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).
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Big Jon is untouchable right now. The 25 year-old closer with NFL lineman size has not allowed a run to score on his watch in over a month (Aug. 19th, to be exact). Over that time frame, Broxton has laid waste to hitters with 26 K’s and three walks in 14.2 IP. Jon has 13.69 K/9 for the year, while inducing weak grounders when hitters actually do manage to make contact (55.2 GB%). Broxton’s +3.60 Win Probability Added is tops in the National League.
Heath Bell, Padres
Is Heath tiring in September? Bell has gotten his bell rung for 13 hits, 8 runs and 5 walks in 13 frames this month. There’s nothing wrong with his velocity (93.6 MPH in Sept.), but the pitch has been smacked (-0.6 runs/100, compared to +1.67 for the year). Rough finish or not, Bell has been outstanding the season. With 9.86 K/9 and 3.11 BB/9, Heath has a 3.18 Expected Fielding Independent ERA.
Huston Street, Rockies
Sidelined since September 1st with a biceps injury, Street returned to action on the 22nd against the Padres. Franklin Morales could get a couple more save ops as Huston gets back into working order, though there’s no reason to doubt that Street will have the job back before long. In 55.1 IP this season, the former A has whiffed 10.25 per nine innings while issuing just 1.79 BB/9.
Trevor Hoffman, Brewers
Hoffman has collected four saves since the last Closer Report, K’ing four and walking none in four innings from Sept. 13th to the 23rd. Trevor hasn’t been at dominant force that his 1.84 ERA would indicate (his HR/FB rate is 3.5%) , but his XFIP is a solid 3.63. That low HR/FB rate and good fortune on balls put in play (.254 BABIP) inflate the figure somewhat, but Hoffman’s 85.5 MPH “heat” has been worth +2.81 runs per 100 pitches thrown. He continues to pull the strong with aplomb, too (+4.08 runs/100).
Brian Wilson, Giants
Wilson continues to roll. He hasn’t coughed up a run since August 25th, a stretch of 10 innings in which the high-octane righty has punched out 12 and walked just one. Putting an exclamation point on an excellent season, Wilson has struck out the side in each of his last two appearances (Sept. 21st and 23rd vs. Arizona). In 70 frames, the former 24th-round pick has posted rates of 10.16 K/9 and 3.21 BB/9. Wilson’s fastball, straight as an arrow in 2008, has shown more tailing action this year. His run value with the pitch has climbed from +0.89 runs/100 pitches in ’08 to +1.67 this season.
Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
K-Rod is missing plenty of bats as a forgettable 2009 season comes to a close (10 K in 6.2 IP), but he has also allowed four runs in the process. Rodriguez’s K/BB ratio (2.03) is the lowest of his career, with a 4.06 XFIP (his XFIP has increased every season since 2004). K-Rod’s 93 MPH fastball has been adequate (+0.03 runs/100 pitches) and his mid-80’s change is still sweet (+4.2 runs/100), but his 80 MPH curve has lacked bite (-0.18 runs/100, +2.56 career). Rodriguez has thrown a first-pitch strike just 50.5% of the time (58% MLB avg).
Rafael Soriano, Braves
Watch Out For: Mike Gonzalez
Soriano got slammed against Philly on Sept. 19th, giving up 5 hits, 4 runs and a homer. The Mets have been more accommodating, as the pending free agent notched back-to-back saves on the 22nd and the 23rd. Soriano has a career-best 11.9 K/9, with both his 93 MPH fastball (+1.21 runs/100) and 83 MPH slider (+1.55) giving hitters fits.
Jose Valverde, Astros
Valverde hit a bit of a rough patch since our last Closer Report, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs in 3 frames from Sept. 19th to the 23rd. In his walk year, Papa Grande has punched out 9.88 batters per nine innings, with 3.18 BB/9. Valverde has gradually increased the usage of his splitter, while tossing fewer heaters:
2006: 84.4% FB, 9.8% SF
2007: 77.8% FB, 20% SF
2008: 74.1% FB, 24.4% SF
2009: 69.4% FB, 26.5% SF
Counter intuitively, Valverde’s K rate has dipped all four years (from 12.59 per nine in ’06 to the aforementioned 9.88 this year), while his outside-swing% has jumped (22.4% in ’06 to 32.6% in ’09).
Francisco Cordero, Reds
Cordero collected five saves in five scoreless frames from Sept. 12th to the 17th, whiffing three and walking none. The wheels came off against Florida on the 18th, however, as he coughed up four runs and four hits. Entering the 9th with a 3-0 lead, Cincy had about a 95% chance of getting the W before it all blew up like a cheap Acme bomb.
Cordero has turned in back-to-back ordinary seasons, with a 4.08 XFIP in 2008 and a 4.11 XFIP this year. His K rate (7.79 per nine) is down, the product of fewer outside swings (25.2% in ’09, 30.4% in ’08) and more contact (75.5% in ’09, 70.7% in ’08).
