JimJohnson (Source: USA Today)


A review of last year’s preseason bullpen article.

AL East, what I wrote in 2012;

not much to see here, folks, move along...

Pretty stable bunch, these A.L. East closers. I see Rivera in NY, and no need to cuff. Yet. One of the more astounding careers of our era.

Toronto has greatly improved their bullpen with the additions of Frasor and Santos. Santos of the sky-high k-rate also effectively suppresses hr's. His siera last season was 2.25. I would draft him with full confidence in 2012.

Boston has also re-made their back end. Bailey is a quality closer with a strong k/w ratio of over 3/1. The health concerns are valid, he has a troubling history of arm issues. I would cuff with Melancon. His
peripherals aren't as impressive as Bailey's, but they are very good, and he greatly suppresses hr's, so if required, i think he would do fine closing in Boston.

In Tampa, I'm a Farnsworth believer. He k's enough, walks few, his siera was 2.70 last season, and he has the job. Early in his career, Farnsworth had difficulty locating the strike zone. That is no longer
an issue for him. I think he cracks 30 saves this season. His closest competitor, Peralta is an LR ( see Holland, Greg, and Sanchez, Ed ), with less impressive peripherals than Farnsworth, so i would not
bother drafting him. I wouldn't take a flier on Mcgee this season neither. Jake still walks over 4 per nine, and still has trouble keeping the ball in the park. Both bright red flags for a closer.

There isn't much to love in Baltimore, but there is some like, here. With the off-season signings of starters Wada, and Chen, I think Johnson has the closer job for now. His k-rate isn't good enough to be
premiere, but since he walks so few, it is less an issue than it could be. He allowed very few hr's, and he handles lh very well. My concern is the innings pitched, over 90 last season. Historically, that is too
many for a pitcher you are hoping will be your closer. He is a giant of a man, so perhaps he will be fine. Draft Gregg if you want to elicit lots and lots of laughter in the draft room. That would be his single effective usage.”

Injuries ruined the seasons of four of these pitchers, and I failed to identify the proper handcuff in each instance. Further, I would have pegged Robertson on the Yankees, and advised drafters to put Rodney and Aceves on their ‘never draft’ list. At the age of 35, Rodney dropped his BB/9 by 6, from 7.88, to 1.81. Unprecedented.

I’m happy with the Johnson write up, but one out five is a fail. This season I will be more mindful of the extreme effect injuries have on bullpens.

What I wrote about the A.L. Central in 2012;

“ Detroit; Valverde's suspect peripherals have been talked about often, and we all know about Benoit, so I'll leave that one as pretty obvious.

In Cleveland, a cratering k-rate and a siera way north of 4 warns me that Chris Perez needs a cuffmate. How about Vinnie Pestano? He k'd over 12/9 and brought home a siera south of 2.50. Great numbers and a logical go to, except that Vinnie is a side-armer and, predictably, has difficulty with lefties. Who trusts a side-armer afterall… Tread carefully here. Should Perez pull an April Thornton, Cleveland
may simply stick with him hoping he rides out his difficulties.

Chicago; Speaking of Thornton, I think he makes a great sleeper candidate, as most will be bullish on Reed, potentially leaving Thornton the cheaper option. He is similar to Betancourt, the great veteran bullpen arm, who failed in his only previous shot at closing ( Betancourt in Cleveland and now getting ready to take over the job in Colorado ). Was Thornton just unlucky last April? Word is, he’s getting another shot this spring. In any event, I think Thornton can be had for a very small investment and the worst you get is a very good pitcher.

Minnesota went out and re-signed Matt 'andy' Capps. Draft him and prepare to have your peripherals slapped silly. His k-rate has reached Silva-land, and his siera is also >4. If for some reason, I'm drafting
from the Minny pen, I'm twinning Capps with Glen Perkins. This lefty had no trouble with right-handed batters last season after switching to the bullpen, and he continued to mow down lefties as well. Would
not shock me to see Perkins take the closer job early and do fine with it. Check the Twins April schedule...Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Angels, Rangers. If you are in a league allowing trades, May would be the time to pounce.

We were all very impressed with Greg Holland's dominance in 2011. Regardless, I think Soria is still the closer in KC (unless of course heis dealt ). Holland is a small righty, always a red flag for me. Think Eduardo Sanchez.“

Well, Valverde did collapse, but not until the postseason. Benoit had a solid season, but was never worth more than a buck or two.

