Digging Deeper into Closers: AL East Bullpen Report

Reid Contini - RotoBaller

AL East Bullpen Report

Baltimore Orioles

Presumed closer: Jim Johnson
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 95%

Jim Johnson and his MLB-leading 51 saves (in 54 opportunities) were a major reason the Orioles posted an outrageous 29-9 record in one-run games in 2012, but there will almost certainly be a decline in those opportunities on a team that most prognosticators don’t expect to seriously contend again. That being said, don’t expect much of a regression in Johnson’s performance: while the hard-throwing righty won’t miss many bats, he offsets that with superb control and by keeping the ball on the ground. He’s locked in as Baltimore’s closer.

Others to know: Johnson’s backup is most likely right-hander Pedro Strop, a Dominican flamethrower who posted a sterling 2.44 ERA last season while stranding an exceptional 83.2% of runners. After Strop could be Darren O’Day, a righty with a strong K/BB ratio who has oddly bounced around despite being a very effective reliever for most of his Major League career.

Boston Red Sox

Presumed Closer: Joel Hanrahan
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 90%

Following an injury-plagued and ineffective season by Andrew Bailey, the Red Sox went out and acquired Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates in December, and they wasted no time in naming him their closer. Since 2010, Hanrahan has been one of the top relief pitchers in the game, and since becomgin a full-time closer in 2011, he's converted an elite 90.5% of his save opportunities. Pitching through a knee injury last season probably contributed to his ugly spike in walk rate (5.4/9), but the fireballing righty retained top-end strikeout stuff and shouldn’t miss a beat in Boston.

Others to know: Andrew Bailey is the top option to replace Hanrahan should there be any problems, but he must prove that he can stay healthy and pitch effectively before the decision is automatic. Possibly behind Bailey are Daniel Bard and Koji Uehara; Bard’s 2012 was a complete disaster and Spring Training will show if he’s ready for the big leagues again, while Uehara, quietly one of the most dominant relievers in baseball the past three seasons, looms as a dark horse.

Mariano Rivera allison 7 29 07New York Yankees

Presumed closer: Mariano Rivera
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 100%

Mariano Rivera missed most of last season after tearing his ACL during a pregame mishap, but the Yankees didn’t miss a beat with Rafael Soriano on hand to close games. With Rivera healthy and Soriano now in Washington, it will be business as usual for New York on Opening Day. Until proven otherwise, continue to look at the 43-year-old Rivera as an elite option.

Others to know: Behind Rivera is David Robertson, whose lethal fastball/curveball combination has produced a 2.95 ERA and 12.0 K/9 in 262.2 career innings. Due to the obvious concerns about Rivera’s age, Robertson is worth selecting in the late rounds of fantasy drafts as a strong handcuff.

Tampa Bay Rays

Presumed closer: Fernando Rodney
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 85%

To say that Tampa Bay’s $2M flier on Fernando Rodney paid off last season would be an understatement. Relatively solid but unspectacular throughout his career, all Rodney did was submit one of the best seasons of relief pitching in Major League history. The right-hander always had the ability to miss bats, but dropping his walk rate from a career 4.9/9 entering 2012 to 1.8/9 in 2013 was the single biggest factor in his remarkable effectiveness. The 36-year-old Rodney will certainly regress in 2013, but he’s earned a good-sized leash with manager Joe Maddon.

Others to know: The most likely candidate to replace Rodney should he struggle is probably Joel Peralta, a guy many fantasy owners thought would get the job last season. Peralta has been a high-quality reliever for three straight years and has posted a very nice 4.1 K/BB ratio in his two seasons with the Rays. Additionally, left-hander Jake McGee might also get consideration coming off a season in which he posted a 1.95 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and outstanding 73:11 K:BB ratio in 55.1 innings.

Toronto Blue Jays

Presumed closer: Casey Janssen
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 90%

The Blue Jays acquired Sergio Santos and planned on having him close during the 2012 season, but a slow start followed by season-ending shoulder surgery resulted in Casey Janssen taking the baton- and he ran with it. The right-hander was terrific for the Jays, converting 22 of 25 save chances and registering a 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 67:11 K:BB ratio in 63.2 innings. Relatively minor offseason shoulder surgery has put Janssen’s status for Opening Day in doubt, but he makes for a terrific value pick in fantasy drafts after the first two or three tiers of closers are off the board.

Others to know: Santos is next in line behind Janssen and would open the season as closer if Janssen misses the start of the season. Notably, a healthy Santos saved 30 of 36 games for the White Sox in 2011 and posted a strong 11.6 K/9 in his two seasons on the South Side. Setup man Steve Delabar and his potent fastball/splitter combo might also be in the mix with a career 3.70 ERA and 12.2 K/9, albeit in only 73 total IP.