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August 12, 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
Mike Gonzalez LH 0 1 11.0 11 0 4.91 1.636 6.5 5.7 0.0 8.52 4.73 1.9 0 12
Joel Hanrahan LH 2 1 49.1 40 6 4.20 1.115 12.6 2.7 1.1 11.25 3.75 0.8 0 51
J.J. Putz RH 5 3 41.1 27 3 1.96 0.847 10.0 1.7 0.7 7.76 3.41 0.9 0 44
Aaron Heilman RH 3 6 53.0 50 7 3.40 1.358 6.8 3.7 1.2 8.07 3.92 0.9 0 51
Ryan Madson RH 4 4 25.2 24 3 3.86 1.130 11.2 1.8 1.1 9.00 3.50 1.3 0 26
Michael Wuertz RH 2 5 26.2 24 4 4.39 1.425 8.8 4.7 1.4 7.77 4.50 0.8 0 34
Drew Storen RH 3 1 37.0 30 0 2.68 1.243 7.3 3.9 0.0 8.22 3.32 1.2 0 35
Hong-Chih Kuo LH 3 3 39.2 20 1 0.91 0.832 11.1 2.9 0.2 10.1 3.00 0.5 0 37
  2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

I never thought I'd go back to another Baltimore reliever this year, but Mike Gonzalez is owned in barely a quarter of ESPN leagues and seems to have made some positive steps towards regaining his old closing role for the Orioles. Former Value Pick hero Alfredo Simon has started to crater; in his last ten games he's been lit up with an 8.18 ERA and a 1.109 OPS against, including four homers. With the Orioles suddenly turning things around under Buck Showalter, there won't be much patience for the bullpen blowing leads that manage to get to the 9th inning, and Showalter has acknowledged that Simon will start to share his opportunities with Gonzalez.

That's not a total surprise, considering that Gonzalez is making $6m this year and has contributed almost nothing thanks to injury, but it also wouldn't be the case if he weren't looking like an increasingly viable option. Don't be fooled by his season line, which is in large part influenced by the four runs he gave up in three April appearances before going on the disabled list. Since his return on July 22, Gonzalez has allowed just two earned runs while holding batters to a .194 average, with no extra base hits. His K/BB ratio is only 5/3, which could certainly be better, but his trends are headed in a much better direction than Simon's are right now. He's worth a look, especially with Baltimore on a hot streak.

Speaking of teams I never thought I'd bring up again, we're going back to Arizona and Aaron Heilman, a situtation I believe I once referred to as "your funeral" should you try to get involved. It's still not ideal, but it has cleared up somewhat with Chad Qualls in Tampa and Juan Gutierrez on the disabled list. Heilman had put together eight scoreless outings in a row before allowing two homers to San Diego over the weekend (in a game in which he still came away with the win when Chris Young hit a walkoff off Luke Gregerson), and he's been untouched in nine of ten overall. In that ten-game stretch, he's got a 10/2 K/BB ratio and has allowed just a .159 average against. The eagle-eyed among you will note that Sam Demel picked up a save on Tuesday, but it's important to note that Heilman was unavailable that night after pitching five times in the previous six days. I'm still not exactly on board the "Heilman is awesome" train, though with half his competition gone and Kirk Gibson apparently gaining confidence in him, he's worth looking into. He's available in 85% of ESPN leagues at the moment.

In order to add Gonzalez and Heilman, we're saying goodbye first to Ryan Madson, but through no fault of his own. He's unscored upon in his last seven appearances, striking out ten against just two walks in that time. I still stubbornly insist that he's a superior closing option to Brad Lidge, but Charlie Manuel clearly doesn't agree with me, and now that Lidge has stopped imploding on a nightly basis (in his last six games, he has five saves, allowing just two hits and no walks) that's a change that doesn't look like it's going to be made any time soon.

Drew Storen also exits the list for the second time this season, though this is more of a graduation as his ESPN ownership creeps towards 40%. Jim Riggleman has refused to name a full-time closer, though with the Nationals in a stretch where they've lost six of seven, it's not a pressing concern right now. Storen saved the only win during that time, and he'll get the majority of opportunities.

To our returnees...

The trials and tribulations of Bobby Jenks continue; he allowed a three-run game-tying homer to Detroit's Ryan Raburn last Thursday, and Ozzie Guillen complained about him in the papers before revealing Jenks had a sore back. Since then, Jenks has only pitched in one game - not a save situation - while J.J. Putz was the choice to close out two games. He converted Saturday's game, before being victimized by a Brian Roberts walkoff on Monday. It's clearly a very fluid situation in Chicago, with Guillen seemingly unwilling to officially remove Jenks from the role, and we haven't even mentioned Matt Thornton yet. Between Jenks' back, his propensity for big-time flameouts, and the unpredictability of Guillen, Putz still seems likey to get his chances.

It seems clear that Joel Hanrahan is going to get the save chances in Pittsburgh, as he's had two opportunities while Evan Meek hasn't had any since Octavio Dotel was dealt, yet he's owned in just 12% of ESPN leagues. It's been an interesting start for Hanrahan as the Pirate closer; on one hand, he's allowed two homers and six earned runs in his last four games; on the other, he's got a great 10/1 K/BB ratio in his last six. I can't ignore a closer with that kind of strikeout stuff, so he stays on the list; you may want to pick him up but stash him on your bench until he proves he can keep the opposition off the board.

Andrew Bailey's making progress in Oakland, but still hasn't begun to throw off a mound, so he's likely not back for at least another week. In the meantime, Michael Wuertz is owned in just 11% of ESPN leagues, which makes no sense. He's allowed an earned run in just one game in the last month, a walkoff homer to Nelson Cruz in late July. In the last 30 days, Wuertz has a 13/4 K/BB ratio to go with four saves and a win - oh, and batters are hitting just .129 off him. What's not to like?

In Los Angeles, Hong-Chih Kuo remains basically untouchable. Going back to mid-June, he's allowed just one run with a 26/7 K/BB ratio and a .167 batting average against. He hasn't received as many closing opportunities as we would have thought, though Jonathan Broxton has struggled, and Kuo is clearly second in line.

Also of note...

We're still waiting to hear more about what's happening with Francisco Rodriguez, who was arrested after an altercation with his father-in-law last night, and is still in the CitiField holding area as of 7:20 ET this morning. The Mets are a mess in a variety of ways, but there's also no clear successor to K-Rod should he need to miss time (Mike Pelfrey, of all people, is tied for second on the club in saves with one.) Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell, and Hisanori Takahashi could all be in line for saves. All three have been hit hard this week, so it's worth waiting until the situation clears before grabbing any, but if I had to lean in any direction I'd go with Takahaski, recently named as the primary 8th-inning guy.

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:  Michael Wuertz

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