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March 24, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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There might only be one more week until Opening Day, but that is still enough time to catch some spring training action, and I’ll be doing just that: on Friday night, I’ll be in Tampa for the Astros/Yankees tilt, and the next afternoon I’ll be catching Blue Jays/Phillies in Clearwater. Since it’s currently thunderhailing as I write this in New York City, you better believe the weekend can’t come quickly enough.

The season also can't come soon enough for several relief squads, because the last week has seen a good deal of injury news that could impact who gets the ball in the ninth inning. Let’s get to it.

Jon Rauch / Frank Francisco / Octavio Dotel, Blue Jays

I’m going to dispense with the usual “geez, we’re talking about the Blue Jays again?” jokes, because there’s actual news here. Frank Francisco came out of his meeting with Dr. James Andrews safe from structural damage to his right pectoral, but will still open the season on the disabled list, according to John Lott of Toronto’s National Post. Octavio Dotel, battling a hamstring injury, was able to make an appearance in a minor league game on Tuesday, but may also not be ready for the start of season.

That leaves Rauch, who’s having an excellent spring–just two hits allowed in six scoreless innings–as the likely Opening Day closer. Rauch, of course, filled in admirably for Joe Nathan in Minnesota last year before being supplanted by Matt Capps in July, and would probably be fine in Toronto as well. Before you run out and spend your FAAB dollars or waiver spot on Rauch, however, keep in mind how fluid of a situation this is. Francisco may not be at full strength, but is set to begin throwing again this weekend, and Dotel’s minor league inning went well with the help of two strikeouts. If either (or both) begins the season on the DL, all indications are that the stay would not be very long at this point. That means that Rauch’s term as the closer could last only a few days—don't forget that Jason Frasor is around too.

Bottom line: this is an interesting collection of veterans with various injury problems and platoon splits (particularly Dotel), and that means that it’s possible we do see a real “closer by committee” setup here until someone proves they can be both healthy and effective at the same time. I still like Francisco as the favorite to get the most saves, but his injury concerns dating back to last year have piled up—watch closely.

J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks

The newly-imported Diamondback made just two spring appearances before back spasms knocked him out, preventing him from making an appearance last Friday. He reportedly felt better after playing catch for seven minutes earlier this week—his next step is long-toss, with no indication of when he may try to get into another game. With the season just a week away—and particularly with Putz’ health history—it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he’s held back in order to pick up some more work in hopes of being fully healthy shortly into the season.

If Putz can’t answer the bell (if you read this column last year, you know how much time I had to spend discussing all of the entries in what was one of the worst bullpens in baseball history, from Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez to Sam Demel and Aaron Heilman) Gutierrez and Demel could still get chances, but my favorite here is someone I talked about in 2010 as part of a different mess: David Hernandez, who came over in the Mark Reynolds trade.

Hernandez was pretty atrocious as an Oriole starter–27/28 K/BB in eight early-season starts–before reinventing himself as an effective reliever, turning that K/BB ratio into 45/13 in 33 relief appearances. I wouldn’t rush to get him right away–it doesn’t sound like Putz is going to miss too much regular season time, if any–but Hernandez is a name to watch in case Putz re-injures himself later in the season.

Brian Wilson, Giants

Giants fans picked up a scare earlier this week when Brian Wilson strained his left oblique, knocking him out of spring action. Wilson offered the usual platitudes about it not being serious–“If it's a regular-season game, I'm throwing,” among them–but we should know by now that players are generally not the best arbiters of their own health. This isn’t the first time Wilson has had issues with the left oblique, as he tore it in his major league debut in 2006 and missed nearly a month (information which is easy to find thanks to Corey Dawkins’ injury database, now included in BP player cards).

The news didn’t get any better when Wilson wasn’t able to make it througha planned day of catch on Wednesday, which doesn’t bode well for his chances to be ready for Opening Day. The Giants have a deep bullpen to go along with their excellent rotation, and they don’t seem likely to rush Wilson back if he’s not ready. If so, the surprisingly effective Sergio Romo may get a chance to step in temporarily. Romo has averaged 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings over his three-year career, which is very good on its own, but even better when you see that he doesn’t include the wildness that so many other high-strikeout relievers are saddled with. He issued just 14 unintentional free passes over 62 innings last year, leading to an excellent K/BB ratio of 5.0.

Romo’s no threat to Wilson’s job, of course, but don’t underestimate the severity of oblique injuries. Watch Wilson closely leading up to Opening Day to see if he’s able to get back into action. It shouldn’t take him more than an appearance or two to test out the muscle, but I doubt they’d let him start the season without proving his health at least briefly.

