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April 28, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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Perhaps it’s just me, but the first month of the season feels like it’s had more moves and news than at any point last year. I remember at times last season wondering who exactly to write about for this piece, and that hasn’t been an issue at all so far. While that is just anecdotal with nothing to really back it up, it does provide opportunity for the enterprising player: more movement means more value out there on the waiver wire for those willing to play with the last spots on their roster.

Saying goodbye:

Mitchell Boggs, Cardinals (83.6 percent ESPN / 60 percent Yahoo)
In the year-plus I’ve been writing this column, Boggs has what I believe to be the largest one-week rise in ownership percentage I’ve tracked so far–up 78.9 percent from last week, in large part due to the fact that Boggs probably wasn’t even owned on his own fantasy team before that. He stumbled a bit on Tuesday, though he is still secure in the role for now; if you don’t own him yet, it’s too late.

David Aardsma, Mariners (44.7 percent ESPN / 59 percent Yahoo)
As Aardsma inches closer to returning from rehab, his ownership percentage is increasing accordingly, which is why I made sure to note stashing him on your DL early in the season. The reports from his rehab actually haven’t been all that encouraging as far as results go, but he is still expected to make his season debut in the next week and should slide back into his old job as soon as he is able.

Matt Lindstrom, Rockies (4.2 percent ESPN / 11 percent Yahoo)
Lindstrom made what was always to be a short appearance on this list last week, as Huston Street had been piling up appearances and the hope was that Lindstrom might sneak in for a few chances when Street was unavailable. That hasn’t happened with an off day and a rain out in the last week, and Street has had an excellent start to his season. That said, Lindstrom is off to a pretty good start as well, even if the saves opportunities might not be there.

Sticking around:

Chris Sale, White Sox (18.2 percent ESPN / 35 percent Yahoo)
I went back and forth on this one a lot, because Sergio Santos is the new darling in Chicago after picking up consecutive saves against the Yankees and is now owned in over a third of ESPN leagues. He has been great in the early going, no doubt, and with the White Sox desperate for any good news, he is likely to get some more chances.

If you can get Santos, then by all means do so, but I’m not ready to give up on Sale just yet. For one thing, Santos’ save on Tuesday night could have just as easily been the latest in a long line of White Sox bullpen failures had not Brent Lillibridge, an infielder playing in right field, made two of the greatest catches of his life on back-to-back plays. Santos ended up with the save and the clean inning, but it doesn’t change that he gave up some solidly-struck hits, either–not to mention the fact that he is less than 100 games into his pro pitching career.

Sale’s line still doesn’t look great, largely because of the three earned runs he allowed without getting an out in Oakland back on April 13. He still has an 11/2 K/BB ratio, however, and the situation in Chicago is far from clear.

Koji Uehara, Orioles (6.0 percent ESPN / 26 percent Yahoo)
After some worry that Kevin Gregg may be in trouble due to a few poor outings, he has put together three straight scoreless outings against the Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox. That lengthens his leash, no doubt, but this is likely to be a situation we’ll need to keep an eye on all season long. Uehara still hasn’t tried to pitch on consecutive days, which is his next challenge, though he has been effective in putting up six scoreless games in seven tries. He still looms if Gregg stumbles again.

Joining the party:

Darren Oliver, Rangers (19.6 percent ESPN / 19 percent Yahoo)
When Neftali Feliz went on the disabled list over the weekend with right shoulder inflammation, you could hear the collective gasp come from fantasy players (and Texas fans, of course) across the country. With Alexei Ogando succeeding in the rotation, Mark Lowe in the minors, and Darren O’Day battling hip soreness (later revealed to be a torn labrum), who would replace Feliz in the ninth? Not Dave Bush or Brett Tomko, that is for sure.

But any panic has been premature, as the Rangers have seamlessly transitioned from one of the youngest closers in the game to the oldest, 40-year-old Darren Oliver. Oliver successfully converted his first save opportunity, and should provide adequate coverage in the role. It’s true that 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes also picked up a save this week, but Oliver pitched in each of the two preceding nights, and it’s Oliver who looks likely to get the majority of the changes. (With the back-to-back saves, the Rangers became the first team since the 1995 Athletics and 1996 Cardinals to have two 40-plus relievers pick up saves, with Dennis Eckersley and Rick Honeycutt featured for both squads.)

All indications are that Feliz should miss only the minimum or slightly more, so Oliver may only have the position until the second week of May. Still, Oliver has been an effective reliever for a long time, and should have little trouble picking up saves for a quality team until Feliz returns.

Vicente Padilla, Dodgers (1.2 percent ESPN / 5 percent Yahoo)
For about an hour on Tuesday, fantasy players scrambled to add Padilla, based on Ned Colletti’s proclamation to a Los Angeles radio station that Jonathan Broxton would no longer be the primary closer, and that the Dodgers would go with a triad of Broxton, Padilla, and Hong-Chih Kuo for the immediate future. That proved to be premature, as manager Don Mattingly saw the reports on television and rushed to assure Broxton that he had not lost his job.

