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March 3, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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With camps in full swing and spring games just getting started, I thought I'd do something a little different today. It's still a bit early in camp for performances to really mean much (though the reports of Joe Nathan making it through his first outing back are encouraging), and we haven't seen the kind of devastating relief injury so far that would cause an impact like the loss of Adam Wainwright had on the starters. But we are getting far enough into spring that the fantasy world is starting to see more and more drafts happen by the day, and those results can be telling in the sense of who's being over- and undervalued as you prepare for your own draft. I've compared the ADP listings at ESPN, Yahoo, & Mock Draft Central, and there are a few players who don't seem to be slotted where they should be. Finding value where it’s least expected is our goal around here, and searching for draft value is what we’re looking at today.

I've been beating the drum for some time that if he's healthy (a Sandoval-sized if, I know), Koji Uehara is by far the superior option over the eminently mediocre Kevin Gregg. Have we forgotten already that from July 1 on, Uehara struck out 49 while walking just three? That's how you end up allowing just a .235 OBP, and as his BABIP was just under .300 it doesn't feel particularly fluky, either. While the position in theory is still up for grabs, we've already heard that Uehara entered camp with the lead, and most of that impressive performance came right in front of Buck Showalter last year. The signing of Gregg is defensible in the sense that Uehara's medical history makes him hard to count on, but if Uehara stays healthy he's going to outperform Gregg - and it won't be particularly close.

Yet Gregg put up 37 ultra-shiny saves despite mediocre peripherals last year, and signed the large contract this winter, and that's what the draft masses are seeing. In ESPN, he's the 28th-highest reliever being picked, ahead of Joel Hanrahan, Brandon League, and Fernando Rodney, all of whom are expected to start the season as closers. He's ahead of Chris Sale and Hong-Chih Kuo, who each may see some closer time this year and provide value even without saves.

 Meanwhile, Uehara is going undrafted in most ESPN and Yahoo leagues, because he’s not a big name and he put up “only” 13 saves in 2010. He’s certainly not someone you should reach for, but he’s worth more respect than he’s seeing.

What was the big David Aardsma news out of Mariners camp in Arizona a few days ago? Not that he was ready to pitch in a game. Not that he was ready to throw a bullpen, or even toss lightly off a mound. It was that he started walking – that’s it. As of a few days ago, throwing wasn’t even on Aardsma’s radar as he rehabs from hip surgery. Look for his rehab to extend well into April if not May, and that means that Brandon League is almost certain to start the year as the closer. (Yes, there are rumblings about Chris Ray, but check out his subpar strikeout and walk rates from last year and see how exciting he seems.)

The lost time and uncertain recovery ought to knock Aardsma down most lists, yet despite that, he’s currently going 21st among relievers over at MDP, ahead of Joe Nathan, Craig Kimbrel, and Hanrahan. That seems unreasonably high for a pitcher who’s going to miss the first month, if not more; it’s possible that people are just looking at the 30 saves Aardsma put up last year without considering his current situation. Meanwhile, League lags 20 spots behind at 41st, behind Brian Fuentes and Evan Meek, two pitchers who merit little fantasy consideration. As I’ve said previously, I like League as a good buy-low, sell-high candidate if he gets off to a good start, and the gap in ADP between the two seems a bit much.

We’re actually seeing the opposite situation happen in Florida, where last week I looked at how Leo Nunez was coming off a season where he ended up losing his job to Clay Hensley. Despite hitting the 30-save barrier, which usually catches the eye of fantasy players, Nunez is languishing down at 38th among relievers at MDP. As I’d noted, Nunez was doing just fine through the end of July last year (a 2.64 ERA, a 49/11 K/BB, and a 595 OPS against) before crumbling in August and bouncing back in September. Nunez is by no means elite, nor should you consider him as such; however, he’s increased his K/BB rate in each of the last two seasons, and the Marlins have stated that he will be the closer going into the season. Is that not more valuable than non-closers Meek, Daniel Bard, or Octavio Dotel, who are all going higher in drafts? I’d argue that it definitely is.

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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<< Previous Article
Future Shock: Organiza... (03/02)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Getting ... (03/02)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Some Lov... (03/04)
Next Article >>
Divide and Conquer, AL... (03/03)

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