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July 22, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games '10
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Brandon League RH 7 2 49.0 43 6 3.67 1.224 6.8 3.1 1.1 7.20 3.00 1.2 0 44
Arthur Rhodes LH 3 0 38.2 22 3 1.63 0.882 8.4 3.3 0.7 8.70 3.90 0.6 0 45
J.J. Putz RH 5 2 36.0 22 2 1.50 0.778 8.5 3.2 0.3 7.76 3.41 0.9 0 36
Evan Meek RH 4 1 52.2 32 2 1.03 0.896 8.4 2.4 0.3 8.50 5.56 0.9 0 44
Ryan Madson RH 2 4 14.1 18 3 6.28 1.465 9.4 1.9 1.9 9.00 3.50 1.3 0 15
Chris Perez RH 0 9 37.1 26 4 2.41 1.205 7.7 4.6 1.0 9.25 4.25 1.0 0 39
Hong-Chih Kuo LH 3 2 30.1 13 1 0.89 0.758 11.0 3.0 0.3 10.1 3.00 0.5 0 28
  2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

First off, we're acknowledging a "graduation": On the heels of Kerry Wood's blister-related DL stint, Chris Perez is the most-added reliever in fantasy baseball right now. Nearly a quarter of ESPN leagues have seen him added in the last week, pushing him well above the Value Picks threshold. Hopefully you got in while the getting was good, as he's contributed two more saves in the last seven days. So while we're saying goodbye to him, it's for the best possible reason, isn't it? If you do happen to own him, just keep in mind that Wood's probably going to get one more shot (since he's not going to get claimed on waivers, his trade deadline is more like August 31) when he's healthy as the Indians try to get whatever value they can for him - but either way, it'll be Perez closing as your league enters the playoffs.

Joining us this week is J.J. Putz of Chicago. Bobby Jenks seemingly had turned it around after his early-season struggles, yet he's once again giving Ozzie Guillen heartburn - after picking up the loss on Sunday after allowing four runs and four runners without recording an out in Minnesota, last night he blew a save and collected another loss by allowing two runs and three hits in just 0.1 inning in Seattle. If there was ever proof that fantasy baseball is in large part unrelated to real-world baseball, it's this: despite his ugly 5.09 ERA and 1.585 WHIP, it was just Jenks' second blown save of the season.

Guillen, after the game, noted that his "options are open" as far as the closer's role. While that may be somewhat a product of post-game emotions, it isn't the first time Jenks has had trouble this year and with the White Sox roaring back into contention, Guillen and Kenny Williams aren't the type to sit on their hands if there's a better alternative, which may include trading Jenks to a needy contender. In the meantime, Putz is finally healthy after years of injuries and has been downright outstanding. Putz has pitched in 36 games this year, and allowed a run in just three - none since May 7, nearly three months ago. In 25 games since then, he's got a 25/3 K/BB ratio and held batters to a puny .140/.169/.163 line, and the 25 scoreless outings in a row represent a new team record.

Now, you may be wondering why I recommend Putz, when earlier in the season I'd added Matt Thornton to this list. Thornton is still one of the better relievers in the league, and it may very well be that saves are spread evenly between Putz, Thornton, and Sergio Santos should Jenks implode or be escorted elsewhere. At the time, Putz hadn't quite proven his health in the way he has now, and with his closing experience as a Mariner (and Guillen's seeming preference to keep Thornton in the 8th inning), the thought here is that Putz may be the one to benefit should Jenks no longer be the top option. Even if that doesn't happen, he's not a bad speculative pick-up as with five wins, ten holds, and two saves, plus the nice K rate and scoreless innings, he's contributing even from a setup role.

Checking in on our returnees:

Hong-Chih Kuo: When Chad Billingsley was taking a shutout into the 9th last night, it wasn't Jonathan Broxton warming in the pen, but Kuo. That's not a reflection on Broxton's recent struggles as much as it is that Broxton had been heavily used the previous few days, but it's still clear that Kuo is the "option 1A" in this situation. The worry here is that after several years of treating Kuo like a glass statue due to his injury history, the Dodgers are now letting him go multiple innings and warm up on back-to-back days thanks to the failure of the rest of the bullpen. That may not bode well for his future, but it doesn't change his value right now.

Brandon League: With reports that a consensus of front office types believe David Aardsma will be moved next week, the opportunity we've been talking about for weeks may finally be there for League.After a rough two-game stretch earlier in July, League has settled down to allow just one run over his last 5.2 innings. It says a lot about the Seattle bullpen that a pitcher as admittedly mediocre as League is the standout, but that's the situation the M's find themselves in. We'll know a lot more about his future by this time next week.

Ryan Madson: Madson, Brad Lidge, Steve Bedrosian, or Mitch Williams, it's hard to collect saves when the Phillies have stormed out of the break by losing six of seven. (Sidenote: remember when Roy Halladay was guaranteed to win 25 games in the NL? He's 10-8.) Madson contributed to the skid by allowing a homer to Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs, though it should be noted that Ramirez has been destroying every pitcher for the last week. Still, Lidge only got into one game himself over the week due to the defecits, so Charlie Manuel hasn't been pressured into making the bullpen decisions we all expect are coming. Still a good situation to keep an eye on.

Arthur Rhodes: The Reds' bullpen is, surprisingly, beginning to turn it around. Nick Masset and Logan Ondrusek combined for seven scoreless outings last week, while Francisco Cordero converted two saves despite a 2/2 K/BB line. So while things may be looking up for the good people of Cincinnati, the other relievers were so bad for so long that it's going to take more than a few nice games to truly believe; Rhodes lives for another week.

Evan Meek: I think I've said this before, but the better Octavio Dotel does - you know, the guy who's actively preventing Meek from getting more 9th inning chances - the better it'll be for Meek. Dotel's keeping up his end of the deal, striking out three in two scoreless innings last week. The rumors surrounding him are only intensifying (my best guess: the Mets) meaning that the 9th inning in Pittsburgh could be open for business as soon as next week. As I said last week, Joel Hanrahan merits mention as well for his productive season, and while he may get his own chance, it'll be difficult to keep Meek out entirely.

Of note: The value could be so short-lived that I'm not going to "officially" add either to the list, but check out Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain if you're in a daily league and you have a hole in the bullpen. Jon Rauch took a ball off his ankle on Monday, and while he's likely to avoid the DL, he also may be held out of action through the weekend. The guess here is that Guerrier gets the chances while Rauch is unavailable; he's been effective this year, and has also racked up 14 holds.

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

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