Sunday, March 30, 2008

Closer speculations

It's almost impossible to draft responsibly and end up with four solid closers. I define a "solid" closer as the following: Close to one K per inning pitched, ERA below 4.00, WHIP below 1.3.0 Notice I said "solid," not "great."

You've got to be on the lookout for closers who go down or prove ineffective. Keeping that in mind, let's look at some guys ready to swoop in at a moment's notice. We've already discussed guys like Turnbow, Gordon, Broxton, and Rauch (they look like the four most likely early-season save vultures), and it's hard to fathom that Broxton, Gordon, and Rauch are free agents in any league format, so let's look at some different candidates who are flying below even experienced fantasy owners' radars. In leagues with holds as a category, all of these guys might already be owned.

Al Reyes: Remember him? Troy Percival looked pretty damn good in 40 innings last year, but it was only 40 innings. And it was his first year back. In Al-only leagues, Reyes must be owned. In deep mixed leagues with benches, I'd stash him away. He had a great K-rate (70 in 602. innings) and WHIP (1.15) last year, but a lousy ERA (4.90). This makes him look less palatable than he really is. Take away two or three horrific games, and that ERA looks right in line with the rest of his peripherals. Plus, it was his first year back from injury. At least put him on your watch list.

The sneakiest of the sneaky vulture closers are those who will likely take over when someone gets dealt. Kevin Gregg is a nice late round closer who gives you excellent value. However, with more than a strikeout an inning, over 30 saves, and a 3.5ish ERA and 1.23 WHIP in '07, he's too good for the Marlins. They've got to trade him now while he has value, rather than let him walk. Matt Lindstrom should take over at that point. I always hear noise about Taylor Tankersley, but the guy just doesn't get it done. Lindstrom had a very good '07, he's actually healthy, and he's still in his mid-20s. I think he gets the nod.

If Rafael Soriano's elbow keeps giving him trouble, look for someone to step up and close for a few weeks ... to a few months. In looking over the Atlanta pen, it's tough to select a candidate. Mostly because they're all awful. If the Braves, who look a lot better this year, don't contend in the NL East or for the wild card, it's because of that bullpen. Peter Moylan isn't a K-monger (63 in 90 innings last season), but his ERA is below 2.00 and his WHIP stands at 1.07. He looks like the best bet.

Brandon Lyon has 218 Ks in 356.2 career innings. Last year, he struck someone out basically every other appearance. His stellar '07 peripherals were a complete mirage. I thought Tony Pena would be the closer coming in to camp, but he had problems with his visa status and Lyon seemed to win by default. This makes me think that management has a problem with Tony closing that goes beyond his pitching ability. When/if Lyon implodes, it looks like Chad Qualls might be next in line. His stat line looks like closer material: K an innings, 3.05 ERA, 1.3ish WHIP ... I'd keep an eye on him. Juan Cruz's '07 looks like an aberration, so I'd keep him out of the mix. Lyon looks like the worst reliever on the Arizona Diamondbacks but is closing. Kind of reminds me of the Detroit Tigers situation.

After the amount of money the Angels wasted on Scot Shields (don't sign over-30 relievers who have thrown gigantic amounts of innings over the last three or four years to big multi-year deals), I'm surprised they haven't locked K-Rod up long term. I think they see the same thing I do: he has the ugliest pitching mechanics in the major leagues. He's going to be dominant right up until his arm rips free from its socket and smacks the third-base coach in the head. Justin Speier was a bit dinged up last year, but he's next in line to close. His stats are drool-worthy: more than a K an innings, sub 3.00 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP. And he's pretty much done that for three straight years. Since Shields's effectiveness as a baseball player was pretty much over by the time he signed that big contract (similar to Garret Anderson), I think Speier gets the nod.

Bob Howry/Carlos Marmol: The issue with Kerry Wood has never been talent. He just can't stay on the field. Even if he's healthy all year, they're not letting him take the mound three days in a row or more than four or five days a week (are they?). You're probably well acquainted with Howry and Marmol due to all the pre-draft research required to sort out the Cubs' closer situation. They should be owned in all formats.

I'm not a believer in George Sherrill. He has one good year on his resume. Maybe he'll turn into J.J. Putz or Eric Gagne (guys who suddenly discovered the gym, five extra miles on their fastball, and put on 20 pounds of muscle) or maybe the Orioles bought high and were hoodwinked. I see no one in the Baltimore pen other than Jamie Walker who I'd want anywhere near closing duties. If you're going to go with a lefty like Sherrill, I'd think Walker would have been a better choice in the first place.

If C.J. Wilson's arm problems continues, someone will have to close. Joaquin Benoit looks like a better reliever, anyway, and Kazuo Fukomori might get the nod simply because he'll draw people to the stadium. In any event, keep an eye on the situation.

If you don't have the roster room to pick these guys up, make sure you commit to monitoring the games every day. If you see someone mysteriously yanked, or give up nine runs without recording an out, be prepared to swoop. You'll then be able to [INSERT WHATEVER NOISE A VULTURE MAKES] at everyone in your league for their indolence and sloth.

Good luck figuring out what will happen when Detroit finally realizes that Todd Jones shouldn't be closing games for them.


Steve said...

I have Shields on my (relievers-only) staff as my league counts Holds. Have grabbed Speier too.

Is Shields done?

Mike G said...

The Baltimore situation may not be so cut and dry. It seems a lot of speculation around here has Greg Aquino as closer-in-waiting if Sherrill falters. Aquino was a waiver wire pickup with closing experience and a strong spring. Jamie Walker had some save opportunities last year and didn't fare too well. Plus Trembley seems to like Walker and Bradford as his left/right eighth inning combo.

Mike Bock said...

My "Jamie Walker='08 sleeper" is going to be a waste, isn't it?

I think Shields is done. Look at those pitch totals! The Angels don't know how to spend free-agent money. At all.