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Mound Musings: Sleeper Relievers: Finding Saves

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

While it's still fresh, I thought I'd provide my two cents on the news that broke during one of my drafts Tuesday night. When I heard the Dodgers were sold to Magic Johnson, I was a little surprised at the timing, but not the buyer. Two things did shock me however: the purchase price of $2 billion, and this news:

"Mr. McCourt and certain affiliates of the purchasers will also be forming a joint venture, which will acquire the Chavez Ravine property for an additional $150 million."

So if I read this right, McCourt walks away with around $500 million after debt repayments and buying out his ex-wife AND he keeps his greasy tentacles in the Dodgers. Perhaps as a huge fan I can look past this, but every time I roll up on Chavez Ravine I'll be parking on McCourt land, and I don't like how that feels. It's like being diagnosed with cancer, undergoing surgery and having the doctor say "Well, we got most of it." I guess I have to be OK with that. Getting Cole Hamels and other free agents next offseason will help ease that small amount of uneasiness. And if I were to pick the face of the franchise, I could hardly do better than the Magic man.

Anyway, on to the point of this article pitching. We're going to focus on the bullpen this week and look at some sleeper relievers.

Underrated Closer

Javy Guerra, Dodgers -
Yes, it's unusual to consider an established closer a sleeper, but I just drafted Tuesday night and Kenley Jansen went three rounds ahead of Guerra. The theory is Guerra is not long for the closer role due to Jansen's superior stuff as evidenced by last year's 16.1 K/9IP, the highest in baseball history (minimum 50 innings). That may very well be true, but Guerra could also hold the job all year. Perhaps Don Mattingly prefers the flexibility of using Jansen in the seventh and eighth innings and would choose to use a reliever like Mike MacDougal at closer should Guerra struggle. It's not like Guerra was garbage last year - 2.31 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.3 K/9IP, 3.5 BB/9IP.

Behind A Shaky Closer

Vinnie Pestano, Indians -
In all likelihood, there's someone out there referring to Pestano as "my cousin Vinnie", which is nice. Pestano was lights out last year in Cleveland with a 2.32 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 12.2 K/9IP and 3.5 BB/9IP. Presumed closer Chris Perez is working his way back from an oblique injury, leaving open the possibility that he could open the year on the disabled list. Perez pitched Monday, so he could easily start the year closing, but will he finish it? Perez notched 36 saves last year, but digging deeper, he took a big step back from 2010 - K/9IP dropped from 8.7 to 5.9, ERA nearly doubled to 3.32 and walk rate only held steady at 3.9 BB/9IP. Pestano should be near the top of non-closer reliever cheatsheets (are there such things?).

Ramon Ramirez, Mets -
Watch out for Ramirez as a deep sleeper/potential closer this year. Frank Francisco is on tap to open the year in the role, but he's rather hittable and gives up a few too many home runs to be more than an average closer. He's also seemingly good for a DL stint or two each year, leaving the door open for the likes of Ramirez to take the job and run with it. Jon Rauch seems set to be the eighth-inning guy, but Rauch had a poor second half last year (6.14 ERA, injuries) and has struggled this spring to a 7.27 mark in 8.2 innings. Ramirez, on the other hand, had a solid 2011 (2.62 ERA), and though he's struggled a bit this spring (6.75 ERA), expect him to leapfrog Rauch as Francisco's primary setup man before long.

Glen Perkins, Twins -
Matt Capps has pitched well enough this spring (3.38 ERA, 4:1 K:BB in eight innings) to open the season as closer, but each time out, Capps is always a threat to lug a gas can to the mound. Capps saw his K/9IP fall off the map last year, all the way to 4.7, while he continued to allow too many home runs. What kept him at closer was his excellent control, but the downside remains large. Perkins should be owned in deeper leagues and will likely have a fair amount of FAAB dollars thrown his way this year in shallower formats.

Could Benefit from an Injury

Brad Lidge, Nationals -
No, really. With the news that Drew Storen (elbow) is likely going to need a short stint on the DL, Lidge and perhaps Henry Rodriguez will close in the interim. Manager Davey Johnson prefers to utilize his best reliever, Tyler Clippard, in the seventh and eighth innings. Lidge has been dynamite this spring, tossing seven innings of one-run ball with a 9:0 K:BB. He hasn't recovered his velocity from four years ago, but the slider is still excellent and with veteran savvy he mixes his pitches well. Lidge also said on the MLB Network on Wednesday that this is the first camp in three years where "something hasn't hurt." Go with him as the primary handcuff to Storen.

