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April 21, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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Value Picks turns back to relievers, as I rejoice that Frank McCourt’s ownership level is quickly going from to 100 percent to 50 percent to 0 percent. He is definitely not a value pick in any league.

Departures

Matt Capps , Twins (46.8 percent ESPN / 77 percent Yahoo)

Last week, I wrote that Joe Nathan had reclaimed his job but hadn’t quite regained his old form yet, adding that “Capps is hovering around 10 percent ownership, but could easily vulture saves here and there until Nathan is back to full speed.” That process for Nathan appears to have stalled, as he blew two saves in three days (and was crushed by Baltimore in a non-save situation on Tuesday), leading Ron Gardenhire to remove him from the job. Capps hasn’t been especially spectacular in the last week either, but he’s the man there for now and as such has seen his ownership skyrocket.

Kyle Farnsworth, Rays (37.6 percent ESPN / 60 percent Yahoo)

Farnsworth was discussed last week as the arm who was starting to slice through the early-season indecision at the back of the Tampa bullpen, and he has further tightened his grip on the job as the Rays have started to heat up. He has successfully completed all four of his save chances, and though his owned percentage has certainly increased since last week, it should probably be even higher than that.

Arrivals

Mitchell Boggs, Cardinals (4.8 percent ESPN / 28 percent Yahoo)

The St. Louis bullpen situation is almost as much of a mess as it was last week, save for the one piece of information that we do know: Ryan Franklin is no longer the unquestioned closer. That change came about after Franklin tied the record for most blown saves in a team’s first 16 games, and punctuated by the walk-off homer he allowed to Matt Kemp of the Dodgers on Sunday.

What we don’t yet know is who will be the replacement, as Tony La Russa has several imperfect options and has always been a tough manager to read. Jason Motte was once seen as the closer-in-waiting, though his lack of swing-and-miss stuff this year (just three whiffs against twenty-nine batters through Wednesday) makes it hard to support him for the role. There is also the ageless Miguel Batista, who does have that one good closer season under his belt, but I’m not sure I’m willing to live in a world where Miguel Batista is closing games.

That being the case, the smart money here is on former starter Mitchell Boggs, who is off to a good start with twelve strikeouts in nine innings. Boggs’ career record isn’t the most impressive, but it’s important to note that he’s been much improved since he moved to the bullpen fulltime, nearly doubling his K/BB rate.

It’s also worth noting that Boggs has had his issues against lefty batters, but as Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, there has been improvement there as well:

And it's true that Boggs had a hard time against LH bats earlier in his career, in his role as a starter. But Boggs has improved in that area. Since May 11 of last season, LH hitters are .219 / .330 / .384 vs. Boggs, with 13 walks and 11 strikeouts. He's allowed 3 homers in 73 ABs. I have to say I was a little surprised by Motte's numbers vs. LH batters since the start of last season: .301 BA, .392 OBP, .487 SLG, with 23 walks and 34 Ks. Boggs has made so much progress in this area, I'd have to believe it's inspired at least some confidence among the bosses.

Those are signs that are headed in the right direction. Keep watch closely to see how La Russa handles this situation.

Koji Uehara, Orioles (2.9 percent ESPN / percent Yahoo)             

One day, I’ll get to stop writing about Kevin Gregg’s inability to consistently get people out and Uehara’s inability to remain healthy. After being less than impressive in camp, Gregg needed to get off to a good start, and he hasn’t quite done so, allowing twelve baserunners in his first five innings (though to be fair, Baltimore’s eight-game losing streak didn’t help him get a lot of opportunities).

Gregg will get some leash, and he did nail down the save on Wednesday (though if Denard Span had about one more foot on his game-ending drive it might have been a tying homer rather than a nice catch by Adam Jones). Still, he must have noticed that Uehara’s season started off much more successfully, having allowed just one hit in five scoreless outings before being touched by the Twins last night. The next step is for Uehara to prove he can pitch on consecutive nights, and while that hasn’t happened just yet, he has notified manager Buck Showalter that he is ready to try.

Ever since Gregg signed, I’ve been pretty adamant that Uehara is the superior pitcher if his health allows him to be, and so far we’re seeing exactly that. Gregg remains the man for now, but I don’t think it’ll take too many poor outings for Uehara to make this at least a job share.

