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January 27, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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Welcome to this week’s “Value Picks”, in which we cease to pretend we’re going to talk about other teams and just acknowledge that now and forever, we’re just going to bring you the latest and greatest in Toronto Blue Jay news. We’ve had six articles since we returned from postseason hiatus, and in that time we’ve already looked at five relievers who have either just arrived in Toronto or just left. That doesn’t even include Frank Francisco, who was originally discussed on December 2nd as a Ranger, and who features prominently today.

Frank Francisco, Blue Jays

As you’ve no doubt heard, the “Vernon Wells lol-fest” kept on rolling with a secondary ripple this week as the Jays flipped catcher Mike Napoli to Texas in exchange for Francisco, immediately invalidating post-trade fantasy articles everywhere. So while in previous weeks I put down thoughts about Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel, and Jon Rauch possibly collecting saves in Toronto, now we add Francisco to the mix.

I believe I’ve said this before, but Francisco ended up being somewhat underrated in Texas due to the ascension of Neftali Feliz, as we’ll see in a moment. Yes, Francisco had a few rough outings in April, losing his closer gig to Feliz, who never gave it back. Yet overall, Francisco was basically the same pitcher he’s been for the last several years, as his WHIP, ERA, K/9, & BB/9 were all within the same ranges he’d posted in 2008 and 2009. Just because he had 23 fewer saves in 2010 doesn’t mean he was any less of a pitcher.

While it’s hard to fault anyone for not being as good as Feliz, when you put Francisco up against Dotel and Rauch, he starts to look pretty good. His K/9 rates are about the same as Dotel’s, yet his BB/9 rate in recent years is lower. He walks more than Rauch, yet his strikeouts are enough that his K/BB over the last two years is superior. His average velocity is the highest of the three, and he’s younger than both. But what’s perhaps the most in Francisco’s favor is that unlike Dotel and Rauch, he doesn’t have a deadly platoon split against lefty hitters.

We’ve already discussed how badly Dotel got lit up against lefty batters (.993 OPS) in 2010. Rauch wasn’t hit by them nearly as hard (.739), though it was 130 points higher than his mark against righties. Francisco, meanwhile, has actually always put up a reverse split, with an OPS mark 70 points lower against lefties in his career and over 200 points lower in 2010.

So what does that all mean for the 9th inning in Toronto? It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see something of a job share, where Dotel faces righty-heavy lineups and Francisco faces down the lefties. That may sound like Dotel gets the bulk of opportunities, but I don’t think it’s that cut-and-dry. Dotel is all but unusable against lefties, while Francisco can still be put out there against fellow righties, and Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous admitted in a press conference following the trade that Francisco was someone he’d tried to acquire for some time.

All of the confusion here means you may end up with some good buy-low candidates. I’d place Francisco first on the list, followed by Dotel, and I’d probably discount Rauch and Frasor entirely for now until further notice.

Of course, that’s all going to change next week when the Jays bring back Tom Henke and Duane Ward out of retirement, right?

Neftali Feliz (& Alexi Ogando), Rangers

Francisco’s move north of the border also affects the team he’s left behind in Texas. All winter, we’ve heard that young Neftali Feliz would be stretched out as a starter in the spring in hopes that he might be placed back into the rotation. That chance alone made Francisco valuable, as he would have likely been returned to the closing duties he lost to Feliz last season.

With Francisco gone, many are predicting that this spells an end to the “Feliz as starter” experiment. I’m not so sure. We all know that starting pitchers provide more value than relievers, and Feliz, who started 53 games in the minors, is far too young to be thought of only as a reliever. Texas GM Jon Daniels is no fool, and has done a good job of hedging his bets here. If Felix beats out the likes of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, and the rehabbing Brandon Webb for the fifth starter role, all the better. If not, then having stretched him out to be a starter is in no way an impediment to returning him to the bullpen.