Matt Lindstrom, Orioles -
Jim Johnson is sporting a 7.20 spring ERA while battling a sore back and a drop in velocity. Call that the "trifecta of closer warning signs." With a 2.67 ERA and 1.11 WHIP to go with a mid-90s fastball, Johnson had an excellent 2011 and has some upside as a 2012 closer, but these spring issues are obviously troubling. Lindstrom has a 3.00 ERA in six innings and would assumedly close should Johnson struggle and/or need a DL stint. Kevin Gregg thankfully does not appear to be an option.

Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals -
The Cardinals entered camp with an established and solid closer in Jason Motte, but Sanchez's stuff is electric, and while he'll open 2012 in Triple-A, he'll spend the majority of the year in the big leagues. This is a guy who gave up just 14 hits while striking out 35 big-league hitters in 30 innings last year. He'll close eventually for the Cardinals.

Greg Holland, Royals -
Sick numbers last year: 1.80 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 74:19 K:BB and 37 hits in 60 innings. Holland appears to be choice No. 1 to close unless management looks more at his 5.19 ERA than his 12:1 K:BB in 8.2 spring innings. Jonathan Broxton is also in the mix with Joakim Soria (elbow) out for the year, and with Broxton allowing just one run in spring five innings, he could get the call. When all is said and done, though, expect Holland to be the team leader in saves.

Could benefit from In-Season Trades

Fautino De Los Santos, A's -
De Los Santos has been solid this spring with a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings and has to be considered as a potential closer unless Billy Beane trades him first. He has Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes ahead of him on the closer hierarchy, but both are trade candidates (who on the A's isn't?), potentially leaving De Los Santos in a ninth-inning role. He's a former top prospect in the White Sox organization who got hurt (Tommy John surgery) and was ultimately shifted to a bullpen role to reduce the stress on his arm. The conversion has worked well, as De Los Santos racked up an 11.6 K/9IP for the A's last year. The next step is improving his control over last year's 4.6 BB/9IP, and the thinking is that if he can do that, the A's will ease him into the role at some point this year.

Evan Meek, Pirates -
It's unlikely Joel Hanrahan is a long-term solution at closer given his escalating salary and that he turned 30 in October. Hanrahan also saw his K/9IP drop from 12.9 to 8.0 last year, so maybe the Pirates will look to sell high this year. Next in line is seemingly Meek, though Chris Resop and Chris Leroux could be in the mix as well. I'm going with Meek here, as he's shown good velocity this spring and has outperformed both of his competitors.

Andrew Cashner, Padres -
Luke Gregerson is probably next in line behind closer Huston Street, and with Street a trade candidate, we have to be thinking one step ahead here. Gregerson this spring has been fairly mediocre with a 5.14 ERA and 5:5 K:BB in seven innings, while Cashner's upper-90s gas has resulted in a 1.13 ERA and 11:3 K:BB in eight innings. He's the future, folks.

Rex Brothers, Rockies -
Yes, Brothers is left-handed and we don't see too many left-handed closers. No southpaw is a lock to close in 2012, with Sean Marshall and Matt Thornton being mere (strong) possibilities. Brothers, meanwhile, sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball and is coming off a season in which he posted ridiculous K/9IP rates - 14.5 in Triple-A and 13.1 in the big leagues. Those type of strikeout rates make him worth owning in deep leagues NOW, and considering Rafael Betancourt is 37, the idea that Brothers racks up a few saves (or more) this year isn't out of the question.

David Carpenter, Astros -
Brett Myers is the undisputed closer, but he's also pitching for a team that isn't likely to be competitive before 2015. That opens up the (strong?) possibility Myers is sent packing in July, opening up the closer job for Carpenter, Wilton Lopez or, gulp, Brandon Lyon. Carpenter's WHIP last year was a scary 1.48 for the Astros, but he struck out 29 in 27.2 innings and was a K per inning type in the minors as well. I like his stuff quite a bit.

South Side Situation

Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Addison Reed are competing for closer duties in Chicago under new manager Robin Ventura. Crain is working his way back from an oblique injury and probably won't be an option come Opening Day. Thornton has been the team's most impressive reliever with a 1.59 ERA in 5.2 innings and seems most likely to get the nod. Reed is getting a lot of attention for his 111:14 K:BB in the minors last year, but it appears Ventura would like to see that sort of consistency at the big-league level before he's tapped as closer. All three should be on fantasy owners' radars in deep leagues, but shallow format owners are probably better off rostering Thornton only at this point.

Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

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