January 15, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 1/15/13
Aroldis Chapman | Reds
Sure, the Reds are saying Chapman will transition from the bullpen (where he was a dominant closer last season) to the starting rotation in 2013. For fantasy purposes, however, it’s hardly that simple. As my colleague Paul Sporer explains, the jump from the ‘pen to the rotation can be a sticky wicket. In Chapman’s case, one has to wonder how his stuff will translate—diminished velocity is likely, as is a loss of some of the all-important control he discovered last season. Not to mention, we don’t know whether his golden left arm can handle the spike in workload; remember that he missed a couple weeks late in 2012 due to a tired pitching shoulder.
The Reds are wise to see if Chapman can handle starting every fifth day, but I’m something of a wet blanket as to how it’ll actually turn out. I think Chapmania will be back in the bullpen by midseason, whether it be because of ineffectiveness, difficulty adjusting to the physical demands of starting, or perhaps both. While it’s tempting to project a Chris Sale-like transition for Chapman based on his absurd talent, that sort of best-case scenario tends to be the exception rather than the rule for relievers-turned-starters.
All of that said, Chapman is still a very strong keeper candidate based solely on his upside. While risk-averse owners may be nervous about his prospects as a starter, his strikeout rate in that role should be among the league’s best, making him ownable in all formats even if his ratios get wonky. Of course, we’ve already seen what Chapman can do as a reliever, and though we can’t be sure of how he’d be used if he were to return to the ‘pen, I’d bet on him getting the closing gig back.
Jonathan Broxton | Reds
I admit to having been hugely skeptical of Broxton throughout 2012, even as he racked up saves first for the Royals and then a few for the Reds. The peripherals were ugly, which suggested a booming correction was looming, but the slump never really arrived. As our own R.J. Anderson wrote recently, Brox became something of a different, better pitcher as the season wore on, adjusting capably from life as a flame-thrower to a guy with a more nuanced repertoire. The Reds saw enough that they felt comfortable signing the right-hander to a three-year extension, a relative coup for a reliever who missed most of 2011 due to various ailments.
Yet, while there’s plenty to like about Broxton as a closer entering 2013—encouraging scouting reports, job security, and opportunity—I still see some red flags. For one, as mentioned above, there’s a fairly extensive injury history here, one serious enough that it forced Brox to become a different pitcher. While he got through 2012 mostly unscathed, he did throw only 58 innings and rested for a stretch in August due to shoulder soreness. I’m not predicting his arm will fall off or anything close to it, but it’s at least worth noting. Additionally, he finished up 2012 with a modest 6.98 K/9, and while strikeout rate isn’t paramount for fantasy closers, it certainly helps make them more valuable and makes slumps (and therefore demotions) less likely. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the very real possibility that Chapman could return to the bullpen at some point, at which point Brox could be elbowed down to a setup role.
I like Brox, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he were able to go wire-to-wire as Cincinnati’s closer in 2013. There are risks, however, and just because the Reds invested heavily in the right-hander doesn’t mean fantasy owners should follow suit.
J.J. Putz | Diamondbacks
It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to question whether Putz’s career was nearing its end after 2009, the right-hander’s second consecutive injury-derailed year. He was heading toward his age-33 season and had a relatively short track record of successful relief pitching, a proverbial late-bloomer who came into his own in the pitcher’s haven of Safeco Field. But relatively quietly, a mostly healthy Putz has picked up where he left off in the mid-aughts with the Mariners, enjoying three consecutive strong seasons, one with the White Sox in 2010 and the past two in Arizona.
Putz is slated to be the Snakes’ closer once again in 2013, and he could very well be back for a fourth go-round in that role, as Arizona GM Kevin Towers exercised Putz’s 2014 club option on Monday. Clearly, the Diamondbacks think Putz has plenty left in the tank, and fantasy owners should feel similarly confident. It’s pretty obvious that his 75-inning years are a thing of the past, but there’s no particular reason to expect that the right-hander can’t log another 55 or 60 innings with excellent ratios and 35 or 40 saves.
Of course, there’s some decent competition in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen to push Putz should he falter. David Hernandez could close for a handful of teams right now, and the newly acquired Heath Bell was a pretty good reliever until last year. But between his contract and “proven closer” status, I think Putz will get every chance to remain in the ninth inning. Sure, every player’s talent erodes at some point, and while Putz is certainly nearer to the end of his career than the beginning, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down yet.