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Bullpen Report: Re-ranking the closers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I know it's always fun to have a long, rambling intro to the Bullpen Report. From what I can tell, it's the highlight of many readers' weekends. But this week's concept is so simple, it would just waste time.

What follows are my closer rankings, updated at 3:07 p.m. on June 14. They're coupled with intermittent explanations of why they are where they are.

1. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
2. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

As has been the case all season, Chapman and Kimbrel are essentially tied for the top spot. I like Chapman slightly better right now, just because Kimbrel has been rather un-Kimbrelly this year. He's still dominant -- and hasn't given up a run since May 7 -- but his WHIP is up, strikeouts are down, and he's already tied his career high for home runs. The case can be made for flip-flopping the duo; I just happen to prefer Chapman at the moment.

3. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees

If you want to talk straight points accumulation, Papelbon has been a major disappointment, with fewer points than Jerome Williams on the season. It's basically been the result of him not pitching much -- Papelbon has appeared in 23 games, with just 12 saves. The reason I'm not worried? Through June 14 last year, Papelbon pitched in just 26 games, with 17 saves. He finished the season appearing in a career-high 70 games and saved 38 games. I'm not sure if he's a slow starter, if the Phillies do this purposely to save his arm, or if it's just some happy accident that he's done this two years in a row, but Papelbon currently has the lowest WHIP of his career and his lowest ERA since 2006. If the Phillies catch fire -- and with their pitching staff and bats, it's entirely possible -- Papelbon won't have a problem repeating his strong second half performance from last year.

5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Is it crazy to move Jansen up to No. 5 in the ranks, just a few days after being named the closer? I don't think so. His 14.2 career K/9 is one of the best in baseball. He saved 25 games in what was essentially a half-season's worth of chances last year. He has a career WHIP of 0.95. Jansen went through a mid-May stretch of two games giving up two runs, but has been pristine ever since, giving up no runs and striking out 17 in 11 2/3 innings while sporting a 0.69 WHIP -- and this is with a .364 BABIP in that stretch.

There are going to be obvious concerns -- what if Don Mattingly works League in here and there? What if Jansen's heart issues pop up again? Jansen's talent wins out for me, and I'm willing to take what I consider a relatively minor risk in order to claim a potentially large reward.

6. Greg Holland, Royals
7. Joe Nathan, Rangers
8. Sergio Romo, Giants
9. Jason Grilli, Pirates

I took a lot of heat for still having Holland sixth in my closer rankings back in April, when he gave up four runs in his first three games and emerged from the first week of the season with an 18.00 ERA. But since then, Holland has given up one run (0.41 ERA) and sported a 0.82 WHIP, saving 12 games and striking out 34 batters in 22 innings.

No analysis here, just wanted to point that out.

10. Kelvin Herrera, Royals

#muahahahahahaaaa

But seriously, on Holland, I think it's also important to note that the Royals staff is really in a groove right now, and with the offense slowly coming around, you're going to see Holland get more chances. He already has five saves and a win in June, and has dropped his ERA from 2.50 to 1.88 in seven appearances this month. While he's the 18th-ranked reliever in Head-to-Head leagues this season, Holland is the second-best reliever in H2H leagues over the last 14 days, behind only Hisashi Iwakuma.

10. Grant Balfour, Athletics

You could make the case that Balfour is Fantasy's most underrated closer. I think it goes back to last season, when Balfour was replaced as closer in May, sporting a 4.70 ERA, with most of the damage coming in back-to-back games where he gave up five total runs in 1/3 of an inning. From the time between his seventh save and his eighth save (May 8 to August 8), Balfour had a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He then went on a crazy run to end the season, saving 17 games from August 11 on, with a 2.08 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings.

This season, Balfour's been even better, with a 1.26 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in his first 29 games, with 17 saves and a 9.1 K/9. And I think that demotion to middle relief last year still has some Fantasy players thinking either it could happen again this year, or that he's just not very good. Based on trade questions I get, he's being viewed as little more than a throw-in as part of much larger deals. If you can work that to your advantage in a deal, go for it -- Balfour doesn't get enough respect. Since 2010, he has a 2.28 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, with about a strikeout per inning. In short, he's been excellent over a long enough period of time to merit inclusion in the top 10 of Fantasy closers.

