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
Mo racked up two saves in three appearances this week, though he did give up a run against the Blue Jays on August 11th (Edwin Encarnacion hit a homer). The former Red’s round-tripper marked the first time that the opposition crossed home plate against Rivera since June 12th. He’s punching out 10.1 batters per nine innings, with 1.29 BB/9. Rivera’s 2.89 WPA is the 4th-best mark in the majors.
Joe Nathan, Twins
Joe gave up a run vs. Detroit on the 7th, but he bounced back to strike out the side against the Royals on the 12th (neither game was a save opportunity). Nathan’s K rate (11.75) is nearly two whiffs per nine higher than 2008’s mark (9.84), and he has lowered his walk rate to boot (2.39 BB/9 to 2.06 BB/9). His first-pitch strike percentage is 67.9, scores ahead of the 58.2% MLB average.
Joakim Soria, Royals
After seemingly forgetting that Soria was in the bullpen in early July, manager Trey Hillman has started to use the Mexicutioner (a former starter with a deep repertoire) to get six-out saves. Three of Soria’s last 5 save ops have been of the six-out variety, a refreshing change (in Hillman’s defense, Soria’s shoulder woes earlier in the season could have contributed to his usage). Joakim didn’t have a banner week, however. He was lit up on the 8th vs. the A’s, giving up dingers to Tommy Everidge and Mark Ellis. Soria did rebound against Minnesota yesterday, firing two scoreless innings.
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Papelbon pitched 2.2 scoreless innings between two appearances on the 7th (Yankees) and the 10th (Detroit), but he gave up 2 runs against the Tigers on the 11th (including a HR to Curtis Granderson). Papelbon’s FIP (3.55) is well north of his 2.69 career average, as 50.8% of his pitches are crossing home plate (that’s down from 54.5% in ’08; Jon’s Zone% has dipped each season since 2006).
J.P. Howell, Rays
J.P. twiddled his thumbs this week: he hasn’t made an appearance since our last Closer Report. The former Royal (pilfered from K.C. in June of 2006 for excellent-car-jumper-but-bad-ball player Joey Gathright) has punched out 10.54 hitters per nine innings, with excellent secondary offerings (+1.72 runs/100 pitches for the curve, +5.08 runs/100 for the change) and a sneaky mid-80’s fastball (+0.96).
Bobby Jenks, White Sox
With his kidney stones issue mercifully behind him, Jenks pitched 3.2 scoreless frames this past week (one save vs. Seattle on the 11th). Bobby hasn’t allowed a run in August, a welcome change after a July that saw far too many fireworks for the opposition (8 runs in 7.1 IP). Jenks has rates of 8.55 K/9 and 2.48 BB/9, giving him a 3.55 XFIP. That’s lower than 2008’s 3.86 figure, despite Bobby’s 2009 ERA (3.83) being 1.2 runs higher than his 2008 mark (2.63).
Andrew Bailey, Athletics
Bailey was touched up in the second half of July, but has begun August well. Bailey notched two saves this week, with clean innings against the Royals on the 9th and the Orioles on the 12th. He hasn’t walked a batter over his past six innings, and has rates of 10.13 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9 for the season. Bailey throws plenty hard (94 MPH with his fastball), but he doesn’t fit the archetypal power reliever mold. The former starter uses his heater around 56% of the time, mixing in cutters over a quarter of the time and curveballs about 15 percent.
David Aardsma, Mariners
Aardsma collected a save against one of his former teams (the White Sox) on August 10th, but the Pale Hose pummeled him for 3 hits and 3 runs (including a HR to Alexei Ramirez) in a blown save op on the 11th. The 27 year-old right-hander continues to rack up K’s (10.53 K/9) and walks (5.09) by the bucketful. Safeco suppresses homer production, but Aardsma has been lucky to surrender a 2.9 HR/FB% this season.
Brian Fuentes, Angels
Fuentes got 2 saves this week, closing the door vs. Texas on August 8th and the Rays on the 10th. The lefty hasn’t had much success with his slider this season (-0.26 runs/100 pitches), which helps to explain a lower outside-swing% (23.5, 29.4% in 2008) and a higher rate of contact (79.7%, up from 73.4% in ’08).
Frank Francisco, Rangers
Watch out for: C.J. Wilson
Francisco appeared just once this week, picking up a save vs. the Indians yesterday (his 16th of the season). Frank’s frequent absences (he’s been on the DL three times in 2009) might have obscured the type of season that he’s having. The 6-3, 230 pound righty has whiffed 10.05 per nine innings, with 2.3 BB/9. The key has been a filthy 86 MPH splitter. The pitch was rarely successful in the past (-0.47 runs/100 value since 2002), but the splitter has a +4.65 figure in 2009. Francisco has increased his usage of the pitch, tossing it 19.1% of the time after throwing the split closer to 10% in past seasons.
Kerry Wood, Indians
Kerry has actually resembled the closer in the free agent catalogue this month. In 4 August frames, Wood has whiffed 4, while walking none and surrendering no runs. As Pitch F/X whiz Harry Pavlidis noted on The Hardball Times, the Texan has scrapped his slider in favor of a cutter in 2009. There hasn’t been anything wrong with his new toy (+0.48 runs/100 pitches with the cutter) or his 80 MPH curve. Wood’s 96 MPH fastball, however, is another story (-1.15 runs/100 pitches).
Returned to the closer’s role with Scott Downs nursing a toe injury, Frasor frazzled hitters with 2.2 innings of spotless pitching this week (including a save vs. the Yankees on August 10th). Frasor’s 3.36 K/BB ratio is the best of his career, an uptick keyed by a climb in outside-swing percentage (24.7% in ’09, 18.8% career average).
Fernando Rodney, Tigers
Rodney got rocked August 7th vs. the Twins (3 H, 2 R), and got taken deep by Michael Cuddyer on the 9th while collecting a save. Fernando picked up another save yesterday afternoon vs. Boston as well. Rodney’s ERA (3.78) is well below 2008’s mark (4.91), though he’s not really pitching all that differently. His XFIP is 4.19 in ’09, which is actually higher than 2008’s 4.06.
Jim Johnson, Orioles
Johnson got two saves this week (one against Toronto on the 7th and another vs. Oakland on the 11th), tossing three innings of scoreless relief overall. He throws awfully hard (94.4 MPH), but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a ton of missed bats. Johnson’s whiffing 6.36 hitters per nine innings, with a 4.19 FIP. He won’t be a liability in the role (Johnson does a decent job of limiting the free passes and getting grounders). But, it’s also hard to call Johnson a big asset, as a middle reliever cast into a late-inning role in a cut-throat division.
Watch Your Back
No one, at the moment.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.