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March 10, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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Good news, everyone. We’re exactly three weeks from the start of the regular season, which means we’re that much closer to games that matter. There hasn’t yet been a catastrophic injury among relievers, nor has there been much in the way of outright job proclamations since Joel Hanrahan beat out Evan Meek in Pittsburgh. Still, there’s plenty to get to and more changing by the day. Here’s what’s important in the world of relievers right now.

Minnesota: For most of the offseason, even dating back to before the spring games got started, I’ve been pretty high on Joe Nathan being able to come back from his Tommy John surgery to reclaim his closer’s job and be an undervalued pick. I say “undervalued”, despite the fact that PECOTA adores him this year, because there’s the obvious inherent uncertainty that goes with a 35-year-old coming off a major injury while last year’s incumbent remains at a high salary. I’d been basing that feeling on the fact that the timing was right (since the injury happened early last spring, he’ll have about a full year to recover), that the history of TJ recovery in recent years has been excellent, and that Nathan was so good before the injury that even a slight decline wouldn’t render him completely ineffective.

Well, so far, so good: Nathan’s made it through his first three appearances by not allowing a hit or reporting any unusual soreness. He’s struck out just one, but that’s nothing to worry about yet, since he’s just working on building strength and throwing strikes. Control is often the hardest part of the recovery cycle to master, and Nathan’s also only walked one in those three outings, which is a great sign. There were reports that he’d touched 95 MPH, though I’d caution you against putting too much faith into spring training guns; still, the signs on Nathan couldn’t be better. Verdict: Slide Nathan up your rankings, though not quite into the top-5 spot he used to hold.

Washington: A few weeks ago, I looked at Drew Storen, and wondered why the Nationals refused to name him the closer even though we all considered it a foregone conclusion. Well, perhaps the Nats knew something we didn’t, because Storen is off to a pretty lousy start, having allowed seven runs (six earned) on nine hits through three innings. You know as well as I do that small spring sample sizes generally don’t mean much, but don’t underestimate the need for an unproven second-year reliever who doesn’t officially have the job yet to prove himself in camp.

If there’s good news for Storen here, it’s that he’s struck out four while walking no one, so there’s signs of life. Jim Riggleman has claimed all spring that he’d go with a closer-by-committee including Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett if he needed, though I still believe that he’d prefer to have a set stopper.  Clippard is intriguing not because of his fluky 11 win season, but because he’s made strides over the last two years in keeping the walks down while increasing the whiffs. An 11.1/9 K rate is worth noting, and he could have value is he starts seeing save opportunities. Verdict: Storen was a lower-tier closing option anyway, so try to avoid this situation until there’s some clarity.

Texas: We’ve been wondering whether the Rangers would really make Neftali Feliz into a starter all winter, and it looks like we may have to hold out for two more weeks for official word: Anthony Andro of the Dallas-area Star Telegram believes that the decision will come down on or about March 22. For his part, Feliz is saying he’d prefer to remain in the bullpen. Still, I’ve long thought that while starting may be in his future, it wasn’t going to be this year, and MLB.com beat writer T.R. Sullivan thinks that the decision has already been made to keep him in the 9th.

Now, the news that Brandon Webb won’t be ready for the start of the year (shocker!) does thin out the 5th starter herd a bit, but Tommy Hunter, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland appear likely to pick up the last three spots behind Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson. Besides, when manager Ron Washington was asked why Feliz was pitching the final three innings of Wednesday’s game rather than the first three, he replied, “I don’t think I have to tell you why we’re doing that.” That sounds pretty clear to me. Verdict: Draft with confidence.

Baltimore: I’ll admit I never thought that Koji Uehara would make it through the entire season healthy, but I at least thought he’d manage to make it into a spring training game first. That wasn’t the case, since he hasn’t thrown in a week after receiving a cortisone shot in his right elbow.  My entire reason for backing him was that he’d be better than Kevin Gregg if healthy, which is true, but if he’s not pitching, he’s certainly not beating Gregg out. Verdict: Drop Uehara down/off your rankings, and begrudgingly slide Gregg up.

