Thursday, April 28, 2016

AL WEST CLOSER DEPTH CHARTS/WELCOME!

Welcome to PitcherBreakdowns! This is my inaugural post. For now, this blog will deal primarily with closers and next in lines, but I hope expand to include more Starting Pitcher-oriented content.

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Today we'll be taking a look at the closer depth charts for each team in the AL West.

The closer and next in line sections should be self-explanatory. The "looming" section is a pitcher who could fit in the first two categories but is currently unavailable because of injury or other reasons. Not all teams have a "looming" pitcher.

Job security scores are on a scale of 1-5. 5 is reserved for the most elite, secure closers. 0 is reserved for pitchers filling in for injured/suspended closers. Most closers will get a 3 or a 4.

Let's get started!

Mariners:
Closer: Steve Cishek (Job Security: 4)
Next in line: Joel Peralta
Looming: Joaquin Benoit (DL - shoulder)

Cishek is fairly well established at this point, and has looked pretty solid thus far. His horrific 2015 seems to be the outlier in his career.

I don't understand it one bit, but Scott Servais seems to really like Joel Peralta, using him in several high leverage situations. If he gets the closer gig, he'd be nothing more than a cheap source of saves at the expense of ratios.

Benoit is currently on the DL with a shoulder injury, but when he returns he'll take the next in line spot from Peralta. A career setup man, Benoit put up a spectacular 1.98 ERA from 2013-2015. He was less than stellar in five innings before being placed on the DL (4:4 K:BB), and you have to wonder if this is the year his age (38) catches up to him. Nevertheless, if he were to get the ninth inning to himself, his track record as a setup man would make him a solid, if unspectacular, closing option.

Fantasy players would love to see Tony Zych work his way up the hierarchy, as he has flashed plus stuff and profiles as a potential closer of the future, but that future appears far away.

Rangers:
Closer: Shawn Tolleson (Job Security: 4)
Next in line: Sam Dyson
Looming: Keone Kela (60-day DL - elbow)

Though he was a little shaky to begin the year, Tolleson has settled in nicely and regained his leash. He's not spectacular, but he gets the job done, doesn't hurt your ratios and appears to have a tight grip on the job.

Eno Sarris of FanGraphs has called Dyson "a righty Zach Britton" due to his above average swing and miss ability and mind-boggling groundball numbers. The comparison seems apt, as Dyson owns a career 67.2% groundball rate. He doesn't have the strikeout ability of Britton, but his worm-burning tendency can help him generate double play balls to get out of jams.

Though it's clear Dyson is the primary setup man, it was speculated he could be bypassed in the event of a Tolleson injury for Keone Kela, in order to have Dyson available to bail other pitchers out of jams. Kela has phenomenal strikeout ability (12 K in only 6.1 IP in 2016) and at only 23 years of age looks like a prime closer of the future candidate. Unfortunately, Kela is expected to be sidelined through the all-star break, if not longer, with an elbow issue.

A dark horse candidate to keep an eye on is Jake Diekman. Like Kela, Diekman features great strikeout rates, although his walks are more of a concern.

Athletics:
Closer: Ryan Madson (Job Security: 2)
Next in line: Sean Doolittle

After being derailed by an elbow injury, Madson got his career back on track with the World Champion Royals last year. Signing with Oakland as a free agent, it was assumed he would handle the 8th inning as part of the bridge to incumbent closer Doolittle. However, he appears to have swiped the job for himself for the time being. His job security isn't low in the sense that he's likely to lose the 9th altogether, but in the sense that it seems like the bullpen is constantly on the verge of a Madson-Doolittle committee.

Presumed the closer going into the season, Doolittle seems to have lost that gig for the time being, though it wouldn't be shocking to see him garner a few saves if a lefty-heavy portion of the lineup comes up in the ninth. If he were to regain the job for himself, he'd be valued similarly to how Madson is right now: solid ratios, but not enough to move the needle much due to the limited innings a closer throws.

If Madson were to go down, it wouldn't be a surprise to see manager Bob Melvin turn to a committee with Doolittle the primary left-hander and John Axford the primary right-hander. Such an arrangement would net each of them a handful of saves, but neither provide enough in other categories to have much value with only a few saves.

Astros:
Closer: Luke Gregerson (Job Security: 3)
Next in line: Ken Giles

It was widely assumed Giles would be the closer after the Astros gave up Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel to acquire him, but AJ Hinch decided to keep Gregerson in the role. Gregerson won't put up eye-popping numbers, but he'll provide solid ERA/WHIP help and decent strikeouts. Despite the pre-season closer controversy, Gregerson doesn't seem to be going anywhere; he's more than effective enough to hold the job all year.

Giles hasn't exactly been making a strong push to overtake Gregerson, posting a 7.45 ERA so far, although that is largely driven by BABIP and HR/FB luck (his xFIP is 2.72). In Philadelphia, Giles was one of the premier relievers in the game, posting sub-2.00 ERAs in each of his two seasons. Assuming that version of Giles returns, he would be one of the best handcuffs in the game and could overtake Gregerson. If he were given the job, Giles would rank among the game's elite closers, assuming he regains his Philadelphia form (a bet I'm willing to make)

Pat Neshek is clearly behind Gregerson and Giles, though he could be a solid option if he somehow finds himself in the closer role.

Angels:
Closer: Joe Smith (Job Security: 0)
Next in line: Fernando Salas
Looming: Huston Street (DL - oblique)

Joe Smith is only a temporary closer while Street is on the DL with an oblique strain. While he holds the job, he'll be a good source of saves with solid ratios and not many strikeouts.

If Smith were to go down while Street is still out, Fernando Salas would likely get the job. He'd be nothing more than a SAGNOF (Saves Ain't Got NO Face, for the uninitiated) who you hope doesn't damage your ratios too much.

When healthy, Street is pretty much the definition of unspectacular; he won't help you much in any category but saves, but he also won't hurt you anywhere.

That concludes the inaugural Pitching Breakdowns blog post! AL Central coming soon.