Well folks, the closer carousel is ramping up! We had an exciting week in the land of saves, bringing some good surprises and then a few bad ones. If you're new to this column, I highly recommend glancing through each of the columns over the last two weeks. You'll find a quick summary that covers the landscape of this article as well as some important notes about how we evaluate our closers and their handcuffs. We're just about three weeks into the regular season and while the stats are starting to pile up for some offensive players, we're still dealing with just a handful of appearances for most of the relievers. Small sample sizes tend to drive big time noise in our overall statistical views, so keep in mind that while we're very analytical and statistically based at Fantistics, our opinions of these relievers are formed off of a pitcher's entire body of work (recent years, current performance, minor leagues, etc). As statistical oddities pop out to us, we'll try to call them to your attention. Here's a brief view of what's going on around the league.
Around The League:
-It took just one blown save from Joaquin Benoit for the Phillies to give Hector Neris a chance to pitch in the 9th inning. On Thursday, Benoit pitched a clean 8th inning before Neris came in and slammed the door on the Mets with 17 pitches in the ninth inning. After the game, manager Pete Mackanin alluded towards a committee of sorts, telling reporters, "it just occurred to me: It's nice to have two guys who can close. It was a good opportunity for me to use Neris. He came through very well." Committees tend to rarely be the answer long-term, despite managers' constant preference towards them, so Neris remains the high-upside, long-term play in the bullpen, but current Benoit owners shouldn't drop him just yet. In fact, prior to Friday night's game, Mackanin confirmed that Neris would be his preferred pitcher for the 9th inning. Neris primarily throws a fastball / splitter combination with the four-seamer sitting around 94 MPH and his worm-killing splitter coming is about 8 MPH slower. His fastball has the velo, but it's not an overpowering pitch, so he relies heavily on the splitter to make the opposing batter uncomfortable in the batter's box. Normally an 8 MPH differential in pitch speed is below the differential that we'd like to see between a pitcher's fastball and his off-speed offerings, but in the case of Neris' splitter, he gets enough last minute vertical drop to help prevent quality of contact. He's going to be a very good closer once he gets the job outright.
-After another rocky performance earlier this week, Dusty Baker pulled the plug on Blake Treinen and will hand the ball to Shawn Kelley or Koda Glover the next time a save opportunity presents itself. Kelley will technically be the first guy in line for saves, but due to Kelley's recent injury history, Baker said he's hesitant to utilize him in back-to-back days. Koda Glover is expected to be the main beneficiary on games when Kelley is resting, and as we've been touting all spring, he's the most talented arm in this 'pen. Kelley has historically been a flyball pitcher, but his flyball rate has risen even higher this season, all the way to 67%. To make matters worse, of his 10 total flyballs on the season, 3 have already left for home runs. On the bright side, Kelley's strikeout rate has ticked up for the 3rd straight season and his swinging strike rates are in elite territory in the mid-teens. He's a decently skilled reliever, but his struggles with the long ball his wide handedness splits last season (.327 vs LHB / .224 vs RHB) make him a precarious choice for the ninth inning. Glover, on the other hand, boasts a devastating 96 MPH sinker that's nearly impossible for opposing batters to make quality contact. Additionally, Glover showed groundball tendencies throughout the various levels in the minor leagues. Initially, Shawn Kelley will see the majority of save chances, but as we progress further into the season, look for either Koda Glover or a trade acquisition (i.e. Alex Colome & David Robertson) to end of with this job by the end of the year.
-As we first previewed last week, Trevor Rosenthal grabbed his first save of the season on Wednesday. It was merely a day off for struggling closer Seung Hwan Oh, but the Cardinals former closer has been dominating to begin the year. Rosenthal's velocity has been measured over 2 MPH faster than last season through the season's first three weeks. While it's true the way velocity is being measured will cause some of those velocity numbers to be inflated, a two MPH increase is still above where the rest of the population is sitting. Oh did manage to save both of his save chances this week, but he has still failed to pitch a completely clear frame this year. The closer has allowed 12 total hits in just over 6 innings pitched, including 2 home runs. Oh is still the closer, for now, but Trevor Rosenthal is certainly going to be a hot commodity this week.
-Orioles closer Zach Britton hit the DL with a forearm strain, opening the door for Brad Brach and Darren O'Day to each stake claim. Brach was the popular waiver wire add last weekend, but as you may have noticed in the closer tiers, I believe it's just as plausible O'Day could see some saves. According to Eduardo Encina, Orioles beat writer, Brad Brach told him that Buck Showalter was not ready to name him the outright closer and would play the matchups. With that said, Brach did see the first save chance and he converted, so consider him atop the committee. After posting 3 straight seasons of SwStr% north of 13%, O'Day is currently sitting at just 5.7% through 30 batters faced this year. Brach, on the other hand, has posted a 18.2% SwStr% with an excellent 60.4% contact rate. Britton had an MRI scheduled for Friday, but as of this writing, no results had been released. It's worth mentioning, however, that Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports is reporting that Zach Britton said he's ready to throw.
-Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez blew his second save chance of the season on Wednesday. Most of his advance indicators (contact %, hard hit %, walk %, SwStr%, chase %) are all in line with his career averages, so this seems more like a sequencing problem than anything, but any time you're dealing with a 35 year-old reliever, you have to be a little concerned about skill degradation. It's notable that his fastball velocity is down about 1.5 MPH, and since the new measurement of velocity tends to overstate the numbers, this is mildly concerning. If you wanted to speculate here, Justin Wilson is the most likely candidate to see the save chances. Through 8 games and over 7 innings of work, Wilson has not yet allowed a hit and has an excellent 11:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that stretch.
Click on the following link for the rest of the closer report (including more "Around The League" notes, our closer rankings & statistics, as well as handcuff grades) in the member area: http://www.fantistics.com/baseball00/M-Closer.htm.
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