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August 19, 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 12.2 11 0 4.26 1.500 8.5 5.7 0.0 8.52 4.73 1.9 0 14
Joel Hanrahan LH 2 1 51.1 42 6 4.03 1.130 12.6 2.8 1.1 11.25 3.75 0.8 0 53
J.J. Putz RH 5 3 44.1 32 4 2.64 0.947 10.6 2.0 0.8 7.76 3.41 0.9 0 47
Aaron Heilman RH 3 6 55.1 55 7 3.90 1.392 6.7 3.6 1.1 8.07 3.92 0.9 0 53
Wilton Lopez RH 4 1 52.0 51 2 2.94 1.077 6.8 0.9 0.3 6.50 2.50 0.5 0 52
Michael Wuertz RH 2 6 29.1 27 4 4.91 1.500 8.9 5.2 1.2 7.77 4.50 0.8 0 37
Hisanori Takahashi LH 7 1 103.1 101 12 4.09 1.345 8.4 3.3 1.0 6.50 3.50 1.0 12 36
Hong-Chih Kuo LH 3 4 43.1 22 7 1.45 0.854 11.0 3.1 0.2 10.1 3.00 0.5 0 41
  2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  


This is already my favorite Value Picks article of the season, because we're adding two guys none of us had ever heard of prior to 2010. Let's start with the obvious situation in New York, where a season already in turmoil is turning into something of a black comedy, now that Francisco Rodriguez is out for the year with a thumb injury (allegedly) sustained in a fight with his girlfriend's father. Unlike a lot of other situations this year where the closer-in-waiting was clear, there was no such succession with the Mets. Would it be Bobby Parnell? Pedro Feliciano? Manny Acosta?

Of course, this is the Jerry Manuel Mets we're talking about, and so it's only appropriate that the choice is a 35-year-old rookie from Japan who's actually made the fifth-most starts on the team, Hisanori Takahashi. He's valuable as a fantasy pickup simply because he's unexpectedly the new closer on a team which no one expected would have 9th inning issues, and thus freely available, but there's more to know about Takahashi than just that. He spent the first six weeks of the season in the middle of the Mets bullpen before being added to the rotation for 12 starts in May, June and July, mixing in excellent starts (seven games allowing three or fewer earned runs) with disastrous outings (four games allowing more than six earned runs). Since moving back to the bullpen in August, he's allowed just two runs in 8.2 innings over seven games.

Though primarily a starter in Japan, Takahashi has bullpen experience having spent much of 2006 as the closer forYomiuri, collecting 15 saves. After allowing an .821 OPS as a starter for the Mets in 2010, he's been much more effective in relief, holding batters to just a .199/.283/.291 line with an outstanding 43/17 K/BB ratio. He's clearly better suited to work out of the pen, and that's sort of the point here; any reliever's value would skyrocket if they were suddenly handed closing duties, but if they can't perform, it won't matter. Takahashi's numbers are all pointing in the right direction, and as he's owned in just barely more than 10% of ESPN leagues, he should be worrth a pickup. As an added bonus, his starting experience makes him eligible as an SP, so you can put him there every day without having to sacrifice a reliever's spot; it's a fun little trick I've used a few times this year with guys like Alfredo Simon and Jose Contreras.

Also joining us is Houston reliever Wilton Lopez, and I'll be honest; this one might be a little too deep for all but those in the most hardcore leagues. If that's not you, I apologize, but you don't come to BP to hear that Mariano Rivera is a pretty good fantasy pickup, right? You've probably seen that Matt Lindstrom was demoted after a horrendous stretch in which he allowed three homers and nine earned runs in his last four games, which can partially be attributed to recurrent back problems. Lindstrom ended up on the disabled list today, and Houston manager Brad Mills said that Brandon Lyon would get most of the save opportunities, and he probably will; he's taken in nearly 40% of ESPN leagues, but if he's available, you should get him.

But for those looking a little deeper, there's Lopez, who may not be a household name, but who is quietly putting together a very solid rookie season in Houston. After tossing two scoreless innings last night against the Mets, Lopez has now gone 16 straight outings without allowing a run. What's most impressive is that during that stretch, he's struck out 16 while allowing just one walk. That's really been the key to his success all season; on the year, he's struck out 39 against just five walks, or more than seven K's for each free pass.

I'm not saying that Lopez is going to immediately steal the job from Lyon, but it's worth noting that on Tuesday, it was Lopez who came in to get the save against the Mets, and not Lyon. Then last night, Lyon loaded the bases before managing to escape; Lopez followed with those two scoreless innings. With Lindstrom out of action, Lyon can't go every night, so Lopez could get more chances than you think.

Leaving us to make room...

Hong-Chih Kuo: It's one of the funny things about Value Picks; I've been talking about Kuo for weeks, and just as he finally gets promoted to the closer's role, he has to be removed (his ESPN ownership has skyrocketed, as you might imagine). If you own him or are considering getting him, don't be scared off by his poor line on Monday against Atlanta. Though he was far from sharp, the two hits he allowed were harmless singles, and Octavio Dotel was actually on the mound when most of the runs charged to Kuo scored. Dotel blew up again last night, so he should be little threat going forward.

J.J Putz: Remember the good old days when Putz was setting White Sox records for more scoreless appearances in a row? Seems kind of a long time ago when he's given up two homers and six runs in his last four games. Bobby Jenks looks like he'll avoid the DL, the White Sox have several viable options, and Ozzie Guillen has shown no hesitation to bounce from one hot hand to another. Putz has probably pitched himself out of the 9th inning for now.

And our returnees...

Mike Gonzalez: Baltimore has lost five of their last seven, so save opportunities haven't been plentiful. Still, Gonzalez has been effective; three more scoreless outings in the last week make that nine of eleven since he returned from the DL in July. Before Simon's scoreless inning last night, he'd given up runs in four games in a row, so it seems pretty clear who the hot hand here is.

Joel Hanrahan: After a few rough outings, he's been better lately, striking out three in two scoreless games. However, like Gonzalez, his team is dreadful (nine losses in Pittsburgh's last ten games) so there haven't been many leads to close. Evan Meek has struggled immensely in August (7 ER in 2.2 IP), so should the Pirates ever get a lead to the 9th, Hanrahan will get the call. He's still owned in fewer than 10% of ESPN leagues.

Aaron Heilman: One of the "fun" parts about writing this from the East Coast on Wednesday nights is waking up Thursday morning to finalize the stats and publish, only to found out that one of your picks imploded in a late West Coast game. That's exactly what happened to Heilman, who gave up four runs on five hits last night to Cincinnati, though in a non-save situation. It was actually worse than it looked, because he came in to relieve a mess that Sam Demel had made, and allowed the inherited runners to score before piling up his own. Now as bad as all that sounds, Heilman did have a nice run of ten scoreless games of eleven prior to last night, which is why he'd been on this list in the first place. Check to see how he bounces back before making a decision.

Michael Wuertz: This is probably Wuertz' final week on the list, but not because he got hit hard last night (three earned runs and four baserunners allowed, though the A's ended up winning.) It's because Andrew Bailey is to start a rehab stint this weekend, and could be back next week. Once that happens, Wuertz' value will fall. For now, he still has a few more days to collect some saves, and he's been effectively nailing down leads and piling up strikeouts in Bailey's absence.

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,  Michael Wuertz,  Wilton Lopez

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