Tag Archive | "Jonathan Papelbon"

Do You Trust Your Closer?

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Do You Trust Your Closer?

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

Every position in baseball is important. Every pitch. Every catch. Every play. Once the starting pitcher has exhausted, he counts on his relievers to carry some weight for the rest of the game, and then the final touch must be executed with extreme precision by the closer.


The closers role is glamourous yes, but the amount of pressure that lays upon them is intense. They are there for that final inning. They are responsible for finishing a game that the rest of the team has worked long and hard for. They face the final three batters. Well, hopefully just three. The opposing team’s batters have an extra exuberance for one last chance at taking the lead in a game. They have more adrenaline for the last shot at being the hero. Even though every out in every inning matters, the closers seem to have a heavier job to do.

Not every reliever can handle the pressure and stress of this responsibility. A lot of closers get demoted to the set-up guy if they struggle too often. Some even get sent down to the minors to work on their pitches, or even get released.

Detroit Tigers, Jose Valverde, was mercifully given another opportunity with the team this year. After initially releasing him to free agency, no other team wanted the veteran on the back-end of their bullpen. He then agreed to sign a minor league contract with the Tigers organization, and was eventually called back up and given another chance to prove he deserves his former closing role.

Last season, Tiger’s fans would cringe when Valverde was given the ball in the 9th. They never knew what would happen. But one thing for sure was that he would make it interesting. At times he would pitch a flawless inning. Three up. Three down. But more often, the 9th inning would seem just as long as the first 8 innings combined. As Tiger’s fans would shake their heads in disgust, Valverde would still be trusted by his skipper and continue to pitch the painful, what should have been, final inning.

But he was not always unreliable. In 2011, he amazed baseball fans everywhere for completing 49 saves out of 49 tries, being one of the best closers in the majors. So, how can someone with such a solid record do so much damage in 2012, and lose the faith of most of the fans?

Closing a game is not easy.

The Tigers see something in Valverde that the fans right now, are not. And they decided to give him another chance at becoming the phenomenal pitcher that he has been before. Tiger’s fans, and maybe some of the players themselves, are now on the edge of their seats, waiting to see which type of pitcher Valverde will be this season. He has 4 saves, and has blown one so far in 2013.

There is a weakened bond between the fans and Valverde, but then there are other closers such as Phillies, Jonathan Papelbon, who has the trust of most of the entire crowd to be able to finish games. His career numbers prove his worth with a career ERA of 2.30 and WHIP of 1.01. He has 8 saves so far this season and none blown, but last season he had 4 blown saves which was only one less than Valverde in 2012. But for the fans to have faith in their closer, they want that 1-2-3 final inning. Valverde is not that type of closer. But the difference between a much loved Papelbon and a oh-no-here-he-comes Valverde, is consistency.

Another loved closer is Rangers, Joe Nathan. He has 13 saves already this season and not one blown save yet. He has pitched 17 innings and has 16 strikeouts. Nathan has been highly reliable, finishing last season with 37 saves, an ERA of 2.80 and 78 strikeouts. Much like Papelbon, Nathan is dependable. When he is handed the ball in the 9th, the fans are a little more relaxed. And if he fails, they are more likely to be forgiving. But if a closer gets that reputation for being unpredictable like Valverde, he is likely going to have everyone clenching their jaws until the final out.

Valverde has a chance at gaining back the confidence of the fans. His charismatic off-the-wall personality will help soften hearts, but ultimately it is what he does on the mound that will determine the patience and belief of the crowd.

The fans want their closer to succeed. Not only because they want their team to win, but they want that connection between pitcher and fan. That feeling where they know the team is in good hands, so they can sit back and enjoy the rest of the game. But fans do expect pitchers to mess up sometimes. Every now and again, closers are going to give up hits, runs, or blow a save. That is understandable.

Fans are forgiving as long as they do not have to forgive every single game.