Matt Lindstrom, Rockies (1.5 percent ESPN / 9 percent Yahoo)

No, there’s nothing wrong with Huston Street, who leads the league with six saves. However, he is a man with an injury history, and the Rockies have leaned on him hard, pitching him in nine of the first twelve games. Manager Jim Tracy is cognizant of that fact and has publicly noted the need to rein in that workload a bit. Lindstrom is off to a good start, having allowed just one earned run in his first nine games, and has even managed to sneak in two saves –including one in New York where he was asked to come in and rescue a struggling Street.

Not all managers have setup men with closing experience, so the combination of Street’s workload and Lindstrom’s history may just lead to a few more vultured saves in Colorado.

Incumbents

David Aardsma, Mariners (21.9 percent ESPN / 59 percent Yahoo)

So far, so good for the injured Seattle closer, who made it through his first rehab outing for Triple-A Tacoma with no major issues. The results weren’t great, but that wasn’t really the point, especially the first time out. He could be back with the Mariners as soon as next weekend, and as Eric Wedge has been clear that he gets his job back, his ownership should skyrocket at that point.

Chris Sale, White Sox (13.2 percent ESPN / 41 percent Yahoo)

You might be coming here looking for me to offer some clarity on the disastrous White Sox bullpen situation, and the honest answer is, we just don’t know. The Sox had lost six in a row entering Wednesday (and are currently losing to Tampa as I write this), so they haven’t had much opportunity to try and protect any leads.

I’ll stick with Sale, however, not only because of last season’s success, but because his terrible outing last Wednesday serves to obscure what is a very good 12/3 K/BB ratio. As was noted in the comments last week, part of the problem he ran into in Oakland could also be attributed to the fact he’d thrown 34 pitches the night before. Sale didn’t pitch for most of a week after that until putting up 1 1/3 scoreless innings last night in another Chicago loss.

With Matt Thornton digging himself further into a hole, there is still a chance for Jesse Crain or Sergio Santos to sneak into the ninth, but I would be surprised if Sale doesn't get another crack first.

___________

By popular demand, we’ve added a new feature this week for those of you in very deep leagues–we’ll pick one player from each league who falls under the five percent ownership threshold. I plan on going deeper than that when I can, and to start off with, both of my reliever picks are owned in less than one percent of leagues.

AL-only VP

Tim Collins, Royals (0.5 percent ESPN / 3 percent Yahoo)

The tiny lefty’s line (6.00 ERA, .819 OPS against) admittedly isn’t that appealing, though it’s important to note that much of that damage came from one poor 10th inning outing against Cleveland on Monday. Prior to that game, Collins had been doing just fine, striking out 13 in eight innings with two earned runs allowed.

Of course, Joakim Soria is in no danger of losing his job in Kansas City, though it should be pointed out that Soria is off to a pretty tough start. After not allowing more than 13 runs to cross the plate in any of the last three seasons, he’s already let in seven so far, and his strikeouts are way down while his walk rate has nearly doubled.

His history means there is no reason for panic just yet, and he’ll be given every chance to rebound. Still, if he doesn’t, at some point the Royals are going to have to give him a break–mental or physical–and Collins could be in the mix along with Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow to sneak in some save chances to go with the nice strikeout rate.

NL-only VP

Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals (0.3 percent ESPN / percent Yahoo)

One name I didn’t mention in the Boggs section above was young Eduardo Sanchez, who has made an impression by striking out eight of the first eleven hitters he has seen in the bigs without issuing a single walk. The slight Sanchez (listed at 5-foot-11, 155 pounds) was ranked sixth by Kevin Goldstein in his Top 11 Cardinals prospects list, with Kevin adding, “His stuff is good enough to pick up saves in the big leagues.”

Sanchez only turned 22 in February and the Cardinals have other options to sift through, as you’ve seen, so it’s a bit premature to think that Sanchez is immediately going to see ninth inning time. That said, none of the other Cardinal arms are givens to succeed, so if Sanchez keeps performing it’s not out of the question for him to see higher-leverage time later in the season.

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:  Ownership,  Matt Lindstrom,  The Who,  Espn,  Matt Capps,  Kevin Gregg

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