As the temperatures heat up, so do the fantasy races. There's still value to be had if you're quick to act.
I have to say, I'm a little surprised that Ryan Madson is owned in just 5.1% of ESPN leagues right now, because he's really headed into the perfect storm. There's no doubt that there's opportunity in Philadelphia, where over the last month Brad Lidge has managed just two saves while blowing two others. Lidge has only even pitched once in July, and while his K rate remains high, he's also allowed multiple runs (and homers) in two of his last four outings.
Madson, who struck out six in 5.2 minor league rehab innings, could be activated from the DL as soon as today, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuelsounds like he can't wait: "He's going to really help us. We need him back." After such a long layoff, it'd be no surprise to see Madson eased back into action, though with the issues Manuel has had in putting together a usable bullpen Madson might seeing himself back in the 9th inning sooner than you'd think. Either way, Madson is freely available in just about every league, and if you act quickly enough he might not even cost you a roster spot - you can stash him on your DL while you evaluate his return and its impact on your roster. It's not often, this far into the season, that you find a pitcher on the wire who's had success closing before and has a great chance to reclaim his old job. It's an opportunity worth taking advantage of.
As June turns into July, the trading season plays a huge impact on where value can be found.
Two new names join the list this week, and we'll start with Chris Perez of Cleveland. One of the main reasons we add a reliever to this list is usually that the incumbent in front of him is struggling or injured, opening up opportunity which may not have been there before. In Perez' case, it's exactly the opposite: he's here because Kerry Wood has started to be effective.
As I've been saying all season in this space, looking for fantasy value among relievers is quite different than at other positions, simply because of lack of opportunity. You might take a chance on a backup third baseman who only gets five at-bats a week, but he always has a chance to hit a homer in those at-bats, regardless of what the score or situation is. For relievers, it's almost more important to grab a guy in the right position rather than the more talented one, just due to the limited distribution of tasty, tasty save opportunities. That, friends, is how we end up with Aaron Heilman and Alfredo Simon on this list instead of Luke Gregerson.
Just because you're over 40 doesn't mean you can't be a valuable contributor in the world of fantasy.
That's right, Arthur Rhodes. The same one who's been around for so long that in his first career game, way back in 1991, he was starting against a Texas Rangers team featuring Brian Downing, Gary Pettis, and Ruben Sierra, and who's accumulated just 32 saves in 19 big-league seasons. But you come here looking for deep value, don't you? Well, it doesn't get much deeper than this. Let's start with the obvious: Rhodes has been really, really good this year. His comically low 0.29 ERA (which I'm citing mostly for the opportunity to point out that his ERA+ is somehow 1463) is due to the fact that after allowing a solo homer to Jeff Baker in his second outing of the season, Rhodes has kept the ledger clean. That's 32 straight scoreless outings. Granted, a .193 BABIP means that luck has tilted in the old man's direction, but it's also 32 straight scoreless outings. No matter what you chalk that up to, it's a performance worth noting.
Of course, we need more than that to think that Rhodes may have some fantasy value, and that's where the rest of the Cincinnati bullpen comes in. Francisco Cordero's not really in any imminent danger of losing his job, but he's also having a subpar season by his standards, as his FIP and WHIP are each higher than they've been in a decade. Cordero's been ridden hard by Dusty Baker (he's tied for the NL lead in appearances, and pitched for the third day in a row yesterday) and he's already blown two saves in June and five on the season, not good signs for a guy who's already 35 himself. The rest of the Reds bullpen has been disastrous, as besides for Danny Herrera, none of the other Cincinnati relievers with more than 10 IP (Nick Masset, Mike Lincoln, Micah Owings, Logan Ondrusek,or Carlos Fisher) can boast an ERA below 5.27. If it's not going to be Cordero on a given night, Baker has few options more appealing than Rhodes - and in the meantime, Arthur has thirteen holds.
There's value in even the worst of situations, if you know where to look for it.
Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother discussing the Orioles in this section. As Rob Neyer noted, the 2010 edition of this once-proud franchise has the same record through 66 games as the 1988 crew, who started 0-21 and finished up at 54-107. They've gone through about twenty closers, to the point that I wonder when Armando Benitez is going to surface, and that means that each week it seems to be someone new. This week, I'm going to hedge my bets and have two Oriole relievers on the list.
As expected, Alfredo Simon was activated from the disabled list and made his debut yesterday in a non-save situation, with the Orioles insisting all along that he'd be eased back into the to the closer's role upon his return. Nothing has caused us to think they'd deviate that plan, so Simon remains on the list. Yet with the Orioles being the Orioles, they could be forgiven for jumping at the first sign of life from anyone on the roster, and that's why we're adding David Hernandez this week as well. Hernandez wouldn't seem like a prime candidate for success, since the reason he's in the bullpen in the first place is that he lost his starting job after eight lousy starts in which he put up a 5.31 ERA and walked more (28) than he struck out (27). Yet he's allowed just one run in 8.2 relief innings since being converted, flashing his 93 MPH fastball and increasing his K rate from 5.7 as a starter to 7.3 as a reliever. He's picked up two saves, as well. While I still think Simon will get a chance to reclaim his job, it's not like he was that good, with a dangerously high walk rate. To be honest, I'd be surprised if either one of them claimed the job, with this looking very much like a "hot hand" situation for the few save opportunities the O's find themselves in. Keep an eye on this over the next few days to see how they play this, but gun to my head, I like Hernandez right now.
