Pitching the 9th inning with a lead must be a stressful venture. Even at the professional level, players depended on by their team as the ‘closer’ fail with alarming regularity. The only position that yields precious saves is constantly in flux, and as aspiring fantasy champions, we have to be aware of these situations 24/7. With that in mind, we’re going to go over some of the more volatile closing situations around baseball, and discuss who might just be the man in the 9th before long.
Chris Perez (DL), Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Cody Allen
When incumbent closer Chris Perez hit the 15-day DL on May 27th due to excessive pot smoking, being not good at closing, rotator cuff tendonitis, it opened the door for a closer coin-flip. Terry Francona endorsed Vinnie Bag-O-Doughnuts, and to this point has stuck by his man. Trouble is, Pestano has yet to convert an actual save chance, and was blown apart the day before his ascension to the closing role. Joe Smith has pitched much better and is probably worth speculating on in deeper formats, as the leash on Pestano can’t be long. As an aside, Cody Allen is the closer of the future in Cleveland, but is probably a long shot to contribute saves in 2013.
San Diego Padres
Huston Street (DL), Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer
When you draft Huston Street, you have to know you’re in for at least one DL stint, and Street always seems to make good on his end of the bargain. This time around, he’s on the shelf for a strained left calf, so you’re looking at a mid-to-late June return date, at best. Not that he’d been particularly good; He’d given up 7 homers in just over 20 innings, perhaps a step back wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Luke Gregerson, he of the 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP, has been anointed as the temp, and he’s been very strong thus far. If he’s somehow still available in any leagues, consider adding him now – If Street were to suffer a significant setback or lose the job outright, Gregerson would immediately become a very valuable closer for the remainder of the season.
Rafael Betancourt (DL), Rex Brothers, Dinger
Betancourt, despite being almost as old as this guy, had been very reliable for the Rockies (11 saves, 3.20 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) before going down recently with a groin strain. Of late, he’s acknowledged that he’s just started throwing, and isn’t expected back until the end of June. Rex Brothers had been dominating out of the Colorado bullpen, and was given the nod as interim closer. He’s continued dominating, so if he’s out there in your league, he’s definitely worth a short-term addition. Of note: there isn’t any other obvious choice behind Brothers for saves at Mile High, so despite his temporary position, he would seem to have fairly good job security.
Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, Chad Qualls
The three closers listed above are not necessarily in that, or any, order. When you’re the Marlins, and have 17 total wins to your credit through 61 games, the closing situation isn’t the most important item on the fix list. By my count, there have been 7 saves completed and 6 saves blown in said 17 wins, so this bullpen committee is both irrelevant (for saves) and just plain bad (for all other purposes, fantasy or otherwise). Steve Cishek recorded the most recent save, that being in a 2-1, 20 inning win over the Mets on Saturday, but prior to that it looked like Dunn might have edged ahead…so it’s anybodies guess. The best idea is to stay away from this situation entirely, but if I had to bet on the Marlin with the most saves for the rest of the season, it would still be Cishek by a nose.
J.J. Putz (DL), Heath Bell, David Hernandez, Matt Reynolds
If you’d like to see the real-life definition of a closer roller-coaster ride, please examine this summary of Putz’s outings during the month of April. He made only one more appearance after this sequence, exiting with elbow stiffness and nerve irritation that led many to write him off for the remainder of 2013. There was speculation that Hernandez or Reynolds might get the closing gig, but manager Kirk Gibson threw everyone a curveball and named Heath Bell as his first man up. Despite Bell’s past transgressions in the closer role, he’s been lights out, converting 10 of 11 save chances and lowering his ERA 1.5 points in the process. Hernandez and Reynolds are still lurking, but it would seem that Bell has earned himself a bit of leash with his strong May. The twist is that Putz threw a full bullpen session the other day, and appeared to come through it without irritation or pain. If he avoids setbacks, in theory he could rejoin the Snakes bullpen sometime in June, and if he were to do that, he would probably regain his closer role if healthy. Arizona is a first place team that will yield plenty of saves for fantasy owners, so this situation deserves to be watched closely.