Tag Archive | "Closers"

Jason Motte injury has all signs of long-term problem

In four years Jason Motte went from a hard-throwing catcher to a pitcher who closed out a World Series championship and became a linchpin in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen but, as is the case for many closers, now it is his turn to land on the disabled list with arm problems.

MathenyMotte

The Cardinals announced Saturday that Motte has a right elbow strain and will likely start the season on the disabled list. The team has a viable back-up in Mitchell Boggs, but Boggs could end up being the Cardinals closer for most, if not all, of 2013.

Although Motte technically has a sprained elbow, he underwent an MRI on Friday that found a tear in one of the ligaments. That sounds an awful lot like what shortstop Rafael Furcal experienced when he tore an elbow ligament Aug. 30. Furcal didn’t play the rest of the season and will now miss the 2013 season after he finally had Tommy John surgery.

That’s not to say Motte is headed toward Tommy John surgery and will be out for the year, but a tear in an elbow ligament doesn’t usually heal itself, at least not quickly.

But this isn’t doomsday for the Cardinals. They can still compete for a playoff spot or even win a World Series championship without Motte. Other teams have experienced this type of situation with their closer, and whether they got lucky to have a good fill-in closer or they simply had a deep bullpen, they still won a lot of baseball games.

For example, the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants lost their closer, Brian Wilson, at the beginning of the season. But they eventually gave Sergio Romo the job and he finished game after game all the way to a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

The Cardinals are even a step ahead of the Giants because they have a back-up closer ready before the season starts. The Giants had a closer-by-committee situation early in the season as pitchers such as Santiago Casilla tried to finish games before they settle on Romo.

The Cardinals already have Boggs ready to make a relatively easy transition from eighth-inning setup reliever to closer. Boggs led the Cardinals with 78 appearances in 2012 and had a National League-best 34 holds.

Plus, the team has a loaded bullpen that should be able to fill in any open spots without much trouble. Flamethrowing righthanded reliever Trevor Rosenthal has the stuff to shut down hitters for one inning, and the Cardinals have a bevy of righthanded relievers such as Fernando Salas and Edward Mujica who can continue to work the middle innings.

Motte’s injury also might affect the battle between Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation. The Cardinals could decide to give the rookie Miller the starting job and put Kelly in the bullpen since he worked eight games for the Cardinals in relief last season.

In any case, the Cardinals certainly won’t get the type of consistency from the closer’s role they had in 2012. Motte had all 42 saves for the Cardinals last season and tied with Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel for the league lead.

That’s a bit much to expect out of Boggs, who hadn’t had an earned-run average below 3.50 until he broke through last year and posted a 2.21 ERA.

But the Cardinals do have a deep enough team to survive an injury to their closer. This isn’t an obituary for their season, but the words to describe Motte’s 2013 season might already be chiseled in stone.

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Should Soria stay, or should he go?

Last week, the Royals declined closer Joakim Soria‘s $8MM 2013 option and invoked a $750,000 buyout, making him a free agent. This wasn’t a surprise move, seeing Soria spent 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s not expected to pitch until May or June of 2013.

The Royals would like to sign Soria to a lower cost deal with performance bonuses. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, claims eight MLB clubs have an interest in the closer. Soria would also be open as a setup man for the New York Yankees, if they were interested. So far, the Yankees haven’t haven’t contacted Suarez or Soria.

It’s still early in the offseason and Soria doesn’t have any serious offers yet. Whatever the offer, it’s likely to be a low cost deal with performance bonuses. Soria is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, but he still would generate a lot of interest.

Over his five year Major League career, Soria has 160 saves, a 2.40 ERA and a 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio, making him one of the better closers in the Majors. He did struggle in 2011 with a 4.03 ERA, 28 saves and 3.53 SO/BB ratio, prompting the Royals to briefly move Soria to a set-up role early in the season. His 2012 spring wasn’t much better before the Royals shut him down due to his elbow injury.

There’s some uncertainty how Soria will pitch when he does come back. Will he be the Soria of 2007-2010, or the Soria of 2011? There’s enough uncertainty where a team is unlikely to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract.