It's time to look backwards in order to get value going forward.
Weird week here at the relievers outpost of Value Picks. As you can tell from the comments in last week's article, I'd expected that we'd be talking about possible closer changes in Houston and Washington, with Matt Lindstrom and Matt Capps having each blown three saves in four outings. Yet since then, Lindstrom's been perfect in converting three saves, and Capps has converted his chances as well, holding off the wolves at least for this week. Plus, two of the other teams we've been talking about - Toronto and Baltimore - haven't even been able to get far enough in games to have save opportunities. So as far as save-chasing goes this week, it's kind of a lean group, and with that in mind we're looking back at past values which could pay off in the near future.
We're welcoming back two previous Value Picks this week in Alfredo Simon and Fernando Rodney. Simon was one of the more successful value picks of the season, as he went from being a minor-league afterthought in April to converting six of seven save opportunities in May before being injured - a nice treat for savvy fantasy owners who were able to wring easy value out of him. Since he's been gone, the Orioles have been even more of a disaster than they were before, and though Will Ohman's been the nominal closer for over two weeks now, he hasn't notched a single save. Much of that is his fault, but not in the way you think. Yes, he blew the only save opportunity he was presented with (though he allowed just one run while doing so), but since he was forced into the 9th inning, the replacements the Orioles have tried in Ohman's old spot have failed miserably, leading to Ohman getting just one chance to actually close a game.
Mike Petriello graduates two success stories from the Value Picks list and checks out two freely-available talents to help your team.
Smell You Later: What with it being graduation season and all, we're going to start with those departing the Value Picks list. So say goodbye to Alfredo Simon and Jose Contreras, as they've continued to gain notoriety in the fantasy world and can no longer be considered 'hidden gems'. When Simon joined this list on May 6, he'd pitched in just four games and was owned in less than 10% of ESPN leagues. Since then, he's racked up three more saves plus a win in six games. He had one terrible outing in between, accounting for some inflated stats, but it's also the only game of the ten he's entered in which he's allowed an earned run. Simon's now owned in nearly 40% of ESPN leagues, so by this point you've likely already made your decision on him.
The story is much the same for Contreras, who's been picked up in an astounding 46.7% of leagues in the last week alone. He joined the list the same week as Simon, and and at the time was available in over 99% of leagues. Since then, all he's done is rip off five consecutive scoreless outings, allowing just two hits. With Brad Lidge's health still in question, Contreras will get his chances, though you certainly already know that by now.
Mike Petriello looks at two relative unknowns who could contribute relief help, and one elderly veteran offering a surprising resurgence.
Welcome to the Jungle: Last week in this space, I briefly mentioned Baltimore's Alfredo Simon: "Simon may be a sleeper among the group, but the Orioles are so bad and the bullpen situation so unsettled that it's hard to recommend picking up anyone from that mess just yet." The O's may still be a mess, but Simon has officially moved to the front of the pack. Former fill-in closer Jim Johnson found himself demoted to AAA (somewhat unfairly, because it's only been 9.2 innings in which he has the highest K/BB of his career) and Simon has done exactly what Johnson couldn't: take an advantage of an opportunity offered.
To say that Simon took an unorthodox path to a big league closer's role is somewhat of an understatement. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies in 1999, he spent parts of five years in their system without ever getting out of A-ball, before being dealt to San Francisco along with Ricky Ledee (!) in 2004. After a 2-10, 6.75 season in 2006, he began a whirlwind tour around baseball. In October, he was released by the Giants; in November, he was signed by Texas, but didn't last long enough to put on the uniform, as he was selected by Baltimore in the Rule 5 draft and immediately dealt to the Phillies, where he lasted only until March of 2007 before being returned to Texas. His 2007 season didn't go much better (6.43 ERA), so the Rangers cut him loose too. He joined the Dodgers for spring training in 2008 - and let me point out here that I've been writing a Dodger blog since 2007 and even I don't remember him being in camp, so you can guess what kind of standing he had - before spending most of the year in the Mexican League and getting a brief cup of coffee with the O's in September. Last year, he finally broke through, winning a spot in the Baltimore starting rotation out of camp... and lasting all of 6.1 innings over two starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery. So while he may be a new name to many of us, he's pretty well-traveled, and he's actually turning 29 later this week.
A preview of the Dominican Winter League, taking a look at the teams, stadiums, managers, and players to watch for.
The "National Religion" came back on October 16th, as the Dominican League launched its 56th edition. Reliably praised as having the highest level of talent among the winter leagues, one should expect to watch another mix of highly ranked prospects, mid-level major leaguers, a few recognizable American players, veterans looking for another shot, and some major league stars between now and the end of the Caribbean Series in February. The league format has six teams playing a 50-game regular-season schedule, with the four best records advancing to a long 18-game round-robin playoff, and the two remaining best clubs play a best-of-nine final series to decide the league's champion. Without further ado, here's what this season will bring us:
Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers)
Home: Santo Domingo
2008-09 record: 26-24, fourth place (tied) regular season; 12-6, first place round-robin; beat the Gigantes in the final series 5-0.
Ballpark: Estadio Quisqueya; strong pitcher's park, with a Park Factor of 92.