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April 1, 2014

Closer Report

Week One

by Mauricio Rubio

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Relievers are a tough commodity to value in fantasy. Their volatility and main carrying stat, saves, make it difficult to project accurate value at the season’s outset. You never quite know where a big-time reliever season will come from in a given year. Koji Uehara was given the job after Andrew Bailey was felled by injury. Kevin Gregg emerged after Carlos Marmol was undone by the Upton brothers. So what I will be doing throughout the season is keeping an eye on the reliever situations around the league and offer my thoughts on guys who are worth targeting/keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

PADRES
Huston Street – This was pointed out on Twitter but Street’s strand rate last year was 99.5 percent. It goes a long way in explaining how Street was able to maintain a decent ERA despite giving up 12 HR in 56 2/3 innings. Street is effective when healthy, but the “when healthy” part is kind of the main concern with him. He’s made four DL trips since 2011, and he already had a groin issue in camp this year.

Street is a good bet to miss some games, giving an opportunity to guys like Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres. If you have Street and you missed out on handcuffing him with Benoit, then I suggest looking at Alex Torres, who found consistency in the bullpen. The suspect control still lingers, but his strikeout rate held at 27 percent last year for the Rays.

WHITE SOX
A few of you have asked about the White Sox' situation, as manager Robin Ventura has been a bit cagey regarding who will be the Sox closer. Matt Lindstrom got the nod on Monday.

This isn’t an option I’m particularly fond of, as I think Lindstrom functions well as a middle-relief type but leaves something to be desired as a high-leverage reliever. He doesn’t miss enough bats (17.7 percent strikeout rate last year, 18.4 percent for his career) and works primarily off his sinker, which he uses to generate ground balls (55.6 percent grounder rate in 2013). Lindstrom is a decent stopgap, but he doesn’t present the same upside as Jones.

Ronald Belisario is another name that gets brought up regarding the closer job. He has a similar profile to Lindstrom, and while his walk rate from last year is inflated from an unusually high number of intentional walks, his strikeout rate has never been impressive enough for me to seriously consider him as a long-term solution at closer.

PECOTA doesn’t view Jones too kindly, but when you consider the player profile, I think he has an excellent chance to emerge as a top-10 closer in 2014. Jones features a 98-MPH fastball and a good slider, which is pretty much the closer starter kit in the modern game. He held opponents to a .193 average against his slider and generated 52 strikeouts with it. He posted a 28-to-8 K:BB-percentage ratio, and while the final stat line wasn’t pretty, he improved as the season went along.

If you have Lindstrom or Jones and you’re looking for some insurance, I would tend to look elsewhere before settling on a potential White Sox replacement. There are some interesting names on the roster that bear watching. Daniel Webb is on the fringes of late-inning work, as he’s shown the stuff but not quite generated the results. For now though, I would stand pat with Lindstrom/Jones and only look to guys like Belisario or Webb in emergency cases.

BLUE JAYS
With Casey Janssen starting the year on the DL, now would be the time to pick up Sergio Santos, who will be the closer in Janssen’s stead. Santos is three years removed from a freakish 35 percent strikeout rate in a White Sox uniform. I wouldn’t invest anything in him long term; this is strictly a short-term pick up with the understanding that Janssen will likely reclaim the job when he returns, but Santos is worth targeting, especially in Roto leagues, if you don’t want to get buried in saves early.

Edit: I've had some time to think about the Toronto situation. I previously stated that Sergio Santos is likely to relent the closer job to Casey Janssen once Janssen returns. I don't think that's the case anymore. When you look at the stuff and the results Santos produces when he's healthy, I have to wonder if there's a Wally Pipp situation going on here with the Jays job. Santos, in limited innings, struck out 31.1 percent of batters and walked only 4.4 percent. The control may be an outlier, but the strikeout rate isn't. For that reason, I think you should go heavy on Santos.

NATIONALS
The Nationals job really comes down to how much you trust Rafael Soriano. We have to take into consideration Soriano’s change in pitcher profile last year, when he went away from his slider and became a fastball-first reliever. Here are Brooks Baseball’s numbers for him over his career:

Fourseam

Sinker

Slider

Change

LHH

All Counts

56%

22%

21%

1%

RHH

All Counts

68%

2%

30%

0%

And here’s what he did last year:

Fourseam

Sinker

Slider

LHH

All Counts

62%

27%

11%

RHH

All Counts

80%

1%

19%

The change in profile helped his walk rate, but his strikeout rate dropped as well, which typically sounds all sorts of alarms when it comes to relievers. If you’re feeling antsy about Soriano, I like Tyler Clippard, who breaks from the standard fastball-slider mold by featuring a changeup with some good action and maybe a new splitter with more bite. The knock on Clippard will be his plan of attack, in that he works up in the zone, which it leads to a lot of fly balls. Drew Storen is still hanging around on the periphery, and if his numbers after his return from the minors are to be believed, Storen will also make a strong case to be “The Guy” should Soriano falter.

I’m not the biggest believer in Soriano, so I’m keeping very close tabs on both Storen and Clippard. They aren’t worth owning quite yet, as there’s still no clear path to the job but keep an eye on the situation in Washington early.

MARINERS
It’s hard to maintain otherworldly production, as Fernando Rodney found out last year. It wasn’t a disaster, but there are enough red flags there to consider monitoring other options in Seattle. Rodney did manage to keep the ball in the park again last year, but the walk rate ballooned from five percent in 2012 to 12 percent in 2013. Rodney increased his strikeout rate last year, but the free passes worry me. In leagues in which I own Rodney, I tend to handcuff him with Danny Farquhar, who offers a better strikeout rate and slightly better command of the strike zone. I like Farquhar’s profile a little bit better over the long run, and I think he’s the logical choice to tab should Rodney struggle early.

BREWERS
Francisco Rodriguez got the save for the Brewers on Monday, not Jim Henderson, which certainly changes things in Milwaukee. Manager Ron Roenicke said that Rodriguez will close until Henderson “gets his stuff back.” K -Rod was always lurking, but he’s still available in a lot of leagues (owned in eight percent on Yahoo! and 0.5 percent on ESPN) as of this writing. Expect those numbers to shoot up if they haven’t already.

Mauricio Rubio is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mauricio's other articles. You can contact Mauricio by clicking here

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