Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on May 19, 2009 @ 01:00:01 PDT


Also see: Fantasy baseball closer depth charts

In fantasy baseball, the closer position remains volatile. Rarely does every closer hang on to the job for the entire season - injury, poor performance or managerial decisions can cloud a team's bullpen picture.

Should you be concerned about a struggling stopper? Which setup men are climbing the depth chart? Any lingering injuries popping up?'s Closer Hot Seat keeps you informed when looking for saves.


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

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

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Mike Gonzalez

Next in line: Rafael Soriano

Other possibilities: Peter Moylan, Manny Acosta

Sori recorded his third save in three attempts Sunday, May 10, and Gonzalez pitched in the eighth inning to face a lefty-heavy slate. It was more of a case of Bobby Cox matching up with the opposing hitters, but this trend could continue since the righty has overwhelmed opponents this year (1.54 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and .179 batting average against).

Although the Bravos saved Gonzo for a lefty parade, the southpaw has failed to temper lefty lumber (.316 opponents' clip and two homers in four frames against his handedness this year) since coming back from Tommy John surgery.

He says his velocity is fine, but he has blown two of his last three save chances. Oh, and did we mention he's also suffering from a slider malfunction? He may start to see fewer chances to lock down games if he doesn't correct his flaws.

This would more frequently incorporate Soriano (groin), who hadn't pitched since Wednesday, May 13, but was expected to be available if needed Monday, May 18. He should be on deep mixed rosters and deserves heavy consideration for shallow mixed.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 7

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: N/A

Next in line: George Sherrill

Other possibilities: Chris Ray, Jim Johnson, Danys Baez

Manager Dave Trembley called this a committee a few weeks ago following some Sherrill struggles, but the lefty has rebounded to lock down Baltimore's only three ninth-inning shots since, despite allowing three total baserunners in those one-inning appearances. He faced mainly left-handed hitters, though, in two of those chances.

He has shown more improvement since shortening his stride and retooling his command before his first of those three saves. Sherrill hasn't really been that bad this year; his command has been mediocre, but the vet is 7-for-9 in his save chances.

May has been rough for both Johnson (5.79 ERA) and Ray (5.06), both trying to come back from ligament replacement surgery; they aren't making good cases for finishing save situations. They'll probably be called upon if the O's need to finish things against numerous righty batters, but they haven't yet given Trembley enough reason to be trusted consistently. He used Sherrill against two righties, Sherrill's weakness, in the last save opportunity.

Durability grade: N/A

Job security grade: N/A

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kevin Gregg

Next in line: Carlos Marmol

Other possibilities: Aaron Heilman

Manager Lou Piniella reassured the media before game action Sunday, May 17, that Gregg was the team's stopper, despite his four-run blow-up the previous night in which he didn't record an out.

"We've got our plan set and, barring an injury, we're going to stay the way we are," Sweet Lou said. "We talked a week or 10 days ago about really concentrating on putting a good bullpen together and we're starting to do that."

He came in with a non-save situation during a four-run lead. Though it technically wasn't a blown closure, it was another knock against Gregg's shaky past.

Here's why you shouldn't worry about his employment yet: He has walked just two batters this month and had allowed one run in his previous nine outings before his debacle. Piniella isn't budging, either.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Huston Street

Next in line: Jason Grilli, Alan Embree

Other possibilities: Manny Corpas

Disabled list: Taylor Buchholz

A 12-to-2 whiff-to-free pass ratio during 10 straight scoreless outings has helped Street settle into the role he won back at the top of the month. Skipper Clint Hurdle rectified his hasty move as Street has resurrected his dominance.

Corpas was on a similar streak with five shutout appearances � until he imploded to allow five earned runs via seven baserunners in two-thirds of an inning Sunday, May 17. Setbacks have been the name of his game this season; will he revert back to bad Manny? If you're forced to hang on to him, you may not want to play him until he proves he can rebound.

Control problems continue for Grilli despite his breakout strikeout ability. He's still having some problems in the eighth inning, so he should remain there for the time being to harness his approach � closure opportunities probably won't be pushed his way for awhile.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 8

Houston Astros

Closer: LaTroy Hawkins

Next in line: Chris Sampson

Other possibilities: Tim Byrdak

Disabled list: Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail, Geoff Geary

The Hawk might miss a few days of action after falling on his right hip the night before he sat out Sunday, May 17.

Sampson is the logical choice to replace the replacement; he shut the door in the non-Hawkins game but surrendered two runs on four hits in 1 2/3 frames. That jacked his ERA all the way up to 2.22 on the season' the former starter/reliever may have found his niche in the 'pen.

The righty still allows an abundance of basecloggers, but NL leaguers should tab him as a temporary pickup.

Durability grade: 7 (last week: 8)

Job security grade: 8

Kansas City Royals

Closer: N/A

Next in line: Juan Cruz

Other possibilities: Kyle Farnsworth, Jamey Wright

Disabled list: Joakim Soria

A botched eighth-inning shot prevented Cruz from being the first Royal to pick up the Mexicutioner's slack; while the Royals have resembled their old ways, save chances have followed them down the toilet.

