New Closers for Yankees and Cubs

As of yesterday, two sources of saves no longer exist. Mariano Rivera was lost for the season after tearing his ACL and Carlos Marmol was releived of his closing duties. Here is a quick look at their possible replacements as the team’s closer.

New York Yankees Closer

The Yankees have two decent choices for a closer, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Last night Joe Girardi said that Robertson would close that night’s game if needed. This statement would just move Robertson from the 8th inning guy, to the closer.

Robertson has been lights out over the last couple of seasons. Last season, he had a miniscule ERA of 1.08. While his ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) where not that low, they were all below 2.50. In 2012, he is continuing to pitch lights out. He has yet to allow a run in 11 innings. He is striking out over 40% of the batters he has faced. Also his walk rate is at a career-low. The Yankees won’t miss a step in the ninth inning with Robertson taking over.

The other option for the Yankees to use at closer is Rafael Soriano. Soriano has had experience as a closer with 72 total saves from 2009-2010. The 32-year-old will probably not get the call because he has not pitched as good as Robertson over the last couple of years. In a small sample of data from 2012, which mangers will use, his fastball speed is down over 1 MPH, his walk rate (14%) is at a 4 year high and his K% (19%) is at a 8 year low.

Robertson is a must own right now in fantasy. In deeper leagues, Soriano, like any setup man, is also a must own. A person never knows when a pitcher will go down. Even the most reliable closer ever may eventually break.

Chicago Cubs Closer

David Sveum has stated that the Carlos Marmol will no longer be the Cubs closer. This change should not be any real surprise. A few weeks ago, I look at at how bad a closer needs to suck to get replaced. Usually a closer’s last five games determines if they will stay on as a closer. Marmol’s ERA of 8.10 and two Meltdowns were enough to get him to lose his job. The Cubs have stated that they will go with two closers for now, James Russell and Rafael Dolis.

Russell looks to be the better pitcher of the two. His strikeout rate is twice that of Dolis and has a nice sparkly 0.00 ERA. A huge problem with the left-handed Russell is that he has problems getting out righty batters. Here are his career splits:

vs RHH: 1.73 SO/BB, 0.308/0.362/0.528
vs LHH: 9.17 SO/BB, 0.242/0.262/0.434

Russell will struggle if he is to face many RHH.

Dolis is an interesting choice as closer. In just over 16 IP in his MLB career, his K/BB is 0.6. Yep, he is currently allowing almost two walks for every strikeout. He has always been a low-K, high-BB guy. His best Minor League K/BB rate, since rookie ball, is 1.67 in 2010 in AA. Most teams want their starters to at least have a two K/BB. Closers should be 3.5 or higher. If Dolis gets the closer role, he will immediately become the worst closer in the game.

Russell and Dolis have their flaws, so teams in deep leagues may want to take a chance on a couple of other Cub relievers. Shawn Camp is being used by the Cubs in a set up role. He could be used once if the other two fail. Another option is Kerry Wood. He is being eased back into the bullpen, but he will be an option because he has closed in the past.

Finally, owners of Marmol should hold on to him for a week or two. This may just a ploy by the Cubs to try to get him in line. None of his replacements are way better than him, so he may end up back as the closer.

This closer situation is a mess. The Cubs may actually be looking to match-up the closer with the specific 9th inning situation. In the long run, I don’t know what to expect, but I think Russell will get a decent chance before he loses the job. Pick up Russell, but monitor the entire situation because it may change.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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(Dale Sveum)