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My fellow fantasy baseballers….
Oh, hell with that.
You! Yeah you!
You know, for a bunch of people who don’t like to invest heavily in saves, I’m sure seeing a lot of emails asking about who is next in line for saves on a variety of teams and how much of their FAAB budget they should spend on such players. Well, had you listened to me throughout February and March, you wouldn’t be asking such questions right now and you’d be sitting comfortably atop the category in your league. But I’m not going to sit here and say “I told you so,” even though I probably should. Instead, we’re going to go over everything you need to know right now about the position and what you may be able to do to help yourself should you need to recover from a terrible start.
Let’s start with some of the more volatile situations and see what direction each one is headed:
Cincinnati Reds – I actually covered this on my appearance on the Colton &The Wolfman Show on SiriusXM Fantasy Radio Tuesday night but for those of you who missed the show, here’s what’s going on: Manager Bryan Price originally said that upon his return from the disabled list, Jonathan Broxton would assume the closer’s role until Aroldis Chapman returned. However, when Broxton returned Tuesday Price backed off his original statement and said that he would let the big right-hander get his feet wet first. Understandable, but that doesn’t mean Broxton still isn’t the guy to own here. J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra are good stopgaps for the short term, but neither of them project well for the long-haul. Neither has a great strikeout rate, Parrra is a lefty who more suited for specialist duty and Hoover is a fly-ball pitcher (28.3 percent career ground ball rate) which is not what you want to see in the ninth-inning, especially at Great American Ballpark. Broxton has the heat and the experience and should be ready for the high-leverage work as close to immediately as you can get. Price is just being cautious right now. He wants to show his relievers he has equal faith in them all, but in the end, he knows that Broxton in the ninth is what’s best for the team.
Chicago White Sox – We were all a little stunned when Matt Lindstrom got the call over Nate Jones to open the year and now that Lindstrom has allowed three runs through his first three appearances, we’re all sitting here with our own “I told you so’s” for Robin Ventura. Unfortunately though, Jones landed on the 15-day DL with a strained glute (yeah, that’s right…the ass muscle), something he dealt with this spring, and could be out for longer than the minimum 15 days. That should lengthen the leash on Lindstrom for the time being. I’d say look for Daniel Webb maybe, but he too has been a little disappointing here at the start of the season. The same goes for lefty Scott Downs. You should stick with Lindstrom right now and hope that he rights the ship soon, but a few more bad outings and we could be headed for a committee situation. Yuck!
Milwaukee Brewers – As we’ve discussed before, the handwriting was in bold print on the wall towards the end of spring training. Jim Henderson was struggling and Francisco Rodriguez was looking rock solid. Well, manager Ron Roenicke made the call and so far, he’s looking like a genius. K-Rod has two saves with six strikeouts and no walks over three scoreless appearances and while Henderson has been fine, it is Rodriguez who has the more dominant stuff. The leash should be fairly long here, so Henderson is nothing more than a stash on a deep bench or someone to keep on your waiver watch list.
Houston Astros – This situation had more ugly on it than my seventh grade girlfriend. Chad Qualls was apparently getting the nod as the team broke camp in March, but Josh Fields wasn’t far behind at all. Matt Albers was a fairly close third as well. All were expected to step aside one Jesse Crain returned from the DL, but that's still up for debate. As for the current pecking order, who knows? Fields got the first save opportunity because Qualls pitched the day before and then Qualls was summoned next because Fields had pitched the day before that. Albers has yet to see an opportunity of his own. With Crain’s return delayed to the second week of May, manager Bo Porter has opted to keep the situation ugly and stick with a committee approach. But if you ask me (and you essentially are by reading this), I think Fields is the guy to own. Qualls may have the edge in experience, but Fields has the better stuff. Also, Fields got the call for the first real save chance. Qualls was summoned after the bullpen had coughed up a six-run lead and Porter said he couldn’t go with Fields. Not that the Astros relievers will be rolling in saves chances, but every bit helps, so if you’re stuck and Fields is available. He’s probably worth more than just a cursory glance.
Chicago Cubs – We all knew that heading into the season it was going to be tough going with Jose Veras in the ninth inning and with a two-walk blown save and now a 3:6 K:BB over just 2.2 innings, it’s looking even tougher than before. Pedro Strop got himself an early save opportunity and was very successful in shutting down the Pirates on April 3, but struggled with his command in his last outing. So while he may have been nipping at the heels of Veras, he is no closer to poaching the job now than he was to open the year. Also keep in mind that Vera s struggled to open the season last year, but eventually righted the ship and was a passable option for about two months until he was traded, something that could happen again this season. Stick with Veras for now, but Strop just might be the one to own, particularly in the second half.
