When looking atop Major League Baseball’s saves leader board, a few of the old standard names pop up:
Yup, San Diego Padres reliever Heath Bell currently sits tied for second amongst all closers with 23 saves. So who is this guy? And who are the guys challenging him for the MLB lead? Let’s take a look:
Yes, Heath Bell
The most improbable name on this list, hands down. At 31, Bell has spent the last six seasons toiling in middle relief obscurity – prior to this year, he’d never saved more than two games in a single season. Bell spent nine years in the minors – not exactly the pedigree you’d expect from this 2009 All-Star (1.69 ERA, 23 saves, 49 strikeouts) – but has set the National League on fire this year. He’s only blown one save in 35 appearances, making for one of baseball’s best stories.
Brian Fuentes, the K-Rod Replacer
When Francisco Rodriguez left Anaheim to join the New York Mets this offseason, many wondered who’d take over duties in the Angels’ pen. One guy who didn’t, though, was Brian Fuentes. Despite his uncharacteristic style – he’s got a weird sidearm delivery and a high ERA (3.23) for a closer – Fuentes leads baseball with 26 saves, has held opponents’ batting to .237 with two home runs, left-handers to a .211 average and right-handers to .250. Fuentes came over from Colorado as what many saw as a stopgap replacement, and rightfully so – his career high in saves prior to 2009 was 31. But if all goes according to plan, he should break that record by early August. Certainly nothing stopgap about that.
David Aardsma, Out of Nowhere
After living a nomadic baseball existence (he’s played for five teams in his first six MLB campaigns), Aardsma seems to have finally found a home in Seattle. With a 1.96 ERA, 20 saves and six holds, he’s become an invaluable member of the Mariners’ pen. His contributions couldn’t have been more unexpected – last season, he had the third-worst ERA (5.78) for pitchers with a minimum of 70 appearances and had a penchant for blowing saves. Yet due to a rash of injuries and an overall lack of options for manager Don Wakamatsu, the Mariners were forced to turn to Aardsma, and they’re fortunate to have done so.