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Enter Sandman: The Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour

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Enter Sandman: The Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour

Posted on 12 March 2013 by Will Emerson

All good things must come to an end. This is certainly true right now for the New York Yankees. Mariano Rivera recently announced that the 2013 season would be his last. Now while Major League hitters not on the Yankees will breathe a big old sigh of relief, for the Yankees and their fans it is a sad, sad thing. Rivera is the best closer of all time. I am not even going to say “arguably” on this one, it is pretty much fact. Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time.


Now sure, he is the all-time saves leader with 608 of those bad boys and only Trevor Hoffman is even close to that number. This is quite a feat, if just for the fact that he has had the longevity to get to that total. Of course, he will be adding to this total this season, distancing him further from the retired Hoffman and it makes you wonder when someone will even be close to that number. There is not as much of a cache with saves numbers. Hall of Fame voters have never really mentioned a saves total that is a lock for the Hall, like 300 wins, or 3000 hits, but I would say 600 is above and beyond whatever number they would throw out there. Now, it should be noted that I see saves as one of those tremendously flawed baseball statistics, but I don’t think there is even a debate that 600 is quite something. 600! Think about that.

Among active relievers, none have more than 300. Let’s take Jonathan Papelbon for instance. He is at 257 career saves right now. Without even adding whatever Rivera gets this season, Paps is 341 saves behind Mariano. 351? Yikes! So, let’s say Paps continues to be a strong Major League closer and averages 40 saves a season. At that rate, which is a very good season I might add, he would have to go nine more seasons to pass Rivera’s current number of 608. That would be impressive. Rivera’s mark is not unbeatable at all, but it will be quite some time before anyone even approaches Mo’s final number. But Rivera is so much more then that gaudy, eye-popping number.

Rivera has not only closed games for a long time, but he has dominated hitters for a long time. Rivera’s career ERA is 2.12 and his FIP is 2.75 which, I shouldn’t need to tell you, is quite good. Only twice has he had an ERA over three in his career and one of those times was his rookie season. Rivera has posted a sub-two ERA eleven, count ‘em, eleven times! The Yankees have had the luxury of not having to worry about the ninth inning (with the exception of last season) since basically 1997. Just think about it, in the last 17 seasons, has there been another closer that made you groan as an opposing fan? Maybe Trevor Hoffman, who I think as we evaluate his career will seem like he was somehow underrated or overshadowed? The point is you would be very hard pressed to find anyone who can hold a candle to Mariano Rivera’s career. Is there anyone now who is even in Rivera’s category?

Sure Craig Kimbrel comes to mind as the most dominant closer, but speaking as someone who has had Big K on his fantasy roster, he can get wild at times. I am not saying Kimbrel is iffy, because he is most likely the best closer out there, but I am saying I don’t think he has that aura that surrounds Rivera. Sure, Kimbrel has a long road ahead of him and even Mariano had to build his aura over time. Aside from Kimbrel, there is really not one active closer I can think of that is that close to being a guy that makes me think the game is definitely over once he trots in from the ‘pen. Can you? That sort of dominance may not be seen for quite some time and I am sure we will here plenty about it as the season progresses, that is for darned sure.

The big thing you have to wonder is who will be the Yankees closer in 2014? It seems so far away at this point, but I am sure the Yanks are actively putting a plan into place, something they really haven’t had to deal with on over a decade and a half, a luxury any other major league teams would love to have. Some teams had more than one closer last season, let alone over the past ten or fifteen seasons. At such a fickle position with more turnover than any other in baseball, Mariano Rivera has thrived more than any other and that will be quite hard for the Yankees to replace. Well, you could argue he is irreplaceable, but you know what I am getting at here. Someone is going to have some pretty big cleats to fill for the Yankees in 2014, that we know for certain. So, while there is still a season left for Mariano, I am going to go ahead and tip my cap to his career thus far, despite my utter hatred and loathing for the Yankees. So here’s to you Mariano, and if you could finish your career without another World Series ring, that’d be great, thanks!

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Fire Up The Grill In Pittsburgh!

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Fire Up The Grill In Pittsburgh!

Posted on 23 January 2013 by Will Emerson

Joel Hanrahan is not walking through that bullpen door, Pirates fans. Well, he probably won’t be.