Is Soria worth the Royals trying to re-sign him? After he when down, the Royals used Jonathan Broxton as their closer before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in late July. Then Greg Holland took over, who had 16 of 20 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 2.68 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals say they’re comfortable with Holland being the closer, despite the small sample size of August and September. Holland will be 27 this month, just a year and a half younger than Soria, so age isn’t an issue. However, the team has Holland until 2017, so he could be a long-term solution as the Royals closer if Soria doesn’t come back or only stays a season or two.

It’s safe to say if other teams take a chance signing Soria to a two plus year contract, the Royals will let him walk. A healthy 2012 Soria could have made an already good bullpen that much better, but with Holland’s performance as closer and club-friendly salary, the team figures they could get close to Soria-like results with Holland. Even if Soria signs a one-year, club friendly deal, there’s a good chance they will let Soria walk after 2013, especially if Holland has a great season.

If Soria was a starting pitcher, there’s a good chance the club would pay the $8MM option and hope he would contribute to the starting rotation. But the Royals believe they have a capable, low-cost closer in Holland and while having Soria in 2013 would be nice, he’s not essential. The team will make an effort to sign him, but they’re not going to be too disappointed if Soria goes elsewhere.

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The Kansas City Royals “All-Terrible Acquisition Team”

The Kansas City Royals have certainly had some historically terrible acquisitions over the years

Anyone who has been a fan of the Royals for any extended period of time has seen it multiple times. The off-season acquisition of a player another team was dying to get rid of (usually a malcontent), being sold to the Royals fanbase as a game-changing pickup. Every team acquires players that don’t pan out. But no team seems to pick guys up that they pencil in as top/middle of the rotation starters, middle of the lineup bats, or closers that end up embarrassing themselves and the rest of us like the Kansas City Royals. Here, we take a look at the worst of the worst, position by position.

Use the buttons below to scroll through the worst acquisition at each position for the Royals.

<strong>Catcher: Benito Santiago (2004)</strong>

Picture 1 of 8


Santiago came to town with about as much excitement for playing in Kansas City as Juan Gonzalez did at the same time. He made it 49 games before coming down with his own phantom injury, and was then shipped off to Pittsburgh after the 2004 season.

Runner Up: Jason Kendall (2010)

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Who’s the next guy?

Matt Holliday re-signed in 2010.  Albert Pujols is gone.  Yadier Molina re-upped with the St Louis Cardinals last week.  So who’s the next future Cardinal free agent in line for a long-term deal?

Is it Lance Berkman?  Despite the legions of converts to Pumania based on his 2012 season, Berkman is still more closely identified with Houston than with the Cardinals.  Interestingly last season (by OPS+) was the best year of his career.  He signed a one-year deal for 2012 for a symmetrical $12 million, but will be 37 before the 2013 season starts.  St Louis might bring him back on a 2 or 3 year contract, depending on how this season goes, but he has passed the point in his career where a 5+ year deal makes sense.

Is it Adam Wainwright?  Much more likely.  Although on the DL at the end of 2011, which would have allowed the Cardinals to decline his option, that option was picked up, meaning he’ll be with the club through the end of next season.  There is much risk to keeping Wainwright for another 5 or more years.  He’s on the wrong side of 30 (will be 32 after the 2013 season) and has now had Tommy John surgery, meaning his career could end on his next pitch.  In his favor, and helping mitigate that risk, is the fact he has learned at the feet and via the example of Chris Carpenter the past 7 years.  Carpenter is no stranger to arm issues himself, but has learned how to prepare himself in-between starts to minimize the chances of re-injury.  Wainwright is one of the elite pitchers in the NL and it would make lots of sense to retain him.

Is it Jason Motte?  He is also on a one-year deal for 2012, and has two years of arbitration ahead of him before hitting the open market in 2015.  Motte has already been anointed the Cardinal closer by new manager Mike Matheny, a position he capably filled during last year’s magical stretch run and post-season.  St Louis might consider signing the 29-year old to a long-term deal, but given the short useful lifespan closers not named Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman enjoy a lengthy contract could turn into money thrown out the window.  I don’t think St Louis will lock up Motte for more than 3 years at a shot.

