MLB - Fantasy Baseball - Long Relief
What did we, the fantasy baseball community, learn in Detroit this week? Committees are a very bad idea no what your sample size is. Phil Coke picked up a save on Opening Day but blew a save two days later when Eduardo Escobar delivered a two-run double to propel the Minnesota Twins to a 3-2 victory. Less than 24 hours later, Detroit GM David Dombrowski re-signed 35-year old closer Jose Valverde in what can honestly be described as a surprising move and a complete 180-degree turn from where the Tigers were a month ago.
Despite the struggles of flame throwing prospect Bruce Rondon, who didn't make the Opening Day roster, the Tigers had no intention of re-signing closer Valverde as recently as February. "I think the Tigers just felt that it was time," Jim Leyland told ESPN on Feb. 14. "It was pretty rough on him that last period here in Detroit."
"Papa Grande" converted 35 of 40 save opportunities during the regular season but melted down during the playoffs and lost the closing job to Coke last season. That "last period" Leyland talked about included nine runs on 11 hits in just four appearances during the playoffs last season.
So what if Valverde can't close in the playoffs, the reality is that the Tigers need someone who can slam the door in the ninth innings right now and he has done exactly that over the last three seasons, nailing down 110 of 118 save chances. Coke and company just aren't going to cut it, bring on Papa Grande! Of course it will be a couple of weeks before he's ready, but you get my point.
Closers on the Brink
Carlos Marmol - RHP - Chicago Cubs
The ubiquitous presence of Kyuji Fujikawa lurking in the shadows ready to vulture saves poses a true threat to Carlos Marmol, who received the dreaded vote of confidence from Cubs manager Dale Sveum after nearly blowing a save on Opening Day. Things got worse on Thursday when Marmol came in with a three run lead and barely hung on for the save, giving up two runs on three hits. Finally, Marmol imploded, giving up home runs to B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, blowing a save against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night. Fujikawa gave up three runs in the eighth and didn't look great either, but the Cubs can't possibly give Marmol another shot as their closer.
John Axford - RHP - Milwaukee Brewers
If the Brewers were up by more than one run, then we would have simply overlooked the solo home run Dexter Fowler blasted off Axford on Opening Day and went about our daily lives, but instead the blown save forces us to take a second look at Axford, who briefly lost the job last year. Two days later, Axford came in for a non-save situation and was rocked for three runs on five hits, serving up a pair of home runs in less than an inning. Jim Henderson is the pickup here if you want to hedge against Axford who just can't be trusted in a save situation right now.
Hold on a Minute - Holds Specialist to Target
Trevor Rosenthal - RHP - St. Louis Cardinals
With Mitchell Boggs sliding into the closing role with Jason Motte on the disabled list, Trevor Rosenthal has taken over the eighth inning for the St. Louis Cardinals. Rosenthal has not recorded a hold yet, but will likely be in a setup role all season and with six strikeouts already in just four innings, Rosenthal is on his way to providing excellent value as a high strikeout reliever with closing potential for his fantasy owners.
Dark Horses - Relievers to Watch
Al Alburquerque - RHP - Detroit Tigers
The ability to come on in a clutch situation with runners on base and slam the door with a couple strikeouts is exactly the skill set needed to be an effective closer on a playoff bound contender like Detroit. Coke got the call in the ninth inning in Tigers season opener, but it was Alburquerque who was handed the ball at the most important juncture in the game, coming on in relief with the bases loaded and only one out in the seventh inning with a two-run lead. There are those in the sabermetric community that assert (correctly in my opinion) that the ninth inning is not always the best time to use a closer, that there are higher leverage situations that occur earlier in a game in which a "closer" or the teams most effective relief pitcher
When it comes to relief pitchers, I take the same philosophy that I do with starters or position players, you want to buy skills, not roles. Roles tend to fluctuate throughout the weeks, months and years, but very rarely (with the notable exception of outlier Fernando Rodney) does a reliever's skill set dramatically improve or deteriorate. A cellar dweller's closer is a setup man on a contender usually. The unique thing about closers is that role is more closely linked to fantasy value than any other position, in fantasy baseball. However, if a relief pitcher has the skill set to close, odds are they will get the opportunity eventually and provide a boost to your ERA, WHIP and strikeouts while pitching in middle relief.
If Alburquerque can limit the walks (37 walks in 57 career innings) and continue to rack up strikeouts (87) then he will get an opportunity in the ninth inning sooner rather than later.
Kenley Jansen - RHP - Los Angles Dodgers
Not only is Jansen's walkout song "Gangnam Style," awesome, but he is also the best setup man in baseball at the moment. Jansen took over the closing role from Javy Guerra early last season and converted 25 saves for the Dodgers, but was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat late in the year which enabled journeyman Brandon League to finish the year as the closer. For some unknown reason, League received a three-year $33.5 million contract extension while Jansen underwent surgery to permanently correct his recurring cardiac arrhythmia in the offseason. The strikeouts alone (99 in 2012 and 96 in 2011) make Jansen a worthy acquisition for any fantasy squad, but you have to believe that with extremely high playoff aspirations in Los Angeles, the moment League falters, Jansen will have an opportunity to reclaim the ninth inning responsibilities.
Vinnie Pestano - RHP - Cleveland Indians
Indians closer Chris Perez blew his first save of the season on Wednesday and after missing most of Spring Training with shoulder woes, its becoming a mystery why Cleveland continues to roll out Perez while Vinnie Pestano remains the better option to close. Granted Pestano doesn't have the experience that Perez does in the role, but he posted lights-out numbers (3-3 with two saves, 36 holds, a 2.57 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 70 innings) in a setup role last season and has worked a pair of perfect innings already this season.