For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).
Mariano Rivera, Yankees
Rivera gave up a run versus the Orioles on the 20th, but he turned in two pristine innings on the 21st (a save op versus the O’s) and the 24th against the Phillies as his counterpart (Lidge) was busy spontaneously combusting. Mo has 24 K’s and just a single walk on his ledger in 19.2 innings. A wacky HR/FB rate (31.3%) has put a damper on his numbers (relatively speaking), but he’s as nasty as ever.
Joe Nathan, Twins
Nathan has recovered nicely from a 3-run debacle against the Yankees on the 15th, with 2.2 scoreless innings in three appearances (1 save chance). His FIP sits at 3.45 for the season, with an uncharacteristic -0.01 WPA.
Bobby Jenks, White Sox
Jenks converted a save against those pesky Pirates on the 22nd, but he served up a tater to Jack Wilson on the 24th while blowing a save opportunity. His WPA comes in at 0.10 for the season, with a 4.79 FIP.
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Is it time to be at least mildly concerned about Boston’s relief ace? He has given up 4 runs in his last two innings, with 11 walks in 21 innings overall. Papelbon’s fastball hasn’t been quite as effective this year: according to the new linear weights section on his player page, Papelbon’s cheddar has been worth +0.66 runs per 100 pitches in 2009, compared to +2.21 in 2008 and +3.29 in 2007.
Frank Francisco, Rangers
He’s back: Francisco came off the DL this week and didn’t skip a beat, tossing two scoreless innings and tallying one save. That’s 16.2 clean innings, for those of you keeping score at home. Sure, he has yet to give up a homer and his BABIP is .225, but Francisco also has a 4.0 K/BB ratio.
Kerry Wood, Indians
Wood racked up two saves in 3 appearances this week, though the first save chance was turbulent (3 walks against the Royals on the 20th). With a .358 BABIP and 2.25 HR/9, Wood hasn’t had many bounces go his way. Still, he’ll need to hit his spots with more regularity (5.63 BB/9), lest he set a bad example for the rest of Cleveland’s savage bullpen.
Scott Downs, Blue Jays
Downs tossed just one inning this week (3 hits, 2 R against the O’s on the 26th), as the Jays suddenly dive back toward earth, poised to roost in their customary fourth-place spot. With B. J. Ryan still failing to crack 89-90 MPH on the radar gun, Downs’ ninth-inning gig looks safe. With a 23/2 K/BB, the low-profile lefty has earned his keep.
Brian Fuentes, Angels
Fuentes racked up back-to-back saves against the Mariners and Dodgers on the 21st and 22nd, then served up a run against LA on the 24th in a non-save situation. His 4.32 ERA looks sort of inflated, but a 3.10 FIP suggests that Fuentes should enjoy better days from here on out.
Fernando Rodney, Tigers
Watch out for: Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya
After converting save chances on the 20th and 21st against Texas, Rodney has lounged without around without getting into a ballgame. Normally a high-octane hurler lacking fine touch, Rodney is both punching out fewer hitters (6.5 K/9) and surrendering fewer free passes (2.5 BB/9). The net effect, should it stick, is positive: Rodney’s 3.27 FIP is the lowest of his career. Some of that is due to a 0.5 HR/9 mark, but he’s also generating grounders (51 GB%) at his highest rate since 2006.
Juan Cruz, Royals(Joakim Soria on the DL with shoulder soreness)
Cruz finally fell off the tight rope this week, as his 13/12 K/BB ratio caught up with him in a big way: 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning versus the Indians on the 21st. Soria, meanwhile, is making progress toward a much-anticipated return. He is expected to start a rehab assignment today.
Brad Ziegler, Athletics
Watch out for: Andrew Bailey
Ziegler took a loss against the Rays on the 21st, then recovered to toss two scoreless frames on the 23rd and 24th against Arizona (no saves. Darn.) Brad hasn’t received much support from his teammates, with a whopping .376 BABIP. Orlando Cabrera (-6.6 UZR/150) hasn’t contributed on either side of the ball thus far, and Jason Giambi (-29.3 UZR/150) has shown about as much range as a mastodon in a tar pit.
George Sherrill, Orioles
Sherrill had a superb week at the office, earning 3 saves and tossing four clean innings. He struck out 7 batters in the process, without issuing a single walk. His FIP is down to 4.08 for the season, and Sherrill appears to have a firmer grasp on his job for the time being, considering Chris Ray’s acts of arsonry.
Watch Your Back
David Aardsma (Brandon Morrow is in time out for the moment)
Would you believe that Aardsma ranks second among all relievers in WPA, at +2.20? It’s true: the well-traveled flame-thrower takes a back seat only to Texas’ Francisco. While Aardsma may rank 2nd in the category and first alphabetically, he continues to tempt fate with 13 walks in 21.2 innings. The 1.25 ERA looks great, but a .212 BABIP and a 93% strand rate suggest that anyone expecting sustained dominance will be disappointed.
In other M’s news, Morrow is attempting to work his way out of reliever purgatory. He threw four scoreless frames in two appearances this week, though his control is still Aardsma-like (2 walks against the A’s on the 25th). Just 43.9% of Morrow’s pitches have crossed home plate.
Jason Isringhausen/Dan Wheeler/J.P. Howell(?)
With Percival possibly headed for retirement rather than rehabbing his latest ailment (shoulder tendinitis), the Rays will pick and choose from a number of different options, including the recently-activated Isringhausen. Izzy tossed 3 spotless innings to start his abbreviated season, but he blew his first save chance against the Indians on the 25th (2 R, 3 BB’s).