A review of the best and worst VP picks for relievers this season
With the season at an end—well, as I send this in, we’re not sure if that’s the case for Boston, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and Atlanta—it’s about time we do a little self-reflection and go back through the Value Picks archives to see what picks did and didn’t work out this season. Though I ended up on the starting pitchers beat by the end of the season, most of my year was spent in the bullpen, so that’s what we’ll be looking at today.
Some closer jobs are up in the air due to injuries and competition, and we're here to help you sort them out.
This week in the relief pitcher edition of Value Picks, we’re going to get into three situations where the ninth inning duties may be in doubt thanks to either injury or uncertainty. Since Alex Anthopolous seems to be laying low this week, I suppose we’ll have to acknowledge that there are actually other teams in the league besides the Blue Jays, who had served this column so well for content in recent weeks. Foiled again!
With the trade deadline behind us, it's time to look at what's changed in Washington and Pittsburgh.
In the comments of last week's article, I noted that I was "starting to wish I'd gone with my first instinct and included Michael Wuertz, since Andrew Bailey is still unavailable and is being seen by Texas doctors tonight." Bailey was only supposed to be out for a few days with his strained ribcage muscle, but he's still on the DL and is not expected to be activated when he's eligible on August 6. Wuertz, who was on the Value Picks list earlier this season, has finally regained his form since coming off his own DL stint to start the year. In his last eight outings, he's been unscored upon seven times while picking up four saves, and the strikeouts he was known for in 2009 are starting to return.
Craig Breslow may also get chances against lefty-heavy lineups, so keep that in mind. However, Breslow gave up a homer in yesterday's game and picked up a loss the day before, so Wuertz is your play here, even if it's just for the short-term until Bailey returns. He's owned in under 5% of ESPN leagues, and with fantasy seasons rapidly pushing toward the playoffs, every save counts. He replaces Brandon League on the list, who just saw his prospective value plummet to zero when the Mariners decided to hang on to David Aardsma.
As the trading deadline nears, relief pitchers could be on the move.
Think about this. You're the Washington Nationals. After years of ineptitude, you're finally close to turning the corner, but you're not quite there yet. Sure, 2010 has seen some highlights, but you're once again in last place in the NL East, 15.5 games behind the Braves, and now you have to deal with your worst nightmare: Stephen Strasburg missing a start, and maybe more, with a stiff shoulder. You've got a closer who is at the peak of his value, rebuilding from a lousy 2009 thanks to his high saves total and low ERA, but is headed towards a hefty arbitration raise from his current $3.5m salary, even though he's allowing more than a hit per inning. To top it off, you're in a trade market where the prices for the few relievers out there are sky-high.
The time may finally be coming for Bobby Jenks, but who will replace him?
First off, we're acknowledging a "graduation": On the heels of Kerry Wood's blister-related DL stint, Chris Perez is the most-added reliever in fantasy baseball right now. Nearly a quarter of ESPN leagues have seen him added in the last week, pushing him well above the Value Picks threshold. Hopefully you got in while the getting was good, as he's contributed two more saves in the last seven days. So while we're saying goodbye to him, it's for the best possible reason, isn't it? If you do happen to own him, just keep in mind that Wood's probably going to get one more shot (since he's not going to get claimed on waivers, his trade deadline is more like August 31) when he's healthy as the Indians try to get whatever value they can for him - but either way, it'll be Perez closing as your league enters the playoffs.
Joining us this week is J.J. Putz of Chicago. Bobby Jenks seemingly had turned it around after his early-season struggles, yet he's once again giving Ozzie Guillen heartburn - after picking up the loss on Sunday after allowing four runs and four runners without recording an out in Minnesota, last night he blew a save and collected another loss by allowing two runs and three hits in just 0.1 inning in Seattle. If there was ever proof that fantasy baseball is in large part unrelated to real-world baseball, it's this: despite his ugly 5.09 ERA and 1.585 WHIP, it was just Jenks' second blown save of the season.
It's All-Star week, so we take stock of who's a value right now and look at who might be helpful in the second half and beyond.
It's All-Star Week here at Value Picks, and particularly so here in the relief pitching wing. The weekly schedule means that as I write this on Wednesday night, it's been three full days since we've seen a game that counts - which is practically an eternity as far as obtaining new data. That's three days in which an incumbent closer could have normally pulled a hamstring, been lit up, or managed to get himself suspended. But we get no such luck in that area this week. That being the case, and considering that none of our picks deserve to be bumped, we're going to do something a little different this time. First, I'll check in briefly with each of our returnees, and then I'll throw out some deeper names worth keeping an eye on. We'll get back to business next week - but also don't hesitate to throw out ideas of how this column could help you even more or in other ways.
Few have pulled off more memorable stunts than the legendary scout and minor-league manager.
We have just celebrated the Fourth of July, which always has been a significant date in baseball, be it because it was the date that Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 became the first number retired in baseball or because it marked the major-league debut of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, whose major-league career consisted without so much as an at-bat yet became immortalized by W.P. Kinsella in his book “Shoeless Joe,” which morphed into the movie Field of Dreams.
It also is a date that has led to quite a bit of zaniness in our national pastime. In 1913, only one baseball was used as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago Cubs, 9-6, without so much as a home run or foul ball landing in the stands. Moreover, on July 4th, 1989, Mal Fichman etched his name into baseball lore.
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.
Who should you be targeting for fantasy value in the bullpen?
Milwaukee keeps trying to give Trevor Hoffman chances to get his job back, and he keeps making a bad situation even worse when he does things like allow three runs in an inning to the Marlins, costing the Brewers the game. His advanced state of "being toast" brings us to the first teammate swap on the Value Picks board, as we say goodbye to Carlos Villanueva and say hello to John Axford. Villanueva didn't actually pitch that poorly while he was on the board, picking up a save the day he was added and two holds since while maintaining a high K rate, but Ken Macha clearly prefers to keep him in his set-up role and has started to give the opportunities to Axford. If you haven't jumped on him yet, now is the time, since he's picked up three saves and a win in his last four outings and is starting to gain attention in the fantasy world.
Axford's story is an interesting one, especially considering the pedigree of the man he's (currently) replacing. The 27-year-old mustachioed Canadian rookie was drafted in the 42nd round by the Reds in 2005, but didn't sign and played independent ball north of the border. He was then picked up as an amateur free agent by the Yankees for 2007, where he was so impressive that he was... released right after the season. The Brewers picked him up for 2008, and while a 4.55 ERA, 1.674 WHIP, and 6.9 BB/9 (!!) rate in High-A ball that year isn't much to speak of on its own, it's even less so when you realize he was 25, quite old for that level. Still, the Brewers must have seen something they liked, because they brought him back for 2009 and something clicked right away. A return engagement in Broward County was complete domination, striking out 14 per 9, and good work at both AA and AAA as the year progressed got him an MLB cup of coffee late in the year, where he captured his first save - a stunning rise considering where he'd been in 2008.
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.