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May 30, 2012

Value Picks

Relief Pitchers for 5/30/12

by Dan Mennella

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We’ve seen fewer closer shakeups the past couple weeks, which makes things easier on frustrated fantasy owners but forces me to work harder for the sake of this column. May my toil be to your benefit! In that spirit, among this week’s newcomers are a couple of relievers who can contribute to your pitching staff by means other than the vaunted save.

We first bid teary adieus to a whopping five closer types this week, a quintuplet of end-game relievers who have graduated beyond this space by virtue of their steadily climbing ownership rates. Indeed, this is our dilemma.

Casey Janssen (Yahoo! 37%, ESPN 47%, CBS 36%) is the least-owned of our departures, which is not entirely surprising considering his relative obscurity in Toronto and the fact that circumstances haven’t conspired for him to grab owners’ collective attention by ripping off four saves in a week or some such (he has four on the month). He’s a fine option, though, and since Sergio Santos’ rehab is progressing slowly, I’d strongly advise grabbing Janssen if he’s still kicking around your wire. The saves should come.

The last White Sox pitcher other than Addison Reed (Yahoo! 48%, ESPN 56%, CBS 60%) to record a save was Matt Thornton… on April 29. Reed is pretty secure in his standing as Chicago’s closer, and while his all-or-nothing outings are a little bit worrisome (he’s allowed all of his eight earned runs in just two appearances), there’s little reason to think he’s any more vulnerable to a demotion than any other closer.

If you bet the over on Dale Thayer (Yahoo! 43%, ESPN 63%, CBS 43%) collecting five or more saves this spring, congratulations; you’re a very rich person. But Thayer’s halcyon days may be coming to an end. First, his perfect ERA was blown up over the weekend, the result of a five-run meltdown versus the Mets. Now, reports are surfacing of Huston Street beginning a rehab stint soon. Hold onto Dale-lightful until he’s officially been replaced, but his best value is probably behind him.

May has been kind to Brian Fuentes (Yahoo! 47%, ESPN 56%, CBS 48%); he’s snagged the closer’s role and shaved over a run off his ERA. He’s also managed to convert each of his four save chances, but therein lies the rub: he’s only had four of them. The good news is, if he continues to pitch in the neighborhood of his 2.84 FIP, he’ll lock up some more when he sees the save opportunities.

After being named Nats’ co-closer last week, Tyler Clippard (Yahoo! 51%, ESPN 63%, CBS 44%) got snatched up in most leagues with rapidity; turns out fantasy owners have taken note of his stellar setup efforts the past couple years. I mentioned that Clipp is the co-closer (along with Sean Burnett), but Clippard has notched each of Washington’s past three saves, so he’s clearly the more desirable own. More on Burnett below.

So, about that “committee” Nats manager Davey Johnson was talking about. Burnett (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 12%, CBS 12%) looks to have drawn the short end of the platoon stick, not seeing a save chance since bailing out then-closer Henry Rodriguez a couple weeks ago. Burnett is tough on lefties, though, holding them to .228/.296/.345 in his career, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the call against an especially tough left-handed hitter for a one- or two-out save here or there. Again, expectations should be tempered, as Clippard has cleanly converted three saves in a row, but Burnett is a worthwhile long-shot add for desperate owners.

We don’t typically think of setup men as “buy low” candidates, but Braves southpaw Jonny Venters (Yahoo! 41%, ESPN 12%, CBS 22%) is just that. Coming off a sterling 2011, the lefty’s surface numbers haven’t been nearly as sharp so far this season, resulting in his appearance on many a waiver wire. Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh stole my thunder a bit on this, but, mostly, Venters has just been the victim of some bad luck (.458 BABIP!). Most top-shelf next-in-line relievers are worth handcuffing in 12-team leagues, and that holds true for Venters. He is one of the better setup guys out there, so if he has been kicked to the curb in your league, give him the change of scenery he so richly deserves. Chances are, better days are ahead for him, and you’ll be able to recoup that rich, creamy correction.

It probably doesn’t get any more nondescript for a major league player than manning the role of Pirates swing man, but Brad Lincoln (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 3%) is doing his best to rectify that grave injustice. A number-four overall draft pick once upon a time, Lincoln has resurrected his career after a long road to perdition back to relevance. The righty is not as good as his 1.11 ERA suggests (2.96 FIP), but he shows good control, average-ish groundball rates, and the ability to miss some bats. The latter skill, in particular, is playing up in his new assignment (9.25 K/9) relative to his modest minor league strikeout rates.

Frequently deployed for multiple-inning stints, Lincoln could easily luck into some wins, and if the Bucs begin using him in higher-leverage situations, holds would follow too. With 24 1/3 innings under his belt through Pittsburgh’s first 48 games, Lincoln should conservatively finish with about 75 innings and room for quite a few more depending on how things break. There are plenty of leagues in which that can be valuable, especially ones with bloated (or non-existent) innings limits and underwhelming streaming-start candidates.

Incumbents/Last Chance
It takes a special kind of masochist to start sniffing around the Cubs’ bullpen for spare saves, what with James Russell and Shawn Camp holding down the ninth right now. However, Carlos Marmol (Yahoo! 39%, ESPN 24%, CBS 33%) is back from the DL, and though he won’t be closing immediately, it shouldn’t be too long before the Cubs try him again in that role. All bets are off as to whether he’ll be effective, but if you need saves and Marmol is on your wire, you should snatch him up, bench him, and see what shakes out.

AL-Only VP
Typically, when a closer is stripped of his title, there’s a feeding frenzy for his presumptive successor(s). That’s not the case with the Mariners’ Brandon League, though, because manager Eric Wedge has said he’ll be using a committee, and the closing candidates are pretty …well, let’s call them “hidden gems.” Tom Wilhelmsen (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 5%, CBS 16%) is the presumptive leader in the clubhouse for the first save try, and he’s actually a decent pitcher (11.10 K/9, 3.25 FIP), but he’ll have competition from Steve Delabar (yes, that Steve Delabar), and a host of others. Plus, League is a trade candidate this summer, so it’d behoove Seattle to prop up his stock as soon as possible by returning him to the closer’s role.

NL-Only VP
The Marlins’ new plan is to give save chances to Heath Bell and, if he starts to tank, call on someone else to bail him out. Simple enough, right? Yes, but it makes it impossible to figure who’ll earn their save on any given night. Well, LOOGY Randy Choate (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 2%) is worth a look for you hardcore NL-only types. Choate picked up his first save of the season over the weekend by recording the game’s final two outs—both were left-handed hitters—and he could see a few more of those if things line up correctly.

Related Content:  Espn,  The Call-up

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