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January 9, 2013

The Keeper Reaper

Relievers for 1/9/13

by Dan Mennella

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Glen Perkins | Twins
Shallow (30 Keepers): No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): Fringe
AL-only (60 Keepers): Yes
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes

Twins lefty Glen Perkins isn’t one of the first closers who comes to mind when thinking of keeper candidates, but he probably should be. After bouncing between the bullpen and rotation during his first few seasons in the majors, Perkins has settled in nicely as a high-leverage reliever over the past couple years. He got a shot at closing in 2012 and, in news that could only draw the attention of dorks, by season’s end had eventually earned the confidence of his manager and GM to be the team’s long-term answer in the ninth inning.

And really, that was all that was left to be answered about Perkins heading into 2013—whether manager Ron Gardenhire and GM Terry Ryan were willing to commit to him unconditionally as their closer. When closer Matt Capps went down with an injury in June of last season, the Twins initially divvied up the saves among Perkins and Jared Burton, a righty. That didn’t seem to bode especially well for Perkins fanboys, yours truly among them. Typically, with all things being equal, the right-hander will eventually begin to see the bulk of save chances in such an arrangement. Burton’s final save of 2012 came on August 4, however, and Perkins gobbled them up the rest of the way.

Burton’s continued presence—he signed a two-year extension last month—is my only slight reservation about Perkins this spring. To be clear: I think the job will be Perkins’ to lose, and his strikeout, walk and ground ball rates over the past two seasons suggest he’s more than capable of holding down the job. If he should falter on account of the vagaries of relief pitching, though, the Twins have a solid alternative at the ready in Burton.

If you can keep Perkins on the cheap, the potential payoff justifies taking on some minor risks.

Jared Burton | Twins
Shallow (30 Keepers):
No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
AL-only (60 Keepers): Fringe (Holds leagues)
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Fringe (Holds leagues)

Meanwhile, Burton becomes an intriguing option in holds leagues now that he’ll have the eighth inning all to his lonesome, rather than splitting it for half the season with Perkins, as he did last year prior to Capps’ injury. Burton finished off 2012 with 18 holds and five saves, but recall that he began the season with pretty low expectations as a guy who’d made the team out of Spring Training after signing a minor league contract in the offseason. Now, he’ll be one of Gardenhire’s go-to relievers from the season’s outset.

So, it should be all good, right? Well, Burton’s opportunity is intriguing—the Twins’ bullpen is really a mish-mosh of underwhelming options after he and Perkins—but there are some red flags for sure. Burton had established himself as a serviceable setup man in his first few years with the Reds before missing a chunk of 2010 due to an oblique injury and a thyroid condition. Then he fell further off the radar after sitting out the majority of 2011 due to a shoulder ailment, which explains why Cincinnati non-tendered him, allowing the Twins to pick him up out of the bargain bin.

Obviously, Burton’s health has to be taken into consideration; two mostly lost seasons is nothing to be cavalier about. We also must remember that he posted his best full-season FIP (3.34; previous best was 3.78 as a rookie in 2007) in his comeback year. In particular, Burton’s 2.3 BB/9 was quite impressive in relation to his career average of 3.5 BB/9. Sure, Burton might simply be a better pitcher now that he presumably has a clean bill of health, but some regression should be expected.

Like Perkins, Burton is another under-the-radar type on whom you could turn a nice profit. Just beware that the risks are greater.

John Axford | Brewers
Shallow (30 Keepers):
No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
NL-only (60 Keepers): Fringe
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes

After a season like his 2012, the Brewers’ John Axford is sure to inspire mass confusion among fantasy owners this spring. After racking up save 70 saves and posting sub-2.50 ERAs in 2010 and 2011, Ax Man struggled through a brutal 2012, somehow managing to finish with 35 saves despite a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Axford was demoted countless times last season, but with the Brewers’ bullpen being a complete mess, he inevitably got shot after shot once his latest also-ran replacement similarly struggled.

Thankfully, Axford pieced together a solid stretch of relief pitching in August and September, reestablishing himself as the team’s stopper and perhaps winning back some of the confidence of fantasy owners who felt burned (especially those who were skeptical of Axford’s breakout seasons). Additionally, Milwaukee’s bullpen for the coming year doesn’t figure to have any obvious replacement candidates. The Brewers have added a couple of useful relievers this offseason in hopes of shoring up the bullpen in Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez, but neither should have first crack at the ninth inning over Axford.

Opportunity is Axford’s greatest asset as a fantasy commodity right now, but there’s also reason to expect a significant statistical rebound for him in 2013. The most obvious culprit for Axford’s ugly ratios last season was his unseemly walk rate of 5.1 BB/9, which was a huge jump from his respectable 3.1 BB/9 in 2011, but his astronomical homer rate (1.3 HR/9) and below-average strand rate (68 percent) didn’t help either.. There’s no doubt he needs to regain some of that control in 2013.

The chance to close will be in place for Axford, and the chance for statistical improvement will be there too. He’s a good candidate to keep if the cost is minimal or to nab at a relative discount come draft day.

Mike Gonzalez | Brewers
Shallow (30 Keepers):
No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
NL-only (60 Keepers): Fringe (Holds leagues)
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Fringe (Holds leagues)

You may have noticed that left-hander Michael Gonzalez signed with the Brew Crew this week, and you may also have noticed there are some very interesting escalators in his contract that could earn him up to an additional $400,000 depending on his number of games finished this season. The fact that he’s joined a shaky bullpen and will likely be a first option in high-leverage situations should interest you holds-leaguers, but those clauses are mostly a red herring in case you were wondering about his chances of tallying more than the odd save.

At this juncture of his career, Gonzo should be a strict LOOGY, plain and simple. He’s struggled terribly against right-handed hitters the past two seasons, being torched to the tune of these lines: .287/.375/.525 vs. RHB in 2011 and .297/.378/.484 in 2012. Basically, every righty suddenly becomes Albert Pujols against Gonzalez. It remains to be seen whether Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will use Gonzalez appropriately, but hopefully he does so in the best interests of all parties involved.

If so, Gonzo could actually end up being a pretty valuable commodity in holds leagues. He’s very tough on lefties, obviously, and whatever you think of holds as a stat, LOOGYs often rack up plenty of ‘em. Sean Burnett and Eric O’Flaherty, two of the top 10 relievers in holds last season, are LOOGYs in spirit if not strictly in usage (neither is especially effective against righties). As well, Javier Lopez, the new patron saint of LOOGYs, racked up 18 holds last season and could have had more had he not been busy earning saves as part of a saber-bullpen.

So, forget the escalators in Gonzalez’s contract but do keep him in mind as a sneaky add in holds leagues. He won’t finish many games—even if the Brewers were to adopt a mix-and-match bullpen, he still probably wouldn’t trigger those clauses—but 25 holds is very realistic assuming good health.

Related Content:  John Axford,  Jared Burton,  Glen Perkins

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Premium Article Western Front: What Wi... (01/08)
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Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Fir... (01/08)
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