Is it David Freese?  Like Berkman, David is on a one-year deal. Unlike Lance, Freese is only making $500K this year, is only 28, and appears to have arrived (based on his performance both during last season and the post-season).  The Cardinal front office is probably waiting to see if he can play 100 games for the first time in his career before entering serious negotiations.  His defense is decidedly average, but his bat is superior at a traditional power position.

I think we have a winner.

If you the fan is looking for the next player to obsess over regarding a long-term extension, direct your energy towards David Freese.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He also blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter.

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Is Fernando Salas A Closer ?

Entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Fernando Salas was called on to protect a slim one run lead. He had been successful on 22 of 25 chances so far, and the Cardinals really needed him to convert number 23. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Salas gave up a solo home run for his fourth blown save of the year. Ironically, the Cardinals would lose the game two innings later when newly acquired Arthur Rhodes also gave up a solo home run.

Now trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by 7 games with just 39 left to play, it is only natural to start asking questions about how this can happen. When you do, one statistic screams for attention – this game was the 21st blown save of the year for the Cardinals bullpen. If the Cardinals had converted just half of those into wins, they would have a 1 1/2 game lead over the Brewers, rather than the 7 game deficit they now face.

Lets take a closer look at these blown saves, and see what we can learn.

Pitcher Chances Saves Blown
Ryan Franklin 5 4
Mitchell Boggs 8 4
Fernando Salas 26 4
Jason Motte 3 3
Trever Miller 3 2
Eduardo Sanchez 7 2
Miguel Batista 1 1
Lance Lynn 2 1

When you look at how the blown saves are distributed, Fernando Salas is suddenly looking like a pretty reliable closer. Throw in the fact that he is also 3 for 3 in holds, and we might need to look elsewhere for those extra 10 wins.

So, how does Fernando Salas stack up to other closers in Cardinals history – and what about all those blown saves ?

Whitey Herzog (1982-1989)

Looking at bullpen save data too much before the Whitey Herzog era doesn’t make a lot of sense. Relief pitchers were used much differently than they are today. Even in the early parts of Herzog’s time, closers were routinely called on for multiple inning saves. Bruce Sutter averaged nearly 2 innings per appearance for much of his time in St. Louis. By the time Todd Worrell had taken over, that number was closer to 1 1/2 innings per appearance.

Let’s take a look at the bullpen efficiency during Whitey Herzog’s time as manager.

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1982 62 15 Bruce Sutter 36 9 80%
1983 45 18 Bruce Sutter 21 9 70%
1984 65 14 Bruce Sutter 45 8 85%
1985 56 12 Jeff Lahti 19 1 95%
1986 58 12 Todd Worrell 36 10 78%
1987 71 23 Todd Worrell 33 10 77%
1988 62 20 Todd Worrell 32 9 78%
1989 60 17 Todd Worrell 20 3 87%

The first thing to notice is that successful teams (1982, 1985, 1987) sure seem to have a lot of save opportunities. More than that, they also convert a high percentage of them into wins. That doesn’t bode terribly well for the 2011 group, does it ?

Another interesting item are the number of blown saves from Bruce Sutter and Todd Worrell, two of the most highly regarded relievers in Cardinals history. Even in good years, you could still expect for each of them to fail to convert around 10 saves. Fernando Salas’ 22 out of 26 save opportunities (85%) this year is looking better all the time.

Joe Torre (1990-1995)

The Joe Torre era, including the transitional year when Whitey Herzog resigned, is among some of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. One look at the bullpen save rates will tell you all you need to know about them, and why they were so frustrating.

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1990 56 17 Lee Smith 27 5 84%
1991 68 17 Lee Smith 47 6 89%
1992 70 23 Lee Smith 43 8 84%
1993 78 24 Lee Smith 43 7 86%
1994* 40 11 Mike Perez 12 2 86%
1995 51 13 Tom Henke 36 2 95%

* strike shortented season

Lee Smith

Oh, the save opportunities were there, in abundance. And how good was Lee Smith ?

If it wasn’t Lee Smith, what were the problems during the Torre years ? The games that Lee Smith didn’t get in. It’s as simple as that.

By the time of the Big Man, the closer was a single inning reliever, and used nearly every time there was a save opportunity. And Smith was a machine, converting at a rate that often approached 90%. If you subtract his appearances from the totals, the other relievers were about 50/50 when taking the ball in the late innings.

