Closer Hot Seat

by Ryan Dodson on July 3, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


Welcome to KFFL's Closer Hot Seat. We'll forecast every sketchy closer situation in the majors each week, and we'll let you know who is next in line for the job in the very volatile closer situations across baseball. Sit back, relax and put your feet up as we fire up this week's Closer Hot Seat.

KEY

Durability grade: 1 (very injury-prone) to 10 (extremely durable)

Job security grade: 1 (very shaky) to 10 (firm grasp)

HOT SEAT STATUS: INJURY QUESTIONS

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Alan Embree (Huston Street is on the disabled list)

Next in line: Santiago Casilla

Other possibilities: Rich Harden

Analysis: Embree's time as the stopper in the bullpen may be dwindling. He hasn't received a save opportunity in a week, and that was the outing he was smoked for five runs. He pitched July 1 and allowed a hit and a walk but otherwise escaped the inning unscathed. Setup man and possible interim closer Justin Duchscherer (hip) is out for the season because he needs surgery on his right hip. Street (elbow) threw from 140 feet over the weekend and may try to throw from a mound later this week. If all goes well, he's still two weeks away from returning. Therefore, the team may choose to give Harden a chance at closing before Street returns. Harden has been lights-out since returning. He has six strikeouts in four hitless innings with two walks. For now, hold onto Embree. However, it looks a bit grim for him to continue saving games. You may want to see if you can shop him now.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 3 (last week: 5)

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Antonio Alfonseca (Brett Myers and Tom Gordon are on the disabled list)

Next in line: Ryan Madson

Other possibilities: Jose Mesa

Analysis: Alfonseca got the save Sunday in one-third of an inning. It was his first save chance in over three weeks. Gordon (shoulder) will get a rehab outing in Single-A Clearwater Wednesday, and he could be two or three weeks from returning if all goes well. There is no timetable for Myers (shoulder) to return, so it looks like Gordon will return before Myers and resume the closer's post. "Alf" is 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, and he has saved six of seven chances. It's safe to say he has been a bit of a savior for the Phils, whose bullpen was in disarray. It's unlikely that Alfonseca has much trade value, so ride out his tenure as closer until Gordon returns.

Durability grade: 4

Job security grade: 8

Houston Astros

Closer: Dan Wheeler (Brad Lidge is on the disabled list)

Next in line: Chad Qualls

Other possibilities: Dave Borkowski

Analysis: Lidge (oblique) threw a simulated game Monday, and he could return Wednesday. There are reports that he won't return to closing duties immediately. Bringing him back right now may not be a smart decision. An oblique injury is one of the easiest to aggravate, and the team is rolling the dice if he does; they could lose him for two more months if he comes back too soon. Why not just let him rest until the All-Star break? Maybe the state of their bullpen is the answer. Wheeler hasn't received a save chance since blowing it June 24. However, he continues to dig himself into a hole in non-save chances, as he gave up two runs in one-third of an inning Monday. Trever Miller came on to get the save in that one. Wheeler has a 6.28 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Let's cut him some slack, though, because that WHIP is extremely good for having such a high ERA. Also, he has 46 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 38 2/3 innings. It appears the constant flip-flops of the closer job has Wheeler mentally struggling.

Durability grade: 10

Job security grade: 1

HOT SEAT STATUS: LACKLUSTER PRODUCTION

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Bob Wickman

Next in line: Rafael Soriano

Other possibilities: Tyler Yates

Analysis: We can start to feel the leash on closer Bob Wickman getting near its end. He allowed three runs on three hits in one-third of an inning June 30 before Yates bailed him out. Wickman then blew a save the next day. His ERA is at 4.33 with a 1.56 WHIP, and it's just a matter of time before Soriano takes his job. Soriano performed extremely well when Wickman was on the disabled list earlier this season. He has struck out 31 in 34 2/3 innings and has a miniscule 0.87 WHIP. Pay close attention to this situation. One more blown save, and Wickman could be replaced.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 2

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas/Jeremy Affeldt

Next in line: LaTroy Hawkins

Other possibilities: Brian Fuentes

Analysis: The side-winding Fuentes blew four straight save opportunities and allowed two more runs Sunday in a non-save chance. That's 10 earned runs in his last 3 1/3 innings. His ERA shot up from 1.89 to 4.17 in a matter of a week. The 31-year-old Fuentes is likely just in a rough patch. However, it's possible that hitters are starting to figure him out. He is better served to be a setup man, as he's a durable pitcher that uses deception. When that deception leaves and you don't have great closer stuff, you start to get pounded. It looks like the most likely fill-in is Corpas. He is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA and has 30 strikeouts in 41 innings. We like Affeldt, too. Affeldt is 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, and he has struck out 24 in 34 innings. These numbers don't blow anyone away, but he was an effective temporary closer for the Kansas City Royals in 2004. Forget his 4.50 ERA as a reliever that year, let's look at his 28 strikeouts in 30 innings and his 13 saves. He blew four chances on the year, but one of them was while he was a middle reliever. Monday, Affeldt came into the game in the seventh inning, and Corpas entered the game for the ninth with the score 6-2. Therefore, it looks like Corpas is the guy. Pick him up and take your chances. The Rockies have a tough schedule this week with the New York Mets and Phils in town, so don't give up something of value.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 3

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones

Next in line: Jose Capellan

Other possibilities: Jason Grilli

Analysis: Jones has a hefty 5.85 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP, but he has converted 20 of 24 save chances. No matter how much fantasy owners want someone like Joel Zumaya to become the Tigers' closer, Jones remains the man. Speaking of Zumaya, he said over the weekend he may not be back until September. The Tigers made a move to get the hard-throwing Capellan from the Milwaukee Brewers. Capellan has the stuff to close, but the team likely won't make him the stopper of a World Series-caliber team. Fernando Rodney (forearm) was a dark horse to dethrone Jones entering the season, but he has been atrocious all year and is on the DL. Jones appears to be safe right now.

Durability grade: 10

Job security grade: 6

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg

Next in line: Armando Benitez

Others: Matt Lindstrom

Analysis: Is it just a matter of time before Gregg is removed from the closer role? Gregg doesn't have the prototypical closer repertoire to hold off others in the Florida bullpen. What a breakout season for him, though. The 29-year-old journeyman has a 3.21 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. He has also saved 15 games in 16 chances. However, before we crown Benitez as the new closer, let's keep in mind he allowed a total of six earned runs in one-third of an inning over his last two games. Benitez was close enough to sniff the closer gig before that. Let's not forget Lindstrom. The 27-year-old righty has a heck of an arm, and he has a 3.93 ERA to go with 30 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 5

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brad Hennessey

Next in line: Jonathan Sanchez

Others: Kevin Correia

Analysis: Hennessey picked up his first save in more than two weeks June 30. He has been a little shaky in about every other outing, it seems; he will have a good outing and then allow a run in the next. We would like to see Sanchez get an opportunity. Sanchez, one of the team's higher-end pitchers, has a 3.96 ERA and a high 1.44 WHIP, but he has struck out 34 batters in 25 innings. Sanchez has a chance to steal the job from Hennessey, despite Hennessey's solid 3.38 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. He has struck out just 23 in 34 2/3 innings and doesn't have overpowering stuff. Keep an eye on this situation.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 3

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About Ryan Dodson

Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.

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