Impact Analysis: Milwaukee Brewers closer situation

by Herija C. Green on May 12, 2008 @ 12:52:38 PDT


After watching closer Francisco Cordero sign with the Cincinnati Reds during the offseason, general manager Doug Melvin turned to reliever Eric Gagne to fill the role by inking him to a one-year, $10 million contract. The former All-Star closer was coming off a brutal 20-game stretch with the Boston Red Sox (2-2, 6.75 ERA) but had been effective earlier in 2007. He recorded 16 saves with a 2.16 ERA in 33 1/3 innings pitched for the Texas Rangers.

The Brewers believed part of Gagne's struggles with the Red Sox stemmed from a disruption in his routine as a closer, as he pitched in a setup role in Boston. However, Gagne immediately made the Brewers and fantasy owners alike very nervous when he allowed three earned runs before recording his first out in blowing a save on opening day.

Gagne would blow his second save in three chances April 8, but he then notched five straight without allowing a run. Unfortunately, Gagne would fail to convert three of his next six chances. With five blown saves already on his resume for 2008, Gagne entered a tied game Saturday, May 10, and took the loss after allowing two earned runs in an inning of work.

That turned out to be the final straw as Gagne was officially removed from the role Sunday, May 11. The Brewers turned to relievers Salomon Torres and Brian Shouse in the ninth inning of their 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. It is unknown if Gagne's demotion is temporary, but the team has stated they would be going to a closer-by-committee approach for the time being.

The committee members

Gagne wasn't the only former closer acquired by Melvin during the offseason, as he also brought in Torres, David Riske and Guillermo Mota. The club also had their own former closer in reliever Derrick Turnbow, but he was cut and cleared waivers before accepting an assignment to Triple-A Nashville following a disastrous start to the season. Of the seven relievers currently on Milwaukee's roster, only pitcher Seth McClung seems like a safe bet to not see save opportunities. In fact, manager Ned Yost has even said Gagne could still be called upon as part of the closing committee.

Excluding McClung and Gagne, here are Milwaukee's existing options:

  • Torres is 3-0 with a 3.04 ERA this year but couldn't finish off the Cardinals for the save in the first game of the post-Gagne era. He recorded 12 saves in each of his last two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates but lost his job to reliever Matt Capps last June.
  • Mota has been their best right-handed reliever this year, striking out 19 in 16 innings and sporting a 2.25 ERA. However, he has struggled with his control (1.50 WHIP) and has never been able to translate his eight-inning success to the ninth.
  • Riske has 21 career saves and was outstanding with the Kansas City Royals last season (2.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). He started strong this year but gave up seven earned runs in three appearances in late April to balloon his ERA up to 7.36. He has been better since, but his current numbers (4.87 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) still aren't very good.
  • Shouse is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA and picked up the save Sunday, May 11. While those are solid numbers, Shouse is a 39-year-old situational lefty and is unlikely to see too many save opportunities.
  • Mitch Stetter has 15 strikeouts and a 1.69 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of work. He has arguably been the team's best reliever. He is lacking in major league experience, however, and was not exactly a dominant pitcher in the minors (3.91 career ERA). The southpaw saves will likely filter to Shouse with Stetter working earlier in the game.

While any of the seven relievers on the roster could figure into the mix for the time being, we are viewing the pecking order for saves as Torres, followed by Mota and Riske, with Shouse getting some situational save chances similar to his last outing.

Fantasy baseball outlook

First off, anyone comfortable with their existing fantasy closers should bypass this situation entirely, as it has all the makings of the mess we saw with the Seattle Mariners earlier this year when closer J.J. Putz was injured. In addition, Gagne owners should retain him in all deep mixed leagues and even those in shallow formats are advised to try to find a roster spot for him until it becomes clear that he's not getting the job back.

For those that find themselves in need of saves, view Torres as the best addition for the time being with Mota second. Shouse has some value in NL-only leagues and could vulture some saves, while Riske is not worth acquiring until he starts pitching better.

Anyone looking for dark-horse candidates can focus on current starters Carlos Villanueva and Dave Bush. Villanueva worked extensively out of the bullpen last year and has struggled as a starter in 2008, particularly in has later innings of work. Bush had 38 saves during his collegiate career at Wake Forest and has also had problems in the rotation this year. The injury to starter Yovani Gallardo (knee) complicates such a move, but the team does have pitchers Jeff Weaver and Chris Narveson at Triple-A Nashville, so it's not impossible. Both pitchers are only options in deeper NL-only leagues if you have the space to stash them.

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About Herija C. Green

A graduate of the prestigious Top Gun school, Green's ego writes checks his body can't cash. When he's not overdrawing his ego's bank account, Green enjoys games of beach volleyball, riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, and buzzing the tower (whether the pattern is full or not). He resides in the Danger Zone and yes, Ice... Man, he is dangerous. He also writes.

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