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April 8, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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San Diego 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Heath Bell RH 6 42 69.2 54 3 2.71 1.120 10.2 3.1 0.4 9.0 3.3 1.0 0 68
Luke Gregerson RH 2 1 75.0 62 3 3.24 1.240 11.2 3.7 0.4 9.8 3.4 0.8 0 72
Mike Adams RH 0 0 37.0 14 1 0.73 0.595 10.9 1.9 0.2 10.2 3.0 0.9 0 37
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
David Golebiewski 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  


You don’t need me to tell you that Heath Bell is an elite closer, since he’s currently owned in 100% of ESPN.com fantasy leagues. But what makes this situation different is that unlike other top closers, Bell’s not likely to end the season with his current team, the dreadful Padres. So not only is San Diego a prime place to see an open closer’s role this season, his potential replacements are valuable enough that they may be able to help you right now - if you can spare the roster spot - rather than waiting for Bell to be moved and for your fellow owners to join you in trying to feast on a new closer.

If and when Bell moves on, Padre relievers Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams would be in line to get the save opportunities, according to Heater expert David Golebiewski. Each of them actually beat Bell in K/9 rate last season and had slightly lower HR/9 rates as well. PECOTA looks for more of the same in 2010, suggesting that they could easily step in for Bell should the need arise.

But this is more than a situation of stashing a useless middle reliever now, hoping for help down the road. Gregerson tied for second in the majors in holds last year, and Adams joined him in the top twenty. If your league counts holds, it’s generally a category overlooked by fantasy players preferring to stock up on strikeout-heavy closers. Gregerson and Adams could help you steal an easy category win each week right now, and be in line to become cheap and effective closer options later.

 

Colorado 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Huston Street RH 4 35 61.2 43 7 3.06 0.908 10.2 1.9 1.0 9.7 2.7 0.9 0 64
Franklin Morales LH 3 7 40.0 38 4 4.50 1.525 9.2 5.2 0.9 10.5 4.3 1.0 2 38
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Tom Stephenson 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

 

The Rockies were a trendy NL West pick this spring, but they’ve already run into their first hurdle: closer Huston Street has a “weak shoulder” and isn’t expected back until May at the earliest.  In his absence, Franklin Morales has been given the first opportunity to assume the role, ahead of former closer Manny Corpas.

It’s hard to think that a guy like Morales - who was pitching in a World Series at 21 and was named BP’s #1 Rockies prospect going into 2008 - could be underrated, but fantasy players have been slow to catch on. While Street is owned in 97.5% of ESPN.com leagues, Morales has been grabbed in only 21.7% (including, unfortunately, in mine, to a team with a name that’s completely unprintable here.) Before Street was placed on the DL, Heater expert Tom Stephenson predicted that Morales would get 90% of the save opportunities should Street go down, and Colorado wasted no time in allowing Morales to finish out the team’s Opening Day win at Milwaukee.

Morales has seen mixed success in his short career, as a 6.5 K/9 rate and a 4.6 BB/9 rate are hardly marks to be proud of.  That said, much of his early time in the bigs was as a starter, and spending most of 2009 in the bullpen helped bump the K rate up to 9.2. Watching Morales try to handle the 9th may be somewhat of an adventure – his BB/9 rate actually rose to 5.2 last year, which is mildly terrifying, though PECOTA expects it to drop  – but he’ll get plenty of opportunities on a Colorado team which figures to be excellent, and since this isn’t the first time Street has dealt with injury concerns, Morales may be able to keep the job for longer than you think.

 

Houston 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Matt Lindstrom RH 2 15 47.1 54 5 5.89 1.648 7.4 4.6 1.0 7.9 3.6 0.9 0 54
Brandon Lyon RH 6 3 78.2 56 7 2.86 1.106 6.5 3.5 0.8 7.1 3.5 0.8 0 65
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Brian Joseph 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  


Matt Lindstrom, or Brandon Lyon? Brandon Lyon, or Matt Lindstrom?  Lindstrom may have been named the closer in the last week of camp, but it didn’t seem to matter to fantasy players, as neither is owned in more than 60% of ESPN.com leagues. That’s with good reason, because these two are stuck in the worst possible situation:

1. It's a possible job-share.  Lindstrom may have won the job out of camp, thanks to a better spring than Lyon, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if this wasn’t somewhat of a shared role, with Lyon picking up somewhere around a quarter of the opportunities. Lyon did receive a three-year contract this offseason, and investments of that size are often put into situations more based on the dollar sign than the player’s performance. That doesn’t bode well for fantasy prospects, and it certainly doesn’t help that…

2. The Astros are terrible. Houston scored just six runs in their three-game sweep at the hands of the Giants. That’s admittedly a small sample size against a team with quality pitching, but this is also a team that was always thought to have a poor offense and which now may be without Lance Berkman for an extended period, since his knee has been slow to respond to treatment. That, plus a mediocre starting rotation and awful bullpen (as if having Lindstrom and Lyon being your top two relievers wasn’t scary enough, they couldn’t make it through the first series without placing a reliever on the disabled list) makes for a situation where you don’t expect to see too many leads handed to the closer in the 9th inning.  Even if you did expect these two to get chances to nail down leads, you shouldn’t have much confidence in either because…

3. They’re just not all that good. Lindstrom’s never been a full-time closer (only 20 career saves), and the trends in his three-year career are frightening. His BB/9 rate has increased three years in a row (to 4.56 last year), his groundball rate has gone down every year, and his FIP has steadily gone up from 2.85 to 3.27 to 4.47. Lyon battled a sore shoulder this spring, and may prove to be an adequate setup man, yet his previous attempts at closing have not gone well – his two cracks at the job in Arizona left him with ERAs of 6.44 (2005) and 4.70 (2008).

The point is, no matter how desperate you may be for relievers, you can almost certainly do better than this pair, particularly if you can afford to pick up a more talented set-up man who can collect holds with an eye on a future closer’s job.

Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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