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April 7, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Bullpen

by Mike Petriello

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Late Monday night, when I started thinking about who I might want to write about this week, the first name that came to mind was young Angels' reliever Jordan Walden, who I’ve been touting in these pages since late last season. He was hovering around the five percent ownership mark, while Fernando Rodney was getting off to the most predictably poor start ever, making Walden a great value buy. That was all well and good until Mike Scioscia had to jump the gun on me and officially make the switch on Tuesday, and now Walden’s got dedicated blog posts and ownership levels in the 40s and climbing. So, no such luck for me there, though I will take some small solace from bringing him to attention far in advance.

That said there has been no shortage of closers imploding over the first week, so there’s still plenty of value to be found below our admittedly-arbitrary 20 percent ownership threshold.

Sean Burnett, Washington Nationals

After a very uneven spring, Drew Storen went into the season with at best a share of the closer’s role, and in three games he’s done nothing to push Washington into giving him more responsibility, picking up a loss while allowing a homer with a 0.5 K/BB ratio. Meanwhile, Burnett has closed out all three of his appearances, picking up a save without allowing a run or a walk, and manager Jim Riggleman noted that he wants Burnett available for the ninth inning. For all intents and purposes, Burnett is the Washington closer. So the ownership numbers should reflect that, right?

Well, not so much. As of this writing, Storen is still owned in a whopping 94.3 percent of ESPN leagues, while Burnett is rostered in just 12.0 percent (admittedly, up from 1 percent earlier in the week). That’s a trend that shows the craftiest of owners are starting to pick up on the situation, but there’s still plenty of room to act if you move quickly.

I’ve said many times here that Storen is going to be the long-term answer in Washington, and I still believe that to be true. But while this may not be a Nationals team that is ready to contend just yet, they are one that is no longer willing to completely pass up present-day results for future considerations.  Burnett was excellent last year, he was good in the spring, and he’s off to a fine start. Until Storen gets his act together and proves to Riggleman he can be trusted, this looks to be Burnett’s job for the immediate future.

Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins

Just before the season, manager Ron Gardenhire stated that Joe Nathan and Matt Capps would share the ninth inning duties in the early going, as the Twins seek to protect Nathan from overextending his surgically-repaired right elbow.  Nathan has nailed down the first two save opportunities for Minnesota, including relieving Capps on Tuesday when the latter had breezed through two innings with just 16 pitches (and could have easily started a third).

That points to what we already knew, which is that if Nathan is available, he is always going to be viewed as the closer in Minnesota. However, this situation allows Capps to retain far more value than the mere six percent ownership we’re currently seeing indicates. Nathan has nailed down both saves, but hasn’t quite proven he’s returned to his pre-surgery self, with lessened velocity and a lone strikeout after ten batters faced.

The Twins still haven’t committed to using Nathan on back-to-back days and almost certainly won’t ever risk him three days in a row. Capps, with closing experience and coming off a very good year, is in line to receive more save opportunities than your typical setup man would get. In deeper leagues, and especially in ones which count holds, that’s worth something.

Brian Fuentes, Oakland Athletics

I’ve never liked Brian Fuentes much, but even I’m surprised to see that he’s owned in fewer than five percent of leagues . Is this all because of his one horrendous outing to start the season? Fuentes hasn’t pitched in a few days due to a blister, but is reportedly back and ready to go–and Grant Balfour didn’t do much to distinguish himself by lasting just six pitches, not recording an out, while giving up a walkoff homer to Toronto’s Yunel Escobar on Tuesday.

The reports on Andrew Bailey are positive, indicating that he’s had several sessions of long toss without a setback. That’s great, but he also hasn’t thrown off a mound yet, and his return is several weeks away at best. In the meantime, Fuentes is an adequate closing option, and one freely available in nearly every league.

Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays

We’re talking deep, deep sleepers here, as Peralta is owned in 0.3 percent of ESPN leagues after getting non-tendered by Washington last year. I’m on record as saying that Peralta’s lack of a track record (despite a very good 2010) and large platoon splits could inhibit him from being an effective stopper.  That said, he’s in exactly the right situation to potentially get some opportunities, and MLB.com’s Cory Schwartz has been singing his praises all spring, even here in a BP chat. The Tampa bullpen situation hasn’t gotten any clearer because the team has gotten off to such a slow start, but he finished two of the first four games. If the team doesn’t want to throw too much at Jacob McGee—and if you don’t trust Kyle Farnsworth—Peralta may just end up with some value. That’s assuming, of course, that the 0-5 Rays ever end up with a ninth inning lead again.

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

Related Content:  Ownership,  Matt Capps,  Sean Burnett

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