Craig Kimbrel / Jonny Venters, Braves

As a fan of managers keeping leverage in mind in order to deploy the best reliever for the job regardless of inning, the confirmation that the Braves won’t have a set closer at the beginning of the season is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately for the fantasy player, it’s a huge annoyance, and one that knocks Kimbrel in particular down the draft board.

Venters and Kimbrel have each shown the ability to rack up strikeouts, and offer manager Fredi Gonzalez the potential to use a lethal lefty-righty duo if he picks his spots correctly, particularly helpful because Atlanta’s main rival in the East, Philadelphia, is overwhelmingly lefty-heavy.

Still, these situations always sound good in theory during March, yet rarely last the season. It’s almost certain that as the year goes on, one pitcher will get a hold of the role, leading to a more traditional setup. That’s still more likely to be Kimbrel than Venters, though the silver lining here is that because of the high strikeout rate piled up by each, they’re both worthy of a spot until the usage patterns start to define who is going to be The Man.

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

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

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franksean

when was the last time a "closer-by-committee" was used with great success?

Mar 24, 2011 05:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

People like to claim that the Braves did this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago, but that's not really the case; it was mostly Gonzalez for one half, then mostly Soriano for another half.

There's been 8 times since 1993 where a team has managed to get 3 relievers with at least 10 saves, and it's almost always been due to injury or ineffectiveness, not by design.

I'm not saying it can't work - I like the idea - just that it almost never does.

Mar 24, 2011 06:21 AM
 
pobothecat

Nor, as I recall, was it all that successful.

Mar 25, 2011 12:30 PM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Any info on when PFM will be updated? Lots of drafts this weekend.

Mar 24, 2011 07:47 AM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Also curious about Team Tracker - doesn't include players who debuted in 2010.

Mar 24, 2011 08:05 AM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

I've been wondering the same thing. I see updates on the depth charts after the last PFM update but aren't sure exactly what has changed.

Mar 24, 2011 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I'm told that PFM will be updated prior to the weekend, so should be ready for weekend drafts.

Mar 24, 2011 09:00 AM
 
DDriesen

What is the outlook for Bailey? I have Putz at $1 w/ another year left in my league and may be able to deal him for Bailey ($1, no years) and a hitter, but I do not want to go from the frying pan into the fire.

Mar 24, 2011 08:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

Assume this is referring to Homer Bailey? I'm optimistic about him; I think I chose him as my pitching sleeper in our recent season predictions. Look at his 2010; he wasn't great in the beginning, but after missing time with an injury he was excellent upon returning. In 10 starts after August 15, he had a 59/19 K/BB. He's also increased his K/BB every year of his career, and is at 12/3 thus far in spring.

If your question is, "should I trade $1 Putz for $1 Bailey and a hitter," I probably would, depending on your situation. Who is the hitter? Do you have depth in your relievers? I like Putz, but he's injury prone on a lousy team, and you can always find saves as the season goes on. Meanwhile, Bailey may be ready to break out.

Mar 24, 2011 08:58 AM
 
DDriesen

Sorry, I was unclear. I meant Andrew Bailey. By way of background it is a 4x4 18-team mixed keeper league, 9 keepers (up to 3 yrs).

Mar 24, 2011 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

Sorry. I should have realized that in an article about closers, that's who you meant. I haven't seen many updates about Bailey, and he hasn't pitched since getting hurt. Having thrown only 1.1 IP thus far, coming off arm surgery, I cannot imagine he's ready for Opening Day. In that case, I'm not sure I'd make the deal. Bailey > Putz when healthy, but Putz seems closer to being healthy, has less competition, and the additional year of control helps you too.

Mar 24, 2011 09:56 AM
 
DDriesen

Thanks, Mike. that was kind of how I was seeing it. His other option is Lyon, but I do not have a great deal of faith in him. Do think his mediocrity is worth the risk?

Mar 24, 2011 10:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I wouldn't think so. I'd rather chance that Bailey will be healthy than that Lyon will be good. Sounds like staying put may be your best option.

Mar 24, 2011 12:23 PM
 
DDriesen

And further clarification, this is pre-draft keeper trade, Putz is my only reliever, hitter may be a $13 Alexei Ramirez with another year left.

Mar 24, 2011 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
franksean

Doe Papelbon lay another goose egg in 2011? Can you see him getting demoted in favor of Bard or Jenks or traded outright?

Mar 24, 2011 21:28 PM
rating: 0
 
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