You might have noticed the ESPN Fantasy midseason rankings linked on the fantasy baseball front page. Check 'em out and make your own opinions on what you would do if you were drafting, trading or debating players today. I always find it interesting just how different rankings can look among colleagues, even when we agree on whom we like and whom we do not. I mean, even if we all think Mariano Rivera is really good and will continue to succeed as a top closer this season, his overall ranking provokes very different opinions on which draft round he should go, or who his equal for a potential trade might be.
I always pay close attention to closers and, really, all relief pitchers, yet I'm never the one who drafts a top-five, maybe not even a top-15 closer. I wait. I know shockers such as David Aardsma will pop up a few times a month during the season and become legit save options. It happens every season. Just think back to your draft in March and how many of those closers aren't even owned in your league anymore. We've all been burned.
Are Brad Ziegler, Matt Lindstrom and Joel Hanrahan free agents in your standard league? They are in mine. How many times have Brad Lidge and B.J. Ryan been traded in your league, with someone thinking he'll be just fine once he acquires them? And what about those so-called safe next-in-line fellows, such as Jose Arredondo and Carlos Marmol?
I didn't think I was high on closers for normal drafts, but compared with some of the other rankers on our staff, I kind of was, as I chose eight for my top 100. In general, there weren't a whole lot of differences among the group in terms of who is good and who is bad. The same names kept popping up as top-10 closers, and then the group generally was cautious on certain unproven pitchers. Hey, there's nothing wrong with the near-perfect Ryan Franklin. We all would own him. But none of us ranked him in our top 125. Although Christopher Harris had oodles of choices with which to compare starting pitchers in his Tuesday Sixty Feet, Six Inches column, I don't think it would be compelling to discuss the one person who thought Jose Valverde and Kerry Wood were top-130 players, or the ranker who didn't rank Andrew Bailey and J.P. Howell. Basically, we all had similar rankings.
Instead, I thought it was pretty interesting just how different the cumulative rank was for certain relief pitchers just since our last sets of rankings from mid-May, as well as the preseason April ones. Some pitchers have become closers since then, others have lost the role outright, and still others have just pitched better or worse than expected, and it shows in our ranking progression. Let's briefly examine some who rose and others who fell.
Want to know who's next in line for saves for each team? Check out Eric Karabell's bullpen depth chart.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers (No. 109 in April, then 76 in May, 65 now): The seventh closer off the board in average live drafts, his consensus ranking this time around had him as the first closer now.
Heath Bell, Padres (No. 157 in April, then 125 in May, 99 now): The Padres have the third-most losses in baseball, but their closer is thriving -- at least in games that aren't the All-Star Game! -- and on pace to earn 42 saves.
Brian Fuentes, Angels (No. 134 in April, then 141 in May, 111 now): He actually dropped in the ranks in May as he struggled, but now that he leads the majors in saves and last allowed a run in May, he has moved up.
Brian Wilson, Giants (No. 195 in April, then 169 in May, 143 now): Of the 15 closers with 20 or more saves, nobody has an ERA as high as Wilson. Basically, he's exactly what he was last season, when he saved 41 games but wasn't perfect.
Trevor Hoffman, Brewers (No. 199 in April, then 183 in May, 138 now): Saved a league-high 11 games in May, and although he has allowed runs on occasion lately, he remains reliable. He really jumped up.
Brad Lidge, Phillies (No. 74 in April, then 99 in May, 177 now): Quite a fall for last season's perfect closer. He's off the disabled list but still trying to find consistency, and it would be nice if he would get his ERA below 7.
Kerry Wood, Indians (No. 117 in April, then 147 in May, 169 now): His 12 saves represent the lowest total for a full-season closer who hasn't visited the DL. His problem? The Indians have been awful. Really, Wood hasn't been much better.
Frank Francisco, Rangers (No. 168 in April, then 129 in May, 170 now): A quick start with nary a run allowed until May 31 made him a fantasy favorite, but he's had two DL stints and has allowed three home runs in his past seven appearances.