If Feliz does return to the rotation, then whomever the new Texas closer might be immediately becomes fantasy relevant. While you might see ageless veterans like Arthur Rhodes & Darren Oliver or younger types like Mark Lowe or Darren O’Day get a shot here and there, the name to watch is clearly Alexi Ogando, who impressed by posting a 1.30 ERA and 8.4 K/9 over 44 games in his rookie season last year.

Ogando is also reportedly going to get work as a starter in camp, though he has just three minor league starts under his belt (all in AA) and would seem to be less likely to be converted than Feliz. There’s an interesting story here, as Ogando was originally signed as an outfielder by Oakland in 2002 before being banned from the country for five years due to his part in a visa fraud scam. Finally allowed to report to camp in early 2010, he dominated AA & AAA (42/11 K/BB) with 96 MPH fastballs before being recalled and finding success in Texas. He may have less than one year of service time under his belt, but he’s also 27, so his time is now.

The feeling here is that despite all of the ink spilled over this, Feliz probably isn’t going to head back to the rotation unless all of the other 5th starter candidates fail. Even still, Ogando is worth a look, because high strikeout relievers in line for closing roles are always valuable.

Aroldis Chapman, Reds

No, still no news out of Cincinnati about Aroldis Chapman being moved back to the rotation or taking over Francisco Cordero’s closer role. He’s here because I got a request in last week’s comments asking about him, so he’s on the list to look into for today. If there’s anyone else who interests you, feel free to note them in the comments and I can add them to the queue.

Let’s get this out of the way first: is Chapman more valuable as a starter than a reliever? Of course he is. But the Reds are one of the few teams that actually have substantial rotation depth, with Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, & Edinson Volquez the unquestioned top four and Travis Wood & Mike Leake competing for the fifth spot. Is Chapman more talented than all of those guys? Yeah, probably, but on a team that’s counting on a declining Francisco Cordero and lost Arthur Rhodes from an already weak bullpen, the decision to keep Chapman in relief is defensible.

From a fantasy point of view, Chapman is a no-doubter in keeper leagues, but he’s obviously worthwhile in redraft leagues as well. Remember, we’re talking about a guy who averaged – averaged! – 99.6 MPH on his fastball last year, striking out 19 in his first 13.1 MLB innings despite being only 22. Now if you think Cordero, who’s about to be 36 and just watched his K/BB rate decline for the fourth year in a row,  is hanging on by a thread, then Chapman’s quite valuable as closer-in-waiting. Even if you’re not pessimistic about Cordero, an arm that live which can pile up strikeouts for you is always worth having. Always.

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

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Nick Wernham

Great piece on Franscisco. I've always liked him. I do with that there was some way to travel back in time and bring back Ward and The Terminator though. I miss those guys. :(

For those who have never heard this song: http://mopupduty.com/index.php/the-ballad-of-tom-henke

Jan 27, 2011 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

Thanks, skuddler. I've always considered him a bit underrated. Never heard that song, great link.

Jan 27, 2011 11:27 AM
 
mtgannon

I would love to see hwat you think of Justin Morneau and how you project him coming back from his concussion. I can't decide if I want to use him as one of my keepers or trade a draft pick for Fielder or Youkilis. Any comparison of these guys would be much appreciated!

Jan 27, 2011 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

Concussions are always so tricky to dechiper, which is a shame because Morneau was having the best year of his year last year. All indications I've heard are that he's on track to be ready for Opening Day, though I'd hate to be without a good backup plan - you just can't count on anything being the same after a concussion until you've seen it happen.

As for your choice, it's hard to say for sure without knowing the specifics of your league and roster. If all you'd have to do is trade a draft pick for Youkilis (assuming we're not talking first 2 rounds), that seems pretty reasonable to me.

Jan 27, 2011 11:29 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

As a follow-up, I've just read that Morneau is about 10 days away from even starting baseball activities, so take that into consideration when making your choice.

