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September 12, 2012

Value Picks

Relievers for 9/12/12

by Dan Mennella

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Arrivals
A couple weeks back, I touted versatile Reds lefty Sean Marshall (Yahoo! 30%, ESPN 20%, CBS 21%) as a sharp stash, hedging against the possibility of ace closer Aroldis Chapman being shut down. I was premature then, but it appears likely now that Chapman will see some rest over the season’s final three weeks. He’s pitched poorly—and with diminished velocity—in his past two outings, apparently due to a fatigued shoulder. The Reds, understandably, seem quite concerned.

To be clear, I think Jonathan Broxton, currently too widely owned for a tout in this space, is the optimal handcuff for Chapmania. Brox has been entrenched as the eighth-inning setup man since arriving via pre-deadline trade in July, and it’d be easy and justifiable to bump him to the ninth without creating a closer controversy as the team autopilots toward a postseason berth. Marshall, though, is the better pitcher, and since he too has closed before (as recently as earlier this season), it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Reds go with him in a mild upset, or even fall back on the trusty closer platoon.

Start with Broxton, but if he’s gone, you could turn a nice end-of-season profit with Marshall if things break right. As always, a stash like Marshall—that is, one that’s not an automatic—should come down to a matter of your relative desperation.

Incumbents
Padres closer Huston Street is nearing a return from the disabled list, so this is probably your last call to wrangle a couple saves out of Luke Gregerson (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 38%, CBS 18%) before he is demoted back to the eighth inning in favor of Street. Gregerson has seen his ownership rates climb steadily since he took over as interim closer in late August, netting five saves in that span, but his run should end upon Street’s return, which could come sometime around this weekend. Barring a Street setback (which is possible—he’s already had one during his current DL stint), Gregerson could be in the “Departures” section next week, but his owners should hold on until he’s officially out of the job.

After going on a saves tear toward the end of August, Javier Lopez (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 30%, CBS 11%) has seen his opportunities dry up a bit over the past week, with his last save coming on September 2 against the Cubs. That, though, looks to be a function of matchups benefiting co-closer Sergio Romo more so than Lopez falling out of favor or the Giants leaning on a more traditional single-closer dynamic, so if someone in your league jumped off the bandwagon too soon—his ownership rates are down a tick in ESPN and CBS leagues—don’t hesitate to capitalize.

Each week, I struggle to find a reason why anyone should add Wilton Lopez (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 10%, CBS 14%). To state the obvious, he’s officially the Astros’ closer, but fantasy owners have been indifferent to him because he’s seen only five save chances since taking the reins six weeks ago, converting just three of them. Typically, those who wait to add closers until they begin piling up saves get burned; the savvy types add before then. This wait-and-see approach is usually the wrong one in the pursuit of saves, but those who’ve passed on Wil-Lo time and again haven’t missed out on much … yet. If I were in contention and in need of saves, though, he’s a guy I’d definitely look at.

There’s nothing new to report on the impossible highly improbable return of Mariano Rivera (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 15%, CBS 19%) this season from major knee surgery, except that the window is closing and what was once a Hail Mary is something even more remote than that. At this point, I’m just keeping him in “Incumbents” because I’ll be kicking myself when he pulls a Willis Reed on us, which is sure to happen the day after he gets the VP boot.

Departures
This week, we bid adieu to Twins’ closer Glen Perkins (Yahoo! 31%, ESPN 49%, CBS 26%) by virtue of his high ownership rates. The left-hander had a home in this column for many weeks this summer, first debuting here on June 20 when Matt Capps’ shoulder ailment flared up. Since then, Perk logged a fine 31 2/3 innings with 30 strikeouts, a 1.99 ERA, and 11 saves in 12 chances (while splitting save chances much of the way with Jared Burton). There’s a strong chance Perkins will be closing for the Twins in 2013, so file his name away for next year’s drafts.

If you missed out on Dodgers’ interim closer Brandon League and later nabbed Ronald Belisario (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 12%, CBS 9%) in hopes that Los Angeles would rely on a platoon—as manager Don Mattingly initially suggested—you might be a bit steamed right about now. While you cut Belisario, though, take solace that League’s stint as ninth-inning man should be short-lived, what with Kenley Jansen scheduled to soon return from the irregular heartbeat that’s sidelined him since late last month. The Dodgers have circled September 17 as Jansen’s comeback date, so plan accordingly if you own League as well.

AL-only VP
When Royals’ closer Greg Holland was unavailable a couple weeks ago, manager Ned Yost turned to hard-throwing right-hander Kelvin Herrera (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%), who is quietly authoring a brilliant season of relief. Holland continues to see plenty of work, and while it’s nearly impossible to predict a night off for a closer more than a day in advance, Herrera is a guy who won’t hurt you in the meanwhile. He strikes out nearly a batter per inning, is stingy with the free pass, and induces lots of groundballs—the holy trinity of pitching, as it were. He’s also been used frequently—his 75 innings were good for third-most among qualified MLB relievers entering Tuesday’s action—which will bode well if you’re scrambling to meet an innings cap.

NL-only VP
While Gregerson has seen the bulk of save chances for the Friars of late, there was one stray opp that went to left-hander Tom Layne (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 1%). If you’ve never seen Layne pitch, you should. Since debuting in August, he’s been completely dominant, befuddling hitters with average-ish stuff that plays up because of an extremely deceptive delivery and a variety of release points. With Gregerson doing well as interim closer and Street due back soon, he might not see another save chance, but the strikeouts and holds will be there, and another save or two isn’t impossible, most likely if Bud Black uses him against a tough lefty or two for the final out(s) of a game.

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