Carlos Marmol, Cubs
Marmol continues to make Cubs fans and fantasy owners all twitchy. The 26 year-old with the wicked slider is generating huge whiff totals in September (13 K in 9.2 IP), but those punch outs are accompanied by eye-popping walk totals (six so far this month). Marmol has issued a mind-bending 7.47 walks per nine frames in 2009. To put that into context, the closest “competition” for Carlos among relievers (minimum 50 IP) is Florida’s Renyel Pinto, at 6.79.
As one might expect, Marmol is falling behind hitters often (50.2 first-pitch strike%, 58% MLB. avg). Opponents have responded to Carlos’ oscillating from unhittable to unable to toss a strike by laying off his stuff thrown off the plate:
O-Swing%, by year:
(25% MLB avg.)
Ryan Franklin, Cardinals
The 36 year-old righty enjoyed a charmed 2009 season until the calendar flipped to September. Franklin posted minuscule ERA’s for most of the year, despite just so-so peripherals (6.56 K/9, 3.2 BB/9). This month, Franklin has surrendered 12 hits, 7 runs and 7 walks in 7.1 IP. Ryan’s XFIP for the year is 4.14, over two runs higher than his ERA (1.98). Franklin is a decent middle reliever, not a shut-down late-inning option.
Matt Capps, Pirates
Watch Out For: Joel Hanrahan
Hanrahan is battling a sore elbow and ever-present control problems (20 BB in 29.1 IP with the Bucs), so Capps probably doesn’t have to worry about someone stealing his job right now. Of course, that point has been entirely moot, with the Pirates plummeting toward a possible 100-loss season (56-94 at the moment).
In limited September work, Capps has allowed 9 hits and 3 runs in 8 IP, with 5 K’s, 1 BB and 1 HR. His K’s and walks aren’t as bad as his 5.79 ERA would suggest (7.36 K/9, 2.81 BB/9), but home runs have been a serious problem (1.75 HR/9). Capps’ home run/fly ball rate (13.9%) is a little inflated, but the flyball-centric hurler has a yawn-inducing 4.52 XFIP.
Watch Your Back
Matt Lindstrom/Leo Nunez, Marlins
Watch Out For: Dan Meyer
Nunez notched saves on Sept. 15th, 16th, 18th and the 22nd, but Lindstrom did collect his first since June when he subdued the Reds on the 19th. Here’s a tale of the tape between the two in 2009:
K/9: 8.03 Nunez, 7.14 Lindstrom
BB/9: 3.18 Nunez, 4.63 Lindstrom
HR/9: 1.80 Nunez, 0.96 Lindstrom
XFIP: 4.26 Nunez, 4.73 Lindstrom
Juan Gutierrez, Diamondbacks (Chad Qualls done for the season with a dislocated kneecap).
Gutierrez tallied scoreless saves vs. the Padres on Sept. 14 and the 15th. However, his last two appearances have been bumpy. He gave up two hits and a run while still getting a save against Colorado on the 18th, then surrendered 3 hits and 3 runs vs. San Francisco in a non-save situation on the 22nd.
Overall, Juan has 8.38 K/9 and 3.99 BB/9 this year. The 26 year-old former starter has an unusually deep mix of pitches for a ‘pen arm, with a mid-90’s fastball, 83 MPH slider, 80 MPH curve and a mid-80’s change. The slider (used over a quarter of the time) has been Gutierrez’s key offering, with a run value of +3.25 per 100 pitches.
Brad Lidge/Ryan Madson, Phillies
Watch Out For: Brett Myers
Want an example of why saves are a lousy barometer of relief performance? Look no further than Lidge over the past couple weeks. Brad was “successful” three out of four times by the letter of the save, despite getting slammed for 6 runs, 8 hits and 2 walks in 3.2 innings pitched. His latest blow-up occurred vs. Florida yesterday.
It’s hard to find any redeeming quality in Lidge’s season. His XFIP is 4.78, the result of a ballooning walk rate (5.53 BB/9), among other things. His feared mid-80’s slider has been ordinary (+0.07 runs/100, +2.06 career), while Lidge’s fastball has been downright toxic (-3.08 runs/100). When Lidge has actually tossed a pitch over the plate, opponents are making contact far more often (84.4 Z-Contact%, 75.1% career avg). Per Wins Above Replacement, Lights Out has seen a full 3-win swing in value (2.2 WAR in 2008, -0.8 in 2009).
With manager Charlie Manuel not having the utmost confidence in Myers’ health, Madson figures to reclaim the role if Philly finally admits that Lidge just isn’t rounding into form.
Mike MacDougal, Nationals
MacDougal has been mauled this September. In eight innings, Mac has issued 10 walks, while allowing 13 hits and nine runs. The 32 year-old righty hasn’t shown any semblance of control in 2009, with a Marmol-esque 6.7 BB/9. He’s not even fooling hitters like he used to, with 5.44 K/9 and a contact rate (84.2%) well above his career 78.1% average.