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June 13, 2012

Value Picks

Relievers for 6/13/12

by Dan Mennella

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With relatively few bullpen shakeups, closer speculation remains somewhat slow for another week, though things will be heating up with the trade market soon taking shape. For now, let’s unearth those little-known gems.

Departures
Mariners interim closer Tom Wilhelmsen (Yahoo! 28%, ESPN 31%, CBS 34%) was fantasy’s best-kept secret as a cheap source of saves until the word got out. Now, he’s all growed up and too owned for this space, but it’s worth noting that the M’s are saying Brandon League will be reinstalled as their closer now that he’s worked out whatever ailed him in April and most of May. Fair enough, but hold onto T-Wil until he’s no longer closing, and continue to keep an eye on him as the trade deadline approaches if League gets traded out of Seattle.

To vouch for Carlos Marmol (Yahoo! 34%, ESPN 22%, CBS 28%) is to risk your reputation, is it not? So much for him being straightened out after his DL stint/sabbatical. His recent one-inning, three-run disaster couldn’t have done him any good if he was hoping to return to closing. That being said, he sometimes strung together hot stretches during his bad 2011, so there’s a chance that could happen now.

Arrivals
Well, so much for my cautiously optimistic outlook on Brian Fuentes. After a brief run of efficiency during which he wrestled closing duties away from Grant Balfour, Fuentes quickly regressed to his underwhelming form of the past couple years. The result is now a three-closer committee twixt Fuentes, Balfour, and Ryan Cook (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 9%, CBS 20%). Cook, a right-hander, is drawing buzz with shiny surface stats: 0.69 ERA and 0.85 WHIP entering Tuesday’s action. His inclusion here suggests he’s worth an add, obviously, and he is. But I’m bearish on Cook; if his 5.2 BB/9 persists and his .121 BABIP doesn’t, he could be in store for a whopping correction. Add Cook if you need saves, but know that between the vague committee and alarming peripherals, all is not ideal.

It seems cruelly ironic that so few closers are now on the hot seat after so many were in the season’s early weeks. Alas, we continue to look at non-closer relievers in an effort to unearth some value in one of fantasy’s great white spaces. Rockies right-hander Matt Belisle (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) is one such hurler. He was always something of a ‘tweener pitcher, probably too useful for the bullpen but perhaps not good/healthy enough to cut it as a full-time starter. He’s settled into a nice groove as a reliever for the Rox over the past couple years, though, posting above-average strikeout and walk rates. He’s on pace for roughly 87 innings pitched this year, which would have been good for fifth or sixth among relievers in 2011. That has plenty of value in deeper leagues.

Incumbents
We were so close to seeing Joaquin Benoit (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) installed as Tigers’ closer, yet so far. Jose Valverde has righted the ship to some degree since a poor start to the season that culminated in a blown save on June 2, posting four consecutive scoreless outings since then. I’m not sold that Valverde is “back” (to being the iffy closer he was), however, so let’s hold onto Benoit for another week and see what shakes out. Benoit threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings with three hits, a walk, and five strikeouts over the past week.

Ace setup man Jonny Venters (Yahoo! 37%, ESPN 11%, CBS 20%) of the Braves seems to have rediscovered his magic since his debut in this space two weeks ago. He’d tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings en route to three holds entering Tuesday’s action. He’s again a must-own (and start) in holds leagues, and if he’s floating around your standard league’s wire, he’s probably worth an add there too; Venters is only a Craig Kimbrel injury away from being an in-demand closer.

With a clunker of a spot start last week, Pirates long man Brad Lincoln (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 1%, CBS 17%) didn’t provide fantasy owners much value. The Bucs are sticking with him in the rotation at least through Tuesday’s start, though, and while I think he can be a serviceable starter, his stuff plays up as near-dominant out of the bullpen.

It was a curiously inactive week for Nats long man Craig Stammen (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%), another ex-starter whose calling card is supposed to be multiple-inning outings. Instead, the righty made one appearance, facing only a single batter. Here’s to a more rigorous (and bountiful, if you own him) upcoming week.

NL-only VP
I’ve demoted Nats lefty Sean Burnett (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 4%, CBS 9%) to NL-only VP in the hope that he might yet see a stray save chance, though with Clippard being formally announced as the closer, it’s looking like a long shot at this point.

AL-only VP
Let’s give Tim Collins (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 5%, CBS 7%) another shot in this slot. The diminutive (5-foot-7) lefty had only one outing after his debut here last week, striking out one in one inning of work. With a ridiculous strikeout rate of 13.3 K/9, he’s worth your patience.

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