It is a strange and funny world sometimes, so I guess no guarantees. At least for now and, most likely, the foreseeable future Joel Hanrahan will not be walking through that bullpen door. Nope, Hanrahan rode the gravy train on over to Beantown to come outta the ’pen for the Rouge Hose. Now closers, as the aforementioned Rouge Hose can attest, are not so easily replaced. It helps if a team already has someone that can slide into the role fairly effortlessly or, like the Rouge Hose, have enough money to pony up for a hot free agent closer…or an oft-injured one (*cough* Andrew Bailey *cough*).  In any event, Hanrahan, is not as notable or as high priced as say a Jonathan Papelbon (then again, who is?) but Hanrahan was solid game finisher for the Bucs. Hanrahan posted 76 saves over the last two seasons with Pittsburgh with an ERA in the low twos. I didn’t watch nearly as many Pirates games as I would have liked to in 2012, but I never heard much complaining or belly-aching from the Pittsburgh faithful….until Hanrahan went shipping up, er over, to Boston. These were mild grumblings I will grant you, but grumblings nonetheless. If not only for the fact that Joel darted for the big bucks and left the Pirates without an established major league closer. The Pirates, of course, are not flush with cash like the Red Sox, so the best bet for them is someone already in their system. Enter Jason Grilli. Aka the Grillmaster.

Grilli is slated to start the season closing games in the ‘Burgh. Now Grilli has had some ups, some downs, some what-have-yous, in his 10 major league seasons, but as a Pittsburgh Pirate he has established himself as one heck of a good reliever.  Over the past two seasons he has a K/9 of 12.51, including an eye-popping 13.81 number last season in 58.2 innings! I think you know how much I love me some Ks/9! If you don’t, well, I love them, I love them a lot! For relievers in 2012 who threw at least 50 innings out of the bullpen, that was a number good for 4th on the list, behind Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Antonio Bastardo (yeah, that one surprised me too). While K/9 is not the end all be all (although it really should be) it is a very helpful number in rating closers. The more batters you can get out without them putting the ball in play, the better your chances of survival. Simple as that. But, as I said, the strikeouts are not all there is to closing, so let’s see how the Grillmaster compared to some of last year’s closers in other areas.

Well, Grilli posted a 2.91 ERA out of the Pirates bullpen last year, which is a very solid ERA for a pitcher  however this is about middle to back of the pack for closers. His xFIP, however was a tad better at 2.68 and he was hurt a bit by a .309 BABIP, which is not super unlucky but leans a tad more in that direction than towards the “super-duper lucky” end of the spectrum. Although it does not look like the batted ball will be his biggest issue if he is to be the Buccos chosen closer. Grilli walked 3.4 batters per nine innings which, for a starter is pretty good, but for a reliever? A closer? That will need to be improved if he is gonna close the door on Pirates victories. That 3.38 was good for 81st among relievers who threw at least 50 innings out of the bullpen in 2012. Among the 37 closers who had 10 or more saves in 2012, 11 posted higher walk rates than Grilli. Three of those relievers saved three or fewer games and three others would lose their closing gig at some point in the season. The good-ish news, cause I am silver lining type a guy sometimes, is that Grilli’s walk rate is down from 2011 when he was at four walks per nine innings. In fact, that 2012 walk rate was the lowest he has posted since 2005. Baby steps, Jason, baby steps. Besides, shouldn’t we really be seeing how the Grillmaster stood up against what the Pirates are losing at the closer position? That was rhetorical, folks.

Here are the numbers Hanrahan put up as the Buccos’ closer in 2012:

5-2, 36 saves, 63 appearances, 59.2 IP, 2.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP 4.28 xFIP, .225 BABIP, 10.11 K/9, and 5.43 BB/9

Umm, yeah, there are a few red flag numbers there that make it seem wise for Pittsburgh to have not kept Hanrahan around for 2013. 5.43 BB/9?! And I thought Grilli’s walk rate was high?! That’s more than a walk every other inning, in case you didn’t want to do the quick arithmetic. Also that xFIP and BABIP point to a regressions for Hanarahan in ’13. Well, at least Hanrahan didn’t go to a big baseball market pressure cooker, where every bad outing will be picked apart to no end. Oh, wait a minute. Anyways, back to Grilli. Here were his 2012 numbers:

