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August 22, 2012

Value Picks

Relievers for 8/22/12

by Dan Mennella

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With few closer shakeups in the past week and plenty of under-owned stoppers languishing in our Incumbents section, we dig deep for a couple new arrivals this week.

Arrivals
Don’t worry, Aroldis Chapman owners: there’s nothing wrong with your gold violin. However, I’m keeping tabs on the Reds as the regular season winds down and they cast a gaze toward the postseason, specifically in regards to their handling of Chapman, whose workload was reportedly the subject of debate within the organization earlier this season. Those concerns have been swept away during Chapman’s amazing run the past couple months, but could they surface if the team has little left to play for in the coming weeks?

For what it’s worth, Chapman hasn’t exactly been used gently. He has pitched on three consecutive days—an unofficial bellwether of reliever durability—three times so far in the second half, and he also ranks among the top dozen or so relievers in MLB in both innings pitched and appearances. With the Reds sitting on a 6.5-game lead over the second-place Pirates entering Tuesday night’s action, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started finding some time off for Chapmania, perhaps setting up Sean Marshall (Yahoo! 33%, ESPN 22%, CBS 24%) to vulture a few saves. Yes, Jonathan Broxton would be in that theoretical mix too, but as long as this is based on my speculation rather than firmer reports, I’d rather gamble on the better pitcher who’s less likely to hurt my ratios and contribute more strikeouts in the meanwhile.

Elsewhere, Cardinals setup man Edward Mujica (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) has elbowed his way into holds-league relevance since joining the Redbirds in a deadline trade. The right-hander, always stingy with the free pass, has tallied seven of his 19 holds since the trade. Cards manager Mike Matheny has ticketed Mujica for seventh-inning work, behind setup man Mitchell Boggs and closer Jason Motte. It’s worth noting, however, that Boggs has been worked pretty hard of late, pitching on five of six days leading up to Monday’s off-day, culminating in a tenth-inning appearance in the Cardinals’ 19-inning marathon on Sunday, which otherwise would have been a day off for him. Mujica should continue to get looks in high-leverage, late-inning work.

Incumbents
Angels lefty Scott Downs (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 10%, CBS 15%) has been eased into things since his return from the disabled list last week, both of his appearances—one of which, on Sunday, did not go well—coming in low-leverage situations. Still, if Downs can get his sea legs back, I think Mike Scioscia would like him to deploy him in save chances when match-ups call for it. Let’s see how Downs fares over the next week.

Jim Henderson’s (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 18%, CBS 25%) rocky road since finding his way into the closer picture continued over the past week, but John Axford also struggled, shaping what has become a comical war of attrition. The Brewers, however, indicated that they want to see Axford back in the role, calling upon him to bail Henderson out of a meltdown for a save last night. Is this finally the point at which Axford takes off? That’s a tough stance to argue given how poorly he’s pitched this season, but in the meantime, Henderson is barely ownable. Keep him on your bench for a couple days and see what shakes out, but if you don’t own him already, don’t rush to nab him.

Maybe if I write, “the Astros won’t win a game for the rest of the season,” they will in fact go on to win something like 12 of their next 15 games, with Wilton Lopez (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 14%, CBS 17%) earning saves in eight of them. Lopez has been in this column for several weeks running now, and he’s perfectly capable of being a useful mid-tier closer, but his ownership rates have been pretty static because he’s not seeing many save chances. Houston is 4-13 since August 1, when Lopez inherited the job. Since then, he has two wins, a loss, and a save. He’s in the right position; now he just needs things to break right.

The Giants are in a full-blown closer-by-committee mode, and any edge Jeremy Affeldt (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 15%, CBS 9%) may have held as Bruce Bochy’s first look for save chances might be squandered after he struggled Saturday night and had to be bailed out by Clay Hensley. Affeldt might still be the best own in his bullpen, but that’s a very relative term in this context.

Perhaps a modified version of the old quarterback adage is also true of closers: when you have two, fantasy owners have none. Glen Perkins (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 29%, CBS 23%) and Jared Burton (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 15%, CBS 10%) retain modest ownership rates, so for those of you who are still in contention, either of these guys is worth a look.

There’s nothing to update on the Mariano Rivera (Yahoo! 20, ESPN 15%, CBS 19%) front, but we’ll be watching closely as the season winds down. As always, Mo is a very low-priority own.

Last Chance
Padres closer Huston Street is progressing through his rehab from a calf strain, but there’s no timetable for his return, so until then, grab Dale Thayer (Yahoo! 22%, ESPN 36%, CBS 20%) where available. He’ll likely be in with the “Departures” next week, so the time to add is now.

Departures
Alexi Ogando (Yahoo! 33%, ESPN 10%, CBS 22%) gets the boot this week, what with Joe Nathan continuing to look strong after his several-day breather earlier this month. The Rangers have said Nathan will only be used in save situations, so it’ll be hard for Ogando to vulture even a save or two with that arrangement.

AL-only VP
By popular demand, A’s lefty Sean Doolittle (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 4%) appears here for the hardcore AL-only types. A converted position player, Doolittle has found a home for himself in the bullpen, where he has struck out 40 batters in 27 innings through Monday. He remained in the seventh when Ryan Cook was demoted to setup duty, but there are holds (and strikeouts) to be had there too. Don’t be misled by the 3.67 ERA and 1.30 WHIP; the advanced ERA metrics (0.85 FIP) love this lefty.

NL-only VP
Back for a second straight week as an NL-only pick is Mets righty Jon Rauch (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 4%, CBS 5%), who has picked up two saves while bailing out nominal closer Frank Francisco over the past week-plus. Rauch is far from a sexy name, but aside from a hiccup Sunday, he’s been very good lately, and as long as he gets chances to vulture saves from Francisco, he’s worth a look for you Senior League leaguers.

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