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2008 Closer Churn

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What looked like a slow season for closer churn at the half way point is about to change.  Pittsburgh Pirates' closer Matt Capps was disabled by a shoulder injury that will keep him out for two months.  This gives Damaso Marte and Tyler Yates the chance to be the latest Saves to be plucked from the free agent pool.  Given Marte is a lefty and Yates has terrible peripherals, the opportunity exists for a third unrostered Pirates reliever to get saves.

Cleveland Indians brass is meeting today to discuss their own closer sitatuion (and likely raising the white flag and trading C.C. Sabthia).  Closer Joe Borowski has been awful since returning from a triceps injury on May 24th.  Over 13 appearances, he has pitched 12.7 innings and allowed six earned runs, 17 hits, walked four and struck out just six.  He is 4-6 in Save Opportunities with a distressing .42 GB/FB ratio.

To me, this looks like the same pitcher who has been unthreatened in his role.  In his absence, Rafael Betancourt saved four games before ceding the job to Masahide Kobayashi who saved two before JoBo's return.  He has since notched a couple more saves and looks like the next in line if the Indians remove JoBo or, better yet, trade him to a contender.

Previous to Matt Capps' injury, there had been just three closers who lost their jobs this season and two who had lost it due to injury.  Jason Isringhausen of the St. Louis Cardinals has ceded the role to Ryan Franklin, Eric Gagne lost it to Salomon Torres in Milwaukee, and Manny corpas choked it up to Brian Fuentes in Colorado.  J.J. Putz has temporarily given the closer job to Brandon Morrow as he deals with elbow issues in Seattle, and Rafael Soriano has coughed up the Atlanta Braves' closer job to a line of relievers.

Over the past several seasons, closer turnover has been in the 40% range meaning 12 teams have changed closers during the season.  This led many a fantasy player to lower the value of closers.  So far, that conclusion has not been helpful in fantasy strategies.

The issue isn't whether this can continue, it is whether the lack of closer churn has put those fantasy players who punt saves too far behind the pack to catch-up even if the churn increases over the remaining 75 games or so.