11. Rafael Soriano, Nationals
12. Andrew Bailey, Red Sox
13. Jim Johnson, Orioles
14. Addison Reed, White Sox

Time for comeuppance. I can't fight Jim Johnson any longer. He had 51 saves last year. He has 23 already this year. Forget about his 4.18 ERA right now -- that's the result of two blowups in a couple of May games. Since the second one, Johnson has allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings, with eight saves. Baltimore is going to play, and win, these close games. Johnson is probably not going anywhere. I'm still holding onto my Tommy Hunter, because any kind of injury (or me being wrong about being wrong) could result in a windfall of saves for any Orioles closer, but I'm man enough to move Johnson up to the top 15. "No strikeouts!" be damned! At a certain point, you just have to jump aboard and be happy for a guy bucking a trend.

On a smaller "I was wrong" level, Rafael Soriano has gotten all but one save for the Nationals this year, and it was only because he blew a save in mid-May and Drew Storen finished off the game in the 10th inning. Starting in the preseason, I had worked off a theory that Davey Johnson would work in Tyler Clippard and Storen throughout the season to keep Soriano fresh. He had used this tactic throughout his managerial career, dating back to the 1980s when he was with the Mets. But so far, it's been pretty much all Soriano. So, because I believed that the only thing holding Soriano back from being a top 12 closer was Johnson's tendency to mix in other relievers for saves, I'm giving the Nationals closer a nice run up the rankings.

15. Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners

I have no idea what's wrong with Wilhelmsen right now. In six June games, he's pitched 4 2/3 innings and given up 10 earned runs. He's walked seven and struck out four. He sports a .500 BABIP and 19.29 ERA. And he hasn't given up a home run in that span; in fact, Wilhelmsen hasn't given up a home run all year. His velocity took a curious one-game dip on June 1, but he's been pretty consistent otherwise. So what does a ranker do?

I left Wilhelmsen where I had him. In this column alone, there have already been three closers who have gone through some rough patches but emerged on the other side just fine. While it makes sense to worry a little about Wilhelmsen, there's also a decent track record of him having success as the closer. Moving him down may result in me just having to move him back up if he goes the next 11 2/3 innings allowing just one run, while striking out 19. So he stays at 15th, but I reserve the right to drop him more if the struggles continue for another week or so.

16. Glen Perkins, Twins
17. Huston Street, Padres

Looking at what Street can do from June 14th forward, I think he stays at 17. He's already out on a rehab assignment and the Padres are getting better -- especially if you factor in Chase Headley turning his season around, Kyle Blanks playing every day, and Jedd Gyorko eventually returning from his groin injury. This should all result in more saves for Street, who has been disappointing so far this season, but could work his way up this list with a strong couple weeks back from injury.

18. Edward Mujica, Cardinals
19. Ernesto Frieri, Angels
20. Casey Janssen, Blue Jays

Mujica reminds me of Eddie Guardado. Nothing especially fancy or overpowering, just able to get the job done without much flash. Frieri is getting higher in the ranks as Ryan Madson's return keeps getting pushed back. I might be issuing a mea culpa on Frieri in the future, but while the strikeouts have been solid, he has been giving up more hits and walks this season than before. When I play the Trade Game with my rankings (would I trade Frieri for anyone ranked above or below him?) he ends up right at 19th, because I don't want to give up a full season of someone like Mujica for a Frieri who might -- MIGHT -- be in middle relief by late July. Adding up all the factors, I'm keeping him in the low teens until I hear "Ryan Madson" and "August" in the same sentence.

21. Chris Perez, Indians
22. Rafael Betancourt, Rockies

I had to drop Perez significantly in the rankings after his shoulder started bothering him for the second time this season (he missed a chunk of spring training with a shoulder strain). Predicting an injury is fruitless, but there's nothing wrong with building yourself a little safety net just in case there's a setback in his rehab, or he experiences soreness after a couple games back. I like Perez. I had him ranked high to begin the season. With the Indians improved, he stood to see a jump in saves. But I can't ignore the fact that in the span of three months, Perez has been sidelined twice with shoulder issues.

