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A Closer Look - September 20, 2007

Lou Blasi As we look to the bullpens for the final week of the regular season, we see one structural change and a lot of static.
Brian Wilson all but assumed the role of primary closer in San Francisco with Bruce Bochy’s announcement earlier in the week that Brad Hennessey has been stripped of his rank. Bochy says that he will use a combination of Wilson and Tyler Walker to close out games, but Wilson is clearly the front-runner.
As we noted last week Wilson’s 0.98 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 18.1 IP is impressive however it is propped up by an extremely favorable .197 BHIP% and a 88.2% strand percentage. That accounts for his .162 OBA of course but Brian’s 5.4/9 K rate is less than ideal in a closer candidate. Brian’s basic control is also in question. His 2.9/9 BB rate is not great but it is a great improvement over his 6.3 BB rate in 34.1 AAA IP this year and his 6.3 for the Giants in 2006. You have a right to be skeptical about his ability to hold that gain.
Brian can be effective with a lower than usual K rate due to a career 1.69 GB ratio but we cannot get a real read on his potential until his BHIP% and Strand% read more normally. I will tell you that in 2006, his less than favorable BHIP% of .355 and less than favorable strand% of 66.5% resulted in a 5.40 ERA. His 6.3/9 BB rate helped run his WHIP to 1.77 that year as well. As with many things in life, the truth of Brian Wilson is probably somewhere in between 2006 and 2007.
Wilson also makes a strong claim in keeper leagues as well. The feeling in San Francisco is that the Giants may pass on signing a closer this winter if Wilson gives them reason to believe he can do the job. Many feel that the Giants have many needs to address and if they feel they potentially have their man at the end of the bullpen, they may make signing a closer a low priority.
Walker seems to be on the outskirts of the picture but he has been effective in his 10 apps, 9 IP for the Giants this year after a brutal season in 2006. He is fanning 6.0/9, and that is right about where you’d expect him to be. He has also limited his BB to 3.0/9 this year against a 3.75 career rate and rates of 3.9 and 4.2 in the majors in 2005 and 2006. He has benefited from a .171 BHIP% and that will come back to earth, probably sooner rather than later. When it does, and he starts walking guys again, Ty’s .136 OBA and 0.78 will rise quickly. The Giants may feel he has the stuff to set up or chip in a save, but there is little empirical evidence, and they will probably take a show me approach. 
Elsewhere the list of rogues saves this past week is long. George Sherrill of the M’s, Scott Downs of the Jays, Clay Condrey and Francisco Rosario of the Phillies, and Fernando Cabrera of the O’s all posted situational saves this week.
Forget the pair of Philly relievers. Those were truly situational saves, one of which came in a 13-11 game after Brett Myers and Tom Gordon had worked the three previous games. The other, Clay Condrey’s save, came in the 14th inning of a game in which Gordon had already pitched and Brett Myers had blown a save opp.  Scott Downs was called in for a lefty matchup with David Ortiz on Tuesday, and George Sherrill was covering for J.J. Putz who is unavailable with triceps injury. Putz returned to action on Wednesday however and Sherrill value in a save sense seems to be over for now.
Jared Burton has emerged however, as option B in Cincy. Manager Pete Mackinin anointed him as such late last week. He will be the go-to guy for the Reds when David Weathers is unavailable. In the closer game opportunity trumps almost anything else. If a pitcher is being handed save opps he will collect saves.
Jared’s stats line looks worthy at 4-1, 2.41, 1.15 this year for the Reds, after just 19.1 IP between AA and AAA earlier this season. The 26-year-old right-handed product of the A’s system has also fanned 7.6/9 in the majors this year and held opponents to a .184 OBA.  Jared’s BHIP% is an extremely favorable .229 however, well below MLB average. He is also benefiting from a favorable 75.8% strand percentage, which paired with his WHIP indicates his ERA deserves to be around 3.50. Burton’s GB rate is mediocre at 1.1 but he is also living off a 4.7% HR/FB rate, which doesn’t seem sustainable.
Jared doesn’t seem to be a threat to Weathers but if every save counts for you as we head into the final week, here is one potential source for a vulture save.
Bullpen News and Notes … Ryan Dempster missed last night’s game in the wake of a bout with the flu. He is expected to be available when the Cubs resume their schedule Friday … Octavio Dotel has passed the back-to-back outing test of his triceps injury and he is expected to be activated today. He is unlikely to see a save opp before the end of this week, but it is possible. It is even more possible that he will see a save opp sometime next week …  Brad Lidge did not look sharp in his return last night after missing 4 days with his sore knee (loose cartilage, will have offseason surgery). He blew a 2-run save opp and vultured a win as a result. Chad Qualls remains a viable play in situations where you desperately need saves. At some point soon, the Astros are likely to shut Lidge down … 

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