A couple of weeks ago we dusted off the CloserTron 2010, going over the current closers on all of the American League teams and predicting who would hold the role at the All-Star break and mid-September.
So far, so good. I think. Regardless, I plugged CT2010 back in, refilled the paper in tray 2, and ran it again for the far more volatile National League. What follows are the current and future states of National League bullpens:
National League East
You can't really argue with Kimbrel ranking as the top closer in this game. He has eye-popping strikeout numbers (15.7 K/9 for his career) and keeps his ratios low. There's not much else to say here.
I will throw this out there, though. In a worst-case scenario, with Kimbrel getting hurt, I would go after Jordan Walden as his successor. I'm not sure this scenario will ever play out, but it's how I would go about things on my own teams.
This isn't so much an exact timeline guess as it is a supposition that Storen will see some save chances this season. Whether it's through Soriano having to go on the DL at some point during the season (he's pitched fewer than 62 innings twice in the last five years) or if it's just a matter of Davey Johnson giving Storen (and even maybe Tyler Clippard) a few shots at saves to keep Soriano fresh for the later months -- there's a good chance that Soriano gets 40 saves, but at eight or nine go to one of the other members of the bullpen.
And this isn't just some supposition -- Davey Johnson has a tendency to mix in a few relievers for saves and has done so throughout his managerial career. The top two save-getters per year in Johnson's career::
1984 Mets: Jesse Orosco (31 saves), Doug Sisk (15 saves)
1985 Mets: Jesse Orosco (17), Roger McDowell (17)
1986 Mets: Roger McDowell (22), Jesse Orosco (21)
1987 Mets: Roger McDowell (25), Jesse Orosco (16)
1988 Mets: Randy Myers (26), Roger McDowell (16)
1989 Mets: Randy Myers (24), Rick Aguilera (7)
1990 Mets: John Franco (33), Alejandro Pena (5)
1993 Reds: Rob Dibble (19), Jeff Reardon (8)
1994 Reds: Jeff Brantley (15), Hector Carrasco (6)
1995 Reds: Jeff Brantley (28), Hector Carrasco (5)
1996 Orioles: Randy Myers (31), Roger McDowell (4)
1997 Orioles: Randy Myers (45), Armando Benitez (9)
1999 Dodgers: Jeff Shaw (34), Onan Masaoka (1)
2000 Dodgers: Jeff Shaw (27), Mike Fetters (5)
2011 Nationals: Drew Storen (43), Sean Burnett (4)
2012 Nationals: Tyler Clippard (32), Henry Rodriguez (9)
It's not as stark as it was back in the '80s with the Mets, but Johnson does have a tendency to throw a handful of saves to pitchers who aren't his main closer. While Soriano has all nine of Washington's saves this year, it's almost a certainty that eight or nine will go to some other members of the Nationals' bullpen by the time the year is up.
Since being converted to a full-time reliever in 2010, Bobby Parnell has been fantastic: a 2.87 ERA and just about a strikeout per inning. He had 14 career saves coming into 2013 and seems to have the job all to himself this year -- even if frank Francisco manages to overcome a bad elbow, it seems like Parnell has the job locked down with his 1.46 ERA and 1.24 WHIP so far this year.
Additionally, the Mets are a better team than their 11-15 record indicates -- they've outscored opponents by two runs overall and the staff ERA has been somewhat hurt by the slow start of Dillon Gee (6.16 ERA), the surprise injury to Johan Santana in spring training and the ensuing scramble to find a replacement (Aaron Laffey had a 7.20 ERA), and the lack of Shaun Marcum in the rotation (he missed nearly all of April). While Parnell has just three saves through the first month, he should benefit from an improving rotation, resulting in more save chances as the season rolls on.
From 2006 to 2012, Jonathan Papelbon has averaged 37 saves per season. Among active pitchers, he trails just Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, and Jose Valverde in career saves. Last year, Papelbon posted an 11.8 K/9, a full strikeout better than his career average, and the second season in a row that he posted a ratio above 11.5. There's not much to not like here. Papelbon isn't the sexiest of closers, but he gets the job done and can help in the strikeout category while doing so.
Steve Cishek has as many saves (three) as Bobby Parnell, but lacks that element of "hope" for the rest of the season. While the Mets have two pitchers (Gee and Marcum) who should shave a few runs off their ERA by the end of next month, Cishek is staring at a rotation that is somewhat exceeding expectations (Kevin Slowey has a 2.15 ERA and Ricky Nolasco has a 3.82 ERA), with little in the mix to really get excited about.
I'm not sure how Aardsma will come into the mix -- or if he will even supplant the more popular A.J. Ramos as the backup for saves. But Aardsma has looked good in 8 1/3 Triple-A innings this season (2.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), and it's easy to forget his 2009-10 seasons with Seattle, when Aardsma had a 2.90 ERA, a 9.6 K/9, 1.17 WHIP, and 69 total saves.
National League Central
Everything that was written above about Craig Kimbrel earlier (outside of Jordan Walden being the next in line for saves) can be applied to Aroldis Chapman, just toned down by about five percent. As good as he was last year, he should be super-charged in 2013, with an entire season of learning how to close now under his belt.
Edward Mujica may not be the prettiest closer option out there, but he's rolling right along in the role, with seven saves in his last seven appearances (and in 12 games overall). He's given up a run in each of his last two games, but those are the only two he's allowed in the seven innings he's pitched since being named the closer; in fact, Mujica has only given up five hits in those seven innings, and has yet to walk a batter in that span. With nearly every other option in the bullpen either hurt (Jason Motte), demoted (Mitchell Boggs), or left out of the competition (Trevor Rosenthal), Mujica may be able to blow a few games and still hold onto the role.