But even that doesn’t account for the dismal performance in the era. It was those other games that were not save opportunties. Maybe if Torre had a more productive offense, or didn’t leave pitchers like Jose DeLeon in one inning too long, he might have had some greater success than he did.
Tony La Russa (1996-present)

16 years of the Tony La Russa era are hard to distill down into a single metric, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

 

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1996 67 24 Dennis Eckersley 30 4 88%
1997 58 19 Dennis Eckersley 36 7 84%
1998 75 31 Juan Acevedo 15 1 94%
1999 62 24 Ricky Bottalico 20 8 71%
2000 59 22 Dave Veres 29 7 81%
2001 56 18 Dave Veres 15 4 79%
2002 64 22 Jason Isringhausen 32 5 86%
2003 72 31 Jason Isringhausen 22 3 88%
2004 73 16 Jason Isringhausen 47 7 87%
2005 66 17 Jason Isringhausen 39 4 91%
2006 57 19 Jason Isringhausen 33 10 77%
2007 45 11 Jason Isringhausen 32 2 94%
2008 73 31 Ryan Franklin 17 8 68%
2009 57 14 Ryan Franklin 38 5 88%
2010 42 10 Ryan Franklin 27 2 93%
2011 56 21 Fernando Salas 22 4 85%

The two best seasons under La Russa (2004-2005) have some of the highest save chances combined with the fewest failures. That would seem to be a good recipe for a championship club. One of those teams went to the World Series, and the other got as far as a legendary Albert Pujols home run off Brad Lidge before falling just short of another trip to the fall classic.

We can thank Jason Isringhausen for a lot of that success, but at the same time we should also praise his supporting cast. When other relievers were called on to make saves, they didn’t disappoint. Even in 2006, when the bullpen efficiency was beginning to trend the wrong direction, they were good enough to win it all.

But there is some bad news in the numbers as well. You can find quite a few seasons with 30 or more blown saves – far too many to have any success. And this brings us back to Fernando Salas because the 2011 team was on a pace to dwarf all of those teams with a new dubious record, all to their own. That is until Salas took over, perhaps aided by an untimely injury to Eduardo Sanchez. The kid that we saw saving games with an almost robotic consistency in Memphis is learning how to do the same thing in the big leagues.

Is Fernando Salas a closer ? Absolutely.

Fernando Salas is not the problem with the 2011 Cardinals. The problem is the young man not getting enough save chances. And a big part of that was the manager being too slow to turn the late innings over to the young reliever. If Salas had been the closer on opening day, and assuming his save percentage would remain the same, the Cardinals might have 13 more wins than they do right now, and the Brewers fans would be the ones heading for the ledge.

One last observation, before it gets forgotten. Until Ryan Franklin’s struggles in 2011, he had been an extremely effective closer. Like Salas in 2011, he wasn’t the problem for the 2009-2010 Cardinals. It was too few opportunities because the team had fallen behind and failed to rally late in games. Ryan Franklin had been a very good closer on a team that should have played better than it did.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Getting Back On Track

The Royals fell flat on their faces right before the All-Star break and continued the slide with an 8-4 loss against the Twins in the first game after the break. The trading deadline is just over two weeks away and this has been the time of year where the Royals’ organization decides to focus on their bottom line and trade as much high-salary earners off to playoff contenders.

The team clawed out a 2-1 one victory on Friday night with solid pitching and a two-run, ninth inning blast by Eric Hosmer with Melky Cabrera on second base. Compared to the last several years, this team has shown sparks of life against the Twins. After four games in Minnesota, the Royals will be home all next week to play host to the White Sox and the Devil Rays (both teams are close to or above .500).

Jeff Francoeur’s name has come up in trading block rumors but has made it clear to the Royals’ organization that he wants to stay in Kansas City and it is not hard to see why. He fits into the Royals’ commitment to develop younger talent (he is only 27). He plays well, has become a clubhouse leader and has become a fan favorite to watch.

Joakim Soria and Aaron Crow could also be mentioned in trade talks, as relief pitching for a deep playoff run is also essential. Soria may have had his ups and downs this year but is still one of the best closers in the American League the past few seasons. Aaron Crow has developed into a consistent setup man that can give a team more than one inning if required.

