Bullpens have been a disastrous situation this year. Most of us have made the necessary moves in order to overcome that shortcoming, but it is worth taking a look back to get some perspective as to how much insanity the position has wrought on the fantasy game this year.
Taking a look at 17 qualifying drafts over at MockDraftCentral from April 9-23, here are some of the names that were being taken in the top-25 at relief pitcher a couple of weeks into the year.
#2 Drew Storen
#3 John Axford
#4 Mariano Rivera
#7 Brian Wilson
#9 Heath Bell
#11 Neftali Feliz
#12 Jordan Walden
#13 Ryan Madson
#15 Andrew Bailey
#16 Joakim Soria
#17 Sergio Santos
#19 Brandon League
#25 Francisco Rodriguez
You get the drift (as if you didn't already know). There may have not been a position in the last decade that saw such a massive level or turnover. The above list still leaves out names like Javy Guerra, Mark Melancon, Kyle Farnsworth, Matt Capps, Frank Francisco, Grant Balfour, etc. These were players who were also looked at as being potential ninth inning arms for their clubs in spring training.
So what can we gain from what happened this year? Some thoughts.
(1) It has never been more clear that spending big bucks or an early round draft pick on a closer just isn't a sound strategy. There are a myriad of reasons for that.
A. Closers are only closers because of their role. Therefore, their value in the fantasy game is often determined by the whims of their manager or the game situation. There is no way to predict how that will turn out over the course of the year.
B. Because closers are "role-centric" in terms of their fantasy value, there is really no way to gameplan who to take on draft day. Many times the setup man ends up with better numbers than the closer.
C. One pitch or one play can end a guy's season. Even the indestructible Mariano Rivera succumbed to a knee injury this year.
D. Even if a pitcher isn't injured, the turnover rate is sky high year after year. Thirty saves is pretty much the baseline for excellence at the position. Do you know how many relievers saved 30 games each of the past three years (2009-11)? The answer is merely five. After the 2012 season, there will only be one closer in baseball with 30 saves in four straight seasons -- Jonathan Papelbon (those that fall off will be Francisco Cordero, Wilson, Bell and Rivera). Think about that. There is one man in baseball who has hit the baseline for closers the past four years (including 2012). Let's run a test. Let's lower the level down to 20 saves. Twenty, not thirty. How many closers in baseball posted 20 saves each year from 2009-11. The answer is 12. That's barely more than a third of the teams in the majors having a 20-save guy year after year. If we extend out the 20 save run to four years, (2009-12) there are three men on the list: Papelbon, Jose Valverde and Huston Street. Over the final couple of weeks of the season, that list will not grow by a single name. To sum it up, there will be three men, THREE, who will have saved at least 20 games in four straight seasons. And you want to take a closer early in your draft? Good luck with that.
(2) You should be targeting skills and not roles when it comes to bullpen arms.
There is no way to know what a manager will do, which matchups he will play, or what the game situation will be etc. There is also no way to know how much rope a reliever will get if he struggles. Is it two blown saves and adios, or will the manager stick with "the plan" and give the hurler some time to right the ship? The truth is, no one knows the answer. Therefore, I'll suggest what I always suggest -- target those high impact arms and more often than not, you will end up in a good shape by the season's end. In my preseason Guide that was available at BaseballGuys.com, I suggested that people target three arms that were NOT closing at the time. Those names were Kenley Jansen, Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo. As we all know those three have dominated this season, and provided a ton of saves as well.
Jansen: 2.54 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 13.66 K/9, 5 wins, 25 saves
Clippard: 3.18 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10.80 K/9, 2 wins, 31 saves
Romo: 2.08 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 10.00 K/9, 4 wins, 10 saves
If you had followed those recommendations instead of taking any of the 13 names listed, it would have not only: (A) cost much less, and (B) ended up with you smiling instead of frowning. It's hindsight of course, but the fact is that skills, more so than roles, eventually win out. Provided of course that injury doesn't strike cause when that situation arises -- Wilson, Soria, Santos, Bailey etc. -- there's nothing any of us can do.
BY THE NUMBERS
.006: The difference between Bryan LaHair's first half slugging percentage (.519) and his second half OPS (.527). In 39 games, covering 88 at-bats since the All-Star game, LaHair has hit .182 with one home run and four RBI. After recording 10 homers and 22 RBI in his first 45 games this season, he has gone deep five times with 12 RBI over his last 68 games.
.224: The batting average of Michael Bourn over his last 58 games. In the second half, Bourn's OBP is actually .318, just seven points higher than the .311 mark he posted over his first 85 games this season. In total, Bourn is hitting.277, this after he hit .278 last year in 53 games for the Braves. For his career, Bourn has hit .273.
.356: The batting average of Jon Jay since August 6, the second best mark in the NL. He does lead the NL with 52 hits and seven HBP in that time as he has also gotten on base at a .423 clip, the third best mark in the NL. On the year, Jay is hitting .313 after hitting .300 and .297 the past two years resulting in a lifetime batting mark of .303 over 364 contests.
3: The number of big leaguers who have hit 15 homers while stealing 30 bases this season. Two of them are pretty obvious -- Mike Trout and B.J. Upton -- but do you know who the third is? He is an outfielder. He had never hit more than eight home runs in a season. He has stolen more than 20 bases just twice in six seasons. He suits up for the Brewers. He is Carlos Gomez who has literally doubled his career-high in homers with 16, and he is one off of his career best of 33 steals as well.
5: The number of All-Star teams that Justin Verlander has made in his seven-year career (I just needed a number to use to rattle off some Verlander numbers). He had four straight years with 200 K's. That is the longest Tiger stretch since Mickey Lolich in 1969-74. He has tossed at least 200-innings in six straight years. The last Tiger hurler to do that was Jack Morris from 1982-88. He has six complete games to lead the league this year. He is the first Tigers hurler to toss that many since Steve Sparks twirled eight in 2001. He made 63 straight starts of at least six innings before his streak was lost. How was it lost? With a five-inning complete game that was cut short by rain.
9: The number of consecutive games in which Ryan Zimmerman has produced at least one RBI, the longest streak by a player who plays his home games in D.C. since John Stone had a nine-game streak in 1936. Zimmerman also has a 16-game hitting streak working during which time he has hit .328 with six homers and 17 RBI. The only longer hitting streak in baseball right now is the 17-gamer of Salvador Perez.
16: The NL-leading total of home runs that Pedro Alvarez has hit during day games this season. Given that he has only played 41 games under the sun, that's pretty darn impressive (to compare he has just 11 homers in 87 night games). It's not just homers that Pedro is offering, he is also racking up base hits. In those 41 day games, here is his slash line: .301/.382/.699. That line just points out how awful Alvarez has been during the night (.215/.290/.375). Clearly his favorite movie isn't Dracula.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.