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July 15, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
It's All-Star Week here at Value Picks, and particularly so here in the relief pitching wing. The weekly schedule means that as I write this on Wednesday night, it's been three full days since we've seen a game that counts - which is practically an eternity as far as obtaining new data. That's three days in which an incumbent closer could have normally pulled a hamstring, been lit up, or managed to get himself suspended. But we get no such luck in that area this week. That being the case, and considering that none of our picks deserve to be bumped, we're going to do something a little different this time. First, I'll check in briefly with each of our returnees, and then I'll throw out some deeper names worth keeping an eye on. We'll get back to business next week - but also don't hesitate to throw out ideas of how this column could help you even more or in other ways.
Checking in on our group...
Ryan Madson: As I figured last week, Madson wasn't immediately put back into the closer's role upon his return, but things are definitely headed in the right direction as far as that happening at some point. In the last 7 days, Madson obtained five of his six outs via the K, while not issuing a single walk. Even the one run (and blown save, though it was of the somewhat unfair 8th inning variety) he allowed came on just a single and a wild pitch. Meanwhile, Brad Lidge walked three and gave up three hits, while striking out just two, in his 2.2 innings. Madson's still owned in just 5.4% of ESPN leagues, which seems low at this point in the season for someone of his experience behind such an unreliable closer.
Brandon League: Obviously, looking back at the last week isn't a huge sample, especially since half of it was lost to the All-Star break. Still, it's worth noting that League had a scoreless inning in his only outing, while David Aardsma continued his atrocious season by giving up two earned runs (and picking up a loss) in his two opportunities. For fantasy purposes, it would probably be more helpful if Aardsma could turn it around, as that would help his trade prospects. I still expect him to be moved sooner rather than later, leaving League with little competition at the back of the Seattle bullpen.
Arthur Rhodes: Whatever's infected the rest of the Cincinnati bullpen seems to have spread to the back end as well, because both Rhodes and Francisco Cordero allowed homers in the same game against the Phillies. However, Rhodes stays on the list because I'm more inclined to fault Cordero for allowing Cody Ransom, of all people, to hit a game-tying homer in the 9th than I am to get on Rhodes because Ryan Howard hit a walkoff in the 10th. Clearly, not all home runs are created equal, and Rhodes has been unscored upon in five of his last six outings. Despite the nice save total, Cordero is still having what may be one of the tougher years of his career, as all of his peripherals are headed in the wrong direction, so there's still some opportunity here.
Chris Perez: Kerry Wood sure isn't helping his trade prospects when he does things like enter a game in Tampa on the last day before the break and immediately allow the Rays to walk off, but unfortunately that's what we're seeing from him. This is a particularly ripe situation for Perez, because unlike in other places, Perez may be in line to step in for saves after the deadline even if Wood isn't moved. Still, it does Cleveland no good to hold on to Wood at this point, so expect him to end up elsewhere as a 7th-inning type - and for Perez to step in immediately. He's still only owned in 17% of ESPN leagues, so he's a good speculative pick.
Hong-Chih Kuo: The bullpen shortage in LA, already hurting due to the non-contributions of Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso, claimed its first real victim yesterday: 2009 All-Star George Sherrill was placed on waivers. A quick look at the rest of the crew underscores the importance of Kuo, because behind closer Jonathan Broxton, you're looking at a Rule 5 pick (Carlos Monasterios), two non-roster invites (Justin Miller & Jeff Weaver), and two unheralded minor league callups (Travis Schlichting and Jon Link). Kuo, owned in just 4% of ESPN leagues, is in the attractive situation of being both one heartbeat away from the closer's role, dominating enough to help with K's and WHIP in the meantime, and in position to vulture some saves on nights Broxton is unavailable.
Evan Meek: Tough week for the entire Pirates bullpen, as closer Octavio Dotel (3 ER in 1.1 IP), setup man Joel Hanrahan (2 ER in 2.0 IP), and Meek (1 ER in 0.2 IP) all got touched up, though Meek was the only one of the three who didn't allow a long ball. I'll be shocked if Dotel is still a Pirate three weeks from now, so if you've been stashing him for a while your chance may come soon.
And a few more names to think about as we move into the second half...
Sam Demel: I think I said last week that if you ventured near the Arizona bullpen, it would be your funeral, and I stand by that. Kirk Gibson hasn't committed to anyone, not that he's been given a ton of options. Chad Qualls has been victimized by terrible luck (a .468 BABIP [!!!!]) despite the highest K rates he's seen in years, Aaron Heilman was reliably mediocre in his chances, and the only pitcher who actually picked up a save last week was early-season disaster Juan Gutierrez. In fact, the only Arizona reliever who's shown any sign of life has been the rookie Demel, who sports an 11/2 K/BB mark and a 1.78 FIP in his short time in the bigs. The only problem is that Gibson has shown no inclination to trust Demel, who's pitched in almost exclusively blowouts so far. Still, it's worth noting that Demel did have 42 saves in four seasons as an Oakland farmhand, and if he keeps performing where no one else does Gibson's going to have no choice but to see what he can do in tougher circumstances.
Joel Hanrahan: Though I still think Meek would get much of the 9th inning responsibility should Dotel be moved, Hanrahan's performance deserves some notice as well. His excellent 12.4/9 strikeout rate marks the fourth season in a row in which he's improved in that area. If anything, it's the "traditional" ideas which may hold Hanrahan back. His 4.06 ERA isn't much to look at, and he wasn't an All-Star as Meek was. Hanrahan's high strikeout rate may actually make him a better choice for the role, but it doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the one who gets the opportunity.
Drew Storen: Former Value Picks member Storen merits a mention mostly because of this MLB.com article, which touches on the many trade rumors Matt Capps is hearing about himself and notes that Storen would almost certainly get the first chance to step in. This is the reason Storen was drafted, and he's been effective in his rookie season; he's yet to allow a homer and has a 1.208 WHIP. Even if Capps survives the deadline, he's a free agent following the season, so those in keeper leagues should pay particularly close attention here.
Johnny Venters: Venters isn't going to usurp Billy Wagner, of course, but he's still useful. The hard-throwing lefty with a sinker that mystifies his teammates has struck out more than a man per inning while using his 63.6% groundball rate to keep the ball in the park (no homers allowed). He's certainly a consideration in keeper leagues, as Wagner has already stated his intention to retire after 2010 and Takashi Saito's elbow is held together by little more than toothpicks and duct tape, but even this year Venters has snagged three wins and a save. If you're looking for a boost in the K department, he might help - and it's not like Wagner is impervious to injury.
Mike Gonzalez: The once-and-future closer for Baltimore is set to pitch in three AAA games as part of his rehab, and reports have his velocity back up over 90 MPH. Since Alfredo Simon has been effective but hardly dominant, and the O's have so much cash tied up in Gonzalez, the smart money is on him getting a chance to reclaim his job once he's activated. The situation in Baltimore means that it's not exactly shopping for filet mignon, of course, but he might be a decent buy-low (very low) candidate if you're desperate. Extremely desperate.