The final tier of our closer keeper rankings are the capital-C closers. The guys that will get save chances without the guarantee of even average performance. Some are even injury risks, but because these fellas are locked into ninth inning jobs for the time being, they’ll end up on our rosters.
I’ve included Zach Sanders’ end of season player rankings for reference, but they weren’t the only criteria used to create the rankings or delineate the tiers.
Joe Nathan – -$4
The overall numbers aren’t great, but Nathan did pitch better after forearm inflammation put him on the shelf for a month in late-May last season. He did his usual high strikeout (28 K in 29.1 IP) and low walk (just five free passes) routine after the injury, but Nathan is now more fly ball and line drive prone than ever before. This isn’t isolated to 2011 either, he showed a similar change to his batted ball profile back in 2009 before the Tommy John surgery. Nathan is moving into a big time hitters’ park now, and although I expect him to be pretty good, the days of him being a sub-2.00 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP guy are almost surely over.
Chris Perez – $4
Perez did manage to improve his walk rate as the season went on, but his strikeout rate declined in a big way (8.71 K/9 in 2010 to 5.88 in 2011), as did his ability to generate swings and misses (7.6% to 5.6%). He’s also an extreme fly ball pitcher (28.3% grounders, 33.6% career), which can have some benefit because fly balls turn into outs pretty often (.234 BABIP in 2011, .242 career). They also go over the fence every once in a while, though Perez’s homer rate (0.75 HR/9 in 2011, 0.89 career) isn’t a serious problem yet, thanks in part to the nearly neutral Progressive Field. Sub-2.00 K/BB ratios can be scary, especially from late-inning relievers.
Huston Street – $1
Street’s time with the Rockies was defined by injuries and homeruns. He spent a total of 175 days on the shelf with shoulder, triceps, groin, and oblique problems during his three years in Colorado, and also surrendered 22 homers in 167.1 IP. That’s a 1.18 HR/9 and 11.2% HR/FB. Street has always been a fly ball guy (career 38.0% grounders), so the homer problem should clear up a bit with the move to Petco Park. The injuries won’t magically go away though. With strong strikeout and walk rates throughout his career, Street could be a bargain if manages to stay on the field in 2012.
Francisco Cordero – $9
Cordero still doesn’t have a team for 2012 yet, so there’s a chance he won’t even be a closer when the season starts. Given his Proven Closer™ status, we’ll assume some team will grab him for ninth inning work. The 36-year-old has seen his strikeout rate decline in each of the last four seasons, though he did manage to post his first sub-4.00 BB/9 in four years in 2011 while getting his ground ball rate over 50%. To his credit, Cordero has been very durable in his career (at least 66 appearances and 63.1 IP every year since 2003), so if nothing else, we know he’ll be out on the mound if needed. The continued strikeout drop is a big red flag though.
Matt Capps – -$3
The Twins’ faithful booed Capps off the mound multiple times in 2011, which tends to happen when you go 15-for-22 in save chances before handing the job back over to Nathan. Capps lost nearly three strikeouts per nine last year, and he also managed to give up a ton of homers (1.37 HR/9) despite playing half his games in Target Field. He does have a clear path to save chances in Minnesota now, but Capps has to find those missing strikeouts if he wants to avoid his third 4.00+ ERA in the last four seasons.
Javy Guerra – $0
Guerra had the best stretch of his career after making his big league debut last season, going from middle relief to the ninth inning in the span of his first five appearances. The 3.47 batters he walked per nine innings with the Dodgers is way below his career 5.23 BB/9 in the minors, though his ability to avoid the long ball (0.49 HR/9 in the minors) carried over into the show (0.39 HR/9). Guerra figures to start the season as the closer in Chavez Ravine, but in all likelihood he’s just keeping the seat warm for Kenley Jansen.