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2011 Closer Fallers: K-Rod, Papelbon, Lidge

As we’ve done with all the other positions so far, let’s take a look at some closers who’ve moved more down than up the rankings over the last year…

Money Man: Francisco Rodriguez

Aside from that whole “attacking his father-in-law and injuring his pitching hand” thing, the 2010 season was pretty good for K-Rod. His 2.63 FIP was his lowest since 2004, his 10.52 K/9 his highest since 2007, and his 3.30 B/9 his lowest ever. He also surrendered less than one homer for every 18 IP for the first time in three years. There are some concerns about how his thumb is doing following the injury, but so far everything seems to be alright. The one thing that might hold K-Rod back in 2011 is his contract. If he finishes 55 games, his $17.5M option for 2012 vests, and you can be sure the now financially-challenged Mets would love to avoid that. I’m not saying they’ll flat out bench him, but it’s possible some of those miscellaneous “just getting work in” appearances might disappear. That means fewer innings for your team. That really is nothing more than speculation on my part, but hand issue and the downward trend before that 2010 rebound are very real.

Lookin’ Over His Shoulder: Jonathan Papelbon

It’s hard to believe that Papelbon has a spot in the Red Sox’s long-term plans. He’ll be a free agent after this season, with both Bobby Jenks (signed a two-year deal) and Daniel Bard behind him and capable of taking over ninth inning duties. Papelbon’s FIP has declined in each of the last two years even though his strikeout rate has improved slightly, and that’s because his walk rate has climbed close to three full walks per nine while his homer rate has nearly doubled since 2008. Last year’s 3.90 ERA was inflated by a 68.7% strand rate, though Papelbon’s putting more and more men on base these days, and with no reason to show any long-term commitment to him, Boston could turn to Jenks or Bard at a moment’s notice. He should have plenty of save opportunities for that team, but his job security has never been shakier.

How’s The Knee? And Elbow?: Brad Lidge

It’s been quite a downward spiral for Lidge following his magnificent 2.41 FIP, 41-for-41 in save opportunities season in 2008. He’s been on the disabled list three times since then, once for a knee issue (2009), once for surgery to repair a tendon and remove loose bodies from his elbow (2010), and another time for elbow inflammation (2010). Overall, he’s been on the DL at least once in each of the last four years. His strikeout rate remains strong (9.7 K/9 last two years) but not nearly as good as it was earlier in this career (12.5 K/9 from ’03-’08), and his walk (5.0 BB/9) and homer rates (1.4 HR/9) over the last two years are hardly elite. At 34-years-old and with a fastball that’s losing both effectiveness and velocity (slider too), Lidge is on his way to the glue factory, and you don’t want to own him when he takes the first step through the door.