Well that was quick. Barely a week after he was given the closer’s role in Anaheim, Scott Downs appears to be DL-bound after injuring his leg Sunday while avoiding a comebacker, leaving fantasy players scrambling to find his replacement. Who that replacement will be, however, is currently up in the air. Of course, that won’t stop us from speculating. Today, I’ll try my hand at handicapping the situation.
The Yahoo! Friends & Family experts league is always an interesting barometer for this sort of thing. It’s a daily transaction league, and any time a ninth-inning changing of the guard may be taking place, owners race to the waiver wire to pick up anyone with a chance for saves. By yesterday evening, five Angel relievers had been picked up (if they weren’t already owned) in Yahoo! F&F: Downs, Jordan Walden, LaTroy Hawkins, Ernesto Frieri, and Jason Isringhausen. Let’s take a look at the chance each has of saving games for the foreseeable future.
Ernesto Frieri (40 percent)
Frieri is the newest addition to the Los Angeles bullpen, but that may not stop him from ascending to the ninth inning throne in short order. General Manager Jerry DiPoto had some high praise for Frieri when he traded for him: “He’s deceptive and has a history of missing bats. He has what I call a ‘magic’ fastball. It cuts, it runs, it sinks—it moves in different directions and is hard to hit.” Manager Mike Scioscia agreed, saying that “he's exactly as billed. He's got a really live arm, he has deception, the ball's sneaky. He got a fastball by some pretty good fastball hitters last night.”
Of course, praising a player’s skills is different than calling him your best option when the game is on the line. Still, both manager and general manager seemed open to leave the door open for such a possibility even before the Downs injury. When discussing his usage, DiPoto said, “"We're going to give him an opportunity to pitch himself into a role. What it does right now is it gives us another experienced and effective arm to put down in the bullpen and allow us to create a mix toward the end of the game." Scioscia’s thoughts in regard to eventually using him in the ninth: “It just depends on where our bullpen settles, but I don't think there's any doubt in the world that what he showed last night plays anywhere [but] in the last nine outs of the game”
Aside from great stuff and huge strikeout numbers—Frieri is the highest-skilled of our candidates—he is already being used in high-leverage situations. For example, he pitched the eighth inning last night to set up Downs. Some pointed to Hawkins replacing Downs as an indicator that he was next in line, but setting him up may be an even greater indicator. After all, had Frieri not already held down the fort in the eighth, he could have been called upon for the final two outs instead.
Scott Downs (20 percent)
We haven’t heard anything in regard to the severity of Downs’ injury yet, so we need to leave open the possibility that he won’t miss much time. It sounds like there’s reason to be concerned, but a DL stint isn’t a certainty yet.
LaTroy Hawkins (20 percent)
Aside from Downs (and Hisanori Takahashi and Kevin Jepsen, who are unlikely candidates for a number of reasons), Hawkins has the highest leverage index in the LA bullpen (though Frieri hasn’t had much of a chance to factor in yet). Additionally, when Downs was removed from yesterday’s game, Los Angeles turned to Hawkins to close it out. Hawkins ended things quickly with an Omar Vizquel double play, netting himself the save, but he has two things working against him: 1) That Frieri wasn’t available, and 2) He hurt his finger on the Vizquel play. If he misses any time as a result of the injury, it will leave the door open for another candidate.
Jordan Walden (15 percent)
Walden began the season closing for the Angels but has been an absolute mess thus far, causing him to be removed a little over a week ago. The Halos said that the demotion would be temporary, but it seems unlikely that Walden’s hiatus from the ninth ends with Downs’ injury. He’s pitched just one (albeit clean) inning since the role switch, but when Downs left the 4-3 game yesterday, the still-available Walden was passed over to try and nail down the win. Scioscia doesn’t trust him right now, so he’ll need to crawl his way out of the doghouse before he’ll be a consideration for saves chances again.
Jason Isringhausen (5 percent)
Isringhausen is the long-shot candidate of the group. His skills are nowhere near what they used to be, but Mike Scioscia is a relatively old school manager, and Izzy has the most experience of this group. It would help his chances if he could still throw in the mid-90s (not to mention if he wasn’t walking 19 percent of batters), but there’s a chance—however remote—that his prior closing experience nets him an opportunity to save some games.
All in all, I’ve got my money on Frieri. Word as of this writing is that Hawkins’ injury could land him on the disabled list, which would help Frieri’s chances even more. I own him in three leagues, and I’d recommend you add him as well, wherever possible.