Bullpen's are a disaster in the early going. What should you think, and consequently do, if you're interested in adding some 9th inning help? I'll then take a look at some situations that deserve your attention such as batting order changes, hot/slow starts etc.
ONE MAN'S FAILURE ...
The story of the beginning of the 2012 season is the closer carousel in major league baseball. Go back to February of this year. Since that time the following teams have changed who their closer was going to be: Rays, Red Sox, White Sox, Nationals, Astros and Reds. There are also a handful of other teams who don't appear certain about their ninth inning situation (teams like the Orioles, Athletics, Cubs, Royals, Dodgers etc.). The bottom line is that the 9th inning has been a disaster in terms of predicting who will fill the role of closer, and who will have success in it. Is this situation a surprise? Hardly. Every year we see major amounts of turnover at the closers spot. In fact, think back 13 months ago. The following list of players were not set as their teams closer in late March, and I'd be hard pressed to think that any of them were even drafted in a 12 team mixed league draft held in March of 2011.
Sergio Santos who went on to save 30 games.
Kyle Farnsworth who saved 25 games.
Fernando Salas who saved 24 games.
Javy Guerra who saved 21 games.
Mark Melancon who saved 20 games.
Was this some isolated incident, merely a bad year for closers? Hardly. Check out the list of names here that pulled off the same trick in 2010 (coming from the waiver-wire to be a big boost in the saves category).
John Axford had 24 saves.
Matt Lindstrom had 23 saves.
Octavio Dotel had 21 saves.
Jon Rauch had 21 saves.
Alfredo Simon had 17 saves.
It should be coming clear to year that year after year we have at least a handful of reliever rise from relative obscurity to become big time fantasy assets. There is no doubt it will happen again this year. Here are some of the names you should know something about.
Alfredo Aceves, Red Sox: He looked much better in his last outing, but the fact of the matter is that he isn't anything other than a solid swing man type. Take a look at his career numbers and you will find a pitcher bereft of any outstanding skill: 6.27 K/9, 2.33 K/BB, 0.89 GB/FB. He's just not a good bet to have continued success in the 9th inning, especially when you consider that his career xFIP is 4.54, a run and a half above his actual ERA of 3.02.
Jonathan Broxton, Royals: The last time he was a dominating force was 2009. In fact, that was the last season in which he was an average pitcher as his totals the past two years would attest to: 6-8, 4.32 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 2.24 K/BB. Not only were his numbers the last two years poor, he also suffered from injury limiting him to just 75 innings pitched over the two years. He'll get first shot to close with the Royals but it would be wise to have Greg Holland on speed dial.
Hector Santiago, White Sox: Robin Ventura is a new manager, so apparently he wanted a new closer too. Santiago had a great spring, but let's get real here. Santiago has thrown 7.1 innings at the big league level. He has zero innings at the Triple-A level. In 2011 he made 23 appearances in the minors – all of them were starts. From 2007-10 he pitched out of the bullpen but he totaled only four saves. Is that really the type of guy that a big league team should be trusting as their main 9th inning option?
Henry Rodriguez, Nationals: We're awaiting the results of Drew Storen's trip to see the world famous Dr. James Andrews, and though it seems likely that he won't need something major done on his arm like Tommy John surgery, there is a line of thought that says he has at least one bone chip that will need to be surgically removed. As such, the guesstimate at this point is that Storen could be out for weeks or perhaps months. Given that fact, the Nats have to decide who will work the 9th inning. Their options are the broken down but still effective Brad Lidge who has 224 career saves, or the young, flame throwing righty that is Henry Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez has thrown less than 100 innings at the big league level, but his average fastball is over 98 mph which has led to a K/9 mark of 10.13. At the same time his walk total is abysmal, 5.66 per nine innings, which has led one Nationals writerto suggest that the team should use Lidge as their 9th inning option.
Chad Billingsley leads the NL with 11 Ks. King Felix leads the AL with 13, but he's thrown 14.1 to the 8.1 of Billingsley thanks to that start in Japan.
Michael Bourn is 2-for-15 to start the year (.133) without a steal and just one run scored through four games. Given his three year average of 92 runs and 58 steals I think it's safe to say that things will be fine. Just give him some time.
Rafael Furcal is hitting .435 on the young season, as impressive a start as anyone could have hoped for. Of course, he was hitting .526 before going 0-for-4. Things can change in a heartbeat this early, so don't get too carried away with any of the numbers you see at this point.
It's too early to know exactly what's going on, but reports have surfaced that Vladimir Guerrero has been arrested after being involved in some sort of police chase that included members of his family. This situation certainly isn't going to help his case to sign with e a big league club that's for darn sure.
Chipper Jones (knee surgery) is ready to rock. For now at least, as he has been activated off the DL. We all know what the deal is with Chipper. When healthy he will be productive. The question is, how often will that be? His return does spell bad news for Juan Francisco owners in NL-only leagues, but don't lose the faith. Sooner or later Chipper will be out again.
Tommy Milone could be a nice AL-only play this season. He pitched eight shutout innings in his first start against the Royals as he allowed just three hits. In case you missed it, Milone struck out 155 batters in 148.1 innings at the Triple-A level. All scouts suggest that there is little chance he will be able to keep up that rate in the big leagues, his “stuff” just isn't that impressive (see his shutout start that yielded nary a strikeout over eight innings). However, Milone understands the art of pitching as evidenced by his total of 16 walks last season. That's right Milone walked 16 batters in 148.1 innings at Triple-A. That sort of pinpoint control will play at any level.
Matt Moore looked really good on Tuesday holding the Tigers to two runs over 6.2 innings. It was snowing at times during the game, gotta love early season baseball in cold cities, but that didn't take much of the luster off Moore who was routinely sitting at 93 mph on the gun with his smooth, easy delivery. It was just one outing, but Moore looked awfully polished/impressive.
Brent Morel was dropping to 9th in the order for the White Sox Tuesday after a 1-for-13 start to the season. What were the White Sox thinking hitting Morel second in the order? It's like sometimes teams just throw darts and don't use their brains when do something like setting their lineup. I mean really White Sox? In 491 career at-bats Morel has hit .238 with a .280 OBP. What part of that sounds like he'd make a good #2 hitter? He also has a mere seven steals and 13 homers. In the American League those are numbers that should land you in the 8th or 9th hole.
Its only four games, but David Wright has seven hits in 12 at-bats leading to a .583 batting average. Certainly an impressive start for a guy who fell a bit in drafts because of concerns with his health.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 5-8 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.