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Closers Update: Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin

There’s no position more fungible on a baseball team than the closer. At other positions you can have middling to even below average success and still keep your job (see Bartlett, Jason). But, blow a few saves in a row? If you’re named anything other than Mariano Rivera you’re likely in trouble. That was the fate endured by Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin over the weekend.

At the beginning of the season we ranked the closers by job security and Joe Nathan headed the Firm Grasps group with the footnote: “And Nathan is Nathan; Matt Capps is no obstacle for him if he’s healthy.”  From his performance this season it’s reasonable to assume he is, in fact, not healthy. Nathan is only roughly one year removed from Tommy John’s surgery and it doesn’t appear like he’s fully recovered. Over the past two seasons his fastball velocity has averaged ~93.5mph, while this season it is just 91.2. The fastball his Nathan’s best pitch and he needs those extra tickets in velocity to help setup his slider. In his 5.1 IP this season he’s struck out only three batters while walking five, very un-Nathan like numbers considering his K/BB ratio hasn’t dipped below 4.00 since 2004. After blowing two saves in this weekend’s series against Tampa Bay, Nathan did the noble thing and asked that he be removed from the closer position in favor of Matt Capps.

Unlike a majority of teams, the Twins have a set up man who has had plenty of experience closing. Capps has racked up 110 saves in his career, mostly with the Pirates. The Twins traded for him last season and, along with Jon Rauch, helped the team fill the gap left by Nathan’s injury. 2010 was by far Capps best season, saving 42 games with a 2.47 ERA and 3.31 xFIP. In his first game as the new closer on Saturday he picked up the save against Tampa Bay. However, there’s no telling how long Capps will have the job. Once the Twins and Nathan feel he’s healthy enough to perform at optimal levels again he’ll regain his position. Until then I’d scoop up Matt Capps if any of your fellow owners have fallen asleep at the wheel over the past two days.

A team that doesn’t have the luxury of a Matt Capps in the bullpen is the St. Louis Cardinals. Ryan Franklin is struggling mightily, blowing four saves already. There’s also his ugly peripheral numbers that are infuriating fantasy owners: 11.57 ERA, 2 BB, and 2 K in 4.2 IP. A major culprit for Franklin’s struggles is his lack of swinging strikes. Last year his swinging strike percentage was 7.0. This year it’s a paltry 3.5 percent. He’s never been a high strikeout guy (career 4.99 K/9) so he needs all he help he can get. The Cardinals haven’t announced that Franklin has been replaced as the closer, but it’s only a matter of time. The successor would likely be Mitchell Boggs. The numbers for Boggs last season – a 3.61 ERA and 4.02 xFIP – were pretty good. Unlike Franklin, Boggs has a swinging strike percentage over 9.0. He isn’t a perfect solution, but seems to be the best option unless Tony Larussa wants to throw Eduardo Sanchez into the fire. It’s a developing situation you should keep your eye on, pouncing on whichever reliever is chosen in Franklin’s place