With the All-Star Break in full swing, today seems like the perfect time to examine non-closers that could find themselves in the ninth inning during the second half. The list has to begin with Mike Adams, who sports an elite 1.32 ERA and 0.71 WHIP going into Sunday’s action, with 41 Ks and six walks in 41 innings. Once Heath Bell is traded (and the odds of a Bell trade have to be something like 80 percent), Adams immediately becomes a top-10 closer. He’s likely already taken in competitive leagues, but it’s worth casting a line to his owner to gauge his availability via trade.
Next we go to New York, where Francisco Rodriguez looks like a lock to be traded unless the Mets position themselves for a pennant run in the next few weeks. Jason Isringhausen long looked like the best option to take over the closer role, but he’s struggled a bit lately, giving up runs in four of his last 10 appearances and striking out none while walking three in his last five games (over 4.1 innings). Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell has a 30:9 K:BB ratio through 24.2 innings to go with a 2.92 ERA. However, the Mets can use Parnell for more than an inning at a time if need be, as they have in four of his last 11 appearances. They don’t have that luxury with Isringhausen, which may make Izzy the closer by default. Of course, he’s a possible trade candidate as well, making Parnell a sneaky pickup before the league starts the July trading season.
Matt Capps appeared to be destined for the fantasy wastelands after he failed to go a full inning in each of his first three games in July, giving up five runs along the way and watching Glen Perkins pick up two saves along the way. Ron Gardenhire elected to stick with Capps in the Twins’ next save opportunity, and Capps came through with a perfect frame. While Perkins is worth an add in deep leagues, the intriguing name here is Joe Nathan, one-time king of the fantasy closers. After allowing a solo homer in his first game back with the Twins, Nathan has pitched 5.1 scoreless innings over six appearances, striking out six guys and walking none. Expect Nathan to regain the closing role at some point, whether it be by a Capps trade or meltdown.
It’s clear to anyone looking at the stats that Koji Uehara is a better pitcher than Kevin Gregg this year. The Baltimore closer has walked 21 batters in 34.1 innings during his 15 saves, and unlike a guy like Carlos Marmol, Gregg doesn’t balance that walk rate with a good K rate (28 Ks this season). When I look at Uehara’s 51:8 K:BB ratio in 39 innings, I can only think the Orioles are trying to get Gregg as many saves as possible to make him appealing to a potential contender (St. Louis? Philadelphia?). Uehara’s been an effective fantasy pitcher even in the setup role; here’s hoping he can tack on some second half saves.
After a rough patch early in the season, Joakim Soria took a brief respite from the closing gig, and because it happened to come during a time where the Royals couldn’t buy a save opp, he regained the role before anyone could establish themselves as a potential long-term option should Soria be traded. He makes sense in Philadelphia, where injuries have crippled the bullpen, and St. Louis, where ineffectiveness struck until Fernando Salas gained the job. Aaron Crow was named the closer back when Soria took his break from the role, and he had been in the middle of a stellar season until his last two games, when his ERA raised from 1.36 to 2.13. Expect him to become the closer in the event of a Mexcommunication.
Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch have been playing ping-pong with the Toronto closing job all season, and neither has acted like he wants to be in the ninth inning once he gets there. Rauch has converted just seven of 10 save opportunities while picking up three wins and three losses, and his 4.34 ERA only looks solid when compared to that of Frank Frank, who’s 1-4 with 10 saves in 14 chances and a 5.92 ERA. The Jays are clearly having bullpen issues, but they have another former closer toiling away in the middle innings that actually is having a solid season. Octavio Dotel has managed a 3.51 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 25.2 innings while striking out 28 batters, posting a .191 BAA along the way. By comparison, Rauch’s BAA is .250, and Francisco’s is .301. Why isn’t Dotel closing?
J.J. Putz will regain his closing job when healthy (should be within the first week back from the break), but David Hernandez has been an excellent replacement, rattling off five straight saves in July while allowing no hits and just one walk with six strikeouts. Keep Hernandez in mind should Putz look less than 100 percent when he returns … Mark Melancon has struggled over the last few weeks, raising his ERA from 1.62 on Father’s Day to 3.15 after the first week of July. He’s blown his only save opportunity in that timeframe, as the Astros are truly a team that struggles to find save opps. Wilton Lopez probably would have the job already if he was impressing (he’s not), but he has been pretty solid in July. I don’t forsee a change coming, but in Houston, does it matter? … Like the Astros, the Dodgers have had problems finding save opps, meaning Javy Guerra’s Friday save was his (and the team’s) first since Father’s Day. Guerra is still the closer for now — don’t be disconcerted by his lack of saves for your fantasy team. Kenley Jansen, by the by, has looked excellent (minus a little control issues) since returning to the Dodgers on June 18. Speculators may want to strike.