Another closer change is already in the books. Brad Lidge is out, and Dan Wheeler is in.
Letís answer some questions that arise from this development.
DOES WHEELER HAVE THE SKILLS TO CLOSE?
Yes. Definitely. Over the last two seasons, Wheeler has put up a 137/43 K/BB in 144 2/3 innings. He strikes out a batter per inning, and he doesnít hand out too many passes. Wheeler also has given up only 12 homers over that time, so he isnít very prone to the long ball (although his 0.79 G/F over that period indicates a home-run spike is possible).
Wheeler isnít one of those out-of-this-world closers whoís going to have a 1.50 ERA at the end of the year, but heís certainly got the ability to do the job well.
WHATíS WRONG WITH BRAD LIDGE?
Well, we know what the problem was last year. While Lidge kept his strikeout rate in the stratosphere (12.48 K/9), his walk rate spiked (36 BB in 75 IP) and he got taken deep a whopping 10 times. The K rate proves Lidge had the stuff, but those walk and home run totals indicate he couldnít harness it.
As for this year, what can we say? Lidge has been horrid, but itís been just 1 2/3 innings. Granted, those 1 2/3 innings are very worrisome given Lidgeís struggles last year. Itís still an incredibly small sample, though, and deriving any meaningful analysis out of it is nearly impossible.
I havenít heard much about this, but I wonder if workload is an issue here. Lidge has pitched in an average of 76.5 games over the last four years, and that doesnít include all the playoff work he saw in 2004 and 2005. Phil Garner rode him awfully hard, as you probably recall.
WILL LIDGE GET THE JOB BACK?
Thereís no way of knowing if Lidge will pitch well enough to become the closer again. Thereís kind of an inner battle here with Lidge: strikeout ability vs. control/gopheritis/workload. Which side wins is anybodyís guess.
However, there hasnít been any mention of this closer change being permanent. Sometimes a closer gets demoted, and thatís it. Heís through. (Look at Francisco Cordero in Texas last year.) But it appears Lidge will at least have the opportunity to win the job back. Thus, he retains some value.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IN FANTASY?
By all means, go after Wheeler if heís available, but donít break the bank to do so. Heís a good pitcher and will be a good closer, but thereís no guarantee heíll have the job for long.
As for Lidge, get him to your bench, but certainly donít drop him. He can right this ship and become the closer again. You should never drop anyone after 1 2/3 innings, anyway. Way too small a sample.