June 10, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
Weird week here at the relievers outpost of Value Picks. As you can tell from the comments in last week's article, I'd expected that we'd be talking about possible closer changes in Houston and Washington, with Matt Lindstrom and Matt Capps having each blown three saves in four outings. Yet since then, Lindstrom's been perfect in converting three saves, and Capps has converted his chances as well, holding off the wolves at least for this week. Plus, two of the other teams we've been talking about - Toronto and Baltimore - haven't even been able to get far enough in games to have save opportunities. So as far as save-chasing goes this week, it's kind of a lean group, and with that in mind we're looking back at past values which could pay off in the near future.
We're welcoming back two previous Value Picks this week in Alfredo Simon and Fernando Rodney. Simon was one of the more successful value picks of the season, as he went from being a minor-league afterthought in April to converting six of seven save opportunities in May before being injured - a nice treat for savvy fantasy owners who were able to wring easy value out of him. Since he's been gone, the Orioles have been even more of a disaster than they were before, and though Will Ohman's been the nominal closer for over two weeks now, he hasn't notched a single save. Much of that is his fault, but not in the way you think. Yes, he blew the only save opportunity he was presented with (though he allowed just one run while doing so), but since he was forced into the 9th inning, the replacements the Orioles have tried in Ohman's old spot have failed miserably, leading to Ohman getting just one chance to actually close a game.
Meanwhile, Simon is progressing nicely from his strained left hamstring (the Baltimore Sun claims he's running and throwing without pain) and is on track to be activated on Sunday. When he is, interim manager Juan Samuel has indicated that he expects that Simon will return to his closing duties while Ohman slides back into his old role. The hope is that Ohman will help get more leads to the 9th inning, and Simon will continue his earlier success. If you've got space, it might not be a bad idea to pick up Simon and stash him on the DL until he proves he's healthy.
Also rejoining us is Fernando Rodney, who did an admirable job filling in at closer (five scoreless saves) for the Angels when Brian Fuentes was on the disabled list earlier this season. Fuentes may be healthy, but he's hardly proving himself able, as his five homers allowed are just one less than he saw in 2009 despite pitching nearly forty fewer innings. He recieved the dreaded "vote of confidence" from Angels skipper Mike Scioscia over the weekend, yet he's pitched just twice in June. As for Rodney, his 6.6 BB/9 rate is troubling indeed, but he's also allowed an earned run in just three of his twenty-six appearances thus far. He's also racking up fantasy stats, which is why I'm glad I held onto him: his last five appearances have produced four holds and a win. That's valuable even if he's not getting save opportunities, and the potential for more is huge. Even if Fuentes doesn't officially "lose his job", Rodney's likely to sneak in here and there for opportunities with an eye on the full-time job should Fuentes fail to turn it around. Keep a close eye on the situation, and if your league counts holds he's worth grabbing right now.
As for who's sticking around this week...
John Axford: Since he took over the Milwaukee closer's gig, Axford has put up two wins and four saves in seven games. Great, right? Well, not exactly. He's been hit somewhat hard over that time (.324/.361/.382) and allowed an earned run in four of those seven games. That said, even that mediocrity is miles better than Trevor Hoffman, and as long as he's getting the job done, he'll keep getting chances even if it's not pretty. He's climbing up there in terms of fantasy ownership, so this is probably his last week on the list. Grab him now if you haven't yet.
Drew Storen: Storen's working on four consecutive scoreless appearances, while Capps' perfect inning to close out Stephen Strasburg's debut was a badly-needed success after his terrible slump (runs allowed in seven of previous ten games). We'll need to see a bit more from Capps to be sure that he's totally out of the woods, though he'll he certainly get his chances. For now, Storen's been picking up several holds in the last week and a win last night, which is nice.
Jason Frasor: The situation in Toronto is stll very much in flux. Kevin Gregg's pitched just once in the nine days since his June 1st disaster, so it's hard to say that he's over his May skid. That said, the Jays haven't had a single save opportunity in the month yet, so we haven't had a real opportunity to see how Cito Gaston is going to use his bullpen. The feeling here is that Gregg will get a chance to redeem himself, but he was so bad in May he's going to have to really impress to hold on.
Evan Meek: Meek continues to amaze. Since allowing a walk to Marlon Byrd on May 31, Meek has set down 16 consecutive batters, helping to push his K/BB to over four. As one of the few bright spots in Pittsburgh, he deserves more credit than he's receiving. It's worth noting that after a nearly perfect May, Octavio Dotel has allowed runs to cross the plate in each of his last two games, so Meek may be closer to real opportunity than we'd thought.
And we're saying goodbye to...
Matt Thornton: Last week, I said "I'd like to wait and see how Jenks does in his return before I give up on Thornton just yet." Well, Jenks clearly enjoyed the time off, since he's put up four scoreless innings in the last week alone, while Thornton was torched by Detroit, skyrocketing his ERA. Now that he's proven himself healthy, Jenks seems squarely in charge of the 9th inning. That said, if you want a prediction, here it is: this isn't the last we've seen of Matt Thornton on this list. He's one of the more underrated relievers in baseball, and with the White Sox declaring themselves open for trades, Jenks seems incredibly likely to end up in another uniform by the end of the summer.