As for Wilson being the late-season closer, this is just one of many multi-verse theories, where things maybe get a little bumpy for Mujica, just as scouts go to watch Wilson pitch. The Cardinals sign him, throw him in the minors for a few weeks, and bring him up. Wilson gets a random save in August when Mujica pitches two days in a row, Mujica has a bumpy outing a day later, and Wilson gets the next eight saves (while manager Mike Matheny refuses to say more than, "We'll see what Brian can do going forward ..." or ... "we'll try to mix in a few guys," or something similarly vague).
The Cubs' bullpen isn't really as big of a mess as it seems. But there's always the chance for it to get zany at any given time, so I'm just going to paint one scenario that could play out and fulfill the above predictions:
May 10: Kyuji Fujikawa completes his rehab assignment and re-joins the Cubs.
May 13: Kyuji Fujikawa is put in for the save. He strikes out two batters in an inning.
May 22: Dale Sveum insists that the team will continue to play matchups, even though Fujikawa has saved three games in a row.
June 14: Kevin Gregg goes on the DL with an oblique injury.
June 25: Carlos Marmol randomly gets a save. He has a 0.69 ERA and 12.5 K/9 over his last 18 appearances.
July 19: Kyuji Fujikawa, who has a 7.36 ERA and two blown saves in his last four appearances, is sent to see Dr. James Andrews.
July 21: Kyuji Fujikawa needs Tommy John surgery. He reveals that he's been pitching with some pain since he returned in May, but was able to pitch through it, until the pain became too much.
July 24: Carlos Marmol takes over as closer.
September 29: Carlos Marmol closes out the Cardinals in the final game of the season, finishing the year with 19 saves, a 2.20 ERA, and 86 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.
Jason Grilli has 11 saves. Just thinking about that scenario a year ago seemed nearly impossible. But Grilli has been outstanding since joining the Pirates in the middle of the 2011 season, with a 2.53 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 12.6 K/9. He is probably one of the more impressive Fantasy performers of the young season, transforming a 191.4 ADP into his current standing as the third-best reliever in the game (according to Points rank), behind actual starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Kendrick. Among closers, Grilli is has the most Fantasy Points this season. Will it last? Well, Grilli is a 36-year-old and has pitched for six teams in an 11-year career. He has a 4.25 ERA over 460 innings. And yet, something turned on when he joined the Pirates (Ray Searage!) and Grilli has been nearly unstoppable since. I would think Grilli, whose velocity is at an all-time high, keeps it up for the entire season.
There's really no way of knowing how this situation will play out. Jim Henderson has been stellar as the closer for the Brewers, sporting the very rare 0.75 ERA and 0.75 WHIP combination. In 12 innings this season, he's given up one run and has struck out 15 batters. Meanwhile, John Axford -- the man many of us thought would reclaim the role (because Ron Roenicke told us so) -- had looked brilliant in a 7 1/3 inning run (1.23 ERA) before he went out and gave up four runs on Wednesday against the Pirates. And he did so by giving up his sixth home run of the year.
If Axford isn't masking an injury, I still think there's hope for him, as Henderson has a somewhat spotty track record. But with every home run Axford allows, the chances of something not being wrong with him shrink. I'm banking on him figuring things out and re-claiming the role within the next two months. It's not the popular opinion, but it seems at least somewhat likely based on what the organization seems to really want to play out.
National League West
J.J. Putz is struggling right now, with a 4.26 ERA and five saves through April. But at the end of April last year, Putz had a 4.70 ERA and five saves. In fact, through 13 games last season, Putz had a 7.50 ERA. He finished the year with 32 saves and a 2.82 ERA. So this is nothing new to him. Chances are he rights the ship and ends up with the Putz-ian sub-3.00 ERA and 30-38 saves.
Having Bell as the closer in September is just meant to highlight him as the backup. Matt Reynolds seems like Bryan Shaw 2.0 -- two saves in April, and none the rest of the year. While David Hernandez is probably the more electric option, he's been struggling a bit this year, too, with a 4.61 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. Bell, meanwhile, has a 3.24 ERA and 13 strikeouts in his last 8 1/3 innings (nine games). And, despite the mess of a 2012 he put up in Miami, had three 40-plus save seasons from 2009 to 2011.
Kenley Jansen may be the superior pitcher for the Dodgers, but the team went out and spent $27.5 million to lock up Brandon League through 2015. The 30-year-old doesn't get a ton of strikeouts and only has one season with more than 15 saves under his belt, but the team is committed to him and he has managed to keep his ratios relatively low (although not overly impressively low) the last few years. It seems like it would take a major meltdown or injury from League for the team to replace him with Jansen. And while League had a few hiccups in each of the last two seasons, he's gotten past them without much incident. Jansen may be better, but it may not matter if League continues to be very good in the role.
Rafael Betancourt has been spectacular so far for the Rockies, with a 1.46 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 12 1/3 innings so far, saving eight games and winning one. Prior to the season, I saw a few reasons to not like Betancourt this year: he turns 39 in April, the Rockies weren't supposed to be good, and he's in the last year of his contract. It wasn't about skill -- Betancourt seemed to be the only Rockies pitcher immune to the thin air last season -- it was about situation. The struggling Rockies could trade their skilled closer to a contender and replace him with Rex Brothers, a ready-made replacement.
With the Rockies playing inspired baseball and leading the NL West, that theory currently looks shaky. But it's a very long season, and Colorado has some injury-prone bats, questionable starters, and summer air on its way.
The 4.09 ERA currently sported by Huston Street isn't pretty, but he's been on a much better track lately, with a 1.80 ERA and four saves in his last five games. Street may have a reputation for getting injured, but when he's healthy, he's great -- a low ERA and WHIP, and playing for the Padres, a team that manages to produce 40-save closers nearly every year.
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