1-6, 2 saves, 64 appearances, 58.2 IP. 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.68 xFIP, .309 BABIP, 13.81 K/9 and a 3.38 BB/9

Not too shabby and all of those stats are based on about the same number of innings Hanrahan pitched. So Grilli had a lower WHIP, xFIP and BB/9 with a higher K/9 and BABIP. Now I am not necessarily saying Grilli was, or is, a better pitcher than Hanrahan, per se. You also need to account for the fact that Grilli was not pitching the 9th for the most part. And while the 7th or 8th inning can provide plenty of high leverage situations the 9th is still going to carry some extra pressure with it. So let us see how we can level the playing field a bit here. Courtesy of Fan Graphs, Grilli had 27 shutdowns and 9 meltdowns in 2012. With shutdowns and meltdowns you can kind of draw a comparison with relievers that close games and those who are 7th or 8th inning guys. Grilli’s numbers but him in the above average category, so that’s good if your a Pirates fan. Hanrhan was pretty similar, if not a tad better, in this regard, posting 26 shutdowns and 5 meltdowns. Also in that above average category, but a tad more above average than Grillmaster.

Now, again, I am not saying that Grilli is better than Hanrahan, merely that this was a good move by the Buccos. Pittsburgh should at least be able to get relatively the same production from Grilli that Hanrahan gave them, at a cheaper cost (Hanrahan will make almost $5M more in ’13). If Grilli cuts down on the walks a tad he could be this years sleeper in the closer field. Maybe I am overly optimistic of Grilli because of his sexy K/9 numbers or because the bar his dad owns has some of the best wings in Syracuse, NY, I dunno? Grilli could very well implode early, and often, losing his closer job, but I like his chances to be an above average closer this year for the Buccos and surprise a few people. For fantasy purposes, you have to like Grillmaster as a great source of cheap saves in ’13. More importantly, if it is not already, I think Grilli’s intro music should be Nelly’s Grillz, who is with me? Wait is Grillz a better nickname than Grillmaster? Well, that’ll be an article for another day.

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craig kimbrel

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The Captivating Closer Conundrum

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Will Emerson

You have probably heard plenty this year about the closer carousels in the majors this season. Every year solid closers can be a tough commodity, with a plethora of closers jobs in jeopardy and every fantasy owner eying the successors to the 9th. This is nothing new. When and how often closing jobs switch hands, well that can certainly change from season to season. Injuries and the phrase “by committee” start making things interesting for fantasy owners and baseball fans alike. So today we are going to look at the closers in the playoff chase and how they could affect their teams respective fates down the stretch. This may also be a good way for you fantasy owners to start evaluating some closers for your playoff runs or, for those owners fading, or already, out of the playoff hunt, to start evaluating for next season especially in keeper and dynasty leagues. Finding a consistently good closer can be tough for real and fantasy teams alike. Apparently it’s hard for everyone, except for TNT, who found one just fine. Never is a closer more important than in the midst of a playoff hunt and during the playoffs. But how should closer goodness be evaluated? Well really, unlike TNT, you would rather have your closer, not know drama.

What I mean is, you cannot just look at the counting stat that is saves, to evaluate a closer. Yes I know that sounds counter intuitive since that is basically THE stat for closers. But think about it this way, a save is valued the same despite the leverage of the situation. Coming in to protect a three run lead has the same value as coming in to protect a one run lead. Saving a game with a 1-2-3 ninth, or saving game after loading the bases, is still a SV in the good ol’ box score. In theory, by law of averages, those closers allowing the baserunners and constantly working into jams, can only wiggle their way out of said jams so often. I’m sure any baseball fan would rather have their team’s closer, more often than not, breeze through the 9th with with very little effort. So although a closer may be racking up the saves, unless you are fan of the closer’s real life team or happen to own said closer in fantasy, you may not have a true idea of their effectiveness. Got that? Okay, allow me to elaborate.

