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 just keeps rolling along, with 7 saves and 1 run allowed in 8.2 August frames. Mo slammed the door on the Mariners on August 15th and the A’s on the 19th. Mo’s 3.20 Win Probability Added places second among all relievers, and he boasts a 57/8 K/BB ratio in 52 innings pitched.
Joe Nathan, Twins
Mr. Nathan was hit with a comebacker this past week, but he says that he’s just fine. He chucked three innings without surrendering a run, racking up saves on the 18th and the 19th vs. the Rangers. The 34 year-old has turned in a remarkable season, with 11.76 K/9 and 2.12 BB/9. Nathan’s 32.4 O-Swing% is well above the 25% MLB average, with his 94 MPH fastball (+2.35 runs/100 pitches thrown), 88 MPH slider (+2.71) and 82 MPH curve (+3.38) causing all sorts of issues for hitters.
Joakim Soria, Royals
With Soria’s shoulder woes apparently in the past, the Royals have taken to using their closer for six-out saves (3 of Joakim’s last 6 saves ops have been of the two-inning variety). The Rule V gem worked another six-out stint vs. Detroit in a non-save situation on the 16th, then locked down his 20th save of the season against the White Sox on the 18th. The former starter has gradually mixed in his strong secondary offerings more often: his percentage of fastballs thrown has gone from 77.2% in 2007 to 66.6% in 2009.
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Papelbon is having an awfully strange season. On the one hand, he leads all relievers in Win Probability Added (+3.70), as he has often escaped jams in high-leverage situations. On the other, he’s walking nearly 4 batters per nine innings (3.98 BB/9), compared to a career rate of 2.43 walks per nine frames. Jonathan got a save against Toronto on August 18th, but not before issuing three walks and allowing 2 hits in 1.1 IP. With fewer pitches hitting the mark, opponents have cut their percentage of pitches swung at from 55.6% in 2008 to 48.6% in 2009 (45.1% MLB average).
J.P. Howell, Rays
Howell has served up three dingers this month, with 5 walks, 6 H and 4 R in 8 innings pitched. He did manage two saves this week (his 13th and 14th), and J.P.’s 69/22 K/BB for the year remains stellar. How is Howell so tough to hit? Well, he’s certainly not giving anything away with his release point. Check out his release chart from an August 16th appearance against the Blue Jays:
Bobby Jenks, White Sox
Jenks served up another jimmy jack this week, getting taken deep by Oakland’s Mark Ellis in a loss on August 16th. He did collect two saves, closing out games against the Royals on the 17th and the 19th. Bobby’s peripherals are actually much stronger this year than in 2008: his K rate has jumped from 5.55 to 8.52 per nine innings, while lowering his walk rate from 2.48 to 2.28. However, a .307 BABIP and a big ol’ 15.8 HR/FB% have made his 2009 ERA (3.74) appear far worse than 2008’s mark (2.63). Keep that in mind for next year’s draft, as Jenks hasn’t really declined and could be had at a bargain price.
Andrew Bailey, Athletics
Bailey pitched three times this week, with a scoreless inning against the White Sox on August 14th and the 16th (neither was a save op, though he picked up a W on the 16th), then notching a save against the Yankees on the 18th. The 25 year-old rookie has been very sharp this month, with 5 K’s, zero walks, 0 runs and 1 hit allowed in 6 IP. Bailey is approaching the 2.0 Wins Above Replacement mark, currently sitting at 1.9 WAR.
David Aardsma, Mariners
Aardsma’s August has conjured up some memories of the explosive work that caused him to bounce from San Francisco, to both sides of Chicago, to Boston and finally to Seattle. He has coughed up 6 runs in 6.1 IP, with 5 walks and 2 HR allowed. The extreme fly ball pitcher (his 56 FB% is the 3rd-highest among relievers) was bound to surrender a few big flies eventually (his HR/FB% remains at a teensy 4.0). The former first-rounder out of Rice has surely been a nice pickup for the M’s, but his XFIP (4.42) is considerably higher than his 2.43 ERA.
Brian Fuentes, Angels
Fuentes was awfully busy this week, appearing four times. He got three saves (two vs. Baltimore, one vs. Cleveland), but he did blow a chance against the O’s as well. His 2009 strikeout rate (8.42 batters per nine innings) is well below his career mark of 10.07 K/9. The culprit would appear to be a less effective breaking ball. Fuentes’ slider was worth +2.06 runs/100 pitches in 2008, but a paltry -0.66 runs/100 in his first year with the Angels.
Frank Francisco, Rangers
Watch out for: C.J. Wilson
On August 14th, Francisco endured the sort of apocalyptic appearance that can torch a reliever’s entire season line. Frank was fried for 7 hits, 6 runs and a homer in just 0.2 IP, jet-propelling his ERA from 2.01 to 3.66. He did settle down in subsequent outings, with two scoreless save ops (Boston on the 16th, Minnesota on the 17th). Francisco has a strong 40/8 K/BB in 34 IP.
Kerry Wood, Indians
Kerry tossed two innings this past week, whiffing four, walking two and allowing a run. Wood’s 4.13 XFIP isn’t as ugly as his 4.71 ERA, as a big uptick in his HR/FB rate has harmed the Texan (15.6% in 2009). Still, Wood’s WPA remains in negative territory (-0.34), and batters just plain aren’t chasing his stuff. The former Cub garnered outside swings 31.3% of the time in ’08, but just 19.3% in ’09.
Frasor notched a save against the Rays on August 14th, then pitched another scoreless frame vs. Boston on the 18th (he did walk 2 in the non-save op, though). The diminutive right-hander has certainly had plenty of bounces go his way this year, with a .256 BABIP and a 1.9 HR/FB%. Frasor’s 4.02 XFIP more than doubles his 1.87 ERA.
Fernando Rodney, Tigers
Fernando took a loss against the Royals on August 16th, then picked up a save against the Mariners on the 18th. He has induced plenty of groundballs this season (56.6 GB%, 10 percentage points above his career average), though control often remains elusive (4.25 BB/9). Somehow, opposing batters have a 9 percent line drive rate against Rodney. That’s the lowest rate among all relievers.
Jim Johnson, Orioles
Baltimore’s new stopper tossed three scoreless innings in two appearances this week, though neither was a save opportunity. There’s nothing in particular that wows you about the 26 year-old right-hander, but he has increased his Outside-Swing% from 23.3% in 2008 to 26.1% in 2009, while lowering his contact rate from 86.7% to 80.2%. He’s keeping his infielders busy (52.1 GB%), and has a 2.17 K/BB ratio. Not great, but he’ll manage to get three outs before the opposition scores 1-3 runs most of the time (as would many other relievers).
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 email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.