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March 6, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Relievers

by Will Carroll

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Call this one my tip of the cap to fantasy players. I've spent years using a "punt saves" strategy in my leagues, trying instead to figure out which closers would crater. By grabbing the guys that are "closers in waiting" on the cheap, I have been able to focus on the more valuable pieces earlier. Occasionally, I'll get lucky and pick up someone like Jonathan Papelbon (who I picked with my last pick last year on the off chance he made the rotation) or Akinori Otsuka. Relievers are essentially a fungible quantity; there's always another. Due to their usage, the small sample size rule works in their favor. They're talented enough to make it to the majors, which by definition means they have the stuff to get hot over a couple weeks. It's often very apparent in some of the more specialized reports, like Quality of Batters Faced. In other words, relievers can be valuable if you get the right one in the right role, but if not, don't get too attached. Your fantasy team should churn and burn these guys the same way major league teams do.

Today's article isn't the end of the Positional Health Reports. We'll have one more edition to cover players who fell through the cracks. If there's someone you feel deserves a place in that PHR, e-mail me here and I'll do my best to cover the appropriate ones. I will have updates in upcoming editions of Under the Knife for players that win jobs. And yes, that means that Under The Knife will be returning, beginning next week.

Normal risk is Green light, elevated risk is Yellow light, and high risk is Red light. Very rarely, a near-impervious player crops up; he gets a Blue light. For more on the system, please check out the introduction.

Danys Baez Yellow light: The yellow's a bit screwy here. His season ended after he couldn't come back from an appendectomy, and a slow-healing appy is a major negative. That said, he's had a long time to come back and shown no problems early in spring. He's a steady setup man who doesn't need much of anything besides the ball.

Mike Timlin Yellow light: It's tough to come up with comps on a guy like Timlin, but it's not unheard of. There's a survivor effect here--you don't pitch into your forties without being both healthy and effective. Being right-handed is a bit of a switch, though. The risk here is that it all breaks down, as older pitchers tend to burn out, not fade away. Timlin blames the WBC for his off year, but I remain unconvinced.

Matt Thornton Red light: This one surprises me a bit. He's still got a bit of a shadow from his elbow problems that helps to generate this rating, but his time with the White Sox has been pretty clean. Don Cooper deals very well with the hard-throwing guys who have been wild, suggesting that most pitching coaches have a "type." I'm not sure if the effort rating is out of whack, or if the system has picked up on something. I like Thornton as a sleeper with Bobby Jenks hurting, regardless. Those of you UTK long-timers will remember Thornton's reports after having Tommy John surgery, so he's a UTK favorite.

Keith Foulke Red light: Do I get credit for this one? Foulke's neck was bad enough that he decided to do the honorable thing and leave Cleveland's money on the nightstand as he left. If you had him on a keeper list, that's one deep league.

Joel Zumaya Yellow light: Zumaya is one of my favorite players to watch. The bloodshot eyes, the 100 mph fastball, and the explosively dangerous mechanics all have the on-the-edge excitement of an Indy Car race. It wouldn't surprise me if Zumaya were on Mohinder Suresh's list.

Justin Duchscherer Red light: Duchscherer's battled minor elbow problems for the last few seasons, always seeming to be healthy when Huston Street isn't, which makes him the most likely guy beyond Street to pick up some saves. His control is his one skill, so elbow problems that affect that are huge. Watch to see if some of his mechanical inefficiencies are corrected this spring.

Scot Shields Green light: We don't yet know the appropriate multiplier for reliever PAP, but assuming it exists, it's likely to be in the 90-100 inning range. Shields' innings have declined each year that he's relieved, as he moved more to a specialized role, so the fact that he's posted some big innings totals isn't quite as bad as it looks on the surface. He'd be the closer for a lot of teams, but he's not even the second choice on the Angels.

Mike Gonzalez Yellow light: With Rafael Soriano yet to throw in spring training and Bob Wickman remaining Bob Wickman, Gonzalez is sure to be a hot C.I.W. pick. Don't forget that Gonzalez missed the last month of the season with his seasonal battle with elbow tendonitis. He's a slow healer with questionable mechanics and a personality that makes him very tough to work with.

Duaner Sanchez Yellow light: Sanchez is coming back from a shoulder injured in a July car wreck. Surgery to reattach ligaments has left him at 75% at the end of February (according to Sanchez), which will keep him from being the setup man at the start of the season, likely yielding that role to Aaron Heilman. Sanchez should build his strength back steadily, so he's a nice late-round pick.

Ryan Wagner Red light: Wagner's one of the most clear cases of why it's so difficult to change a pitcher. When Don Gullett first worked with him, Wagner had a pushy motion that made his fastball dance. When he cleaned up his mechanics, that also cleaned up his fastball; clean mechanics are only good if the heater stays filthy. There's a balance there between health and effectiveness, the true balancing art of modern pitching.

Kerry Wood Yellow light: Wood's always going to be fragile and flammable, but he was telling people last season that he wanted to be a closer. He's got the right stuff and temperament for the job. He throws mid-90's with a nasty slider, but throws across his body. He could correct that problem or he could be used just enough to keep it from cropping up, which is probably somewhere south of fifty innings a year.

Brian Wilson Green light: Really, I just want to know what his entrance music is.

Jeremy Affeldt Red light: Sending this guy to Colorado seemed like cruel and unusual punishment, but he didn't pitch measurably worse. The Rockies appear to have figured something out about developing pitchers to help them succeed at Coors. Unfortunately, they haven't always been able to teach that skill to the incoming cannon fodder. I'll point to Affeldt when my nephew asks why I duct tape his right arm to his body.

Jonathan Broxton Yellow light: He's really big, really young, and throws really hard. If you can find another guy like that who's been able to stay healthy, you're doing better than me. Broxton doesn't have much standing in the way of owning the closer role besides keeping his arm intact.

Also Green light:

Scott Proctor
Jeremy Accardo
Edwin Jackson
Juan Rincon
Jorge De La Rosa
Akinori Otsuka
George Sherrill
Derrick Turnbow
Dan Wheeler
Damaso Marte
Todd Coffey
Scott Linebrink
Jorge Julio

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