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May 9, 2013
Welcome to the first installment of the Baseball Prospectus’ Reliever Report: Fantasy Edition. This is a fairly standard article in the fantasy community, so a long, drawn-out introduction is unnecessary. The focus every week will be on:
What started out in Boston as a fairly clear-cut situation has become an unpredictable closer carousel. Andrew Bailey was supposed to be the closer, but an injury that started out as day-to-day wound up putting Bailey on the disabled list. Joel Hanrahan then felt pain on Monday night and also hit the DL with a forearm ailment.
Initial speculation focused on Koji Uehara as the eventual closer, but John Farrell told Jim Duquette on MLB Radio that he was going to use Junichi Tazawa in the ninth inning. Both relievers have been dominant, but in shallower leagues, Tazawa is the guy to add right now. It’s too soon to guess when Hanrahan and Bailey will be back and what their roles will be when they return, so consider this a short-term add.
J.J. Putz left Tuesday night’s game with a hand injury, and Heath Bell finished up for his second save. Although this is still a developing story, it sounds like manager Kirk Gibson will use Heath Bell in the ninth initially. While this news has everyone LOLing due to Bell’s struggles with the Marlins last year, he has actually been fairly effective of late and the victim of a poor BABIP. David Hernandez has slumped recently, and Bell might get the first few opportunities, but Hernandez is definitely worth stashing based on his ability. Matt Reynolds has been terrific, but usage patterns make me believe that he is more of a middle reliever/quasi-specialist than a closer in Kirk Gibson’s eyes. Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that Putz may be out for a significant amount of time, so if Bell or Hernandez are available in your leagues, grab one or both.
Dale Sveum told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that Kevin Gregg is the closer going forward. This could change, but Gregg has converted all of his save chances and this more than anything else is what managers look at. Gregg isn’t anything special, but as long as he is pounding the zone, he will be an okay option in the ninth. I would hang on to Kyuji Fujikawa, just in case, in all but the shallowest of formats.
Craig Kimbrel has blown two saves in his last three outings and three in his last five. His strikeout rates remain tremendous, but he has been leaving the ball up in the zone, which is reflected in his fly-ball rate. Kimbrel is dominant enough that he’ll be fine, but the increased fly-ball ratio is worth watching. Kimbrel isn’t going anywhere, but if the Braves do decide to give him a mental-health break, Jordan Walden is the guy who might pick up the odd save or two.
Velocity isn’t everything, but Rafael Betancourt’s fastball zip has dropped from 91.4 miles per hour in 2012 down to 89.8 miles per hour this year. Not surprisingly, his strikeout rate has plummeted, from 30.8 percent in 2011 to 24.2 percent in 2012 to 18.9 percent this year. Betancourt’s a fly-ball pitcher whose recipe for success in Coors Field has had a lot to do with his high whiff rate. He hasn’t blown a save or allowed a home run yet, but if Raffy remains this hittable, he’s going to have some difficulties later this season.
Concerns over Casey Janssen’s offseason shoulder surgery have all but disappeared. Despite reduced velocity, Janssen has pounded the bottom half of the zone and kept the ball on the ground, stymying his opponents without allowing a home run or a walk in 12 appearances. Janssen will obviously cool off, but if you grabbed Sergio Santos or another Blue Jays reliever in the hopes of grabbing a closer-to-be, your investment is unlikely to be rewarded.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Ryan Madson will pitch in two or three games in Arizona in extended spring training before the Angels activate him. Ernesto Frieri will probably hold the job even after Madson is activated, but I imagine the leash won’t be long. Frieri’s high walk rates probably put him at some risk once Madson joins the squad.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly implicitly gave Brandon League the dreaded vote of no confidence by saying that he’s considering mixing up the closer role, even though he doesn’t want to mess up the bullpen. Managers typically don’t offer unsolicited comments on bullpens when they’re happy with the status quo. League has converted eight of nine save chances, but has been his underwhelming self as of late. For now, this is merely something to monitor, but I suspect that League doesn’t have a lot of leeway.
Francisco Rodriguez is now pitching in High-A ball for the Milwaukee Brewers. He has an opt-out clause in his contract if the Brewers don’t call him up to the big club by May 17. K-Rod will probably be called up to the big-league bullpen but is unlikely to supplant Jim Henderson as the closer.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Tuesday, May 7, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers