIP, and a ton of strikeouts. League can still close games, so maybe he's traded if the Dodgers agree to eat some of his contract, but this is Jansen's job for the rest of the season.
Brothers actually stepped in for an injured Betancourt and proved he could be a solid closer in the majors. Forget about all this "since June 7" or "beginning on May 23" stuff -- Brothers' ERA on the season is 0.91.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: What scares me about sticking with Brothers (which I'm doing) is that the Rockies have gone on wild late-season runs before, and they'll be playing at full-force, with Troy Tulowitzki back in the lineup. The whole idea behind Brothers taking over was Betancourt being traded as the team fell out of contention. So as long as the Rockies stay below .500, Brothers is a nice add for teams speculating on saves.
Street isn't having the greatest season of his career -- his 4.15 ERA is glaringly sub-par -- but he does have a lot of potential to shine after the All-Star break.
Revised guess at closer on September 15: I'm going with Street, despite the fact he hasn't gotten a save in almost a month (his last was on June 21). The Padres are going to play a lot of close games and Street has shown skill as a closer in the past. Signed through 2014, Street should avoid all trade rumors and stick with the team through the end of the year.
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