Last week, I discussed hitters who are available in many fantasy leagues and can provide a significant contribution in at least one category. At this point in the season, it becomes essential to manage your roster with the goal of maximizing points in the standings, and if that means dropping or trading a player with better overall value for one who will help your team gain points in a particular category or two, it has to be done. Today, I thought I’d look at pitchers who can have a heavy influence on one particular category. While there are very few true one-category pitchers—as there are with batters—there are pitchers who have more value in some categories than others.
Saves are a hard thing to come by on the waiver wire because in all but the shallowest and least-active leagues, all 30 active closers are already owned. So assuming relievers who are already closing aren’t available, I’ll look at a couple of relievers who could find themselves closing in the near future.
Mike Adams (Yahoo! 38%, ESPN 22%, CBS 32%)
With the July 31 trade deadline looming, Heath Bell remains the most likely closer to be traded. As such, Adams is the best speculative pickup for those looking for saves. It helps that if he steps into the closers’ role he would immediately become a top-five option. Of course, Adams is a candidate to be traded himself, but one report indicated that Adams has been told he won’t be traded, and while Adams refuted that report, another has said that the Pads are more focused on trading Bell, Chad Qualls, Ryan Ludwick, and Aaron Harang. Bottom-line: Adams needs to be owned if you need saves.
Edward Mujica (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 3%, CBS 4%)
If Adams is already owned in your league, Mujica might be a good consolation prize. There’s speculation that Marlins closer Leo Nunez could get traded, and if he does, manager Jack McKeon said that Mujica would be his choice to replace him. This jives Mujica’s usage in the highest-leverage situations of any Florida reliever this year aside from Nunez, lefty-specialist Randy Choate, and newly-converted starter Clay Hensley.
Rich Harden (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 5%, CBS 41%)
Harden will always be an injury risk, but his return from the DL has largely flown under the radar in Yahoo! and ESPN leagues. Harden has always had a penchant for strikeouts, and his fastball velocity has been back to 2008/2009 levels over his past two starts. For as long as he’s healthy, he should be a great source of Ks with a good ERA, if not much of a contributor in WHIP and wins.
Bud Norris (Yahoo! 53%, ESPN 65%, CBS 80%)
Norris is in the midst of a breakout season, but the strikeouts have always been there for him. His high walks and below-average ground-ball rate have caused his ERA and WHIP to be below acceptable levels, but an improved walk rate this season has allowed these numbers to jump into usable territory. There’s a possibility for regression (PECOTA sees a 4.34 ERA and 1.43 WHIP the rest of the way), and the Astros’ offense won’t help with wins, but he has good stuff and the strikeouts are all but assured.
Middle relievers with excellent ERAs and WHIPs are available in mixed leagues, and these guys represent the best approach if you’re in a league with several bench spots and daily transactions. But if you’re not and are looking for starting pitchers, here are some who could help in ERA.
Erik Bedard (Yahoo! 50%, ESPN 48%, CBS 81%)
Bedard is a perpetual injury risk and currently sits on the DL, but he’s likely to be activated soon and is a terrific ERA play while healthy. Since 2005, his FIP has been above 4.00 just once and his ERA is 3.47. Of course, he’s failed to pitch 150 innings five times over that period and missed 2010 entirely, but he’s been relatively healthy this season and has excellent peripherals. The supporting Mariners offense won’t make Bedard an asset if you’re chasing wins, and his walk rate is traditionally above average to prevent him from being a true help in WHIP, but an ERA in the mid-3.00s seems like a safe bet.
Rich Harden (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 5%, CBS 41%)
Harden makes the list a second time. For as long as he’s healthy (and as long as he keeps the walks under control), he’ll be a big-time fantasy asset. This is especially true with his return to Oakland, whose home park should be a boon to Harden and his fly-ball tendencies.
Ted Lilly (Yahoo! 54%, ESPN 40%, CBS 60%)
Lilly is having a tough season, but I’m still holding out hope for him. Even in the midst of his worst season since 2005, his 1.27 WHIP has been serviceable thanks to his stellar control. Better yet is that his DIPS WHIP (WHIP using xBABIP instead of actual BABIP) is 1.22, and PECOTA projects a 1.17 WHIP over the rest of the season. Lilly is not the best bet for wins or strikeouts, but his WHIP should be plenty useful.
Cory Luebke (Yahoo! 39%, ESPN 60%, CBS 59%)
Luebke has come on very strong since joining the Padres’ rotation, and it’s entirely possible he winds up being a serious asset in ERA and strikeouts as well (wins will be tough to come by with the Padres’ offense, though). Even if he doesn’t keep striking out a batter per inning as a starter, he should at least be above average with very good (if not overpowering) stuff, and his control has always been good. A WHIP in the 1.20-1.25 area seems reasonable.
While wins are prone to lots of variance, they are not wholly unpredictable. The shortcut to predicting wins is to find a player with a decent enough performance projection, a top-notch offense supporting him, and a solid bullpen to close out games. Guys who fit this profile include Chris Narveson, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Burnett, Mike Leake, and. Other higher-risk guys who are having legitimately good 2011s but who don’t necessarily have the track record to back it up include Derek Holland, Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Freddy Garcia, Josh Collmenter, and Kyle Lohse.