Jan 27, 2011 11:32 AM
 
BP staff member Rob McQuown
BP staff

Well, I'd mostly echo Mike's thoughts here. I like Fielder more than most analysts - don't tell Marc Normandin! - and view him as one of the few candidates to lead the NL in homers. But when Youkilis qualifies at third base, he's going to be worth a lot in any format, and could be positively sick in OBP leagues. I view him as a bit of an injury risk, so don't expect league-leading totals stats, but he should be great for rates. Given the expected qualification at 3b, I'd look into keeping him.

Back to Morneau, if it wasn't for the head injury, I'd will have some difficulty viewing him as a locked-in-stone keeper. His TAv was between .284 and .305 from 2006-2009, before going nuts with a .360 in 2010. Clearly, the adjustments he made in 2010 helped him, but taking a snapshot of his season halfway through (as the injury did) makes it unclear how well the pitchers would be able to adjust to his changes and how that would impact going forward. I'm willing to believe that he's figured something new out - the "Twins Way" of beating fundamentals into their players longer than most organizations (hence some of the reason they don't promote as aggressively as many orgs do) means that the successful Twins hitters have solid fundamentals to fall back on, and so adjustments should be easier and more likely to result in marginal gains in production that stick with a player. The flip side is that age catches up with everyone, so it's a constant race. Minus the injury, I'd have expected Morneau to be a step ahead in the "race" for 2011, but for things to not be nearly as easy as he made them look in 2010.

That's a long-winded way of saying I'd expect close to his 2006-2009 maximum of .305 TAv if he wasn't hurt. As with my commentary on Bay, I'd chalk the concussion up to "more likely than most to miss time with injury", with the caveat that there's also a higher likelihood of an "injury" (recurring concussive symptoms) being season-ending.

Jan 27, 2011 11:52 AM
 
mtgannon

Thanks guys - that's very helpful. I am in a 16-team roto league (OBP instead of AVG) and we get 5 keepers (3 vets and 2 young keepers - defined by ABs or IPs). I have Longoria and Greinke as my other 2 vets and Kendry Morales and Buckholz as my young keepers). So, the 3B eligibility isn't a huge deal for me with Youkilis since I have Longoria.

We get 2 utility guys so the more power/OBP guys the better. I could trade a 3rd round pick (about equal to a 7th rounder in a non-keeper league I guess) for Youk or a 2nd rounder for Fielder and then throw Morneau back in the draft. Leaning towards the 3rd rounder for Youkilis. Morneau just seems a little risky to me.

Any idea on timing for PECOTA? It is what I use for projections for my draft prep and I am ready to get started!

Jan 27, 2011 17:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Marc Normandin

Fielder is great, but you won't catch me drafting him. I still don't know if he's a serious power hitter or an overrated first baseman.

Jan 28, 2011 05:43 AM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Is Homer Bailey really such a lock over Wood and/or Leake?

Jan 27, 2011 13:39 PM
rating: 1
 
Cromulent

I was just wondering the exact same thing.

Jan 27, 2011 13:48 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

For the sake of this article, it's probably not all that relevant because Chapman would still be in the pen regardless of which order those guys end up in, but yes, I think Bailey has a spot. He was very good after returning from injury last year - 59/19 K/BB, ERA and FIP under 4, in 10 starts between Aug-Oct.

Jan 27, 2011 15:40 PM
 
Cromulent

I was thinking more of the inscrutability of Dusty Baker than whether or not Bailey's earned it (I think he has). I'd love to draft Bailey like he's a lock for the rotation but I think there's risk there. Then again, maybe that's a buying opportunity.

Jan 27, 2011 21:42 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

I'm curious about how they will use Leake. He clearly tired in 2010, and doesn't have the upside of Homer Bailey, who I am still convinced can be a very effective starter in the majors.

While Leake may not learn anything in Triple-A, I wonder if a season there would be good for him in terms of preparing his arm for the rigors of a full season.

Jan 28, 2011 05:45 AM
rating: 0
 
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Prospectus Q&A: John A... (01/27)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (01/26)
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Fantasy Beat: Reviewin... (01/28)
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Ahead in the Count: Te... (01/27)

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