On Tuesday, White Sox manager and all-around wild-and-crazy guy Ozzie Guillen announced that LHP Matt Thornton would no longer receive the bulk of the save opportunities on the South Side of Chicago. Less than a day later, Guillen sat helplessly in the dugout as Thornton and three other White Sox relievers orchestrated a complete late-innings meltdown, allowing six runs in two innings to propel the A’s to a 7-4 victory. With saves at such a premium in many fantasy leagues, how can owners take advantage of the newly tumultuous situation in Chicago’s bullpen?
First off, Matt Thornton is still valuable. He will still be used in save situations, just not all available save situations. Even if he only records 15 saves this year instead of the 30 or 40 some may have expected, he’ll continue to light up the radar gun, record tons of strikeouts, and likely have a sub-3.00 ERA. That has value in 60-70 innings, so Thornton could be a solid buy-low candidate.
However, the door is now open for two more Sox relievers to pick up saves and increase their value. Young left-hander Chris Sale will probably see the biggest boost to his stock, as he was the primary competitor with Thornton for the closing job in spring training. Sale isn’t the strikeout monster that Thornton is, but he should put up solid numbers in ERA, WHIP and Ks. The other reliever who looks to gain from this situation is Jesse Crain, the best right-hander out of Guillen’s bullpen. Crain is just a straight-up worse pitcher than the other two – think a 3.50 ERA guy with far fewer strikeouts – but as a righty, he may be the smart play against right-handed-heavy lineups.
We should eventually expect Thornton to work his way back into sole ownership of the closing role. Only four of his 10 runs so far have been earned, and he still has the big fastball that brought him so much success last season. And, more importantly, Thornton is the most talented pitcher in the group. For now, though, the entire Thornton-Sale-Crain trio could be picking up saves, so in leagues where saves are scarce (read: most), all three have value now, despite Wednesday’s fiasco.