Perez started the season injured and got bombed by Toronto upon his return. Cleveland did stick with him, he did recover, and proved to be a great bargain, considering his low draftday cost.

Once again, Thornton held the closer job briefly, lost it, and went on to pitch effectively in setup.

I nailed Minnesota. yipee.

Holland eventually got the closer job, and did very well.

Based mostly on the Twins work, I give myself a passing grade for the A.L. Central.

What I wrote about the A.L. West;

“Seattle; what changed about Brandon League? He cut his walk rate in half. Should he continue to control the zone, he'll continue to have success.

Texas; I have serious concerns about Nathan on the Rangers. His hr/rate jumped to 1.41, his contact rate jumped over 10%, and his fastball is no longer. If Nathan starts 2012 like 2011, he could very quickly become just an expensive set-up guy. I would certainly cuff him with Adams, and perhaps Uehara as well. Both have great peripherals. Uehara can't stay healthy, so I'd take Adams first. Would they bring Feliz back to the pen? Ogando? Lots of options in Texas. Fortunately they are a good team, so drafting their pitchers has upside.

L.A.; the Angels pen is also worth a long think. Walden won the job last season. There is lots to like about him. Topping the list, his huge fastball. He also keeps the ball in the park, and he k's about 10/9. On the red-flag list, almost 4 walks/9, 10 blown saves, and a team that expects to win. A lot. There is also noise that the Angels are thinking of adding another bullpen arm. That is a lot of pressure for a second year guy. There are no obvious handcuffs for him at this time and I have to think there will be at least one more signing before spring training.

Oakland appears to have four closer candidates, Fuentes, Balfour, Devine, De los Santos. All have flaws. At one time, Fuentes was a high k, reliable closer. That guy is gone. He still handles lefties.
Righties, not so much. I don't think he'll be trusted with closing for the A's. Devine does not have good enough control to be trusted, and his fb velocity is cratering. Though check his career home runs
allowed. Wow.

The rookie, De los Santos, has the great fastball, and a super k/rate, but he walks 4.5/9. Some closers get away with that. Santos, Walden, and Jansen come to mind. And of course, Marmol. If his control
improves even a little bit, he could dominate out of the pen. Balfour might be the best bet to earn the job out of spring training. My concerns about him are; his fastball velocity has been declining and his contact rate has risen each of the past five seasons. He is 34, and he has a troubling history of arm issues. Lots of DL time. He's had three great years as a setup guy. If I had to draft from the A's pen, I'd take Balfour and cuff him with De los Santos. Another thing to consider, Beane never stops tinkering. He is like a rookie fantasy manager, the guy who sends you three trade offers a day. If none of these four can get it done, someone else will be brought in and tried.

There has been buzz about Uehara moving to Oakland or Baltimore. Keep that in mind if you do end up with Johnson or an A.“

This analysis earns another failing grade. First for completely whiffing on Wilhelmsen, and second for not giving proper credence to Nathan’s second half in 2011.

What I wrote about the N. L. East;

“Two of the easiest choices; Kimbrel and Papelbon. Neither requires a cuff. Kimbrel is a beast and should be the first closer off the board.

Papelbon isn't far behind. All his peripherals are stunning good. With the vaunted Phillies offence in decline, ( or on the shelf ), and given the supremely high quality of their starters, Philly could
provide the perfect storm for a closer this season. 60 saves?

Nats: Drew Storen isn't in the class of the division's top two, but he also may be drafted with full confidence. I think he'll top 40 again this season.

Miami; Heath Bell. 35. k/w barely over 2. Spiking contact rate, now over 82%. 3.50 siera. No more Petco. The bear is rearing. Let someone else get mauled. Cishek makes a good late round/reserve roster pick. He has great peripherals for a closer, and Guillen has the cojones to make that move.

In New York, I like Francisco to do well in between his trips to the DL. However, that fragility requires a cuff. Of the three most likely candidates, Ramirez, Rauch, and Parnell, avoid Rauch. His fastball has
been in serious decline for several years. Parnell has a huge fastball, and a great gb%, but poor control. Ramirez is an excellent pitcher, but his control can also waiver. Of the two, I'd take a flier on Parnell. like De los Santos in Oakland, if Parnell does learn to control the zone, he'll take off. He's also due for some positive regression, as his babip has exceeded .327 each the last three seasons. Could be a great sleeper pick."

