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).
(Quick Note: The N.L. Closer Report might be a little shorter than normal this week: with the trade deadline today, our site’s bandwidth is getting one heck of a test, and accessing the player pages is taking longer).
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Big Jon tossed a scoreless inning vs. Florida on the 25th (earning his 7th win of the year), but he blew a save chance in an epic extra-inning affair vs. St. Louis on the 29th. He did rebound to pick up his 24th save against the Cards last night, however. Hampered by a toe injury, Broxton has issued 7 walks in 11 innings during July. After posting insanely low BABIP figures in April (.118) and May (.224), Broxton has been plagued by plenty of bloops and duck snorts in June (.333) and July (.320). George Sherrill is now in town, but there’s no reason to think he’ll mount any sort of challenge for the closer’s role.
Heath Bell, Padres
Bell chucked just one inning for the Fathers this week, notching his 25th save vs. the Reds on the 28th. Heath’s walk rate has remained similar to his 2008 mark (3.3 BB/9 this year, 3.2 in ’08), but his K rate has spiked to 10.7 per nine. Bell has taken the punch out act to a new level this month, with 12 K’s in 6.2 IP.
Trevor Hoffman, Brewers
Trevor appeared twice this past week, issuing 2 walks in 0.2 IP against Washington on the 28th and collecting a save (2 K, 1 H) vs. the Nats the next night. Hoffman has yet to be taken deep in 30 IP. That figures to end sometime soon, though the has raised his groundball rate drastically over the past three seasons (from 30.2% to 44.8%) while lower his FB% from 37.2 to 24.1.
Huston Street, Rockies
Equipped with a nasty slider, Street continues to slaughter opposing hitters in the late innings. Huston has allowed just one run during July, with 11 K’s, no walks and 2 hits allowed. Obviously, he’s had some good fortune to allow so few base runners (.105 BABIP), but it’s hard to argue with the results. Street’s 5 K/BB ratio is nearly double his 2008 mark (2.56).
Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks
Qualls is clearly back on track, posting a .229/.245/.271 opponent line in July after June’s .279/.279/.535 mark. He’s not punching out many hitters as of late (4.57 K/9 in June and July, after posting a 9.86 figure in April in May), but the sinkerball pitcher has issued just a single walk over his past 21.2 innings, and holds a 58% groundball rate for the season.
Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
K-Rod coughed up 3 hits, 2 R and a HR against the Astros on the 25th, then threw a scoreless inning vs. Colorado in a none-save chance on the 27th. While his cursory ERA or save numbers won’t reflect it, Rodriguez’s peripherals continue to erode. His K/BB ratio this season is just 1.92, down for the fourth straight season.
Jose Valverde, Astros
Did I curse Valverde or something? After we mentioned his increase O-Swing% and pretty solid control, Papa Grande issued 5 walks in 2.1 innings vs. the Cubs on the 27th and 28th. Though neither was a save chance, Valverde evaded danger and escaped with his scoreless innings streak intact (9.2 IP since the Fourth of July).
Rafael Soriano, Braves
Watch Out For: Mike Gonzalez
Perhaps it’s time to move Soriano up. The former Mariner has a sparkling 4.06 K/BB ratio in 2009. Gonzalez (3.15) has certainly been no slouch, but Soriano has taken the last nine saves for the Braves. Health permitting, Soriano is an elite fantasy option. Alas, it’s hard to put him in “Death Grip” territory when he has missed so much time during the course of his career.
Brian Wilson, Giants
Wilson notched 2 saves and a W this week, with 4 K’s in 3 IP. San Fran’s stopper has gradually given up fewer extra base hits as the year has gone on:
Slugging Pct. by month:
Francisco Cordero, Reds
Much like the other N.L. closer named Francisco, Cordero has a great-looking ERA (1.79) with murkier peripherals. Co-Co has an uncharacteristic 7.4 K/9 mark (9.3 career), but a low .252 BABIP and HR rate (0.4 per nine) have made him look like a lock-down reliever. Is the 34 year-old losing the ability to fool hitters? His swinging strike percentage is down for a third straight season, and is his lowest rate going back to 2003.
Ryan Franklin, Cardinals
I know that I must sound like a broken record regarding Franklin, but he’s a good middle reliever enjoying the season of his life. With 6.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, the 36 year-old is hardly pitching poorly. But a 1.36 ERA? With a .223 BABIP? That bushy goatee must have some talismanic power.
Matt Capps, Pirates
Just when it looked like Capps might be turning a corner, he has done his best Mike Williams impression as of late. Matt gave up 2 runs (including a homer to rookie Gerardo Parra) on the 26th, then took a loss in an extra-inning contest with the Giants on the 29th. A .358 BABIP has certainly done him no favors, but Capps’ usual pristine control has not been present. He has walked 4 batters per nine innings, leaps and bounds above his career 1.7 mark. Capps’ name has often come up in trade rumors, but the Bucs would likely be selling low if they part with him.
Brad Lidge, Phillies
Watch Out For: Ryan Madson
The embattled Lidge threw two spotless innings in non-save ops on the 26th (Cardinals) and 27th (D-Backs), but he then served up two runs (including a dinger to Mark Reynolds) against Arizona on the 28th. With 5.7 BB/9, “Lights Out” has been sub-replacement level in 2009.
Watch Your Back
Kevin Gregg, Cubs
Watch out for: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow
Gregg gave up 3 hits and two runs against Cincy on the 24th, collected two very cheap 0.1 inning saves vs. the Reds the next two nights, then struck out the side in a non-save change against Houston yesterday. Grabow was brought in from the ‘Burgh, but the changeup artist has often missed the mark this season (5.3 BB/9, the 3rd straight year that his walk rate has increased). Odds are, Gregg has nothing to worry about.
Watch Out For: Dan Meyer
Lindstrom is near a return to action, and is expected to resume closer duties. Hopefully the time off aided the former Met’s MIA control and lowered swinging strike rate:
2007: 34.7 Ball%, 12 SwStrike%
2008: 34.8 Ball%, 9.4 SwStr%
2009: 37.5 Ball%, 8.9 SwStr%
(the averages for a reliever are 36.5 and 9.5, respectively)
Not to be rude, but does it even matter? The last save recorded by a Nats pitcher went to MacDougal, all the way back on the 22nd. In most ‘pens, Mac would be on the brink of an all expenses paid trip back to the International League (10/16 K/BB in 23.1 IP). Want an example of velocity being only one component of an effective fastball? MacDougal chucks his in the mid-90’s, yet has a swinging strike rate (4.1%) is less than half the average rate for relievers (9.5%).