Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Tom Wilhelmsen, Jim Johnson, more

by Nicholas Minnix on July 9, 2013 @ 13:03:31 PDT

 

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KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series gives you no-nonsense ratings of performances, injuries and managerial decisions in MLB bullpens. Get your arm loose: Let's find fantasy baseball players in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league who'll get saves.

Job Security (JS):
1 (unstable)
to
5 (untouchable)
Health Outlook (HO):
1 (fragile)
to
5 (durable)
: Up
 
+: Added
 
INJ: Injured
: Down
 
M: Minors
 
DL: Disabled List

 

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Seattle Mariners
2
5
Tom Wilhelmsen Oliver Perez
Yoervis Medina
Carter Capps
Stephen Pryor DL

Perez struck out the side to save one for the Seattle Mariners on Friday. The Cincinnati Reds were due to send two left-handed batters to the dish, although the final hitter Ollie faced was a switch-hitter. Let the record show that Wilhelmsen was warming up, according to observers.

Baltimore Orioles RP Jim Johnson
Johnson not flying as high

Wilhelmsen put Cincy to bed for a save on Sunday by pitching a perfect stanza. He faced a lefty batter sandwiched between two right-handed stick-wielders. Such details appear to be frivolity, at this point.

Eric Wedge had apparently seen enough, because the M's skipper confirmed with a formal announcement on Tuesday that Wilhelmsen has pitched his way back into the gig. Well-deserved, inasmuch as these things are. He posted a 7.59 BB/9 in June but hasn't issued a free pass in any of his last seven appearances, the last six of which have been virtually spotless.

Wilhelmsen has the stuff to hold a job like this for a long time, but he may not have built up the confidence yet to rebound from the bad times. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Baltimore Orioles
4
5
Darren O'Day Brian Matusz
Tommy Hunter

On Friday, for the sixth time of 2013, Johnson failed to hold a lead in a save situation. The New York Yankees drew two free passes and registered two hits to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2, walk-off victory at the Baltimore Orioles closer's expense. One of the tallies was unearned because of a fielding error -- one he committed.

As The Baltimore Sun noted following that one, the righty had allowed runs in only three of his previous 18 appearances. Johnson appears to be past the worst of it, a stretch in mid-May that saw him blow three chances in a row as well as another a few games later and post a 9.75 ERA for the month. There's likely little reason to be worried, at least through Buck Showalter's eyes. Johnson acquitted himself with a 1-2-3 inning to notch a save on Sunday, after B'more had handed him a lead by getting to Yanks closer Mariano Rivera.

A combination of things suggests that Johnson is still not quite right, however. The occasional, snowballing bouts with walks; the reduced ground-ball rate; the declining average fastball velocity; and the increased HR/FB all hint at some mechanical issue. He's leaving the ball up and out over the plate more often than he did in the past few seasons. Johnson's dependence on ground-outs gives him less margin for error if he's mechanically unsound.

The O's have used Johnson a little more often than they did last season. Is that really enough to be at fault? Highly unlikely. Will he lose his job? Probably not. But fantasy owners will probably have to live with the fact that he's not an elite, ERA-chopping closer, something they should've known when they drafted him. He appears to be moving in a positive direction, slowly, thankfully.

Mound meetings

Francisco Rodriguez battened down the hatches on Saturday against the New York Mets, despite the solo home run he allowed to Marlon Byrd. All's well that ... right, right.

Milwaukee Brewers RP Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod getting the shaft soon?

On Monday night, Derrick Robinson drew a two-out free pass in the top of the ninth and the Cincinnati Reds trailing 4-3. Joey Votto then drilled one to center that had the makings of a go-ahead shot before Carlos Gomez leaped to pull it back and save K-Rod's behind.

Rodriguez may be a little remade or whatever the Milwaukee Brewers want to advertise as the trade deadline approaches, but he's been quite hittable, and he's given up fly balls on nearly 50 percent of in-play stuff -- not good for Miller Park residents.

K-Rod may continue to be a solid reliever, but he's not born again or anything. Keep Jim Henderson close. Somebody from this bullpen won't be around in a few weeks.

***

The Cleveland Indians demoted Vinnie Pestano from setup duties following his disastrous appearance on Sunday. He yielded three runs on a walk and four hits, including one bomb, to make a tilt versus the division-leading Detroit Tigers semi-interesting.

It's an understandable move. Pestano battled mild elbow discomfort again earlier this season and has posted a 4.71 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in his 28 2/3 frames. It cements Chris Perez's job security grade. Joe Smith has assumed Pestano's role.

Perez has been effective as long as he's been healthy. One can't say the same about Pestano definitively. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that his sub-par performance is related to more elbow problems or some other injury. Those in AL-only leagues should reserve him to see if he turns it around, though.

***

Kevin Gregg allowed a two-out, solo home run to Starling Marte on Sunday to blow a save chance for the second time this season. The right-hander walked the next batter before he retired the final Pittsburgh Pirate of the ninth to get the Chicago Cubs into the bottom of the ninth.

Gregg is possible trade bait, a fact that may or may not affect his job status. He's in no danger of losing it, for sure. He's been the best arm out of the Cubs' bullpen. It's just a force of habit to mention that Gregg blew an opportunity.

***

On Monday night, Grant Balfour converted his 41st consecutive save opportunity, breaking the Oakland Athletics' franchise record for such a streak. Previous record-holder: Dennis Eckersley. Not bad.

His peripherals indicate that he's executed at just the right time frequently, or that he's been a little fortunate, or both. It's certainly a mixture of the two. Some correction of his ERA is due. Depending on how bad it is, the A's could eventually consider a switch. That'd put Ryan Cook on alert -- or at least fantasy owners on alert for his services.

It may seem a little hasty to suggest that Balfour's backend role will eventually be in jeopardy. Bob Melvin wasn't overly considerate when he removed Balfour from the top seat last year, however, and Oakland should be in contention in the second half. The closer should have more leeway than he did in 2012, but how much more is nothing but a guess. So, be prepared.

***

The Texas Rangers activated Joakim Soria (recovery from Tommy John surgery) from the disabled list on Sunday. He's already made back-to-back appearances, in fact. He hasn't allowed a base runner and has fanned one in two frames. Look out, Joe Nathan!

But seriously, the Rangers will probably have little motivation to exercise Nathan's $9 million option in 2014. The buyout is cheap.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts (Baseball Prospectus), Soria is scheduled to make $5.5 million next season and has a 2015 option. Neftali Feliz (still recovering from TJS, back in the second half, likely) will be in his second year of arbitration. It seems likely that one of those two will be closing for Texas next year, and Tanner Scheppers has finally emerged as a big-league-caliber reliever. Full-retention keeper managers have a chance to plan ahead here, if they haven't already.

***

Jose Veras was available to close on Friday, according to Houston Astros manager Bo Porter, one day after the closer took a baseball off the hand that resulted in a bruised pinkie. Veras returned to action on Saturday and pitched a scoreless inning, with a K and no base runners permitted, in his club's 9-5 win against the Texas Rangers.

He's fine, obviously. Phew, say the Astros, who likely hope to deal Veras prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Tim covered related contingencies on Friday.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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