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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Jim Johnson, Marlins, more

By Nicholas Minnix
Edited by Tim Heaney

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.

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

In his last three appearances, from last Tuesday through Monday, Johnson blew three save opportunities, two of them with real flair. (That means he got rocked.) Last night's, against the New York Yankees, happened pretty much only because he gave up a solo dinger to Travis Hafner. That represents progress, if you're following the Baltimore Orioles closely.

Johnson's stuff looked quite good versus the Bombers. Velocity was good, most of the breaks were good. The location wasn't up to par, however. That has been the theme lately. Johnson's emotions can complicate matters, if he lets them, and last night, he certainly did, as Zach Wilt's piece points out. The writer has also observed some issues with Johnson's release point.

Miami Marlins RP Steve Cishek
Cishek making owners seasick

Buck Showalter declared his faith in his closer prior to last night's contest, as you'd expect. As Kevin Cowherd summarily states, however, if the results continue (at least if there's improvement in the process), the skipper has to begin to think about a change.

The time for that may not be imminent, however. Showalter is loyal. His tasks regarding Johnson's recent failures involve technical maintenance as well as counseling, degrees TBD. (We're talking about a nitpicky reliever who'd converted 35 straight dating to 2012, here.) Any switches are likely to be temporary and involve mixing and matching.

Strop's awful outcomes thus far have taken him out of that conversation. Those in AL-only leagues wouldn't be remiss to add other members of this hierarchy. Those in mixed leagues shouldn't grow overly anxious, but if they do, addition of O'Day may alleviate that, even if they never use him.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Miami Marlins
1
5
Steve Cishek
Chad Qualls +
Mike Dunn
A.J. Ramos Ryan Webb

"We're going to use everybody."

Mike Redmond, who uttered those words to the media on Monday night, is probably making a better decision for his predominantly young Miami Marlins than the one he did to stick with the conformist's standard prior to the season. But he may not have known better then. This is his first season on the job, one where he's been set up "to fail."

Don't view this as a condemnation of Cishek's work. A combination of things has made it clear to Redmond that meeting the demands of a faux position doesn't align with his goals, one of which must be to maximize his players' performances. Likely among them are:

  • The materialization of "save opportunities" is virtually unpredictable as it is; the Fish have generated situations that qualify nine times (last in MLB) in 45 games.
  • A pitcher needs some semblance of routine, including semi-regular work in game situations, in order to pitch near peak form and reduce injury risk.
  • Cishek continues to have trouble retiring left-handed batters.

If Redmond were to continue to attempt to preserve Cishek for those chances, he'd go nuts. Thus, he has empirical evidence of a logistical problem with the role of "closer": A contrived statistic and title have enjoyed great influence on managerial decisions. Redmond, as a newbie who's been given a largely unused canvas, has info that prompts him to question the status quo.

The problem becomes more difficult to address as the team becomes successful. A human is uncomfortable with uncertainty and perceives more pressure to perform when he's the last person standing between an opponent and victory. This is essentially why relievers prefer to have "defined roles."

Some deal much more effectively with the emotions that those situations evoke than others do. This lends to the traditionalist's argument that a closer has a certain "makeup." Really, any person can do the job if he learns how to deal with those emotions. That concept lends to the stat head's argument that, well, anyone can do it. They're both correct, but not always, and oftentimes mutually exclusively. They fight instead of play together.

So, Cishek, Qualls and Dunn, as well as Ramos and Webb, at minimum, are candidates for saves. Little distinguishes them in that regard, but for the likelihood that the first three are probably going to be Redmond's top choices for the foreseeable future. This will eventually lead to better results.

How much better? How long will it take? If a save falls in South Florida and no one owns the pitcher who records it, does it count? People are so arrogant. Except for those who play in NL-only and 15-team mixed leagues.

Mound meetings

Fernando Rodney was unavailable on Friday because of the energy he expended to blow a save chance in glorious fashion on Thursday. Joel Peralta filled in effectively to record a save. Rodney bounced back with a 1-2-3 inning on Sunday to notch one, too.

Tampa Bay Rays RP Fernando Rodney
Rodney will have time

It'll probably take a few more disastrous appearances in the near future before change becomes a likely solution for Joe Maddon. The Tampa Bay Rays' skipper is pretty adamant about what he believes are the issues.

As Tim has discussed at length, there are other possible factors, some of which the club may not be aware. At least, they haven't mentioned some of them. Maddon believes that he's ruled out Rodney's participation in the WBC.

The manager has a lot of faith in Rodney, and that buys Rodney time. Those who own him, at least in very deep leagues, should do a cost-benefit analysis of acquiring Joel Peralta, nonetheless.

***

Chris Perez blew a save chance on Saturday and gave up the lead in a tied affair on Monday. Why isn't that guy on the hot seat?! Huh?! Three home runs allowed in two games! He stinks!

He might. But he'll get some leeway. He plans to investigate whether he's altered his mechanics in reaction to his recent, mild shoulder ailment. Two walks yesterday may point to a problem, but it's hasty to read too much into them or his slightly diminished velocity.

Plus, Vinnie Pestano, Perez's would-be replacement, gave up a solo jack on Monday, too, in his second game back from the DL. The Tribe may be a little more conscious of the righty's tender elbow than Perez's shoulder problem. Nobody's job is suddenly in question. If the next outing or three yields a bad result, then people will start talking.

Unless they followed Perez on Twitter. The closer put an end to that potential source of anger already.

***

Kenley Jansen served up two home runs in the seventh inning of a game on Saturday to turn the Los Angeles Dodgers' 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit. The laser-throwing righty was charged on Sunday with two runs on a hit, a walk and another loss. He pitched a total of one inning this past weekend, and the statistical hit was brutal.

Brandon League allowed both of the runners he inherited from Jansen on Sunday to score. A fielding error on a swinging bunt loaded the bases, and afterward, a couple of hits, a sac fly and a squeeze play caused the damage to pile up. Neither of the runs League allowed were labeled earned.

Don Mattingly has suggested on multiple occasions that he isn't comfortable with naming Jansen, his best reliever, the closer. Such a step wouldn't necessarily meet his team's needs, he's said. So are Mattingly's responses here his admission that he'd prefer to use his relievers differently?

The skipper's job status has become a subject of speculation. Mattingly isn't on the outs, but if the Blue eventually decides to make a change, the new guy may have a different way of doing things, like it or not. League may turn things around, but Jansen is a threat to close and should be owned all year.

***

John Farrell told the media that he may initially avoid using Andrew Bailey on back-to-back days now that the right-hander has been activated from the disabled list. Sounds like Junichi Tazawa and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Koji Uehara may have some residual usefulness.

Really, anyone in deep leagues who can afford to keep Tazawa, at least, around would be wise to do so, given Bailey's health record. The Boston Red Sox will probably have to turn to Tazawa again before the campaign ends.

***

Tom Wilhelmsen blew his first save opp of 2013 on Monday, in the Seattle Mariners' daytime tilt with Cleveland. The incredibly hot Indians had him on the ropes with two down. The righty's fielding error -- he dropped a shoveled toss from the first baseman -- is what allowed the tying run to score. Otherwise, Wilhelmsen has done well and has gained a strong footing.

***

Owners of Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman are probably not too worried about his job status in the face of his back-to-back blown save chances from the past week. One of those came when he allowed an inherited runner to score, and the southpaw pitched a perfect frame last night to seal a deal. It would probably take a mountain to move Dusty Baker away from Chapman permanently.



 


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