Sergio Santos, TOR – He’s been relatively solid with three saves in his first four appearances, but he’s allowed one run on three hits through 3.1 innings and three walks. Sure, he’s also got an insane 21.60 K/9 and has struck out the side twice, but he’s probably making that meathead manager of his, John Gibbons, a little crazy putting so many guys on-base. Casey Janssen is eligible to come off the DL on April 13 and while he might need a few days more than that, depending on how he fares during his rehab assignment, he is fully expected to take the job back when he returns.
Jose Valverde, NYM – Papa Grande? Macho Grande? No, I’ll never get over Macho Grande. So far, so good with Valverde who has thrown 4.1 scoreless innings thus far with one save and a 6:1 K:BB. The Mets are apparently going to stick with him for as long as they can, considering their only other options for now are Kyle Farnsworth and Carlos Torres. Not that Valverde is that much better than either guy, but as long as this band-aid keeps sticking, Terry Collins has no reason to change it. I still believe Vic Black is a dark horse for saves in the second half, but we’ll wait until he regains his command in the minors first.
Shawn Kelley, NYY – While he seems to be the guy in-line for saves, there are a mess of questions that go on here. Can he handle the closer’s role? He’s a 29-year old reliever who continuously spends time in the minors and those aren’t rehab stints. Will Joe Girardi opt for a committee approach? Matt Thornton has the experience…sort of. What happens if they both fail? Six-foot-seven-inch Dellin Betances looks strong right now, so perhaps he gets a look? How long will this all go on? David Robertson threw off flat ground Wednesday which is somewhat surprising considering they were calling his injury a Grade-1 strain. Usually there a rest period involved/required. If the injury isn’t as severe, then this is all a moot point and I’ve just wasted about eight seconds of your life with this diatribe. However, if it is as severe as originally thought, then the Yankees and fantasy owners could be screwed.
Steve Cishek, MIA – Two innings, two strikeouts, two saves. It doesn’t get much cleaner than that, does it? No one digs even the good closers on bad teams and it makes very little sense. Last year the Marlins finished in last place in the NL East with just 62 wins, yet Cishek still finished with 34 saves (T-15th) and posted a solid 2.33 ERA over 69.2 innings. Sure, if the team is only going to win 20 games, then obviously you don’t want their closer, but anything over 50 wins gives you the strong possibility of 30-plus saves. And if the guy is any good, then you know he’s getting all of them.
Stats That Make You Go Hmmmm
Orioles closer Tommy Hunter, whom everyone was concerned about due to his splits against lefties, has faced eight batters this season – five lefties and three righties. He struck out two of the lefties, got one to ground out, one to fly out and the other to pop it up in the infield. The righties? One strikeout, one hit and one HBP. Yes, yes, small sample size, I know. But I’m just sayin’…
What, Me Worry?
Reports of lost velocity were prevalent this spring when new Tigers closer Joe Nathan was on the hill and they have depressingly carried over into the regular season. Not just a dip in velocity, but a 2 mph drop on ALL of his pitches. Because of that, he’s pitching to 80-percent contact and now seems to be trying to nibble the corners a bit more, which has resulted in a 3.38 K/9 with a 6.75 BB/9. He’s now talking about experiencing “dead arm,” so could we be looking at a possible DL stint for a phantom injury and a shot for Al Alburquerque?
Rangers closer Joakim Soria was blasted by the Red Sox for three runs on four hits? Worried? Not at all. Nathan I worry about, Soria I do not. If you look, though he took a licking from Boston he still struck out the side and he has yet to walk a batter. Closers take their lumps. It’s inevitable. Are you going to give up on Trevor Rosenthal? Greg Holland? No. Then don’t give up on Soria. I don’t care how many Tommy John surgeries he has.
Obviously it’s super-early in the season and this position has a long road ahead with a ridiculous number of twists and turns. Your best bet at this point (because it’s too late to go back, listen to me and draft better) is to stay on top of the changes as best you can. There’s going to be plenty of turmoil here in the month of April, but hopefully things settle down shorty thereafter.
Now here's a look at an updated version of the Closer Grid: