Readers, the relief pitcher edition of Value Picks returns this week, and with a new author! I'm happy to introduce you to our new bullpen expert, Dan Mennella. You may recognize Dan from his work at RotoAuthority. Welcome to the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy team, Dan! —Derek Carty, Fantasy Manager
After pitching effectively but anonymously in the Padres' deep bullpen the past couple seasons, Ernesto Frieri (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 6%, CBS 15%) has been liberated. Perhaps that trendy #FreeErnestoFrieri hash-tag did the trick. Acquired by the Halos via trade, Frieri has been tasked with bolstering a sagging relief corps, and he could very well see some save chances now that Jordan Walden is in future-closer purgatory and vets Scott Downs and LaTroy Hawkins are battling injuries.
Frieri has looked great in his first couple outings as an Angel, so I'm not especially concerned about an adjustment to the new team and league, per se. Sure, he's leaving behind offense-smothering Petco Park, which no doubt was a great setting for his extreme fly ball ways, but with a career rate of 11.5 K/9, the strikeout is a big part of his game, and those tend to play anywhere. Plus, Angel Stadium isn't exactly a hitter's haven either.
For now, I'm confident saying Frieri will more closely resemble Mike Adams than Heath Bell as far as Padres bullpen alumni go. While it's not a sure thing that he'll see many, if any, save opportunities, there's at least a decent chance he could take the job and run with it if presented the opportunity. Of course, reports that Scott Downs will return today may not afford Frieri such an opportunity. Mike Scioscia has been understandably cranky in the early going, what with the Halos struggling, and I especially thought Walden's demotion was a symbolic gesture aimed at his own clubhouse. Now, if he were to call upon Frieri with a game on the line, he'd really be sending a message.
Steve Cishek became the hot add when Bell was finally demoted after a brutal first month as a Marlin, but it was the trusty Edward Mujica (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 6%, CBS 19%) who picked up the first save in Heater's absence when Cishek was unavailable for a Sunday save chance after a three-inning outing on Friday. Cishek has certainly pitched well enough to earn Ozzie Guillen's vote of confidence and a first crack at closing, but it's not unheard of for a manager to reverse course once a hot hand intervenes. Guillen, in fact, was not shy about mixing and matching last season with the White Sox and suggested again that he's not a slave to labels:
Maybe. All a sudden you may see someone else. I don't know yet. Some manager came up with that name, some genius guy [said], 'This is my closer.' The one you have more confidence in is the one who will close.
Mujica was in the mix last season when Juan Carlos Oviedo (aka Leo Nunez) was injured and banished at various times throughout the second half, so while Cishek is probably no longer on the wire in savvier leagues, Mujica still makes for a decent stealth add.
Robin Ventura waited a long time—right up until Opening Day—to announce his closer, and when he did finally deliver his verdict, his winner was a surprise: Hector Santiago. Was RV trolling us by picking the least likely of all the horses in the race? Perhaps. Regardless, Santiago labored through a homer-happy April before conveniently yielding to reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever Chris Sale in what was another unexpected move. Sale's elbow hasn't taken to starting, apparently, but it's not bad enough that he couldn't be shuffled into the "most important" role in the bullpen over a few guys who have a legitimate claim to it.
One of these relievers is fireballing rookie Addison Reed (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 8%, CBS 27%), whom many liked to emerge victorious from the aforementioned spring competition. He wasn't handed the reins, obviously, but Reed is a prototypical closer. He closed in college and has four holds on the season, and it's apparent that the White Sox are grooming him for high-leverage work. If there's any hesitation in terms of unleashing him in the ninth inning, I'd guess it's precautionary to ensure he's optimally set up to succeed and to head off a situation like Walden's (i.e. struggling on the job).
We don't know when Reed will get his crack, but it may not be far off. The guess here is that Sale isn't necessarily in the clear in terms of his health, and if he were to struggle or miss any time, I think Reed would next get the call. His primary competition hasn't exactly acquitted itself…
Greg Holland (Yahoo 11%, ESPN 1%, CBS 13%) might be worth a look if you're needy for saves, especially if you have a DL slot to play with. The right-hander was a finalist to close coming out of Spring Training before the job ultimately went to Jonathan Broxton, but he hit the shelf early in the season due to a rib injury. Holland is projected back late this week, and while we can't say for sure he'll be healthy (or that he'll even make it), the Broxton vultures might soon start circling if the incumbent's peripherals don’t improve (6.5 K/9, 4.22 xFIP).
With Huston Street hitting the DL, things are up in the air in the Padres bullpen. Andrew Cashner imploded in his first outing after Street's disabling, Luke Gregerson is not the pitcher he was a couple years ago, and Frieri is in Anaheim. Dale Thayer (Yahoo 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 3%) is a guy who comes with a pretty high blow-up factor so long as he's in your lineup, but in an NL-only league, where every save matters that much more, he's worth a shot if you're in need.
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