Troy Percival, Rays (No. 204 in April, then 237 in May, no longer ranked): He certainly wasn't in demand for drafts, but hey, he was a closer, after all. Even though he went on the DL in May with a bum shoulder, no Rays pitcher has more saves than his six.
Carlos Marmol, Cubs (No. 226 in April, then 239 in May, no longer ranked): Not only did Kevin Gregg win the closer role, but Marmol hasn't been a valuable middle reliever for fantasy purposes, either, with a bloated 1.57 WHIP. Move on.
OK, let's move on to more current matters, as in who is rising and falling for the past week among relief pitchers, and in my rankings to the right. Here are the normal categories from Relief Efforts.
John Grabow, Pirates: I was there at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night as Matt Capps permitted one hard-hit ball after another, including a Ryan Howard home run over the center-field fence. By the time the Phillies won the game, Capps had given up five earned runs and retired one hitter, and his ERA rose from 4.71 to 6.21. Ouch. I remarked to friends at the game that Capps must be hurt. I haven't heard word since that he is, but I moved Grabow up in my rankings just in case, although Capps didn't move because nobody deserved to move up in his region. I think Grabow could get the opportunity to earn saves before Joel Hanrahan.
Todd Coffey, Brewers: I'm not worried about Trevor Hoffman, even though he hasn't been as effective the past few weeks. Hoffman isn't an overpowering strikeout guy, but still, to register a strikeout in only two of his past eight appearances is not promising. Some think the Brewers don't have the starting pitching to contend all season, and it will hurt Hoffman's potential for saves. I disagree. I dropped Hoffman a bit this week, but more because others such as Joakim Soria, Huston Street and Rafael Soriano are just better now. Coffey moves into the rankings not because of concerns about Hoffman but because he has strong numbers across the board, and Carlos Villanueva has been awful lately and is no longer the eighth-inning guy.
Joe Nathan, Twins: His is only the third name this entire season to hold the honor of top relief pitcher in the ranks. Jonathan Papelbon was first for a while, then Jonathan Broxton, and now it's Nathan, who never seems to get his due. Really, his numbers match up favorably with those of Mariano Rivera the past few years, but does society realize this? Probably not. Nathan last allowed a run on May 15. In his past 10 outings, he has permitted one hit and one walk, total. That's helpful to a team's WHIP. Welcome to the top, Joe.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers: Even if Broxton hadn't gotten lit up in his final two outings before the All-Star break, the threat of missed time thanks to his toe injury would have forced a change at the top anyway. Broxton did, however, allow five earned runs in those two innings, and four of the nine baserunners got there via the walk. Broxton walked 13 in his first 38 2/3 innings. No, I do not think a DL stint is pending, even though relief abuser Joe Torre claims Broxton will be bothered by this toe injury the rest of the season. The Dodgers are playing with fire here. Ramon Troncoso is due to tire at some point as well, and Ronald Belisario is already on the DL. The team with the best record in baseball had better keep its closer healthy. I didn't hesitate to drop Broxton from first to fourth.
Jason Frasor, Blue Jays: Toronto manager Cito Gaston has so much confidence in lefty Scott Downs that he put his closer right back in the role when he came off the DL. Frasor generally did a nice job in the role, and he can help fantasy owners even without the saves, but I don't see him getting more saves unless Downs gets hurt again.
Mike Gonzalez, Braves: When June ended, there was at least some doubt about who would get the call for the small Atlanta leads in the ninth inning. Both Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano saved two games in June, with more strikeouts than innings, and allowed only five earned runs combined in 30 innings. They pitched well. Things have changed in July. Soriano has all six of the team's saves with nine strikeouts and three hits allowed in six innings. Gonzalez has been lit up twice and lost both games. Soriano vaults way up in the rankings; Gonzalez goes the other way. Manager Bobby Cox doesn't need to announce the change. We can all see it.
