In the Bottom of the 9th, we talk about the ever-changing landscape of baseball’s ninth inning, who’s in, who’s out and who’s pitching like they never want to close again, or “Frankling it.” We usually look for the next man up in our quest to SAGNOF a fantasy championship. Fernando Salas? Check. Sergio Santos? Give him here. The list goes on.
This time around, however, the notable names ascending to the closer throne are guys we already know: the injured, the fallen, the disposed and disabled making their (hopefully) triumphant returns. Smart owners will check the wire and make sure impatient owners didn’t let these people go.
The Oakland A’s had been making due with a Dirty Fuentes, but that’s changed now that Andrew Bailey is back from the disabled list. Word was that Bailey would be eased back into the closer role, and with the A’s Moneyballing losses in 12 of their last 13, the changing of the guard may have escaped notice. Friday, in the A’s lone June win to date, the A’s entered the ninth inning down 5-3 only to score four runs off suddenly shaky stopper Sergio Santos. Bailey then made his triumphant return to the bottom of the ninth, getting three quick outs for his first save of the season. Bailey is the guy to own in Oakland, while all other A’s relievers are expendable.
After blowing back to back save opportunities at the end of May, the Mex-Factor was removed from the ninth inning in favor of relief wunderkind Aaron Crow. However, we effectively were counting Crow’s save opps on no hands, as aside from two walk off wins, the Royals put losses on the board throughout the beginning of June. By the time an opportunity to save the game came around on June 9, the Mex-communicator was the guy getting the job done, with Crow mopping up the eighth inning. I’m Too Mexy For My Shirt converted another save the following day, so we’re back to the status quo in Kansas City.
In Toronto, we correctly predicted Frank Francisco (a.k.a. “Frank Frank”) would be re-installed as the closer. Others argued it shouldn’t happen. Turns out we were all right. After a nice run of saves at the beginning of May, Frank Frank hasn’t successfully converted an opportunity in nearly a month, earning two blown saves and three losses since May 19. Jon Rauch has two saves to his credit over that timeframe, while Octavio Dotel and Casey Janssen each have contributed one. This isn’t a full-blown committee — Rauch has been dealing with a lat injury, giving Janssen the chance to swoop in and snipe a save. Frank Frank should be benched in larger leagues, while waiver wires need to be scanned for Rauch.
Mark Melancon has been excellent in the closer role, converting six of seven save opportunities while Brandon Lyon was out and maintaing an ERA in the mid-1.00s. However, since the Astros are the Astros, they likely want Lyon eventually closing again. In his first game back, Lyon allowed a solo homer in a blowout loss; his second time around, he came into the 10th inning of a 2-2 game and allowed four base runners without recording an out. All the runners would eventually come around to score. Melancon had pitched a scoreless ninth. Houston should quickly realize that Melancon needs to remain in the ninth inning, and I’ll still take the under on my “10 Saves for Lyon” line.
Kevin Gregg blew a save opportunity on June 11, and a comparison between his and Koji Uehara’s stats this season indicates that a role switch is just a matter of time. It’s not that Gregg has been awful, but Uehara is clearly the better pitcher.
Craig Kimbrel is still the closer in Atlanta, but Johnny Venters has picked up the team’s last two saves. Don’t expect a role switch this season, though with Venters’ eye-popping stats (40.2 IP, 2 ER, 43 K), he deserves to be owned worldwide in fantasy leagues regardless.
Sergio Santos has went from untouchable to shaky, giving up eight runs in his last three appearances after posting 22 scoreless outings in his first 23 appearances this season. He buckled down for the save in his most recent game and has a solid grasp on the closer role, but speculators should be on Matt Thornton watch.
Leo Nunez has been bothering with back issues, allowing Steve Cishek to record a save in his ninth major-league appearance. Nunez is expected back any day now, so Cishek doesn’t have any long-term value. Nunez owners wanting to handcuff their closer though now know who’s next man up.
Scott Elbert is the latest name to join the parade of Dodger save candidates, earning a one-out save on Sunday. He’s not worth owning in fantasy, as matchup-based save opps are few and far between. Interestingly, Blake Hawksworth started the ninth inning. I wouldn’t bother with any of the Dodger relievers — Elbert’s one-out save was the Dodgers’ only save in the first two weeks of June.
A stomach bug kept Kyle Farnsworth out of action Sunday, giving J.P. Howell an easy save opportunity. Considering Howell has a 10.50 ERA, you shouldn’t be rushing out to add him. I wouldn’t expect Howell to earn the closing job even if something serious were to happen to Farnsworth, who remains the only Tampa Bay reliever worth owning in mixed leagues.