Ideally as a fan, as I mentioned, you would want your team’s closer to breeze through the 9th, 1-2-3. I went ahead an sifted through some game logs and found the closers with the most 1-2-3 innings in save opportunities this season:

Craig Kimbrel, ATL- 20
Fernando Rodney, TB- 16
Joel Hanrahan, PIT- 13

Coincidentally, or not so much, as of the end of play Sunday these are three of the four closers with 30 plus saves and all three of their teams are in the playoff hunt. Of course these three have had more opportunities than most, so naturally they should have higher numbers in this category. But, of the 27 closers that have recorded 10 or more saves this season, only 11 have double digit 1-2-3 innings in a save opportunity. But how about we see if we can put this in to slightly better perspective.

Here are the percentage of 1-2-3 innings in one inning save opportunities for the closers who are locked in the playoff hunt:

Casey Janssen, TOR- 70.0%
Craig Kimbrel, ATL- 60.6%
Alfredo Aceves, BOS- 59.0%
Fernando Rodney, TB- 55.2%
Tyler Clippard, WAS- 55.0%
Joe Nathan, TEX- 54.5%
Kenley Jansen, LAD- 50.0%
Ernesto Frieri, LAA- 50.0%
Jose Valverde, DET- 48.0%
Joel Hanrahan, PIT- 44.8%
Jim Johnson, BAL- 38.7%
J.J. Putz, ARI- 36.4%
Aroldis Chapman, CIN- 34.8%
Ryan Cook, OAK 30.8%
Rafael Soriano, NYY- 27.3%
Santiago Casilla, SF- 26.3%
Addison Reed, CHW- 20%
Jason Motte, STL- 8.3%

Now there can always be factors outside of the pitchers control that can affect a 1-2-3 inning, but 8.3%, Jason Motte?! Of the pitchers who have recorded 10 or more saves this season the average percentage is around 40%. Basically guys below this mark, may be having their fans reaching for the Mylanta a bit too often and, in Motte’s case, well, buying their Mylanta in bulk from Costco. But this is not all that should worry Cardinal fans. Oh, no, no, no.

Motte has converted one, yes just one, of his five save opportunities where he has come in to protect a one run lead. This is a super small sample size, sure, but still not making anyone in St. Louis breathe easy, or at all, when Motte enters the game. But I would not be too quick to judge or laugh if you are a Giants fan either.

Santiago Casilla, he of the eye-popping 26.3% of innings that have gone 1-2-3, has been slightly better than Motte, but converting five of nine save opportunities protecting a one run lead is hardly confidence inspiring. Here are the conversion percentages when the playoff contending closers have tried to protect a one run lead, with the number of opportunities in parentheses:

Joe Nathan, TEX- 100% (7)
Casey Janssen, TOR- 100% (2)
Fernando Rodney, TB- 90.9% (11)
Jim Johnson, BAL- 87.5% (16)
Craig Kimbrel, ATL- 85.7% (14)
Joel Hanrahan, PIT- 82.4% (17)
Ernesto Frieri, LAA- 80.0% (5)
Rafael Soriano, NYY- 77.8% (9)
Aroldis Chapman, CIN- 77.8% (9)
Addison Reed, CHW- 76.9% (13)
Tyler Clippard, WAS- 75.0% (6)
Kenley Jansen, LAD- 69.2% (13)
J.J. Putz, ARI- 57.1% (7)
Jose Valverde, DET- 55.5% (9)
Santiago Casilla, SF- 55.5% (9)
Alfredo Aceves, BOS- 50.0% (8)
Ryan Cook, OAK- 50.0% (6)
Jason Motte, STL- 20.0% (5)

It appears that Johnson, Soriano, Chapman and Reed can at least get it done in the higher leverage situations, but you have to wonder when the law of averages will catch up to these closers when they are allowing more runners to reach.