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)

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R.A.Wagman

Gregg isn't all that bad, if used right. I did a study last year which revealed that he had tremendous splits between games he pitched without rest and those he pitched with. If he gets at least one day off between appearances, I think he will be quite good.

Mar 10, 2011 04:22 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I remember you mentioning that, and it was intriguing. If you're just looking for raw save totals, he's fine - not saying he's undraftable or anything. He's just generally overrated because of the save stat.

Mar 10, 2011 06:25 AM
 
greenfrog

Anecdotally (as a Jays fan), I can confirm this. Gregg was quite good last year when he pitched with sufficient rest. It amazed me that Cito kept calling on him on consecutive days, even after the pattern became apparent. Naturally, in the latter situations, he would nibble, walk the house, get even more tired, give up a big hit or two, and the Jays would lose.

The O's should use him fairly frequently, but always give him at least one day of rest (preferably two or more) between outings. If they adhere to this approach, he should be fine (30 saves or so, walks a bit higher than you'd like, but good peripherals overall).

Mar 10, 2011 20:09 PM
rating: 0
 
evo34

I certainly wouldn't trust a 1-year trend to be predictive. If you look at his numbers from 2008-2010 (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=5641&type=pitching3&three=1), he was actually slightly better on no rest (lower OPS allowed) than on one or two days rest.

Mar 11, 2011 01:05 AM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

I don't doubt those numbers, but Gregg flopping without rest was an eerily predictable pattern all year last year.

Mar 11, 2011 04:08 AM
rating: 0
 
PepeShady

Mike,

Are you joining Schwartz on the Joel Peralta bandwagon in TB?

Mar 10, 2011 07:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

This is a great question, Pepe. I saw Cory mention that in his chat the other day as well, and I considered including him in today's piece. Part of me wants to see Peralta take the job and own it, just to see what'd happen if lowly Washington non-tendered a guy who ends up getting 35 saves for an AL East contender.

To answer your question... I think Peralta's intriguing, but I'm not as high on him as Cory is. I realize that his 2010 stats look great, but don't forget that he spent the first half of the year in the minors, coming off of two pretty atrocious years in KC and Colorado. I have a hard time thinking that three good months from a guy who's about to be 35 is worth more than a career's worth of mediocrity.

Peralta's also got a pretty terrible track record of getting out lefties, as R.J. Anderson outlined recently at the Process Report: http://theprocessreport.com/2011/03/04/should-joel-peralta-be-the-rays-closer/ . I agree with RJ that Peralta has value as a bullpen arm against righties, but closers pitch the 9th no matter who is up, they don't get the luxury of facing only righties.

Still, the uncertainty in TB gives him some opportunity. I still like Farnsworth to start the season in the role, with McGee taking it over as the season progresses.

Mar 10, 2011 07:36 AM
 
pobothecat

With a dark horse bet on J.P. Howell?

Mar 13, 2011 04:42 AM
rating: 0
 
David Sullivan

If you remove Uehara from the equation, how likely is it that Mike Gonzalez gets a shot at beating out Gregg for the closer spot?

Or is he going to have to wait until Gregg does poorly and Buck needs a change?

Mar 10, 2011 12:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I think it's Gregg's job until proven otherwise. He's got the new contract, the shiny saves number, and Gonzalez hasn't shown himself to be any more durable than Uehara.

In theory, a late-inning crew of Uehara, Gregg, Gonzalez, and Jim Johnson could be pretty decent, though 3 of the 4 have health concerns.

Mar 10, 2011 13:45 PM
 
pobothecat

I will not be sliding Kevin Gregg up any lists, now or ever.

Mar 13, 2011 04:40 AM
rating: 0
 
jillsinmo

Mike Adams? If the Padres move Heath Bell during the season, he seems like the next in line for the ninth. Right?

Mar 10, 2011 19:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I don't think it's as clear-cut as that, because Gregerson will have a say, but yeah, probably Adams.

Mar 11, 2011 06:38 AM
 
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Overthinking It: A Rev... (03/10)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Value Pi... (03/09)
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