Sunday, May 1, 2016

AL CENTRAL CLOSER DEPTH CHART ANALYSIS

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

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!

Tigers:
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Job Security: 4)
Next in line: Mark Lowe

Rodriguez seems to have been around forever, but he's only 34, though to be fair, he made his MLB debut at age 20, so he kinda has been around forever. "K-Rod", as he's known, experienced somewhat of a career renaissance during his second Brewers stint from 2014-2015. Heading to Detroit in free agency, he should provide solid ratios and about a K per inning, though he's gotten off to a rough start.

Should Rodriguez's rough start continue, Mark Lowe could get a chance in the closer role. Lowe is coming off of a suprisingly dominant season (1.96 ERA) between the Mariners and Blue Jays. It remains to be seen whether he can repeat, but it's worth noting that, although he did outperform his FIP and xFIP (2.57 and 2.83, respectively), it wasn't completely smoke and mirrors: he posted career bests in K/9 (9.98) as well as BB/9 (1.17).

If something were to happen to Rodriguez, it's possible Brad Ausmus would opt for a committee approach with Lowe and Justin Wilson, rather than handing the job over completely. Wilson is a solid reliever (2.69 FIP in 2015) and would provide a left-handed complement to Lowe.

Twins:
Closer: Kevin Jepsen (Job Security: 0)
Next in line: Trevor May
Looming: Glen Perkins (DL - shoulder)

Tasked with filling in for an injured Perkins, Jepsen has had a rough go of it lately, posting a 4.66 ERA and blowing three saves. Nevertheless, manager Paul Molitor gave Jepsen a vote of confidence, so he appears to be the guy until Perkins is able to return.

Lurking in the background is Trevor May, a converted starter with good stuff that has only somewhat translated to success. His stats show no glaring weaknesses, but nothing stands out as a strength either.

Perkins will presumably regain the closer role when he returns from his DL stint, but it's anyone's guess when that will be, as the team recently announced that Perkins is "not close" to throwing.

Royals:
Closer: Wade Davis (Job Security: 5)
Next in line: Joakim Soria

There's really not much to say about Davis. Since moving to the bullpen, he's been nothing short of fantastic, with back to back seasons with an ERA at or below 1.00. That's insanity.

Betting against Davis is probably bad idea, but if you were going to, you'd likely place your money on Joakim Soria. Once a lockdown closer for the Royals, Soria spent time with the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates before returning to Kansas City. He's gotten off to a rough start in his second stint with the team, with his 5.73 ERA matching his 5.62 FIP, and his horrible command so far (5.73 BB/9) is reason for concern, given the volatile nature of relievers, but for now his closing experience and track record make him the likely handcuff if something were to happen to Davis.

Should Soria's struggles continue, Kelvin Herrera would have a chance to assert himself as the next in line. Herrera has been electric this year, striking out 35.6% of batters he's faced while walking only 4.4%. Depending on your league settings, he may be worth rostering for his ERA, WHIP and K/9 alone.

Indians:
Closer: Cody Allen (Job Security: 2)
Next in line: Bryan Shaw

Do you believe in deja vu? Last year, Cody Allen looked terrible in April (11.57 ERA), but  held the job, bounced back, and ended up with solid numbers at the end of the season. He was similarly terrible this April (6.97 ERA), so owners are hoping history repeats itself. A few alarming trends: His strikeouts are way down (7.84 K/9; last April it was 14.14 K/9), he's generating almost no weak contact (6.7% soft contact, according to FanGraphs), and his velocity is down from 94.9 mph to 93.3.

Bryan Shaw has never been particularly electric, but he has a track record of being a reliable option out of the pen. He's struggled out of the gate (9.64 ERA), but looking under the hood actually reveals some signs of improvement: his K% has jumped almost ten percentage points (from 20.4% to 30.2%), and he's getting substantially more swings and misses (14.3%, up from 10.7% in 2015), and his velocity is at 93.0, more than a full tick higher than last season. Slightly concerning are his uptick in BB% (from 7.2% to 9.3%) and the fact that he's basically cut his groundball rate in half, but I'm very intrigued by his velocity and swinging strike gains.

White Sox:
Closer: David Robertson (Job Security: 5)
Next in line: Nate Jones

Robertson was reinstated from bereavement leave earlier today, pushing Nate Jones back to a setup role. The former Mariano Rivera setup man has been his usual self in the strikeout and walk departments, but he hasn't yet allowed a home run, keeping his FIP at 1.41, which would be a career best. Assuming some regression in his HR/FB rate is due, I'd expect Robertson to be the same reliever he's always been: an exceptionally good one, if not on par with the Wade Davises of the world.

Nate Jones' whiffs seem to have disappeared, as his SwStr% has dropped from 15.3% in 2015 to only 10.9% so far in 2016, despite the fact that his fastball remains exceptionally fast. His slider appears to be the culprit for his (relative) lack of whiffs, as it's whiff rate has fallen from 27.6% to 19.1%, and he's cut it's usage nearly in half. The pitch has almost an inch less vertical movement than last year, and it's usage indicates he may still be trying to get a feel for it. If he does so, he'll likely return to being the whiff machine we saw in 2015.

AL East coming soon!

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