If, in fact, there are Fantasy Gods, then clearly we've done something to anger them. They've been smiting relievers all season.
It's only May 8, yet half the pitchers we'd penciled in as closers at the start of spring training have already lost the ninth inning. Most of the injury-risk guys are broken — Andrew Bailey, Huston Street, Brian Wilson — and so is the game's only presumed no-risk closer, Mariano Rivera.
Go look at the names atop the 2012 saves leader board and you'll find a bunch of pitchers you would have paid to not own this season: Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney, Jim Johnson, Frank Francisco. There's one dude near the top of the list who lost his job on Monday (Javy Guerra), and another who's allowed runs in three of his last five appearances (Grant Balfour). This year, down is up and up is ... well, it's probably hurt.
If I sound a bit shell-shocked, that's because I've already lost Rivera, Wilson, Street and Hector Santiago in the Yahoo! Friends & Family League. I entered the year determined to insulate myself from the saves chase, but that turned out to be a preposterous goal. There's nowhere to hide, not this season. If Mo can suffer a season-ending injury, then no closer is safe — no one.
Over the weekend, we actually saw a team lose multiple closers to injury within a single inning. Scott Downs was two outs away from shutting the door on the Jays when JP Arencibia hit a liner up the middle. Downs dropped to a knee to avoid the ball, twisted awkwardly, then staggered around the mound like a left-handed zombie, eventually limping off the field with a trainer at his side. LaTroy Hawkins entered the game in relief (prompting many of you to add him), threw two pitches, and broke the pinkie on his right hand on yet another liner. Of course he did.
So with Hawkins now on the DL and Downs dinged (knee contusion, day-to-day), the Angels seem likely to turn to new acquisition Ernesto Frieri to close games. He's a 26-year-old right-hander with an eye-popping career K/9 (11.50). Frieri is clearly a player of interest in leagues of any size.
Of course the Angels could also turn back to their opening day closer, Jordan Walden, a guy who lost his ninth inning responsibilities after just one blown save in 2012. Part of me thinks that this is how every team's closing situation will ultimately play out this season, with managers returning to Plan A, after cycling through Plans B through G. Every year brings turmoil in the saves market, but what we've experienced this season is an almost unimaginable extreme.
We could freshen up the Job Security Index every hour, and it still wouldn't feel like we were staying on top of things. The Fantasy Gods have made a mockery of this exercise...
Job Security Index
30. San Diego — Andrew Cashner, Dale Thayer, Luke Gregerson
29. Miami — Steve Cishek & Edward Mujica, Heath Bell
28. Los Angeles Angels — Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Jordan Walden
27. Toronto — Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Luis Perez
26. Chicago Cubs — Rafael Dolis, Carlos Marmol, James Russell
25. Oakland — Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Ryan Cook
24. Chicago White Sox — Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Matt Thornton
23. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins
22. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales
21. New York Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch
20. New York Yankees — David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan
19. Los Angeles Dodgers — Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom
18. Washington — Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard
17. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow
16. Cincinnati — Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman
15. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta
14. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo
13.Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano
12. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez
11. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Chris Davis (extra-inning specialist)
10. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando
9. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit
8. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs
7. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle
6. Seattle — Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen
5. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez
4. Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez
3. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz
2. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters
1. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Chad Qualls
• The Dodgers have officially made the move that we were all rooting for in March, installing Kenley Jansen as their closer. Thanks for 2011, Javy Guerra. You're dismissed. Jansen has recorded 164 Ks over just 97.2 career innings, posting excellent fantasy ratios (2.22 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). He has the stuff to quickly emerge as a top-tier closer. There's not much you can do with this information in competitive formats, obviously, since Jansen was already owned in 73 percent of Yahoo! leagues before being handed the ninth in LA.
• Heath Bell was temporarily removed from the closer's role in Miami, after a series of disastrous appearances. He's already allowed 13 runs (11 earned) over his 8.2 innings, and he's walked more batters than he's struck out (10 to 6). Initially, Ozzie Guillen indicated that he was "leaning" toward Steve Cishek as a replacement, but he's been resting since Friday, when he threw 52 pitches over 3.0 innings in a win at San Diego. Edward Mujica has earned the last two saves for the Marlins. There's a decent chance Cishek will get the next chance.
• So far this season, the average fastball thrown by Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera lights up the radar at 99.0 mph. Give the 22-year-old a look if you're in a holds league, or if you've been deploying a collection of non-closing relievers. The kid has a 1.09 WHIP at the moment, and he'll give you a strikeout per inning.
• On Monday afternoon, we tried to tell you that Padres reliever Dale Thayer was a dark horse saves candidate. Later that same day, he shut the door on the Rockies, protecting a one-run lead. (This is exactly how fantasy analysis is supposed to work, but it almost never plays out quite so neatly). Monday's save was the 175th of Thayer's pro career, but just his second in the big leagues. His story is a fun one. Root for him. There's plenty of time for Andrew Cashner to develop into a lights-out late-inning reliever.
• Joel Peralta stumbled out of the gate this year, but he's been terrific in recent weeks. He's earned six holds and two saves since April 18, allowing just five hits and one run over his last 12 appearances.
• David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are both expected to see save chances following the injury to Mo, and both are capable of succeeding in the ninth. But we should note than no pitcher in baseball has been quite as dominant as Robertson in recent weeks. Check the stats from his last five appearances: 4.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 Ks. For the year, he's struck out 21 batters in just 12.0 innings, delivering a WHIP of 0.83. He has yet to allow a run. He's struck out the side in each of his last two innings. So yeah, he's my preferred option. Robertson is well-rested right now, as he last pitched on Friday.