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Digging Deeper into Closers: AL West Bullpen Report

Welcome to the Preseason Bullpen Report. This edition features the American League West. RotoBaller answers your closers questions here, and you can ask us anything else at our Ask Us Anything section of

AL West Bullpen Report

Houston Astros

Presumed closer: Jose Veras
% Chance to start the season as closer: 60%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 45%

Signed to a one-year, $2M deal that includes $500,000 worth of incentives based on games finished, Jose Veras has been publicly designated the front-runner for the Astros closer role. The right-hander has averaged over 10 K/9 in each of the past three seasons, but he has serious control issues (4.9 BB/9 in 314.1 career innings) and is pitching for one of the worst teams in the game, making this a highly volatile situation.

Others to know: Houston’s bullpen order is murky, but backing up Veras may be southpaw Wesley Wright, who as a specialist last season registered a 3.27 ERA and 54:17 K:BB ratio in 52.1 innings. Working against the five-year veteran, though, are his career lefty/righty splits: a .624 OPS allowed to left-handed hitters against .872 to righties suggests he's probably best-suited in a situational role. Another internal candidate could be Hector Ambriz, but the righty’s career 5.19 ERA and 1.63 WHIP means the ‘Stros would probably be just as likely to throw short money at a veteran closer like Francisco Rodriguez or Jose Valverde should those guys remain unsigned.

Ryan MadsonLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Presumed closer: Ryan Madson
% Chance to start the season as closer: 0%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 50%

Following a lost season in Cincinnati due to Tommy John surgery, former Phillies closer Ryan Madson inked a one-year deal with Los Angeles to handle ninth-inning duties.  Elbow soreness that cropped up in February has delayed Madson’s Spring Training debut, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia says he should be ready for big league action by mid-April.  Madson was one of baseball’s most effective relief pitchers from 2007-2011, but natural questions about his recovery mean he'll be handcuffed by setup man Ernesto Frieri, who excelled as the Angels closer last season.

Others to know: Frieri is clearly next in line after a spectacular showing in 2012 following his early-season acquisition from the Padres. In 54.1 innings with Los Angeles the righty struck out 80 batters, registered a 2.32 ERA and saved 23 of 26 games. Frieri has walked 4.5 batters per nine innings in 162.2 career innings but his elite 12.0 K/9 and 84.4% LOB% show he has the stuff to work around any control issues. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the Angels’ fireman this year.

Oakland Athletics

Presumed closer: Grant Balfour
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 75%

Despite losing the closer job in early May last season, Oakland reliever Grant Balfour eventually re-took the role and largely continued what has been several years’ worth of quality pitching. Since 2010, the Australian right-hander has posted a composite 2.44 ERA and 1.01 WHIP due in large part to finally cutting back on his walks while maintaining a strong strikeout rate. Minor offseason knee surgery has limited Balfour in Spring Training but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season, just be advised that his advancing age and final-year contract status make him a possible trade candidate come July.

Others to know: Hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Cook stands to benefit most should Balfour be removed from the closer role. The USC product posted a 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 80:27 K:BB ratio in 73.1 IP last season, and he will probably get a shot at ninth-inning duties at some point in 2013. Behind Cook is Sean Doolittle, a lefty who impressed as a rookie last season with a 3.04 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 60:11 K:BB ratio in 47.1 IP.

Tom Wilhelmsen 2012Seattle Mariners

Presumed Closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 85%

Tom Wilhelmsen took over as Mariners closer in June and never looked back, saving 29 of 34 games and becoming one of baseball’s best ninth-inning options. The right-hander pairs a mid- to high-90s fastball with a strong curveball while mixing in the occasional changeup, an arsenal he deployed to the tune of a 2.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 87:29 K:BB ratio in 79.1 IP. His hold on the job is secure, but there’s a chance that his late bloom and favorable contract terms push him into the July trade market, especially when considering the talent behind him.

Others to know:  The exact pecking order for saves behind Wilhelmsen is unclear at this time, but the top two candidates are Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps. Pryor has consistently logged big-time strikeout totals in the minors, and as a rookie for Seattle last season he posted a 3.91 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 23 IP. He’ll need to cut down on the walks to be more effective at the Major League level, but the burly right-hander throws serious heat with movement and retains significant upside. Capps, meanwhile, has some of the most electric stuff in the game. After striking out 96 batters in 69.1 career minor league innings, the 22-year-old RHP made 18 appearances down the stretch for Seattle last season and registered a 3.96 ERA and 28:11 K:BB ratio in 25 IP. Capps throws one of the heaviest balls you’ll ever see and averaged 98.3 on his fastball last season; as long as he can harness his stuff there’s little doubt he could be a potentially dominant reliever.

Texas Rangers

Presumed Closer: Joe Nathan
% Chance to start the season as closer: 100%
% Chance to be closer at All-Star break: 95%

Longtime Twins closer Joe Nathan struggled to regain his elite form in 2011 following Tommy John surgery, but Texas took a two-year, $14M gamble on the righty and hit the jackpot. Nathan turned in a season worthy of his 2004-2009 Minnesota heyday, closing out 37 of 40 games with a 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a sparkling 78:13 K:BB ratio in 64.1 IP.  Despite turning 38 in November, there’s really no reason not to expect more of the same from Nathan.

Others to know: Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor are both solid options behind Nathan on the Rangers depth chart. Soria, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is not expected back until May or even June, will likely be the top option if he can regain even a semblance of the elite form he showed in Kansas City from 2008-2010. The 35-year-old Frasor has logged a respectable 8.6/9 strikeout rate in 522.1 career innings, and he has some closing experience from his years in Toronto, so he could be another guy to watch for in Texas.