But let us delve in just a bit deeper and use the shutdown and meltdown numbers, courtesy of Fan Graphs. For those of you not in the know, a shutdown is when a closer has increased his team’s win probability by six percent and a meltdown is basically that other end of the spectrum, where the closer has gone ahead and decreased his team’s win probability by six percent. Here is a look at the ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns for these playoff contending closers:

Fernando Rodney- 23.00
Jim Johnson- 10.00
Joel Hanrahan- 8.67
Craig Kimbrel- 7.00
Aroldis Chapman- 5.80
Ernesto Frieri- 5.00
Casey Janssen- 4.33
J.J. Putz- 4.25
Rafael Soriano- 4.20
Tyler Clippard- 4.17
Kenley Jansen- 3.71
Addison Reed- 3.67
Joe Nathan- 3.40
Ryan Cook- 3.29
Jose Valverde- 2.67
Alfredo Aceves- 2.44
Jason Motte- 2.00
Santiago Casilla- 1.07

Basically Fernando Rodney has been super duper effective for the Rays. Now, it looks like Cook and Casilla are in the midst of losing their jobs as closer already but the Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers should really be keeping a close eye on the back of their bullpen as well. And although Soriano is above average in the shutdown/ meltdown department, I feel some implosions in his future. If the Braves and Rays fold down the stretch it certainly seems like it won’t be because of their closers. Now, of course, their teams just need to to the ball in their hands.

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Finding Keepers: Philadelphia Phillies

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Finding Keepers: Philadelphia Phillies

Posted on 18 March 2012 by Gary Marchese

The Philadelphia Phillies, in my opinion, are still the best team in baseball.  I have felt this way over the last couple of years and they haven’t won the World Series though.  I thought for sure last year they would win it and they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.  The Phillies continue to be loaded with their pitching staff.  They lost Roy Oswalt this year but gained a closer in Jonathan Papelbon.  The resigned Jimmy Rollins and they also have Jim Thome back.  The Phillies will be missing Ryan Howard for a while and that will hurt them.  They still have to be the favorites in the NL East and maybe the entire National League though.  Lets take a look at some of the players on their team that I would keep on my fantasy team.

SP Roy Halladay, he is the best pitcher in the game arguably.  In my opinion it isn’t an argument.  He is a bulldog, he pitches a lot of complete games and almost never doesn’t go deep into the game.  He strikes out a lot of guys and wins a lot of games.  He is an amazing pitcher and how can you not keep him around on your team.

SP Cliff Lee is another guy that is a bulldog.  He tends to be a little streaky.  He is a great pitcher but he will go on some bad streaks.  He isn’t quite as good as Halladay but he is still good and not a guy I would want to give up.

C Carlos Ruiz is a good hitting catcher.  He won’t hit a ton of homeruns although he has some pop.  In the last two years though he hit 302 and then 283 last year.  He is a solid hitter who will get on base as well.  He has had a 400 and 371 on base percentage the last two years.

2B Placido Polanco is a good second baseman.  He has been around for a long time but he is a career 301 hitter.  If you have him on your team you know he will hit for average and get you some hits.  He also has a decent career on base percentage of 346.

RF Hunter Pence is a good outfielder.  He came over to the Phillies in a trade from Houston last year.  He hit 314 with a 370 on base percentage.  He also had 22 homeruns and 97 RBI.  The three previous years he hit 25 homeruns each year.  He is a guy who you can count on for around 25 homeruns and 80-90 RBI.  He also seemed to be rejuvenated a little by being on a good team.  He is a guy that’s in a good situation now and I would keep him around on my fantasy team.

CF Shane Victorino is a guy I enjoy watching playing.  I love the nickname the Flying Hawain.  The name alone is worth keeping him for me.  He also is a good little ballplayer.  He has a career average of 279.  He hit 279 last year with 17 homeruns and 61 RBI.  He also stole 19 of 22 bases and had a 355 on base percentage.

LF Domonic Brown is a promising young player.  He only hit 245 last year but I would keep him around.  He has great potential and I don’t like to give up on young players too easily.  If he is struggling you can at least keep him on the bench and be patient with him until he fully blossoms.

I hope you enjoy this article along with the other Finding Keepers articles not only I but my colleagues have been working on.  I would love to hear comments under this article and also I can be reached @gmarchesej if you have a twitter account.

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