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 actually had something of a rough week, giving up two long balls to the Rays on the seventh. That performance prompted manager Joe Girardi to leak that Mo’s surgically repaired shoulder has been giving the cutter demi-god some problems . Not that you’d know it from the 18/1 K/BB ratio, but Rivera’s cutter velocity continues to sit about 2 MPH slower than last season.
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Papelbon has yet to blow a save, but he has raised the collective blood pressure of Boston’s fans a little more than usual in the later innings. He has dished out 9 walks in 15 frames and holds a 3.72 FIP. His K/BB ratio stands at 2.11, compared to his career 4.66 rate.
Kerry Wood, Indians
Wood holds a 4.00 FIP, a middling mark, but that looks downright impressive compared to some of the other arsonists in Cleveland’s ‘pen: the Tribe 27th in reliever FIP and 28th in WPA. Wood had only one appearance this week, pitching a scoreless inning in a losing effort against the Tigers on the 9th.
Bobby Jenks, White Sox
Jenks had progressively become more of a contact-oriented reliever over the past few seasons, with his K rate plummeting from the double-digits to just 5.55 per nine in 2008. In 2009, however, high-octane Bobby might be back: his heater velocity is up nearly 2 MPH from last season, and his contact rate has dipped from 84.5% in ’08 to just 74.4% in ’09, the lowest mark of his career (80.6% MLB average). Jenks has 12 whiffs in 12 innings thus far, and is a perfect 8-for-8 in save chances.
Joe Nathan, Twins
Nathan has reeled of 5 scoreless innings in the month of May. Nathan seems to be baiting opponents to chase his stuff out of the zone, with just 43.6% of his pitches crossing home plate (51.5% career average). The strategy appears to be working, as hitters have made contact on just 55.6% of those outside offerings (62.3 % MLB average) while chasing them 34% of the time (24.4% MLB average).
Frank Francisco, Rangers
Francisco hasn’t pitched since May 6th, as he deals with a bout of biceps tendinitis. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious: Francisco leads all relievers in WPA (2.00), with zero runs allowed in 14.2 frames. C.J. Wilson (4.49 FIP) and Eddie Guardado (7.55 FIP) will get any save chances in the meantime, though neither come highly recommended
Brad Ziegler, Athletics
Watch out for: Andrew Bailey
Ziegler continues to fight the flu, and he’s surrendered 5 runs (4 earned) in his last two appearances on the 7th and the 10th. Zielger hasn’t been bad this year (3.72 FIP), but Bailey has been a beast: with 24 K in 21.1 IP, the rookie right-hander holds a 2.53 FIP. Bailey’s low-90′s fastball, high-80′s cutter and mid-70′s curve have been extremely difficult to square up: opponents have just a 73.2% contact rate against pitches in the zone against the rookie righty (87.7% MLB average).
Brandon Morrow, Mariners
Back off the DL, Morrow walked two and gave up a run in an inning of work against the Twins on May 10th. We’re only talking about 7.2 innings of work so far, but Morrow has used his upper-90′s fastball 91.1% of the time, the highest rate among all relievers. Unfortunately, with 9 walks and just 41.3% of his pitches over the plate, his fastball control is a little rusty.
Brian Fuentes, Angels
Fuentes has a four-appearance scoreless streaking going, a modest accomplishment after a rough re-introduction to the AL (he was briefly a Mariner back in ’01). He’s still fooling batters (15 K in 11.2 IP), and his .421 BABIP is sure to continue dropping.
Scott Downs, Blue Jays
B.J. Ryan is nearing a return to Toronto, but his old cozy spot won’t be waiting for him. According to GM J.P. Ricciardi, Downs will remain the 9th inning man for the time being. It’s hard to argue with the decision, given Ryan’s rocky performance and Downs’ dazzling work (20/1 K/BB ratio, 1.90 FIP in 16.1 innings).
Fernando Rodney, Tigers
Watch out for: Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya
Rodney had his first rough stretch in terms of throwing strikes this week, issuing 3 BB in two appearances against Cleveland on the 9th and 10th. Hopefully, this isn’t a sign of things to come for the normally strike zone-challenged reliever: he had been doing a fine job of locating his pitches, with 59.2% of them ending up in the strike zone (fourth-highest among all relievers).
The Mexicutioner hits the DL for a second time with a wonky shoulder, a troubling development. GM Dayton Moore says there’s no “structural damage” (“just” rotator cuff inflammation), but free agent import Cruz will handle the 9th inning for the time being.
Cruz’s ERA may sit at 1.88, but he’s struggled to throw strikes with an 11/9 K/BB in 14.1 IP. A .169 BABIP has aided him thus far, and he’ll have to do a better job of pounding the zone if he expects to have continued success.
Watch Your Back
Sherrill racked up a save last night against the Rays, and he’s apparently still the guy for the time being. The lefty has been rather hittable (opponents have made contact with 92.5% of his pitches within the zone, compared to the 87.7% MLB average), and Sherrill has handed out 7 walks in 14.2 IP. His grip on the job will always be tenuous; he’s like a southpaw version of Mike Williams.
Troy Percival, Rays
Watch out for: J.P. Howell
Percival has FIP’s of 5.87 and 4.80 over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but he’ll continue to get the call in the 9th so that Balfour, Howell et. all can work more than 3 outs at a time. Percival has put himself in jams in his 8.2 frames of work, with a 44.4% First-Pitch Strike % (57.8% MLB average).
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