Week 9 Closer Stock Watch

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Aug. 2-Aug. 27, 2010: 7 games, 12 IP, 10 K, 8 BB, 11 ER
April 6-April 20, 2012: 7 games, 6 1/3 IP, 10 K, 4 BB, 8 ER
May 7-May 29, 2015: 7 games, 7 1/3 IP, 6 K, 7 BB, 3 ER

Greg Holland has been arguably the best reliever in baseball over the last five years, but even he isn't invincible, as the numbers above show. He is mired in a rough patch right now that ranks among the worst in his career, but it certainly isn't unprecedented.

Heck, you probably haven't even noticed it. Three runs in 7 1/3 innings of work isn't a cause for concern, after all, so why would you have cared? Even the best pitchers in baseball are allowed a misstep or two before we collectively lose our minds, and Holland's track record has certainly earned him the benefit of the doubt.

However, just because we shouldn't freak out over what could be a minor bump in the road, that doesn't mean there is no reason for concern. Because this may not be just a run of bad luck Holland has hit. This could be the start of something bigger.

Before he hit the disabled list in April with a pectoral strain, Holland looked much like the pitcher we have come to expect, sitting comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball, while picking up a swinging strike on 18.6 percent of his pitches thrown through his first three outings. However, his velocity was already down pretty significantly from a year ago and he hasn't recovered it yet.

In 2014, Holland's average fastball came in to hitters at 96.3 mph, one of the highest averages in baseball. His 94.6 mph average in 2015 is nothing to scoff at, but it isn't in the same realm as in the past. That isn't a good sign, especially when put up next to a slider that looks a bit less impressive than it did a year ago.

That slider comes in just about as hard as it did last season, but with significantly less depth. His average slider is picking up about two fewer inches of vertical break than in 2014, and it's clear he doesn't have quite the same feel for it overall. He has thrown the pitch for a strike just 37.3 percent of the time, compared to 46.6 last season. His swinging strike rate on his slider is also down from 26.5 percent to 18.6.

So, we have a fastball that has lost some fast and a slider that has lost some slide. This from a pitcher who throws those two pitches nearly 93 percent of the time.

And, despite an elevated walk rate, Holland isn't throwing more pitches outside of the strike zone. In fact, his rate of pitches in the zone is actually up, according to PITCHf/x. What has changed is the proportion of pitches opposing hitters have swung at out of the zone, and the proportion of those pitches they have failed to make contact on.

What we have to figure out is why these things have happened, and that's where things get tricky. Answering the "what" question is easy. The "why" behind it is a lot more difficult.

Is Holland still dealing with the after effects of his injury? If so, he doesn't appear to have acknowledged as much. And, if that was the case it would likely show up in his mechanics, but his release point is in line with where it was a year ago. Besides, these issues started before he hit the DL.

The answer might lie inside Holland's arm, but it also simply may not exist. Like I pointed out earlier, he's had similar stretches in his career, without them necessarily being indicative of any larger ill. With just 11 1/3 innings under his belt, it might be too early to take much out of Holland's first two injury-shorted months anyways.

Still, with Holland's track record, any slight slippage is going to be magnified. Despite the presence of Wade Davis, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think Holland is at risk of losing his job.

However, Fantasy owners who paid up for the best closer in the game may not get a return on their investment at this rate.

Carson Smith, Mariners
Stock: Up

Smith doesn't have a huge track record to go on, but what we have seen from him is incredibly promising. The 25-year-old has allowed just three runs in 31 1/3 major-league innings, with a 0.702 WHIP and a 38 to eight K:BB ratio; elite numbers. Those numbers back up what he did in the minors, and are buttressed by solid PITCHf/x data, as he has registered a swinging strike rate of 11.9 percent while throwing 51.9 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this season. The only potential downside for the big right-hander is that his three-pitch repertoire could leave him with platoon issues, but lefties are hitting just .163/.234/.163 against him, so his lack of a changeup hasn't been an issue yet. Unfortunately, manager Lloyd McClendon keeps going back to the Fernando Rodney well, and even told reporters Wednesday he doesn't think Smith has the "man muscles" or maturity for the job quite yet. Rodney doesn't exactly have the strongest track record when you look at things like ERA or WHIP, but he does have 234 career saves. Unfortunately for those waiting on Smith to get a crack at the job, that might be all that matters to McClendon.

"I'll say this: People will get caught up in hits and ERA and stuff -- I don't give a damn about his ERA, as long as he closes them out. That's all I care about." - Lloyd McClendon

Sigh…

Last week's stats: 3 IP, 5 K, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 5 S

Tyler Clippard, Athletics
Stock: Up

It always seemed like there was an expiration date on Doolittle's time as the A's closer, but that was back when we thought Sean Doolittle's return would knock him out of the role. However, Doolittle made his return last week from a shoulder injury, before promptly heading right back to the DL four days later due to continuing discomfort. Doolittle is working his way back from a rotator cuff injury and it is starting to look like you can't count on him coming back. That certainly makes Clippard look even more attractive, especially given his success in the role so far. He his sporting a 2.31 ERA, right in line with his last few seasons. However, he is sporting his lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate since 2008, so there is at least a little bit of reason to be concerned. Still, given how much success he has had in the past, Clippard seems like a good bet to perform better moving forward.

Last week's stats: 4 1/3 IP, 3 K, 3 H, 4 BB, 1 R, 4 S

Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Stock: Up

The Diamondbacks? Again? This team can't figure out their ninth inning no matter who they turn to, and it appears is if the wheel may end up right back where it started. Reed has worked on mechanical adjustments since moving out of the closer's role in early May and has a 2.00 ERA in nine innings since his last blown save. Reed's track record is pretty mediocre, but he does have that "proven closer" label still hanging around him, which means he could see work in the ninth inning before long. He isn't a difference-maker, but then again, neither is Brad Ziegler or any of the team's other options. As long as the game of musical chairs continues in the ninth, you'll want to just stream whoever is available here.

Last week's stats: 3 2/3 IP, 2 K, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 0 S

David Robertson, White Sox
Stock: Down

By dint of his track record and the fat contract bestowed upon him this offseason, it's going to take a lot more than a few bad weeks for the White Sox to start putting heat on Robertson. However, after going until May 10 before allowing his first run, Robertson has blown three of his last seven save opportunities, while posting a 5.59 ERA in his last nine appearances. Of course, his overall numbers are still fine and he has an 11:2 K:BB ratio, so it's not even close to time to start ringing the alarm bells. Robertson has a 2.34 ERA and 1.37 WHIP for the season, and hasn't posted an ERA above 3.08 since 2010. He's good for more than a strikeout every inning and an ERA in the mid-2.00s, so don't let a little bump in the road get you too worried. He won't finish the season in the running for the top spot among relievers, which is why his stock is down, but he is too good to worry about.

Last week's stats: 3 1/3 IP, 3 K, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 R, 1 S, 2 BS

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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