Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Mariano Rivera, more

by Tim Heaney on August 12, 2011 @ 11:43:23 PDT


What are the odds that you still own the relief pitchers you rostered in your fantasy baseball draft?'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) score 1 (unstable) to 5 (untouchable)
Health (H) score 1 (injury-prone) to 5 (durable)


New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera

Understudy: Rafael Soriano

Lurkers: David Robertson

Colorado Rockies RP Rafael Betancourt
If Street closed, go to Betancourt

It's hard to believe the Bombers will strip Rivera of his job on a permanent basis, but maybe they should start considering giving him more days off if this recent pattern continues. He has yielded at least one run in each of his last three appearances: Sunday's blown save against the Boston Red Sox, and his Tuesday loss and Thursday save against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last night, he recorded the final two outs after coughing up a tater on his first offering, but he has yielded a homer in each of his last two contests.

The 41-year-old has long been considered bionic, rightfully so, but he's looking less like Skynet and more like John Connor. Mo hinted at feeling human after a July 3 blown save against the New York Mets, and he missed a few days after that. He admitted to accepting reality that arm soreness will probably bug him for the rest of his waning career, especially at his age. This undoubtedly strips some power off his cutter, the Louisville Slugger grenade of bats and, for a long time, the hammer of the pitching gods.

Fatigue, soreness, age - all of these can easily remove a smidge of the late movement that defines Rivera's chief pitch. Though he has regained some K punch that he lost last year, pitch location statistics and graphs show his cutter is hanging just a bit more over the inside corner against left-handed batters. He's allowing fewer grounders to those hitters and is not hurling as much juice on two-strike counts.

He's a vet, basically considered the greatest closer of all time, and we have seen him rebound from these rough stretches before. Rivera has pride in his abilities, even as his body becomes less forgiving, and won't take kindly to losing more games and save chances. On the other hand, maybe he could use a spell to keep him effective for the postseason; Soriano and Robertson could do that if needed.

Is he hiding an injury or just pitching through more arm issues? All in all, how much longer can we keep writing off these issues as bumps in the road? Even if you have complete faith in No. 42 - which isn't unfounded - you need to consider he may be starting to slip.

Though Robertson has been the eighth-inning man for most of the season and has the skills to do it, Soriano would be the sub here thanks to his stopper experience (and his contract). The latter has given up just one hit while whiffing five in six scoreless frames since coming off the DL.

The beginning of the end? In our job security score, he'll get the benefit of the doubt for now, but he'll warrant a drop from his 5 if his struggles persist. Let's wait to see how Rivera responds; The Pitch is still effective, and those clubs that got to him are very familiar with him and have proven they can hit him.

However, is this rough patch enough to - gasp - spark speculation on Soriano, or Robertson as a consolation? If you're desperate and have roster room, it's better to tuck away a potential Yankees closer, even if it's merely in spot duty, than to let someone else get the jump.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 5

Mound meetings

  • If his right triceps injury doesn't improve in the next few days, Huston Street could land on the disabled list. He'll play catch Friday to determine if he's ready to return. With Matt Lindstrom (arm) on the DL, expect the Colorado Rockies to go with Rafael Betancourt first for save chances, maybe with Rex Brothers or Matt Belisle mixed into situational duty. Lindstrom is eligible to return to action Aug. 21 and might factor into saves if Street remains out of commission, but Betancourt should remain your first target.
  • Carlos Marmol looked more like himself Thursday - but not in a good way. The Chicago Cubs closer recorded two K's, but he also faced seven batters, walking two and allowing a run to cross the plate. He held on with the bases loaded, inducing a fly-out to escape. The bright side: He's 7-for-7 in save opportunities since regaining stopper duties. Consider Marmol safe as long as he keeps wrapping up games.
  • Jose Valverde is 33-for-33 in save conversions this season after his scoreless Thursday stanza. The Detroit Tigers' RP has tied his career-high walk rate (4.65 per nine) but has managed to dance around it and his 1.27 WHIP all season.
    Think of this like Brad Lidge's perfect 2008 season and our call to sell Leo Nunez earlier in 2011: If you're good on saves and need to address another issue on your squad, maybe you can avoid a potential correction by trading him away now. However, if you need every save you can get, his correction probably won't be that bad at this point in the season.
  • In only his second save chance of August, Mark Melancon allowed a two-out, two-run homer to blow the Thursday opp. He also gave up a run while coming through on his first save opp. With just four appearances this month, he hasn't had time to get into a groove, most likely. Ah, the life of owning the 2011 Houston Astros' closer: limited appearances, limited return.
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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat | AL depth charts | NL depth charts

About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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