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June 9, 2011

Value Picks

Relievers

by Mike Petriello

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Before we get into the usual list, I want to quickly touch on the closer situation in Kansas City, where Joakim Soria has seemingly regained his job before Aaron Crow even received a save opportunity. They’re both owned by too many fantasy leaguers to warrant inclusion on our list here, but it’s worth noting that while Soria did throw five scoreless innings in his first three June outings, he only struck out one of the 17 hitters he faced. That’s hardly enough to convince me that he’s “back”, so before dumping Crow, watch Soria carefully over his next few outings.

On to the regular crew…

Saying goodbye:

Nick Masset, Reds (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%)

I think I’ve said enough about Francisco Cordero’s declining rates for now, and after his blown save on May 24 that led to the 19 inning debacle, he has tossed five scoreless outings.  Masset’s quality work was interrupted by a tough night on Saturday against the Dodgers, and so this isn’t a situation which is all that relevant any longer. I still don’t think Cordero keeps this up all season, though.
 

Joining the party:

Daniel Bard, Red Sox (Yahoo! 36%, ESPN 15.7%, CBS 23%)

Despite an ugly (and misleading) ERA, Jonathan Papelbon has actually been very good through the first two months this year, cutting his walk rate in half while increasing his strikeout rate to the highest it has been since 2007. That said, there are two areas of concern in Boston that could lead to increased opportunity for Bard soon. First, there’s the impending suspension hanging over Papelbon’s head for arguing with an umpire, which is yet to be scheduled pending an appeal.  Secondly, Papelbon has been more-or-less atrocious over the last two weeks.

Though hecollected four saves and wasn’t charged with a single blown save in that time – thanks, saves! – Papelbon has allowed runs in five of his last seven appearances after allowing runs in just four of his first 17. Bard, meanwhile, has been excellent, and even more so if you ignore his Opening Day disaster in Texas (four hits and four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning). Since then, he’s struck out 30 against just six walks in 30 1/3 innings. He also grabbed his first save of the season in place of an unavailable Papelbon on June 5, retiring three Oakland hitters on eight pitches to close out a 6-3 win.  Bard has been seen as the closer-in-waiting for some time, and with Papelbon’s future in Boston up in the air, now may be the perfect time for the Red Sox to see what Bard can do.

Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals (Yahoo!  22%, ESPN  11.6%, CBS 15%)

This is more of a short-term suggestion as Sanchez, who briefly held the closer duties early in the year, isn’t likely to reclaim the job from Fernando Salas.  However, Salas needed 44 pitches to close out Houston on Tuesday, allowing three baserunners and a run. That represents a career high for Salas, eclipsing the 43 he threw against Florida in early May. Following the Marlins game on May 3, Salas went unused for four days to recover, and it would have been a fifth had he not been called upon to get the final out of a game on May 8 when Sanchez struggled against Milwaukee.

It’s a reasonable assumption that Salas will receive a similar rest, possibly keeping him out through the weekend, and that could lead to opportunities for Sanchez in the interim. Sanchez scorched his way through April with a 17/2 K/BB.  He’s cooled off since then, though, walking and striking out 14 apiece.  He has had seven consecutive scoreless outings (and nine of ten), though, so he’s managed to make it work.

Vinnie Pestano, Indians (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%)

Chris Perez has blown just one save in sixteen tries, and his ERA is a sparkly 2.42.  That’s generally enough to allow a closer to hang on to his job, so don’t expect any imminent changes in Cleveland – particularly on an Indians club with larger issues right now.  But as we all know, saves and ERA hardly tell the full story, and Perez, who had such a nice debut taking over for Kerry Wood last year, has hardly resembled the closer we saw in 2010. His velocity is down, his walks are up, and his strikeouts are way down. In 22 1/3 innings through Wednesday, his K/BB mark is just 13/12. He’s being saved by the fact that he’s managed to avoid the longball thus far, but that’s unlikely to last all season.

