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July 29, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games '10
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Brandon League RH 8 2 53.0 46 6 3.40 1.189 6.6 2.9 1.0 7.20 3.00 1.2 0 47
Arthur Rhodes LH 3 0 40.1 23 3 1.56 0.917 8.3 3.1 0.7 8.70 3.90 0.6 0 48
J.J. Putz RH 5 2 38.0 23 2 1.42 0.763 10.2 1.4 0.5 7.76 3.41 0.9 0 38
Evan Meek RH 4 1 56.1 35 3 1.28 0.888 7.8 2.4 0.5 8.50 5.56 0.9 0 47
Ryan Madson RH 3 4 17.1 20 3 5.19 1.327 10.4 1.6 1.6 9.00 3.50 1.3 0 18
Drew Storen RH 2 0 29.2 24 0 2.73 1.281 7.9 4.2 0.0 8.22 3.32 1.2 0 28
Hong-Chih Kuo LH 3 3 34.1 15 1 0.79 0.757 11.8 2.9 0.3 10.1 3.00 0.5 0 31
  2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Think about this. You're the Washington Nationals. After years of ineptitude, you're finally close to turning the corner, but you're not quite there yet. Sure, 2010 has seen some highlights, but you're once again in last place in the NL East, 15.5 games behind the Braves, and now you have to deal with your worst nightmare: Stephen Strasburg missing a start, and maybe more, with a stiff shoulder. You've got a closer who is at the peak of his value, rebuilding from a lousy 2009 thanks to his high saves total and low ERA, but is headed towards a hefty arbitration raise from his current $3.5m salary, even though he's allowing more than a hit per inning. To top it off, you're in a trade market where the prices for the few relievers out there are sky-high.

So, why wouldn't you trade Matt Capps?

That's the situation the Nationals find themselves in, and those factors make me believe that Drew Storen is worth a speculative pickup. Storen's rookie season has been nothing if not successful; though the walks are a little higher than you'd like, he's made it through 28 games without having yet allowed a home run, averaged over 94 mph on his fastball, and his ERA of 2.73 is quite close to his FIP of 2.88. For a pitcher who doesn't even turn 23 until the second week of August, that's impressive.

Unlike in other situations (yes, I'm looking at you, Pittsburgh, and more on that in a second) there's really not a whole lot of doubt about who would step into the closer's role should Capps be moved. Tyler Clippard has predictably stopped racking up a ton of random wins, and the Nats didn't draft Storen in the first round to let him be a middle reliever for his entire career. Capps should be traded, and that means the Nationals might have a new closer - one who's owned in less than 1% of ESPN leagues - by the weekend. Storen replaces Arthur Rhodes on our list, because while it's been fun to talk about the old lefty, Francisco Cordero seems to have settled down lately.

Hong-Chih Kuo: How Kuo is owned in less than 5% of ESPN leagues is beyond me, because he's been absolutely dominant and continues to be used as basically a left-handed compliment to Jonathan Broxton. The scary thing is, his numbers actually are better than they seem, since of the three earned runs he's allowed this year, two came in his season debut back in April. Since then, his numbers are otherworldly: 0.26 ERA, 45/10 K/BB, and batters are hitting just .121/.189/.198 against him. Numbers like that make him a worthwhile pickup no matter what league you're in, and the occasional save opportunities are a nice bonus as well.

Ryan Madson: Here's one of those times where fantasy baseball does not reflect real baseball. In the last seven days, Brad Lidge pitched three innings. In those innings, he walked five while striking out three, allowing four hits, one of which was a homer. Madson also pitched three innings, and he was far more productive - striking out five without allowing a walk or a run. Yet since Lidge was credited with three saves, despite doing his best to blow them, Charlie Manuel isn't forced to make the move that ought to be made. While I admit I did think Madson would already be the closer, I have zero confidence in Lidge's ability to last the season. Madson is worth hanging on to.

J.J. Putz: I can't imagine being a White Sox fan, having to deal with Ozzie Guillen all the time. Just last week, he said that Bobby Jenks' job was available after another Jenks implosion, yet when all was said and done, Jenks was the only Chicago reliever to get a save. Putz contributed two more scoreless innings in what's become a real nice story for him, and I wouldn't at all put it past Kenny Williams to do something unexpected before the trade deadline. Putz is worth holding onto for now, both for his quality work and the possibility of more.

Brandon League: After weeks of saying things like, "well, League may not be all that great, but David Aardsma isn't doing any better", it's getting to crunch time for the Mariners before the trade deadline, and the timing couldn't be better. League and Aardsma combined for five scoreless, walkless innings last week, and trade rumors surrounding each of them have intensified as they've performed. I think they'll be the only ones happier than I will be when the deadline has passed.

And finally, Evan Meek. There was a great question in the comments of last week's post, asking me why I included Meek in the list but not Joel Hanrahan, who has arguably just as much of a claim to the job as Meek does. It's a completely valid point. To be honest, I like Hanrahan more as a pitcher than I do Meek, in large part because Hanrahan has a much higher K rate (12.09 to 7.83). If it were me, I'd probably keep Meek in the setup role he's been so successful in while moving Hanrahan to the 9th inning duties. But it's not me, of course, and the reason I've been going with Meek here is that he's leading in the more "traditional" stats - i.e., he has a lower ERA and made the All-Star team. It's things like that which make me think he'll at least get a chance to close if/when Octavio Dotel is traded, but the Pirates have really been playing this one close to the vest.

And a bonus: I'm not going to tell you to go out and pick up Kenley Jansen immediately, since the 22-year-old Dodgers righty has all of two major-league appearances under his belt and was converted from catcher to the mound barely more than a year ago. That said, he's absolutely worth keeping an eye on. With his high 90s heat, he's struck out four of the six batters he's faced in the bigs, after striking out an absurd 15.4 per nine in his short time in the minors. With the Dodger bullpen so depleted behind Broxton and Kuo, Jansen was put in the tough situation of closing out a 1-0 lead in the 9th inning against Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Ike Davis - the heart of the New York lineup - and blew them all away, earning a save in his second career game. His all but total inexperience is a concern, but we've seen Sergio Santos, another converted positon player, have great success this season in Chicago, so the multi-talented Jansen (he speaks five languages) could be an intriguing prospect.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Drew Storen,  Evan Meek

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