A look at how deadline trades could affect the ninth-inning landscape, followed by this week's tiered closer rankings.
Welcome to another installment of The Bullpen Report. As a reminder, closers are rated in five tiers from best to worst. The tiers are a combination of my opinion of a pitcher’s ability, the likelihood that he will pick up saves, and his security in the job. For example, a pitcher in the third tier might have better skills than a pitcher in the second tier, but if the third-tier pitcher is new to the job or has blown a couple of saves in the last week, this factors into the ranking as well.
In addition to my weekly rankings, this week I will be taking a look at teams that might be sellers and the relievers who might be trade targets at the major-league trade deadline. For every other position on the diamond, player trades matter almost solely in -only leagues, where you run the risk of losing someone to the “other” league. If a first baseman gets moved from a National League to an American League squad, the mixed-league impact is typically negligible. Closers are the rare commodities where fantasy owners in every format are at risk if there is a trade. More often than not, a closer who gets shipped out of town at or near the deadline moves from the front of a bullpen into a set-up role.
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New York relievers from both the Bronx and Queens get examined in this week's Reaper.
Mariano Rivera| Yankees
Shallow (30 Keepers): No Medium (60 Keepers): Fringe Deep (90 Keepers): Yes AL-only (60 Keepers): Yes Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes
As recently as last offseason, it was difficult to imagine Mariano Rivera as anything other than the ideal keeper candidate as far as closers go. It made perfect sense. While most stoppers have a shelf life comparable to that of an NFL running back, Mo’s run of sustained excellence more closely resembled that of a 40-something placekicker. Sure, he was bound see a decline in performance at some point, but when? Every year, we wondered: “Is this the year?” But it never seemed to arrive.
With Frank Francisco hitting the DL, Dan examines replacement Bobby Parnell in this week's VP
Mets closer Frank Francisco apparently hates the Yankees. So when he picked up a save against the Bombers on Friday, the right-hander celebrated by ... straining his oblique. With Francisco out at least 15 days—likely more, considering the tricky nature of oblique injuries—right-hander Bobby Parnell(Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 28%, CBS 30%) steps in. Parnell bombed in a second-half closing audition last season, and his results (4.16 career ERA) have never seemed to reflect his nasty raw stuff. But the hard-throwing right-hander boasted a 3.19 ERA and 3.16 FIP entering Tuesday night’s action, so there’s reason to believe he can fill in dutifully for Francisco—and perhaps even fare better. The Mets signed Francisco last offseason to close, and I think he’ll be treated accordingly upon his return, but it wouldn’t shock me if Parnell were able to wrestle away the job with a lights-out stretch. First things first, though: let’s see how long Francisco is out and how well Parnell pitches out of the gate. Francisco owners should stash him on the bench/DL in the meantime.
Don't overreact to an unprecedented casualty rate for closers.
There’s an old adage in fantasy baseball to “draft skills, not roles.” The reasoning behind this is that the cream will rise to the top, that the better player will eventually take on the more prominent role. This advice is often given in regard to closers, but it’s advice which I’ve expressed my disagreement with on multiple occasions. While “draft skills, not roles” is a romantic notion, studies I’ve run in the past have shown that role is far more important than skill when it comes to saves and that closers in waiting are generally poor investments.
When Fernando Rodney received the first two save opportunities following Kyle Farnsworth’s injury, one site said that “while it would be nice to think that the 35-year-old will continue to close out games so effortlessly, his track record and bullpen competition probably make him one of the biggest sell-high candidates in baseball.” Rodney proceeded to roll off seven more (consecutive) saves en route to becoming one of the most valuable closers in baseball over the first six weeks. He had the role, which is more difficult to lose than most assume.
With all of the big-name free-agent closers off the market, how are things shaking out at the end of each team's bullpen?
Now that the Blue Jays have signed Francisco Cordero, all of the legitimate closer candidates are now off the free-agent market. As such, now makes for a good time to check out how things look now that the closer carousel has stopped spinning.
The noise coming out of Miami only rivals the shuffling market for closers. What are the fantasy implications?
Jose Reyes | Miami Marlins | SS | Signed as Free Agent Few would have predicted Reyes signing with Miami even a month ago, but the newly relocated Marlins are making big waves in the free-agent market this winter. In Miami, Reyes's value will likely rise a bit, but his ultimate fantasy value will be heavily tied to how many games he manages to stay on the field for. He'll bat leadoff for the Fish as he did for the Mets, but he'll have some much bigger bats behind him to drive him in; once you get past Emilio Bonifacio, who will bat second, he'll have Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton.
Reyes has averaged just nine home runs per season in Citi Field, so you might expect his power production to improve now that he's leaving (after all, he had a couple of 15-plus homer seasons in Shea Stadium). That is, until you realize that the new Marlins Ballpark has deeper fences than Citi almost the entire way around. The good news is that Reyes will recoup some of this value in terms of his steals. Ozzie Guillen is one of the most aggressive managers in terms of attempting steals, so Reyes could find himself back up over 45 or 50 swipes in 2012.
Just because you're out in your fantasy league doesn't mean you shouldn't go shopping for potential ninth-inning guys.
For the past four years, I’ve written an article at the end of each season discussing one of my favorite keeper league strategies: stashing potential closers. Today, I’m going to do the same, explaining the strategy and then trying to figure out which middle relievers are poised to step into the ninth-inning role.
The Strategy All keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your leaguemates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you. In these leagues, when auction day or draft day rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven't kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the leftovers, the second-tier closers. By default, their prices will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Kevin Gregg is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $18.
Chase Utley's knee shows some improvement but remains in need of further healing, and as spring training winds down, pitchers and catchers contort.
With the exhibition season drawing to a close, the optimism surrounding many a player's return is dwindling. Despite all the talk about hope springing eternal, injuries have cropped up from the outset, and some players will need to begin the season on the disabled list.
Running down the American League's best candidates to benefit from hot spring starts.
We’re all aware that spring training stats wouldn’t get much attention in an ideal world, since a player’s extended record of prior performance in the minors and/or majors allows for far more accurate forecasts than a month’s worth of playing time against mixed competition in March. (If you don’t believe me, look no further than this recent dispatch from Florida: “Cards’ Lohse goes six scoreless.”) Still, we know from past experience that some small-sample heroics will have implications for games that count; superior production—as well as glowing scouting reports—in the Grapefruit or Cactus League can impress a manager more easily than a good month for a far-flung minor-league affiliate, enabling a player on the bubble to earn a place (or a more prominent role) on the big club’s roster.
As I write this, Melky Cabrera and Ryan Roberts lead their respective leagues in batting average, and Luke Hughes and Danny Espinosa are the latest word in RBI men, as effective a reminder as any that the clean slate of April is still a few weeks away. That said, the exhibition schedule is half complete; the first round of cuts has already been made, and coaching staffs and front-office executives are meeting at regular intervals to ruminate on their rosters’ composition come Opening Day. Which performances to date by players who came into the spring on shaky ground have stood them in good stead for 2011? Today I’ll tackle the AL, highlighting one batter and one pitcher per team, before turning to the NL representatives later this week.