I like that I nailed the fish, Kimbrel and to some extent, Papelbon and Parnell. Francisco was awful between DL. stints, and Storen’s was a lost season. I did own HRod on several teams, but this write-up was too early to tout the Nat’s post Storen-injury pen. A pass, overall, for this division.

My 2012 N.L. Central preview;

Chicago; in 2011, Marmol blew 10 saves, earned an era over 4, saw his contact rate jump ten points, and his fb is declined, again. He needs a cuff if you end up stuck with him. I think steer clear of the Cub's pen altogether. Wish I felt confident Woods could still chuck it.

Reds; Madsen/Marshall. I think Madsen is going to have a great season. Tons of saves and solid peripherals. Last season, both his fip and siera were under 2.65, he doesn't surrender any larry long balls, and he k's a hitter/inning. If you must use a roster spot on another Red's bullpen pitcher, Marshall's #'s were even better than Madsen's last season. Ironic given the struggles of the team he was recently traded by.

Milwaukee/Pittsburgh; Axford/Hanrahan are two of the best available. I don't think either need a cuff.

In St. Louis, I believe in Motte. All his peripherals are solid to great. I think he keeps the Cardinal closer job and has a great season.

Now, what to do about Houston' problem pen. At this time, the main candidates appear to be Carpenter, Lopez, Abreu, and Rodriguez. I don't think Rodriguez is ready to close, his walk-rate is way too high. Abreu is interesting, but I don't trust he can stay healthy. He has a big fastball, but lacks control. Lopez does not have a great fastball and his contact rate is too high for closing. He has the best control of the three, by far, and may be the Astro's best option. He just isn't a very good option. Carpenter has a good fb, but also lacks control. Committee? Trade? One of these guys is worth a very cheap flier. Just be certain the investment is minimal.“

I would be very proud of this work, if not for the Axford prop. In retrospect, the reason I passed on picking him up on waivers after his call up in 2010 was his suspect control throughout his minor-league career. I should have at least mentioned the possibility that National League hitters would make adjustments and that there was a chance Ax would fight the strike zone in 2012. Also, overconfidence in Marshall was costly in a couple leagues. Didn’t consider Chapman, and his terrible walk rate a serious contender for the closing job. Still, enough correct answers to give a passing grade for this division.

N. L. West... what I wrote;

“I have Jansen ahead of Guerra on my depth chart. mlbdepthchart does as well. His k-rate is so high, he adds value even without saves. I think he will get the saves, too.

In Colorado, I'd cuff Betancourt with Brothers, though I do suspect Betancourt will be fine.

I think Street will do well in S.D, as I don't see any of the other arms with good enough control to win the job from him.

Putz is awesome.

The pitcher I am concerned about is Wilson. He walked over 5/9 last season, and his contact rate is too high (81%) for the back-end. My super-deep closer sleeper kick in San Fran...Heath Hembree. He led the minors last season with 38 saves, has a great fastball, good control, and a high k-rate. Should Wilson falter, Hembree may be the guy eventually trusted to close out all those Giant wins.“

Can I give myself an A, for this division?

So, two outright failures, three passes, and one excellent. I took good health for granted too often, and that hurt my results. I warned about Capps, Wilson, Bell, and Nathan, and was correct about three of them. I am disappointed that I misread Nathan. That error was a combination of laziness, and prejudice (I traded $1 Nathan in one of my A.L. roto keeper leagues, I was so certain he was finished). I completely overlooked Ryan Cook, another lazy error, since I did think that bullpen was in flux. Should have been searching deeper.

I tend to forego spending big dollars on closers in roto auctions, and I loathe to make a closer a high-draft choice. In 2013, I will spend more time examining the top options in each pen, so that I will be better prepared to identify the true closer in waiting, if/when the incumbent is removed.

I summarized the article;

“Remember, these pitchers are penny stock options. The challenge with a few of these c-i-w’s, they have become too well known. Pestano for instance. Almost guaranteed to be on several lists. Someone will overpay. Don’t be the guy bidding eight. Sure, you may look back on the season in October and get slightly pissed because, yeah, you knew Pestano could be a closer. It is still not a good gamble in March. You are waiting for one or two of these pitchers to fall into your lap, rather than reach for them when there are surer items available.”

...which in general, is spot on. However, I didn’t always follow that advice. In one league, I did spend a relatively high pick on Jansen, just after Mattingly anointed Guerra as his closer last February. That team won.

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