Betancourt has been stellar this year, but with the Rockies starting to fade a little bit, it's not out of the question to think that the team could trade Betancourt to a contender and just go with Rex Brothers. Betancourt is in the last year of his contract and is 38 years old. Brothers made a seamless transition into the closer role. So if the Rockies slide, I could see Betancourt heading to another team to pitch middle relief. I'm keeping him higher than some other closers because the Rockies could surge and just not make any kind of move, but pushed him down far enough in case the trade winds start blowing.

23. Fernando Rodney, Rays
24. Bobby Parnell, Mets
25. Jose Valverde, Tigers
26. Heath Bell, Diamondbacks
27. Kevin Gregg, Cubs

My personal favorites in this group are actually the two at the bottom -- Kevin Gregg and Heath Bell. I keep wanting to push Gregg up the list, but I get the feeling that the Cubs have a tradeable asset in him and they could ship him off to a contender and go with Carlos Marmol or Rafael Dolis as the closer to finish the season. Gregg has a bit of Mujica in him (not overpowering but gets the job done) and also has a track record that many Fantasy players are quick to dismiss -- he averaged 29 saves per season from 2007-2011 pitching on four sub-par teams.

Bell has the threat of J.J. Putz looming, but he has a 3.14 ERA and 11 saves since being installed as the closer on May 7. It's not quite vintage Bell, but it hasn't been a 2012-style implosion, either. If there's an announcement Putz will need surgery at any point, Bell gets elevated up at least ahead of Rodney.

28. Jose Veras, Astros
29. Steve Cishek, Marlins
30. Francisco Rodriguez/Jim Henderson, Brewers

Veras and Cishek could see their save opportunities rise as the Astros and Marlins improve deeper into the season, but probably not enough to move them up much in the ranks much. The situation in Milwaukee, however, has managed to drag two closers down below Cishek and Veras, at least until one emerges victorious.

The Brewers are 11 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot, so they have some room to toy with the closers. There was some belief that they would try to get Francisco Rodriguez his 300th career save (he's at 298) at the expense of Jim Henderson, who had a 0.87 ERA before giving up two runs last week against the Marlins (raising it to 1.66). Henderson and Rodriguez have both been great this season. And it makes sense if the Brewers are trying to showcase Rodriguez for a possible trade. But showcasing K-Rod means pushing Henderson aside from time to time (or entirely), and the two will continue to cannibalize one another to the point of neither having more value than Cishek.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Mariners' McClendon toying with idea of using Wilhelmsen as starter
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:28 pm ET) The acquisition of J.A. Happ means Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon doesn't have to head into spring training with long reliever Tom Wilhelmsen competing for a spot in the rotation.

However, McClendon hasn't totally given up on the idea of Wilhelmsen potentially transitioning to a starting role down the road, per MLB.com.

"I don't think it's totally dead," McClendon said. "I would say it's probably a long shot. My plan, as we speak right now, is to maybe stretch him out in spring and just play with it a little bit and see what happens, but I think it's a long shot. He was just so good in the role he was in, it'd be hard to take him out of that role."

Wilhelmsen pitched multiple innings in 24 of his 57 appearances last year. The former closer went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings.

"I really tried not to change anything at all, [other than] try to simplify a little bit," Wilhelmsen said. "If I was going in in the fourth inning, I knew I'd have to throw two or three innings and I just really attacked the zone. But it's not like you don't attack the zone any other time. It's the same thing. You have to get outs."


Tigers' Castellanos works to be 'more comfortable' at 3B in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:17 pm ET) Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos struggled in his first full year playing third base at the major-league level in 2014, so he is hard at work this offseason improving his defense

"Last year was [about] the actual ground-ball catching," Castellanos said, per MLB.com. "This year is a lot more [about] quickness, working on my range, lateral movement."

On top of committing 15 errors, Castellanos' Ultimate Zone Rating of negative-18.4 was nearly twice as bad as the next-lowest rating among third-base regulars. He also had a Defensive Runs Saved of minus-30 and a plus/minus rating of minus-39, which was lowest in the majors last year.

"I'm going to be more comfortable this year," Castellanos said. "Last year, I knew nobody [in terms of hitting tendencies]. Also I was getting used to the tempo of the game. It wasn't like I was in the big leagues for a while at another position and then had to go to third base. It was pretty much me making my first year in the big leagues at pretty much a new position, or trying to relearn an old position."


