If asked to describe the easiest save situation imaginable, you might come up with something like this: Your team has a three-run lead at home in the ninth, no runners are on base, and your closer is facing the 7-8-9 hitters from a terrible team.
That's precisely the situation that Heath Bell inherited on Saturday as Miami held a 4-1 lead against Houston in the ninth, with the bottom of the visiting team's order due up. But somehow Bell gave up four runs to the Astros, blowing an almost un-blowable save. (The Marlins' win expectancy peaked at 98.8 percent in the ninth). Miami fielders didn't do Bell any favors in the loss, committing three errors in the final frame. Still, he was unable to get outs on his own, striking out no one, allowing four hits. It was all kinds of ugly.
These were a few of Bell's post-game comments, via the Associated Press:
''I thought I had good stuff,'' Bell said. ''Apparently I didn't. I didn't get the job done.''
''It's just really hard to look at my teammates and them have confidence in me,'' he said. ''I haven't showed that I can do it.''
The Fish have handed Bell two save situations so far, and he's blown them both. In his four appearances for Miami, he's given up eight hits, six runs (two were unearned), one homer, three walks, and he's struck out two batters. His velocity readings aren't terribly far off prior seasons, but Bell's strikeout-rate took an alarming dip last year (7.3 K/9 in 2011, 9.2 career). He's now in his age-34 season and pitching without the safety net of Petco Park, where his lifetime ERA is 2.39. If you're a Bell owner looking for something to worry about, there are issues we can identify.
Bell of course has the sort of job security that accompanies a three-year, $27 million contract (with a vesting option), so he's not going to lose his ninth inning role tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. He also had an excellent spring, for what it's worth, allowing just three hits and no runs over 8.0 innings, striking out 12.
In fact, if you're desperately searching for saves — maybe you just lost Brian Wilson and whiffed on San Francisco's replacement options — then Bell becomes a reasonable buy-low. There's obviously a history of success here, and Leo Nunez isn't walking through that door (because he isn't Leo Nunez anymore). If you're buying Bell, just consider finding a spot for Edward Mujica, or perhaps Steve Cishek. By now, you've probably realized that risk is attached to every closer, no matter how strong the brand-name.
A quick reminder before we get to this week's job security index: We're not actually ranking bullpen strength here, nor are we ranking the closers for fantasy purposes. Instead, we're rating each closer's grip on the ninth inning. No one is suggesting that Carlos Marmol is the seventh best closer in baseball. We're just saying that he has firm hold on his job (because in his case, because Plans B and C for the Cubs are terrifying). This list is all about job security, that's it.
With that clarification out of the way, we rank...
30. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez
As you've no doubt heard, Brian Wilson is in need of UCL maintenance. Bruce Bochy has threatened to form a committee, but no manager really wants to go that route. Casilla pitched the eighth in a 3-3 game over the weekend, as Romo was apparently being held for a potential save situation. Based on that usage, you'd have to say that Romo gets a slight edge here.
UPDATE: Well. Forget the weekend usage, apparently. Here's a tweet from Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic that suggests Casilla is in line for saves, according to Bochy. The plot has thickened. Or perhaps the plot has been spoiled.
29. Washington — Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Tyler Clippard
Rodriguez shut the door in a Stephen Strasburg win on Monday, but Brad Lidge hasn't been a complete wreck. This still appears to be a tag-team closer situation, but Rodriguez has delivered the better stat line (and the better radar readings).
28. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla
Aceves has pitched three clean innings and earned two saves since the early struggles. When Mark Melancon finally makes an appearance without allowing a run, maybe I'll slot his name back in the hierarchy.
27. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, JP Howell
Rodney can do no wrong at the moment. And even when he tries to do wrong, the home plate umpire bails him out. Rodney has pitched 4.1 innings so far, picking up four saves, and he hasn't yet allowed a hit. Also: Joe Maddon loves his hat.
26. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Jared Burton
It's worth noting that Perkins was scored upon in back-to-back appearances against Texas over the weekend. Capps picked up a messy save in his last chance, giving up three hits and two runs. The Twins are really in a murderous stretch on the schedule right now (LAA, Tex, at NYY, at TB, Bos), so don't be surprised if you see the occasional yikes stat line.
25. Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith
As with Capps, there are ongoing trust issues here, at least for me. Perez's K-rate collapsed last season, and his velocity has been down a tick this year.
24. Chicago White Sox — Hector Santiago, Matt Thornton, Addison Reed
After converting his first three save opportunities, Santiago blew a two-run lead to Baltimore on Monday, giving up a pair of solo homers in the ninth. He thought he'd whiffed Nolan Reimold on a 2-2 fastball (check the location for yourself), but he didn't get the call. And then Reimold took him deep. The strikeouts are piling up for Santiago (six in his last three innings), but he's allowing a bunch of fly balls, too, and three of them have cleared the fence already. US Cellular is a homer-friendly place, so Hector won't be successful for long if he keeps giving up a bunch of hard-hit flies.
He'll clearly get the ball in the next save opportunity, and probably the one after that. But the Sox bullpen is loaded with solid replacement options, so Santiago's leash can only be so long.
23. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop
Johnson is a hard-thrower who who coaxes plenty of ground balls, and he's obviously off to a nice start. He just doesn't miss as many bats as you'd like (5.7 K/9 in 2011), but of course we'll take the saves. The names behind him in the O's bullpen aren't too intimidating, helping his cause.
22. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Aaron Crow
Kelvin Herrera seems to have somehow acquired Broxton's old fastball. That kid throws hard, averaging 98.5 mph. He's only 22, but the closing potential is clear enough.
21. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando
Despite the three saves, Nathan owners really can't be totally comfortable. He's already yielded four earned runs, and both Adams and Ogando have saved games.
20. New York Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell
19. Toronto — Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver
Sergio may have actually gained some job security while he was away from the Jays over the weekend for the birth of Baby Santos. Francisco Cordero took the loss for Toronto on Saturday, giving up a two-run ninth inning homer to Nolan Reimold (who appears to be the unrivaled king of the ninth this season).
18. Cincinnati — Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Arredondo
We've been through ups and downs with Chapman before, but...well, wow. He's just about un-hittable right now. The lefty has struck out 15 batters over just 8.0 innings, allowing three hits, no runs and no walks. REPEAT: No walks. He's always been a really tough guy to hit, but Chapman issued 41 free passes over 50.0 innings last season. If he's going to keep peppering the strike zone like this, he's in for a monster season.
17. Los Angeles Dodgers — Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier
When things like this are happening...
...then you're living a charmed life as a reliever. Or you know you're due for a reversal of fortune. Not sure. But if you're a Javy Guerra owner, you just take the win.
16. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, David Carpenter
The Astros can deny that Myers is on the block if they like, but he's the most obvious trade candidate in baseball at the moment. Lopez would be my preferred handcuff. We're all terrified of Brandon Lyon, I'm sure.
15. Oakland — Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Fautino De Los Santos
14. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle
13. Los Angeles Angels — Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins
12. San Diego — Huston Street, Luke Gregerson, Andrew Cashner
Cashner seems to have a Nuke Laloosh side, as he's issued seven walks already in just 6.2 innings. We know he can throw a thousand miles an hour, but command is a problem. We should also note that Street has been perfect so far in three innings.
11. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez, Bryan Shaw
Shaw has picked up a pair of rogue saves in the opening weeks, filling in when Putz and Hernandez are unavailable. File away the name. He'll be a recommended spec add if/when Putz visits the DL.
10 Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras
It's been a bumpy ride for Axford thus far, as he still hasn't given his owners a clean inning. He's walked five batters in 2.2 innings, over four appearances. On the plus side, he's delivered eight Ks. Command has been an issue for Axford before, so let's just keep an eye on the box scores.
9. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas
8. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel
7. Chicago Cubs — Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Rafael Dolis
6. Seattle — Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Lucas Luetge
5. Miami — Heath Bell, Edward Mujica, Steve Cishek
4. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen
3. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes
2. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls, Antonio Bastardo
For those who chase holds: Jose Contreras just returned from the DL, and should find himself pitching important innings fairly soon. Add as needed.
1. New York Yankees — Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano
Love this: A best-of collection of Mo-Rivera-is-too-old features, dating back to 2002. Keep predicting it year after year, fellas. Someday you'll totally nail it.