If recent years are any indication of how these quality players are going to be handled, then Francoeur might as well start packing his bags now. However, if the Royals are committed to setting the tone and contend in 2012 after taking their lumps as a bunch of rookies this year, then they need to keep him along with the rest of the team.

Right now, the Royals are one of the healthiest teams in baseball with only one current player on the DL, Jason Kendall. With no starters on the DL, the Royals should be able to get back on track and develop some momentum early in the second half. Injuries played a large role in their first half slide, with three starting pitchers coming down with injuries.

Part of any successful season in baseball is team chemistry. These young players have taken the first half of this season to get to know each other as well as themselves in terms of how they are supposed to play the game. They may not be a team that looks like they’re supposed to win a championship every year (like the Yankees or the Phillies) but after playing an entire season together, they will be well on their way to building a brighter future for Kansas City baseball.

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Getting Ready To Turn the Corner

All-star voting is in full swing and at this point, it looks like a few Royals players are putting together, some would argue, all-star caliber baseball during the first two and a half months of this season. Two of them should be especially noted with their defensive play in the outfield (Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon) as well as solid production at the plate. Billy Butler has been producing another solid .300 season so far.

Despite solid individual performances at key positions in the lineup the Royals have struggled the past couple of weeks, largely due to three starting pitchers still out of the rotation and lack of putting together solid offense innings and giving run support that the Royals young pitching staff desperately need. It has been rough especially in the last ten games, where the Royals have scored three runs or less in seven of them.

This offensive struggle, despite bringing up the hot hitting Hosmer last month, led to Ned Yost to bring up another high quality-hitting prospect, Mike Moustakas. Moustakas made his debut on Friday night in front of his hometown against the Angels and did a solid job going one for three with a run scored, and a walk. In order to make room on the roster for the young slugger, the Royals sent down Mike Aviles, who has struggled nearly all season.

The past few days, the Royals have seen Luke Hochevar and Joakim Soria return to their winning selves by pitching well against Toronto. Soria managed to convert back to back save opportunities this week after resuming his closer role, which is good news for the Royals and bad news for the Royals opponents who are down going into the ninth, because when he is on he is one of the best closers in baseball.

The injuries that had been piling up on the Royals pitching staff in recent weeks has lessened and two of the starters (Chen and Davies) made solid progress on their most recent rehab stints. Jason Kendall made some huge strides as well this week by taking part in batting practice beginning this past Monday. I would expect him to be back by the end of this month at the latest based on how he has progressed on his rehab.

The Royals have had a big influx of high-level prospect talent come through the clubhouse in the past six weeks and every rookie has an adjustment period. Despite having so many rookies on the roster and having several injuries in key positions (pitcher and catcher) the Royals are doing better than some other teams with similar injury related issues. With Chen and Davies coming back by the end of the month along with Kendall, the Royals could make a solid push right before the all-star break and heat things up in the American League Central. It is not going to be easy with the next eight games on the road, which includes a stop in St. Louis, but it is doable.

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What Do The Royals’ Recent Setbacks Mean?

In the midst of a hopeful season, it’s been a tough few weeks for the Kansas City Royals. Let’s take a look at some of the team’s recent setbacks, as well as the bright side of each:

Soria loses closer role

The setback: Joakim Soria, among the most dominant closers in the game over the past few years, was demoted last week after blowing several save opportunities. Soria’s struggles are baffling; it’s been difficult for anyone inside our outside the organization to pinpoint exactly what’s not working. Except for this: his pitches seem a whole lot more hittable to opposing batters this year.

The upside: As Soria moves down, rookie Aaron Crow steps up to the closer role. This is a great opportunity for the Royals to see what Crow, who has been effective as a reliever, is made of. Also, Soria pitched well on Friday in his first non-closer appearance, so maybe the demotion will be short term. If not, this could push the Royals in the direction of converting Soria to a starter.

Moustakas struggles in AAA

The setback: Everybody and their brother would have bet that Mike Moustakas would have been the first Royals prospect to crack the big league roster this year. But a handful of young pitchers beat him to it. Then, Moustakas was relegated to second-class citizen when breakout star Eric Hosmer blasted his way to the majors before Moose. Hosmer was stunning in AAA this year, and so far he’s proven he can play in the big leagues. Moustakas struggled early on, and his title of “Third Baseman of the Future” seems a bit shaky now.