Santana, Escobar to compete to be Twins' starting shortstop
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:56 pm ET) While Danny Santana is considered the front-runner to be the Twins' starting shortstop, first-year manager Paul Molitor said nothing has been decided yet. Santana will compete with Eduardo Escobar for the starting job this spring.

"It's probably been one of the more awkward things for me this winter in dealing with that situation," Molitor said, per MLB.com. "Obviously, I have to go in there open-minded about how it will play out. I can't say Santana will be the shortstop because things can change. Escobar deserves an opportunity to play and whether it's spotting around the organization or he has to go back to shortstop, I can't tell you it all will work out."

Escobar started a team-high 86 games at shortstop in 2014 for Minnesota. He made it clear he wants to play every day, but is willing to play where Molitor needs him.

"This season is important for me," Escobar said. "I'm coming in ready to play. I don't know if I'm going to be the starting shortstop or not, but I've been working hard to be ready for spring training. If Molitor wants me to play shortstop, or wherever, I'm ready for it."

Santana said he is excited he is moving back to shortstop after making a team-high 62 starts in center field last year. He's been fielding 200 grounders per day in the Dominican Republic to get ready for the season.

"I'm very happy about playing shortstop. I was waiting for that moment," Santana said. "Shortstop is my natural position. I just need to keep working and I can do the same thing as last year."


Rockies' Bridich: 'Highly unlikely' Tulo, CarGo traded before opener
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:17 pm ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told FOX Sports on Tuesday that it is "highly, highly unlikely" shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be traded before opening day.

Tulowitzki, who has been linked to trade rumors involving the Mets this offseason, is under contract through 2020 on a six-year, $118 million deal. He is also recovering from August hip surgery.

Gonzalez is under contract through the 2017 season on a seven-year, $80 million contract. He is also recovering from surgery in August to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee.


Pitcher Johan Santana shut down in Venezuelan Winter League
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Free-agent pitcher Johan Santana has been scratched from pitching in any of the remaining Venezuelan Winter League championship series games, reports FOXSports.

Santana has been experiencing discomfort in his shoulder. Teams that have indicated interest in Santana include the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres. Santana's agent said Santana may still throw for major-league scouts, but wasn't sure.

He last pitched in the major leagues in 2012 and produced a 4.85 ERA in 21 starts.


Royals OF Jarrod Dyson agrees to $1.225M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:54 pm ET) Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson avoided arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $1.225 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. He will also receive a $25,000 bonus for 350 plate appearances.

Dyson is in his first year of arbitration. He hit .269 with one home run, 24 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 120 games in 2014.


Angels invite reliever Frank Herrmann to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) The Angels announced they've invited reliever Frank Herrmann to spring training as a non-roster invitee. Herrmann, 30, spent the previous five years in the Indians' organization, last pitching in the majors in 2012.

Padres' Bud Black: Jedd Gyorko 'learned a lot' from 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko definitely went through a sophomore slump in 2014 after belting 23 home runs as a rookie in 2013. Although, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, Gyorko seems to indicate the injury wasn't the main reason he struggled offensively last season. He hit .210 with 10 home runs in 111 games.

"I think I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," Gyorko said, per MLB.com. "We were struggling as a team. And I think all of us, not just myself, felt like we needed to come up with that big hit to get us going. It's hard to hit when you put that kind of pressure on yourself."

Gyorko missed nearly two months of games last season due to the foot injury, but once he returned, his numbers began to improve. He hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage over his final 55 games. 

"He was better. I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection," manager Bud Black said. "Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."

The Padres are expecting better results from Gyorko in 2015, especially with a revamped lineup that includes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks.

"We saw in 2013 what Jedd can be, and I think there's more to Jedd based on 2013," Black said. "I think last year there were a lot of factors that went into his season that he expected or adjusted to, but that is something he's hopefully learned from. It's a tough game. You've got to work and stay on top of it. In that regard, I think he learned a lot."


Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


Royals invite C J.C. Boscan to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) The Royals signed catcher J.C. Boscan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to multiple reports. Boscan, 35, spent 2014 with the Dodgers' organization, batting .259 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

 
 
 
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