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May 26, 2011
Value Picks in the Bullpen
Since I’m constantly suggesting that you can always find saves throughout the season and therefore shouldn’t spend too much in the draft to secure them, I thought I’d put my convictions to the test. In one of my main leagues, I’m leading the group in saves by a wide margin. Only one of my current relievers was acquired in the draft, Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan, and though I’ve always been high on him, even he was a pretty late pick. Otherwise, I’ve been able to pick and choose with the names that have popped up in this column throughout the season, and it’s served me pretty well. I hope you’ve found value in it as well, but as always, feel free to speak up in the comments if there’s something we can do to serve you better.
On to the Value Picks, reliever style…
Joining the party:
Grant Balfour, Athletics (9.5 percent ESPN / 25 percent Yahoo)
Still, that means Balfour has at least a few days in the sun, and even if you could count on Bailey’s arm to hold up on the farm (hint: you can’t), it’s likely that he’ll still need something of a caddy until he’s back to full strength. As for Balfour, his debut season in Oakland has gone well—he’s struck out two-and-a-half times as many as he’s walked and allowed earned runs in just two of his first 21 appearances. He allowed his first home run over the weekend against San Francisco (ignore the blown save, it was in the eighth inning), which was poor timing but not something that worries me.
Balfour is missing bats, he’s never had much of a platoon split, and he’s having a good season. It’s the perfect profile for a pitcher who is missing only the opportunity to become a successful closer. That opportunity probably won’t last all that long for Balfour no matter what he does, because this is Bailey’s job, but a good impression in the next week could go a long way toward shaping the situation for the next time Bailey is injured.
Aaron Crow, Royals (0.8 percent ESPN / 11 percent Yahoo)
The unexpected contribution of the two-time top-15 pick has been an underrated factor in the Royals’ success this season, since he’s coming off a 2010 in which he gave up more than a hit per inning at two levels of the Kansas City system. Despite being something of a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, Crow has increased his strikeout levels while in the bigs, and the only runs he has allowed all season came on one swing of Cliff Pennington’s bat several weeks ago. Since then, he’s been all but untouchable, recording eight strikeouts in 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Soria is going to get quite a lengthy leash here, and deservedly so in light of his history with the club. But what we’ve seen in recent weeks is the situation behind him clearing up a bit, so it now seems evident that there’s a viable alternative should he need some time off. Besides, the Royals didn’t draft Crow with such a high pick to be a setup man, did they?
Kenley Jansen (17.5 percent ESPN / 12 percent Yahoo), Matt Guerrier (11.1 percent ESPN / 15 percent Yahoo), and the rest of the traveling nightmare Dodger bullpen roadshow
Of course, it’s still not even as simple as choosing between those two, because they each blew games in the ninth inning this week, helping the Dodgers lose two of three in Houston. (Only Jansen’s game was a blown save, as Guerrier entered in a tie game). They’re now joined by hot prospect Rubby de la Rosa, who after dominating the Astros in his eighth inning debut on Tuesday, probably would have received Guerra’s save opportunity had his spot in the order not come up in the ninth. He likely won’t be rushed into the role, but also in the mix is former All-Star closer Mike MacDougal and his sparkly but completely undeserved 1.50 ERA.
So what to make of all of this? The Dodgers likely would prefer Jansen to step up and take the role, thanks to his flamethrowing ways, and before Monday’s meltdown he had allowed just three hits with an 18/5 K/BB over 10 consecutive scoreless outings. He’s worth owning for the strikeouts alone, though with Guerrier and de la Rosa around, this is the definition of ‘closer by committee.’
Nick Masset, Reds (0.2 percent ESPN / 2 percent Yahoo)
Why was that paragraph in quotes, you might ask? Because I completed writing it, and this article, as Masset was getting out of that tough jam in the ninth last night. Then Jay Bruce hit a go-ahead homer in the top of the 10th, and I figured I’d hang off on sending this in to see if that would finally be the game where Cordero would start to show his cracks. One Ryan Howard blast to center field later, I am one very happy fantasy baseball writer. All kidding aside, one blown save isn’t going to cost Cordero his job, but it’s also not very likely to be the last problem he runs into.
Koji Uehara, Orioles (3.8 percent ESPN / 21 percent Yahoo)
Scott Downs, Angels (1.2 percent ESPN / 8 percent Yahoo)
When healthy and available, Downs has been very good. Still, he was mainly on the list as a hedge against the struggles of young closer Jordan Walden, who had run into multiple issues the previous week. I was clear at the time that I thought Walden would be fine, and he’s faced just eleven hitters over his last three innings, collecting two saves. Walden’s grip on the job is secure, and while Downs is one of the better setup men in the league with the potential to be an above-average closer, that’s not a chance he is likely to receive any time soon.
AL Deep Value Pick
Octavio Dotel, Blue Jays (0.8 percent ESPN / 3 percent Yahoo)
NL Deep Value Pick
Henry Rodriguez, Nationals (0.0 percent ESPN / 0 percent Yahoo)
That said, down here in the deep value section, we take notice of him for the same reason Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has: because he throws hard and strikes guys out. Riggleman noted earlier this week that Rodriguez has impressed him enough that he planned to use him as one of the team’s primary eighth-inning arms. Rodriguez has struck out at least two in seven of his nine appearances through Tuesday, all while averaging nearly 98 MPH. That’s an arm that’s freely available in nearly every fantasy league around, folks.