New York Yankees: On Friday, Jon Heyman reported that Rafael Soriano will remain the closer, even after David Robertson returns from his oblique injury in a week or two. I was a little harsh in my assessment of Soriano two weeks ago, as his May K/BB was a solid 3.67, vastly superior to his awful 1.17 ratio in April. Soriano is both throwing more strikes and getting more swinging strikes than he was in April, and moving forward, expect his numbers to resemble his May numbers (1.24 WHIP, 2.38 ERA), with perhaps an ERA closer to 3, and his increased slider usage (41%, up from 31% last season) could bring a slight boost to his 8.55 K/9. Robertson owners should hold him in case Soriano falters; any pitcher with a career 12.23 K/9 and improving peripherals while also holding the title of closer of the future should be employed anyway.
New York Mets: Also securing his role as closer in New York is Frank Francisco. Weathering a 7.71 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in April, Francisco posted a 4.76/1.50 May. Let’s dig deeper, as that doesn’t look so hot. In May, Frank Squared posted a 1.88 FIP and 3.51 xFIP, and his K/BB rose from 2.00 to 2.80. Beginning from an arbitrary point of May 20, Francisco has struck out 12 and walked 1 in 7 appearances, spanning 7.2 IP. His .362 BABIP will come down some, and as a result, his 64.3% strand rate will rise. He’s not an elite option, but he’s struck out 10 batters per 9 innings for his career, and setup man Jon Rauch has debris in his elbow and stat line (5.16 K/9, 4.76 ERA). The one I think will get the call if Francisco fails is Bobby Parnell. Parnell has improved his control, sporting a 6.2% walk rate this season, down from a 10.1% showing in 2011, and owns a 3.57 K/BB. Keep him on your watch lists, unless you’re in a holds league. He should be owned in those formats.
Detroit Tigers: Jose Valverde has been pretty terrible. And really, it’s been a multi-year trend. Since 2007, Valverde’s K% has fallen every season, starting at an excellent 29.7% in 2007 and tumbling to his 2012 rate of 16.7%. In the same time frame, his BB% rose from 9.8% to 14.7%. Amazingly, his FIP stayed steady until 2011, ranging from 3.50 to 3.78, thanks to an increased reliance on his splitter. Boosting his usage of the split-fingered pitch from 20% to 52.5% brought his groundball rate from 36% to 55%, offsetting his worsening strikeout and walk rates. For whatever reason, Jose has returned to dialing up his splitter at a 20% clip, and his groundball rate has fallen back to 38.5%. His perfect 49 for 49 SV season in 2011 has earned him a long leash, so he will need to continue to struggle to lose his job. Joaquin Benoit has been dominant since undergoing rotator cuff surgery in 2009, posting a 10.74 K/9 and 2.23 ERA in 145 innings since in his return. He’s the handcuff for saves.
San Diego Padres: Ending the Dale Thayer experiment, Huston Street has reclaimed the closer role upon returning from the DL. Street makes lots of batters swing and miss (13.6% career swinging strike rate), and also has excellent control, compiling a 2.30 BB/9 in 447 career innings. He also now calls Petco Park home. Andrew Cashner and his 102 MPH fastball and 4.95 career BB/9 are heading to the rotation at some time this season, which is both perplexing and tantalizing. As a result, Thayer will be the closer if Street is traded or hurt again.
San Francisco Giants: After bruising his tibia on Friday, Santiago Casilla has been relegated to “in case of emergency only” status. His return is imminent, and the talk is that he will not require a stint on the disabled list. Casilla has added a 2-seam fastball to his repertoire this season, riding the pitch to a career high 63% groundball rate. He’s also throwing a career-high 50% of his pitches in the strike zone, and not surprisingly, his 2.31 BB/9 is the lowest mark he has produced in any season. Sergio Romo, he of the career 5.51 K/BB and 0.88 WHIP, has been the primary closer in Casilla’s absence. Thanks to his previous elbow troubles – likely caused by a career 45.6% usage of his slider, up to an insane 61.3% this season – Romo is used sparingly, and frequently pitches fewer than an inning per outing. Jeremy Affeldt picked up a 2 inning save on Monday, with Romo getting the night off after having worked the previous two games. Should Casilla falter or suffer a setback, Romo would be the main source of saves, with Affeldt behind him.
Seattle Mariners: Flamethrower Stephen Pryor was brought up from AAA, and he has impressed so far, generating 8 swings and misses in 56 pitches. He is also the closer of the future, and it’s not hard to imagine why. He possesses a 95-100 MPH heater, a biting 88 MPH slider, and struck out 33% of the 463 minor league batters he faced. For now, though, Tom Wilhelmsen is closing games for the Mariners, racking up 7 strikeouts, 2 baserunners, 0 runs, 2 saves and a win in 3 appearances, spanning 5.2 IP. Brandon League has improved his control, producing a 5:1 K:BB in 6 innings since his demotion, and another few outings with similar outcomes should bring him back into the 9th inning. Assuming League is traded by July 31, Pryor will be the closer by August.
Boston Red Sox: Aside from a few bad outings, Alfredo Aceves has been pretty good. He’s got a K rate of 9.73 per 9, his fastball is averaging nearly 95 MPH (previous career best was 92.6, last season), and he’s inducing swings and misses at a career-best 12.2% of his pitches. His 67% strand rate will rise closer to his career 77%, and with that, his ERA will drop from its current 5.02 mark. Daniel Bard was sent down to the minor leagues to work out his control issues (34:37 K:BB), and I’d guess he’ll be back in the bullpen by summer. If that happens, he’ll likely overtake Franklin Morales for the setup role.
Chicago Cubs: The less said, the better. James Russell hasn’t had a save opportunity in over a week, has platoon issues (5.39 xFIP vs RHH; 3.14 xFIP vs LHH), and owns a 1.91 K/BB rate. Carlos Marmol, after striking out 3 of 6 batters in 2 clean innings to begin the month, has allowed 4 runs and 6 baserunners in his last 1.2 innings pitched. I still think he regains his role if he ever has a solid week. The less said, the better. If anyone else who is currently a closer is available, go with him over Russell.
Oakland Athletics: Oh no, not Brian Fuentes! Seriously, which commenter taught his daughter to say that at A’s games? I’d like to shake your hand. Wash it first, though. I don’t like germs. The order of preference in the A’s bullpen is Fuentes, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour, but the real reason I wrote about the A’s was to bring up Sean Doolittle. He hasn’t yet been mentioned on this site (according to the search function), and for good reason: he’s a former marginal 1B prospect who converted to RP after injuring his knee in 2010. Humor me for a minute: Doolittle is a left-hander who hides the ball during his delivery, and throws a mid 90s fastball. I honestly don’t think he throws anything else, but his results are insane. In three levels in the minors this season, Doolittle K’d 48 of 93 batters faced, while giving up only 7 walks and 8 hits. In his first appearance in the big leagues on Tuesday, he struck out 3 of 4 batters faced while throwing 1.1 perfect innings. I have no idea if he keeps it up, but why not keep an eye on him and see if he can?