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.
Diamondbacks setup man David Hernandez (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 3%, CBS 12%) is probably long gone in most holds leagues worth their salt, but if you’re looking to add a pitcher in a standard league, you could do worse than to snatch up the right-hander, who is only a J.J. Putz injury away from closing at a moment’s notice. D-Hern, you may recall, converted a handful of save chances during his breakout 2011 while Putz was on the DL and has picked up in 2012 where he left off last season. Hernandez fanned an impressive 45 batters in just 31 innings to go along with 10 holds through Monday, and his 2.90 ERA was probably a half-run higher than where it “should” be (2.42 FIP). Again, considering Putz’s age (35) and lengthy injury history, it’s not unreasonable to hedge a bit here; for what it’s worth, Arizona has done just that, buying out a couple of Hernandez’s arbitration-eligible seasons in the event that he should assume closing duties and position himself for a salary-spike windfall through the courts.
Tigers closer Jose Valverde declared himself ready to return Monday after a 10-day absence due to a wrist ailment/ineffectiveness, but I’m still holding out hope that setup man Joaquin Benoit (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 13%, CBS 19%) can take over the job. While it’s true lefty Phil Coke actually earned Detroit’s lone save during Valverde’s sabbatical, that decision looks to have been dictated by matchups and, frankly, Benoit is the better pitcher and has his right-handedness in his favor. Of course, that may be a moot point depending on how Valverde pitches once he’s actually back out on the mound, but I’m not about to concede that he’ll be any better than he was before his hiatus. Benoit tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings and picked up a win over the past week.
Leave it to the Twins to complicate things. Glen Perkins (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 16%, CBS 21%) is the guy I recommended in this space last week, but after the lefty earned each of Minnesota’s first two save opps in the post-Matt Capps world, right-hander Jared Burton (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 5%, CBS 8%) saw the next two. Sigh. The Twins can only be happy with the results so far, as both Perkins and Burton went 2-for-2, but that doesn’t make things any easier or clearer for fantasy owners. Perkins has the stronger strikeout rate right now (11.7 K/9 to Burton’s not-shabby 8.4), but Burton is flashing finer control and a higher groundball rate, making this one about an even tossup based on the peripherals. It looks like the Twins will allow matchups and rest to dictate who gets the call on any given night, and while that makes perfect sense in, you know, actually trying to win baseball games, a straight platoon can be frustrating for those of us trying to capture fantasy titles. To that end, I hate to give a noncommittal recommendation, but I think both pitchers are worth rostering at this point, depending on your roster flexibility and need for saves. Capps, meanwhile, is shelved with shoulder inflammation, and there’s no telling how long he could be out, although the reports at the time of the injury didn’t sound good. His return could further muck things up—or be an easy solution—but let’s stick with the bird(s) in hand for now.
The long-men experiment has seen far better results the past couple weeks now that we’ve booted sometimes-starter Brad Lincoln while holding onto Craig Stammen (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%) and Matt Belisle (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%). We’ll probably bid farewell to these right-handers—both fine pitchers mired in fantasy purgatory—in the coming weeks as likely closer upheaval arrives with the approaching trade deadline. In the meantime, though, they continue to put up solid numbers. Over the last week, Stammen posted 2 2/3 scoreless innings and picked up two holds, while Belisle tossed four scoreless and also earned two holds.
Things haven’t gone so well for Greg Holland (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 1%, CBS 9%) since losing out on the closing job to Jonathan Broxton in spring training. Holland was ineffective early, injured, and now fighting bouts of ineffectiveness again. However, Holland is actually striking out more batters this year than last, and while his walk rate is up, so too is his groundball rate. I expect a lot of positive correction for Holland in the coming weeks, while Brox (1.57 ERA vs. 3.15 FIP) may begin trending in the other direction and is definitely a trade candidate. I’ve demoted Holland from “Arrivals” status because there are simply too many good relievers to sit on while a non-closer has yet to hit his stride, but I believe in his ability, and there’s at least an outside chance of him closing in Kansas City before 2012 is out.
Despite John Axford’s struggles, the Brewers insist he’ll continue to be their closer. That’s fine, and Ax is good enough to right the ship while the team patiently waits, but in the off chance that the Brewers begin shying away from him or bailing him out of save chances when things get hairy, you NL-only types should hold onto Francisco Rodriguez (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) for another week. K-Rod has only one outing in the past week, getting two outs, both via the strikeout. He’s not the pitcher he once was, to be sure, but he’s pitching better than Axford right now.
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