Tests revealed Soria (shoulder) doesn't have any structural damage and will probably go on a rehab assignment before returning sometime within the next few weeks.

Cruz, who despite permitting six May walks has allowed just one earned run in his last 11 outings and three the whole season, remains the best desperation option among the group of jesters replacing Soria.

Farnsworth has been equally as silencing, though, with 10 straight scoreless frames to his name and only two bases awarded on balls since April 15.

Durability grade: N/A

Job security grade: N/A

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Next in line: Scot Shields

Other possibilities: Jose Arredondo

The Halos didn't produce a traditional save chance this week, meaning Fuentes is probably safe for now. He had already secured his status a bit more with five consecutive scoreless outings.

Shields has been atrocious in command (nine K's, 12 walks) and baserunners (1.83 WHIP). His dominance has tanked (5.93 K/9 compared to 8.19 career). He has been battling knee soreness lately, too, but a lot of his issues may stem back to the World Baseball Classic since it may have thrown off his schedule.

Arredondo, on the other hand, has regained his peripherals (4.00 command ratio) while fanning 13 in his last 10 appearances. Of course, he still has some trouble with opposing hitters (.294 average against).

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 8

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera

Next in line: Phil Coke

Other possibilities: Jose Veras, Mark Melancon

Disabled list: Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte

Coke recorded a four-out save Monday, May 18, because Mo (he of 22 K's and one walk but a career-high .269 opponents' clip) had pitched in two straight games. Coke has been arguably the most reliable setup reliever outside of Bruney (elbow), who is expected to return in the next week or so.

The Yanks are seemingly making a more concerted effort to conserve their Hall of Fame stopper, especially with recent complaints from the ageless one of shoulder weakness. Bruney would be the best pickup to handcuff to Mo; he has a better profile for the job. Coke should be watched if any other Rivera shoulder news should arrive.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 10

Oakland Athletics

Closer: N/A

Next in line: Andrew Bailey, Brad Ziegler, Santiago Casilla, Michael Wuertz

Other possibilities: Jerry Blevins

Disabled list: Joey Devine

To paraphrase KFFL managing editor Bryce McRae, Oaktown manager Bob Geren's save opportunity management resembles Mike Shanahan's former handling of the Denver Broncos backfield: interchangeable and frustrating to you, the fantasy player.

A recent quote from Geren: "I've never really named a closer, I still haven't, nor will I. ... Obviously, I really like the job Bailey is doing."

Exactly what you wanted to hear, right?

Don't expect someone to be the lone stopper anytime soon unless Bailey truly outplays everyone else. Casilla just returned from the DL and could also see some save opportunities.

Bailey remains the most productive member of the pen, but each has performed well enough to help with ratios, even if they have few or no opportunities to shut the door.

Durability grade: N/A

Job security grade: N/A

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brad Lidge

Next in line: Ryan Madson

Other possibilities: Chad Durbin

Two consecutive save conversions have alleviated some concern over Lidge, who reportedly believes he has corrected some command issues he developed after tweaking his mechanics to ease the strain on his knee. The vet remains confident that getting more work in will help him move past his recent six-game funk of at least one earned tally allowed.

Non-save appearances have hurt Lidge's line (8.31 ERA), but this is encouraging, especially since his last two appearances capped a stretch of four straight days of in-game mound work.

It's still wise to retain Madson; he'd be handed the baton if Lidge were to tap out because of injury.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 10

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps

Next in line: John Grabow

Disabled list: Tyler Yates

Since his return to action May 12, Capps has allowed four runs, four walks and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. He mustered a save in two of the three door slams, but the control faux pas remains the scariest hitch with the typically ultra-efficient righty (nine K's, eight walks this year).

A Keith Olbermann blog report noted Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan has been working and watching video with Capps, who has been "over-rotating" toward third base when he throws. They are working on restricting his movement, including an exercise of having Capps pitch with a patch over his left eye, resembling ... well, you know.

In comparison, film taken of Capps' 2007 season showed that Capps is also dragging his arm behind his body during his delivery and using his power before he extends his arm to unleash the ball.

The Buccos will probably ride Capps as he works through this problem, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Grabow enter in a chance here and there. NL leaguers should scoop him up if they're speculating.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 10

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Ryan Franklin

Next in line: Jason Motte

Other possibilities: Chris Perez, Kyle McClellan

It was an uneventful week for the Cards' saves party as its leader threw two shutout non-save outings since the last report.

Motte and Perez each had ugly outings Monday, May 18, lacking aggressiveness in the strike zone and falling behind to enemy batters. Their struggles have assured Franklin of closing duties for the time being; the vet recovered from his May 10 meltdown and will probably need a severe pattern of them to be usurped from his unofficial title in the future.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 7 (last week: 6)

San Diego Padres

Closer: Heath Bell

Next in line: Edward Mujica

Other possibilities: Cla Meredith

The loudly tolling Bell hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings this year, but local Pads media thought he wouldn't be able to run for much longer. A pregame radio report said Bell suffered an Achilles' tendon strain Saturday, May 16, while in the field; he walked two of the following three hitters.