The upside: Every player goes through struggles. And Moustakas has been playing really well the past week in Omaha, where he leads the team in RBIs. If not for Hosmer’s meteoric rise, Moustakas’ struggles wouldn’t be as pronounced. And there’s still a high probability that Moose will be the starting third baseman in Kansas City before the end of the year.

John Lamb to have Tommy John surgery

The struggle: Lamb, the Royals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010, will likely be out for a full season – if not longer – after last week’s announcement that he’s headed for Tommy John surgery. Prior to this move, Lamb was projected as a possible future ace for the organization. Now? It’s anybody’s guess.

The upside: Ten years ago, Tommy John surgery was nearly a death knell for a pitcher. But medical technology has made the procedure much more common and routine. Lamb has a really good chance to bounce back from this and become an even better pitcher. You could make the argument that it’s good this happened now – instead of three years from now, when the problem could have been much worse and harder to fix.

Royals lose 17 out of 25

After a promising start to the season, the Royals have dropped to fourth place in the A.L. Central after losing 17 of their last 25 games. The starting rotation is a shambles, and has been pinpointed as the biggest part of the problem.

The upside: At the beginning of this season, nobody expected this team to contend, so nobody should be surprised now that they’re struggling. And as for that starting rotation – yes, Luke Hochevar’s struggles are troubling, but did we really expect Sean O’Sullivan and Kyle Davies to pitch well?

Ned Yost goes crazy

The struggle: This may be the most troubling development of all. The Royals’ manager has had a standoffish approach to the media ever since his days in Milwaukee, but he sunk to new lows last week in crazily contradictory statements. On the day before Soria’s demotion, Yost said the worst thing the team could do was remove Soria from the closer’s role. Soria was demoted the next day after another blown save. Reports came out that Soria asked to be removed from the role, but when confronted about it, Yost said he had made his decision before Soria asked to be removed. WTF?

The upside: At least he’s not this guy:

Trey Hillman

Or this guy:

Buddy Bell

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and associate editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey14@yahoo.com.

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Where Does Soria Go From Here?

Joakim Soria has been the Royals lone, rock-solid, star presence over the past three seasons, and no one had any doubt he would continue dominating from the mound in save situations this season. The closer role was about the only thing on this year’s Royals team that did not have a question mark by it. Unfortunately, Soria has been downright awful through the first third of the season, and has lost the closer role to Aaron Crow for the time being. Now the crucial question becomes if this is a temporary slump or injury that Soria will come back from, or if he is done as an elite reliever. In the hopes of shedding some light on the answer, I will take a look at other closers in history who have racked up a large amount of saves at a young age. The following list shows all 11 players with over 100 saves before their age 27 season (which Soria is in now):

Rk Player SV From To Age G IP ERA+
1 Francisco Rodriguez 208 2002 2008 20-26 408 451.2 190
2 Gregg Olson 160 1988 1993 21-26 320 350.1 176
3 Huston Street 149 2005 2010 21-26 355 378.0 148
4 Bobby Thigpen 148 1986 1990 22-26 277 382.1 148
5 Joakim Soria 132 2007 2010 23-26 238 255.0 219
6 Chad Cordero 128 2003 2008 21-26 305 320.2 155
7 Rod Beck 127 1991 1995 22-26 280 331.0 134
8 Mitch Williams 114 1986 1991 21-26 436 511.0 123
9 Ugueth Urbina 110 1995 2000 21-26 251 360.0 127
10 Matt Capps 109 2005 2010 21-26 345 344.2 127
11 Bruce Sutter 105 1976 1979 23-26 240 390.2 177

photo by Minda Haas

Rodriguez, Street and Capps are all still young and active, so the second part of their careers are still unfolding just like Soria’s is. I will take a brief look at the careers of the remaining seven pitchers from the list to see how some closers who racked up saves at an early age fared from age 27 on. The first number after their name is number of saves before age 27 season, and the second number is saves from age 27 to the end of their career.

