Closer Chaos: Mets, White Sox & Indians

by Ray Lin

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why it’s never wise to invest too much on draft day in the ninth inning. Two months into the season, we find ourselves surrounded by total carnage on the battlefield of closers. From devastating injuries to incompetence, far too many closers have let down their fantasy owners.

Let’s take a look at three teams currently sifting through the most debris in search of some stability and consistency pitching at the end of games.

New York Mets
First, Bobby Parnell gets season-ending surgery. Then, we experienced the Jose Valverde fountain of youth giveth and taketh away. The Kyle Farnsworth experiment went by the way of the Hindenberg. Yikes.

After hinting at Jeurys Familia (3.43 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in 21.0 IP) potentially being tried for the closer’s role, manager Terry Collins has gone with recent rotation-to-bullpen convert Jenrry Mejia (4.43 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in 42.2 IP). While things weren’t working out for him as a starter, Mejia has actually thrown up four scoreless frames since getting the call from Collins.

Currently in his 7th season with the Mets, Mejia has always had a solid ability to strike batters out (7.27 K/9 in 125 career IP). On the flip side, his walk rate has hovered right above 10% the past few seasons, so there is also some work to do. A bright spot is that he’s always been able to induce around 60% ground balls, helped in large part by his quality changeup that has sinker-like qualities. Pair that with his mid-90s fastball and Mejia certainly has the look of a closer that can stick if he can cut down on the free passes.

Prospect Vic Black, who recently rejoined the major league club after rehabbing from a neck/nerve injury, is arguably still viewed as the Mets closer of the future. It’s still going to be a battle for him, though, as he struggled with his command when he was in the big leagues earlier this year. Black is worth a stash in NL-only keeper leagues, but those fishing for saves can hitch their wagon to Mejia for now.

Chicago White Sox
Does this make Curt Schilling and Matt Lindstrom Sox blood brothers now? The South Siders were dealt a big blow this week when Lindstrom suffered a left ankle injury trying to field a bunt. It turned out to be a sublexing peroneal tendon injury (aka the Schilling “bloody sock” injury). The current timetable is roughly three months, leaving Robin Ventura and the White Sox with a decision to make at fill-in closer.

So far, Ronald Belisario appears to be the primary option. Belisario and his trendy glasses developed into a solid reliever in Los Angeles the past four years, but only had 4 saves at the major league level coming into his first season in Chi-town. The experiment has not been going well of late, with his ERA ballooning from 3.96 to 5.14 after allowing 5 ER in his past three appearances, including an ugly blown save against the Yankees on Saturday.

So what are the positives? Belisario’s FIP has actually been a solid 2.91. He’s also done a tremendous job of inducing ground balls (nearly two-thirds of all balls in play) and through 28 innings has the leanest walk rate (5.9%) of his career. That’s unlikely to hold up, but if he can maintain roughly a 3.0 K/BB rate, he’d be in good shape.

Young guns Daniel Webb (2.39 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in 26.1 IP) and Jacob Petricka (1.63 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 27.2 IP) are still candidates to overtake Belisario at some point this summer, but a glaring red flag is that both have walked nearly as many batters as they’ve struck out. For now, Ventura has said Belisario will stick in the ninth despite the recent hiccups.

Cleveland Indians
It’s been a roller coaster ride the past few seasons for John Axford, who broke out to save 105 games for Milwaukee from 2010-2012 before self-destructing with an ugly 0-for-6 in save situations in 2013 that resulted in a demotion and eventual trade to St. Louis.

He redeemed himself slightly with the Cardinals (1.74 ERA in 10.1 IP), which helped him earn a free agent contract with the Tribe this past offseason. While he was signed to be the closer in Cleveland, he’s put up an atrocious 4.91 ERA and 1.77 WHIP, so one could hardly fault manager Terry Francona for demoting him from the closer role two weeks ago.

Francona vowed to go with the dreaded closer-by-committee approach that appeared to start with right-hander Cody Allen (3.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 19.2 IP), but he has already blown a save and has seen his ERA jump over the span of just 5 games. As a result, the door has creaked open ever-so-slightly for Bryan Shaw, who has only allowed one run while walking none in 5.2 IP since Axford’s demotion.

Shaw was a longtime Diamondbacks farmhand who has seen much better success in Cleveland, striking out 92 batters in 98.1 IP while compiling a 2.83 ERA. His K-rate has sat comfortably above 20% in his two seasons with the Tribe and, more importantly, he’s managed to shave his walk rate to a superb 3.3% this year. Francona does have a veteran option in southpaw Marc Rzepczynski (3.06 ERA, 1.47 WHIP in 17.2 IP), but I’d bet that Shaw continues to outperform the rest of his pen pals and run away with the job.

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