However, there is still reason to keep him on your radar, not the least of which being that the Dodger bullpen situation is far from settled. Broxton hasn’t lost his job yet, but even the most optimistic observer (of which I usually count myself regarding him) can’t deny that the day is likely coming soon. Broxton didn’t deserve all of the heat he got for blowing Monday’s game in Florida–you can thank Jamey Carroll for booting an easy game-ending grounder for that–but in the same breath, he converted his first five save situations by the slimmest of margins. Whatever it was that was plaguing Broxton last year (is that… Joe Torre’s music?) hasn’t abated, but making matters worse for Los Angeles was the Wednesday news that Kuo’s rehab has hit a snag, and he may not be ready to be activated on Friday as expected.

That is all a long way of saying that with Broxton is faltering (and reportedly feeling elbow soreness) and Kuo is not available, Padilla is still in line for ninth inning chances, and he nailed down his first chance Wednesday afternoon in Florida. That is not the only reason he is here, however. It has long been a fun trick of mine to optimize the most wasteful spots on any fantasy baseball roster, starting pitchers. Unlike position players and relievers who could potentially play every day, you’re almost always blowing two or three starting pitcher spots every day on guys who won’t contribute. Thanks to his rotation experience last year, Padilla is eligible as a starting pitcher in many leagues, allowing you to put one of those wasted spots to use without losing a relief pitcher spot. Last year, we saw that strategy be effective with Jose Contreras, David Hernandez, Hisanori Takahashi, among others, and Padilla could be the first of this year’s crop.

Antonio Bastardo, Phillies (4.4 percent ESPN / 8 percent Yahoo)
With Contreras joining Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero on the disabled list for at least the next several weeks with an elbow strain, the Philadelphia bullpen suddenly looks thin. As expected, Ryan Madson moves into the closer role, and he is off to a great start, allowing just one earned run with ten strikeouts and two walks in nine innings entering Wednesday. Madson has long been a quality pitcher, and he’s collected 22 saves over his eight-plus seasons as a Philadelphia. He arguably should have been the closer over both Lidge and Contreras, and with both out, he should slide into the role and be done with it.

But things are never so simple in Philadelphia, where Madson’s own general manager openly questioned his ability to close earlier this year, an issue which many have brought up previously. Madson is also dealing with what some minor arm soreness, allowing Bastardo to grab his first career save when Madson was unavailable earlier this week. Bastardo is also off to a great start, striking out fourteen in 9 1/3 innings, and has a career whiff rate of 12.4 per nine innings as a reliever.

This is not to say that Bastardo is going to be the closer by this time next week, because Madson is a talented pitcher who ought to do just fine. However, the perception in Philly of Madson as a pitcher who can’t close, in addition to the arm soreness, just might lead to a short leash if he struggles. Bastardo would likely be next in line if that happens, and could vulture a save here and there even if it doesn’t.

******

In a tradition dating all the way back to last week, we’re picking one player from each league with minuscule ownership figures for you deep divers out there. Each of my choices are owned in less than one percent of ESPN leagues, so while they may not exactly be in line for saves tonight, but they’ll still have some interesting features still worth mentioning.

AL Value Pick

David Robertson, Yankees (0.1 percent ESPN / 2 percent Yahoo)
In the last week, Mariano Rivera has blown two saves, but that is nothing compared to Rafael Soriano, whose current standing in New York is hovering somewhere between Luis Castillo and the Son of Sam. Rivera is obviously in no danger of losing his job, and Joe Girardi claims Soriano isn’t either, though his performance and reported back soreness can only be tolerated for so long. With Joba Chamberlain also working through issues, Robertson is suddenly one of the more reliable members of the Yankee bullen. He won’t, of course, see many save chances, though his high strikeout rate (10.8 this year, 11.3 career) makes him an intriguing case to watch should his relief cohorts continue to struggle.

NL Value Pick

Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (0.3 percent ESPN / 6 percent Yahoo)
To be honest, there is nothing wrong with Eduardo Sanchez, last week’s NL-only deep pick who has continued his hot start and is still owned in just 1.2 percent of ESPN leagues, but this is a slot I’m trying to keep fresh each week. With the late-inning turmoil in Los Angeles, it’s worth keeping in mind Jansen, who like Santos is a converted position player who made a splash in 2010. Jansen was so effective after his arrival last year (two earned runs and 41 strikeouts in 27 innings) that many thought he might be next in line for the crown should Broxton continue the struggles that cost him his job last year.

It hasn’t totally worked out that way, as Jansen’s 8.03 ERA is just a bit higher than the 0.67 he finished last year with. That is largely the result of two disastrous outings, in which he allowed nine of his eleven earned runs. Jansen still needs to work on finding the strike zone, but his strikeout rate of 14.6 per nine innings is excellent and actually slightly higher than last year. Jansen is intriguing if only for the strikeouts–but the possible opportunity in Los Angeles makes him worth of being a deep Value Pick.

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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