Gregg Olson: 160 • 57
Olson suffered a torn elbow ligament at the age of 26 and was never the same. He bounced around in 10 transactions between 1994-2000, including two stops with the Royals. He managed one more big year as a closer after the injury, racking up 30 saves for Arizona in 1998.
Bobby Thigpen: 148 • 53
Thigpen started battling injuries at 26 also. After recording 30 and 22 saves at ages 27 and 28, he only posted one more save and was out of the majors at 30.
Chad Cordero: 128 • 0
Here is the worst case. Cordero posted all of his career saves before his age 26 season, then suffered a labrum tear. He has had a couple of failed comeback attempts but has been unable to stick in the majors since.
Rod Beck: 127 • 159
Here is a better looking career path. Beck continued to be a dominant closer at 28 and 29, and had a one year renaissance at age 34 when he converted all 20 of his save opportunities.
Mitch Williams: 114 • 78
Wild Thing stayed fantastic at 27 and 28 but was done after that, throwing less than 40 innings the rest of his career (including 6.2 with the 1997 Royals).
Ugueth Urbina: 110 • 127
Urbina remained fantastically effective until his career ended at age 31 with an arrest (and subsequent conviction and 14 year prison sentence) for a machete attack/gasoline dousing incident. Hopefully Soria can avoid that.
Bruce Sutter: 105 • 195
This I suppose would be the best case scenario, particularly with that Hall of Fame induction capping things off.

So we have four pitchers who recorded fewer saves after age 26 and three pitchers who piled up a greater number after that age. It is almost like we cannot predict the future. But this graph of the average number of saves the above pitchers posted by age does show how difficult it is to continue the level of performance Soria has held up in the last three years:

That looks pretty dramatic, but that is not surprising since I cherry picked guys who all were fantastic before turning 27. Some of them are going to flame out and tank the averages. In Beck, Urbina and Sutter, there are precedents for Soria carrying on as an elite closer. Only one of the above examples completely disappeared after turning 27 (Cordero). With a little time and luck, hopefully the Royals can fix whatever is ailing Soria, and he can get back to locking down Royals wins again soon.

Aaron Stilley also writes about Kansas City baseball at his blog here and on the tweeties.

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Kansas City Fantasy Report Week 1

Welcome to the start of Fantasy Baseball. Hopefully you enjoyed your opening weekend festivities and are ready for a title chase of your own. Here’s a look at the Royals this week:

The Royals got off to a nice start at home this weekend taking three of four from the Angels. They have Monday and Thursday off this week, so if you have daily line-ups be sure and have them set. They will face a White Sox squad for a two-game set drawing Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle. They will then head to Detroit who will counter with Scherzer, Coke and Porcello.

The Royals defeated the Angels on their final at-bat three days in a row. The big reason for this opportunity has come on the shoulders of a talented bullpen. Joakim Soria is one the elite closers in baseball. Now, with young arms like Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, and Jeremy Jeffries, the Royals bullpen may be the brightest spot of this young team. Nothing worth grabbing here just yet, but it will be interesting to watch these young arms mature. Be sure to scout these three and keep a pulse on the ever-changing (as with any team) dynamics of this pitching staff.

HOT:

Jeff Francis began his Royals career with a nice 7 IP, 4 K and 1 BB allowing only 5 hits against the Angels. He’s worth a look in AL only leagues.

Going 6-19, including a 4-6 outing Sunday, Alex Gordon has one of the hottest bats for KC out of the gates. His 0-5 performance on Thursday and 0-4 showing on Saturday defines some of what we can expect from him this year. He will have some ups and downs. However, he has a firm grip on the left field position and has batted third all season. He’s a must own in AL only leagues and is at the very least a 5th outfielder in mixed leagues.

NOT:

Bruce Chen gave up three home runs Sunday as the ball was flying out of Kauffman. It remains an ugly rotation in Kansas City. Steer clear of this situation until some of the young talent arrives.

Many fantasy owners in drafts have coveted Alcides Escobar as a sleeper this season. After slugging 5 home runs in 60 spring at-bats while hitting .364, the hype got pretty high. While his average should rebound over last season, Escobar is still tough to count on in mixed leagues. He’s not a bad $1 sleeper or keeper, but don’t expect a huge breakout just yet.

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