Should Perez falter, the Indians have a trio of capable alternatives in Pestano, Tony Sipp, and Rafael Perez.  All are capable, but I’m going with Pestano as he’s moved into the 8th inning role of late while Sipp and Perez are each lefties with larger platoon splits. Pestano’s low-90s heat and excellent slider have allowed him to strike out 27 in 21 innings, thanks in large part to one of the highest swinging strike rates in baseball.
 

Sticking around:

Vicente Padilla (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 12.1%, CBS 16%)& the entire Dodger bullpen

I’m a Dodger fan and blogger,  yet even I couldn’t tell you who their closer is right now. The simple fact of the matter is, they don’t really have one, and with their offense vacillating between “explosive” and “non-existent” in recent days, they haven’t really needed one.  Entering Wednesday, they hadn’t notched a save since May 24. So, for the moment, it could be Javy Guerra, it could be Matt Guerrier, or it could be Josh Lindblom or Mike MacDougal or Scott Elbert.  To be honest, you’re probably best off avoiding the entire soup.

And after all that, it’s about to get more complicated. Vicente Padilla did not return from the disabled list last week as expected, but that was due to a neck issue rather than the arm trouble that put him there (though it is a similar problem he experienced last year). He could be activated at any time, and when that happens, he’s likely to be the closer… unless Kenley Jansen and Hong-ChihKuo, who each begin rehab assignments on Thursday, beat him back first. Jonathan Broxton is also now throwing bullpen sessions, though he’ll likely to be the last to return since he’ll need a minor league rehab stint as well.

As far as fantasy advice goes, there’s no short-term fix here; the team is basically closer-less. If you have an available DL spot, then strikeout king Jansen and SP-eligible Padilla are who I’d try to stash there for now.

Koji Uehara, Orioles (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 3.3%, CBS 19%)

I think Kevin Gregg has been reading this column since in his last three outings he’s struck out five without allowing a walk, turning around the disturbing walk trend we’d see prior to that. It’s a good start, and it buys him some more rope, but still not enough for me to forget that he’s Kevin Gregg. For what it’s worth, Uehara has struck out 27 since his last unintentional walk, way back on April 27. He should be owned in most leagues, saves or not.
 

AL-only VP

Glen Perkins, Twins (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%)

I originally was going to go with Pestano as my deep value pick, and then Matt Capps blew another save on Wednesday afternoon, his third in his last four tries. While that would seem to be a situation that could see more immediate turnover than in Cleveland, the problem is that there’s absolutely no clear alternative in Minnesota. Do we really think Phil Dumatrait, who picked up the save for Capps yesterday but has a 2/6 K/BB mark in 11 games, is the answer? Or Jose Mijares, listed as the backup closer by ESPN but who has a 9/13 K/BB and a WHIP approaching 2.00? With Joe Nathan still on the disabled list, there’s no viable alternative on the active roster that I can in good conscience recommend. I imagine the Twins see it that way too, so Capps, who did have four scoreless outings before Wednesday, will likely keep his job just because there’s no one better to go with.

Assuming Capps does continue to struggle and no one else steps up, then I’d have to go with the injured Perkins by default. The failed starter has missed nearly three weeks with an oblique strain, though he’s expected to go on a rehab assignment shortly. When he was healthy, he was one of the only Minnesota relievers who showed any sort of ability to strike out more than he walked, whiffing 22 against nine walks in 22 1/3 innings and allowing just four earned runs. Perkins isn’t ideal, but the fact that he represents a big step up from the rest of the bullpen shows just how dire the situation in Minnesota is.

NL-only VP

Michael Dunn, Marlins(Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 4%)

Remember this past offseason, back when the big bullpen question in South Florida was whether Leo Nunez could fight off Clay Hensley to take back his job? Two months into the season, Nunez is leading the sport in saves, while Hensley is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury suffered last week in Arizona. Hensley will be out for at least a few weeks, and though he wasn’t going to overtake Nunez any time soon anyway, it does open up the secondary spot in the Fish bullpen on nights Nunez isn’t available. Dunn has continued his Marmolesque high-strikeout, high-walk ways, but he’s at least dialed down the control issues from the completely untenable rate of last year to merely too many this year.

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:  The Who,  Espn,  Matt Capps

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