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September 23, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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I really enjoyed looking at under-the-radar closer prospects the last two weeks; the research did me some good, and I'm hoping it helped out a few of you as well. This week has a bit less of a feel-good tone to it, because we're looking at relievers who we expected big things out of in 2010, and who just didn't deliver. Depressing as it may be to think about, since many of these guys were owned in nearly all leagues and probably sank more than one team, we're also going to look into whether you want to give them another shot next year.

(Note: All preseason dollar predictions were taken from the Graphical Player 2010. All year-to-date dollar values were taken from Heater Magazine.)

Many of you probably know that I'm a Dodgers fan, and therefore I've had the fine pleasure of watching Jonathan Broxton douse himself directly with gasoline in the second half, along with the rest of the team. Oh, and the fallout from Broxton's implosion wasn't merely contained to himself or even the 2010 season; his questionable status was a large part of Ned Colletti's atrocious decision to trade James McDonald and Andrew Lambo for about twenty minutes worth of Octavio Dotel's time.

Still, it's worth noting that it wasn't all bad. Broxton provided a lot of value in the first half of the year; after tossing 1.1 scoreless inning against the Yankees on June 26, he'd allowed just a .512 OPS and 3 earned runs in 32 innings (0.83 ERA), with an amazing 48/5 K/BB. Of course, the next night he threw 48 pitches while melting down against the Yanks, and while it's not entirely Joe Torre's fault, it's hard to ignore that Broxton was asked to throw 99 pitches in five days. From that that disaster on the 27th until today, Broxton's great year turned into a nightmare: .871 OPS, 7.22 ERA, and a 24/22 K/BB ratio.

Broxton insists he isn't hurt, and while his velocity is down a tick, it's still more than enough to get the job done. Really, the problem here is that his control has been horrible ever since that June stretch. If he can get his control back after the winter layoff, it makes him a good buy-low candidate headed into next year. The Dodgers likely won't be able to afford a new closer, and Hong-Chih Kuo's fragile health makes him unable to handle role on his own. Kenley Jansen looms, of course, yet he's still only completing his first full year of pitching at any level.

Coming into 2010, Chad Qualls was a nice mid-level closer choice. His first year as a full-time stopper had gone well in 2009 (dig that BB/K line!) and reports were positive about his comeback from a serious knee injury. Based on our preseason dollar predictions, Qualls was the 10th most valuable closer at $17, ahead of guys like Billy Wagner, Carlos Marmol, and Rafael Soriano.

So... how'd that work out? To call Qualls' season "disastrous" seems kind, as he's dead last in WXRL with a -2.395, and that 8.00 ERA isn't a typo. It's not quite as bad as all that - his FIP is 4.35, thanks in large part to a ridiculous .404 BABIP - it's hard to make excuses for a WHIP that's near 2. A move from Arizona to Tampa Bay didn't much help matters; he's got a similarly cartoonish 7.31 ERA for the Rays. Qualls can take some solace in the fact that he hasn't seen a loss in velocity and that his BABIP can't possibly be that poor again next year, but considering he had only one good year as a closer, no team is going to let him near the 9th next season. I'd say that his value was "zero" right now, but that's not even really true; he's now worth -$6 according to the Heater calculations.

Trevor Hoffman turns 43 in a few weeks, and you had to figure that at some point the bottom was going to fall out. Still, he was coming off an excellent Milwaukee debut, and he was the 6th-highest closer in Heater's preseason dollar predictions. That ended up turning out about as well as it did for Qualls, who is the only reliever worse than Hoffman on the WXRL failboard this season.

Hoffman's trademark change-up completely failed him, leaving him without a swing-and-miss pitch. Left with just his mediocre fastball and an assortment of junk, batters were able to lay off and draw walks until they got a fat pitch, which they did more than ever. John Axford (one of our Value Pick heroes) stepped in to fill the job, and while Hoffman managed to right the ship somewhat in time to get his 600th save, he's almost certainly playing out the final days of his career. Even if he's in someone's camp next year, you'd do well to stay far away.

It's easy to forget now, as Neftali Feliz has made the role his own, but it was Frank Francisco who entered the season as the Texas closer. He was fetching $15 in preseason predictions, the same as Carlos Marmol and Ryan Franklin, largely due to his strong K rates and 25 saves in 2009.

Francisco's hold on the closer job lasted all of about a week, however, because he had back-to-back blown saves, allowing 3 ER each, on April 8 and 10. That's led to the perception that his season has been a failure, which is somewhat unfair, as he's otherwise been very effective (since then, he's got a 2.84 ERA and .603 OPS against). His 2010 stats overall look very similar to his 2009 line, and that was good enough to earn him the perception of a valued closer. Of course, value to the Rangers isn't the same as value to the fantasy owners who were hoping for more than just two saves.

Francisco won't be beating out Feliz for the closing job anytime soon, but there's always the possibility he may not need to. The rumors that Feliz may return to the starting rotation next year just won't go away, and the Rangers would need to fill the 9th inning hole somehow if that happens. Francisco is by no means a must-own, but the situation is worth watching.

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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Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: New Y... (09/23)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Nick Mar... (09/23)
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