Comings, goings, random thoughts
• The nightmare that is the Indians' season isn't improving any, and many eyes will be on Kerry Wood the next few weeks, just in case he gets dealt. Rafael Betancourt is off the DL and, I think, would be ahead of wild newcomer Chris Perez for saves. Matt Herges, a pretty effective reliever this season, was released.
• Arizona manager A.J. Hinch announced recently he would be fine with using Chad Qualls for more than three outs at a time, which should be a good thing. It's not as if Hinch is saying someone else will earn saves, although I think if he did Jon Rauch would be next. Qualls has pitched an average of more than 80 innings the past four years, so he likely can handle an increased workload.
• Ryan Perry continues to pitch well at Triple-A Toledo. It would take a lot for Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya to somehow get passed for saves by the 22-year-old rookie, but Jim Leyland seems like the kind of manager willing to try it if his veterans struggle. It took a while, but Brandon Lyon now has a lower ERA and WHIP than both Rodney and Zumaya.
• As long as the Rockies keep winning, Huston Street won't go anywhere, but we should pay attention to who sets him up. Manny Corpas could come off the DL any day now and vault into the eighth-inning role. Joel Peralta doesn't have much upside. By the way, if you were wondering how Franklin Morales was doing in relief, he has pitched four times and allowed one hit while getting 10 outs. I still think an arm like this should be starting, but it's not my call!
• A week ago, I noted that the Marlins had picked up Luis Ayala on the cheap and sent him to the minors, and that he would enter my rankings quickly because he has closer experience. Then Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed the hunch by noting he'd use Ayala in any situation, including closing, and the pitcher "had done it all in his career." Sure, but he hasn't always done it all well in his career. Nevertheless, Ayala made three appearances for Triple-A New Orleans and already has gotten the call to the big club. Really, he could get saves at any time, so be prepared.
• Anyone else hear the rumors that Joba Chamberlain could be headed to the New York bullpen? Well, tossing a total of eight innings in two starts leading to the All-Star break tends to get skeptical people talking. Chamberlain probably would vault to my top five among non-save relief pitchers right away, but I don't think a move to the bullpen is pending. Phil Hughes is doing a fine job setting up Rivera.
• Yes, I discussed Ryan Franklin as an obvious sell-high closer in our Fantasy Focus second-half preview this week. Check it out in the video section of our fantasy baseball page. Matthew Berry, Paul Severino and I discuss Cliff Politte and many others, too. I also said at the time that I would sell any closer with a 0.79 ERA and WHIP this late in the season. It won't take much for those numbers to rise. I expect a strong season for Franklin, but not historic. Closers with awesome numbers are good for trade value. Franklin might not rack up any more saves the rest of the way than Mike MacDougal or a Marlin, so think about what someone in your league would pay for an overachieving closer, and it might be worth moving him.
• Congrats to Dan Wheeler for picking up his first save of the season last week, a 1-2-3 frame against the Blue Jays while J.P. Howell rested. Is this a closer change? Hardly. Wheeler allowed runs in his next two outings, and his ERA rose to 3.58. He's not a closer. Amazing that back in March, so many people thought he'd get 20 saves.
• Say what you will about Joel Hanrahan, and those who counted on 30 saves from him this season certainly have had much to say, but no other relief pitcher has managed to win a game this season while sitting on a couch more than a thousand miles away. Hanrahan was the pitcher of record for a May game, while with the Nationals and against the Astros, and when the game resumed last week, the Nationals won the game for their former closer, who was traded to Pittsburgh weeks ago. The resumption of the game was in Houston, and when it ended, Hanrahan was in Philadelphia enjoying his first victory of the season while lounging! Amazing. This was more proof that Hanrahan can help fantasy owners a lot better when he's not on the mound.
Eric Karabell is a senior fantasy writer for ESPN.com. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He twice has been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Karabell by e-mailing him here.