This was compounded by the fact that Bell didn't come in during a save situation the following day (Mujica was warming up before Jake Peavy finished a complete game), but Bell said there is nothing wrong with him. He had already pitched in the previous three games and was rested.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 10

Seattle Mariners

Closer: N/A

Next in line: David Aardsma

Other possibilities: Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista, Brandon Morrow, Chad Cordero

Disabled list: Shawn Kelley

Manager Don Wakamatsu removed Morrow from the closer spot Friday, May 15, and instituted a committee, led by Aardsma, to replace the talented youngster. Morrow had blown two consecutive save chances in disastrous fashion and even surrendered a run in the previous game, a save.

Morrow will eventually be returned to the role once he regains his control. He recently set himself back, though: The righty allowed two runs on four hits in two frames Monday, May 18, but he fanned three hitters.

Aardsma remains a helpful pickup everywhere if he's somehow available. You shouldn't ditch Morrow yet unless you absolutely need a roster spot in shallow setups.

Durability grade: N/A

Job security grade: N/A

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Troy Percival

Next in line: Joe Nelson, Dan Wheeler

Other possibilities: Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Jason Isringhausen

Percy was rested for two games while Howell and Nelson shut the door. Manager Joe Maddon wanted to keep Percival away from lefties, who were hitting .476 against him before the siesta.

The vet returned to wrap things up Sunday, May 17, and struck out a left-handed stick as part of his work day. He credits some video scouting he did that found the problem: He was using changeups way too often against lefties and wasn't mixing his pitches properly.

He's 6-for-6 in save chances and hasn't given up a run in an opportunity since his first appearance of the season April 9. A four-run, non-closing chance in one-third of an inning has doomed his stat line.

Maddon doesn't mind matchup chances, though Percy's the man as long as he's healthy. Nelson has been erratic this season, and Howell would probably be called upon against a lefty-loaded lineup here and there. It isn't safe to assume they will be consistent long-term pilferers, especially with Wheeler and Balfour still in tow.

Izzy made a solid season debut Monday, May 18, with a 90 mph fastball and a scoreless ninth during a blowout win. Maddon said he wouldn't be afraid to use him late in games, and he might even close when Percival is unavailable.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson

Next in line: Darren O'Day, Eddie Guardado

Other possibilities: Jason Jennings, Warner Madrigal

Disabled list: Frank Francisco, Joaquin Benoit

Francisco (biceps) tossed a bullpen session Monday, May 18, and is on track to participate in a simulated game Wednesday, May 20, before returning to action Friday, May 22.

Wilson has held down the fort since then with two scoreless saves. This is a tamer version of the lefty than what we saw last season in his control-challenged disasters. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last eight outings and nine of his last 10.

O'Day picked up a four-out save Sunday, May 17, but was probably on only because Wilson had thrown 3 1/3 frames in the previous four days. O'Day shouldn't be heavily considered for chances in the short time Francisco is scheduled to miss this week. Still, in AL leagues O'Day earns more consideration as a solid setup pickup (12 K's, two walks in 12 frames). 

Hang onto Wilson for a bit when Francisco comes back in case a setback occurs. Once Francisco looks OK, mixed leaguers can cut bait if they need the space.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 8

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Scott Downs

Next in line: B.J. Ryan

Other possibilities: Jason Frasor, Jesse Carlson, Jeremy Accardo

Ryan's return from the DL hasn't phased Downs, who looks quite comfortable in the role, especially with two saves in his last two games. It's hard to think the Jays will switch off Downs unless he completely collapses.

Ryan says he's OK with not closing (does he have a choice?), and in his only outing since coming back, he fanned two in one inning of work despite allowing a walk. He has made adjustments to his mechanics, mainly slowing down his delivery. He can't be dropped, especially in deep leagues, but you'll have to be patient if you're hanging onto him. Toronto will probably conserve him.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Washington Nationals

Closer: Joel Hanrahan

Next in line: Joe Beimel

Other possibilities: Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Garrett Mock

Hanny has come full circle already, regaining the stopper job he lost a few weeks ago. He seemed rejuvenated after being demoted, regaining his dominance with 11 whiffs compared to three walks before a three-run blowup in a non-save chance Monday, May 18.

He's still prone to the occasional gaffe (.314 opponents' clip in May), but he's still an immediate add; you're only looking for one stat here.

Beimel's short-lived stint doesn't dismiss his fantasy worth entirely; despite his horrendous six-game stretch (six runners plated 5 1/3 innings) in which he lost his "Mr. No-homer" title, he's worth a stash in NL setups. He'd probably be next in line if manager Manny Acta extends the hook again.

You can discard the other three possibilities.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 7

Also see: Fantasy baseball closer depth charts

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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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