Closers have a very difficult job to do, which is probably why so few relievers are consistently good at it. When things aren’t working out for a closer, he gets the added pressure of knowing the manager is looking at the other five or six guys in the bullpen and figuring out which one can do better. And to be honest, there usually are one or two relievers that could do a better job than the current closer on a team. In fantasy baseball, being out in front of any potential closer changes is key to winning a league. As a matter-of-fact, I’d rank it third behind avoiding injuries to key players (very difficult) and not drafting B.J. Upton (quite easy).
With Opening Weekend now in the books, we’ve seen six closers blow saves in the first few games of the season. Of the six, at least one guy will be supplanted from his role as closer eventually, and possibly very soon. In fact, grab your preseason reliever rankings, draw a line halfway through the top 30 and come to the realization that half the closers underneath the line will likely fail to keep the job all season. Some of the guys above the line may be joining them. Welcome to The Bottom of the 9th.
They Blew It
Fernando Rodney – The owner of a career 1.45 WHIP in 381 games, Rodney has grown accustomed to living on the edge. He was true to form on the first day of the season, allowing a walk and a hit while notching a save. His luck didn’t continue on Sunday, as Rodney walked the bases loaded while only recording one out, then surrendered a double to Wilson Betemit to blow the save. Rodney was mercifully pulled from the game at that point. Jordan Walden has become a must-own fantasy commodity in a hurry. He’s the closer of the future, and the future should be now. Desperate owners can also grab Kevin Jepsen and/or Scott Downs in case either of them has something on Mike Scioscia.
Brandon Lyon – Just when it appeared the Astros were going to shock the world and take down NL favorite Philadelphia and Cy Young favorite Roy Halladay in the first game of the season, Lyon saved the day by doling out singles like he was in a strip club. When the smoke cleared, Lyon was the proud owner of an 18.00 WHIP. He hasn’t ever held the closer role for longer than a season, only topping ten saves in 2005, 2008 and 2010. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trend continue, with Lyon being ousted before he hits double digits. I’ve been a fan of Mark Melancon for a while, and my money is on him as the team’s long-term closer, but Houston’s usage pattern with the youngster suggests they may not be comfortable with him in the ninth just yet. That brings us to Wilton Lopez, who had a sick 50:5 K:BB ratio last season, his first full season in the majors. He notched a hold before the Lyon disaster and would be great in the ninth should Houston make the change. By midseason, I’d expect to have Lopez in the ninth, Melancon in the eighth and Lyon in middle relief where he belongs.
Ryan Franklin – As the closer of the Cardinals for the last three seasons, Franklin has a little bit more rope than the gentlemen listed above, but with St. Louis expected to be in a dogfight for the NL Central crown, he can’t afford too many missteps. The first hiccup came on Opening Day, with Cameron Maybin taking Franklin deep to tie the game. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t really have any other great options in the bullpen, so it’s quite possible Franklin will stay the team’s closer if he avoids a monumental meltdown. If that were to happen, Jason Motte would likely move into the ninth-inning role. He’s not worth an add right now, especially since he’s not pitching particularly well.
John Axford – Axford came out of nowhere to become Milwaukee’s closer last season, and he did a great job, posting a 2.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP while saving 24 games. He was so good that fantasy owners were willing to make him one of the top 15 closers off the board. He’s gotten the season off to a rocky start, giving up four runs on Thursday, including a three-run walkoff homer to prolific hitter Ramon Hernandez. Sunday saw Axford come into a 12-3 game, surrender two singles and record two outs. He’ll have to get his act in line quickly, as relievers that come out of nowhere to have fantasy value can just as easily go back to wherever it is they came from. Takashi Saito, who has 84 career saves, would take over in the ninth inning if the Ax Man can’t duplicate last year’s magic.
Francisco Rodriguez – K-Rod is in no danger of losing his gig — he makes too much money for that — but he also joined the blown save parade by giving up three hits and walking a batter on Saturday. Luckily for fantasy owners, he came out sphinctorious after the Mets put up a three-spot on the Marlins. Blaine Boyer earned the rogue save in the 10th inning, but Bobby Parnell would be the guy to own were something to happen to him or if K-Rod’s girlfriend’s father ever comes to another game.
Carlos Marmol – Marmol also made the blown saves team by giving up a couple runs on Sunday. The Pirates played it perfectly, sacrificing two runners over with no one out, and Pedro Alvarez delivered the two-RBI single to give his team the lead. Marmol induced a double play to get out of the woods without causing further damage. He’s obviously not relinquishing the closing job anytime soon. Kerry Wood would become the closer if injury were to strike Marmol.
That’s going to wrap up the first edition of The Bottom of the 9th, but we’ll come back with other reliever-related news periodically. Until then, may your adds be wise and your closers be safe.