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Sleepers & Busts: Ninth Inning Headscratchers

There probably isn't as volatile position in fantasy baseball as relief pitching. A year ago at this time, Andrew Bailey was a middle-tier closer. Heath Bell was regarded among the best in the game at his position. The name "Tom Wilhelmsen" would've induced a "Who?" from most fantasy players. And Craig Kimbrel -- wait, no... he was still awesome.

The Kimbrels of the world are few and far between, though. Closers are tricky because their stat lines are subject to such small sample sizes. As fantasy players, we'll often forgive (or forget) a starter's abysmal first six weeks if he kills it the rest of the season. Relievers don't have that luxury. Those ugly six weeks for the starter are close to the equivalent of a closer's full-season workload.

Guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan have earned our trust over the years by proving their dominance over a large sample. When they're drafted, we're not paying for just their previous season. We're paying for their previous seven or eight seasons. That's an important distinction, but clearly not one everyone is buying into...

Fernando Rodney, TB - ADP 92

I remember being somewhat surprised that Rodney even got a Major League contract when the Rays signed him last winter. After all, Rodney was coming off a five-year stretch of a 4.42 ERA, 4.24 FIP and 4.33 xFIP. His 8.2 K/9 over those 266 innings looked decent... until you juxtaposed it with a 5.2 BB/9.

What Rodney did in 2012 was nothing short of amazing, but it was also in 74-inning sample. Even if you believe that Rodney miraculously learned to eliminate walks from his repertoire, the odds of him repeating a .220 BABIP and a ludicrous 89.4% strand rate are astronomical. And I for one don't believe the walks are gone for good. It's not as if Rodney was suddenly firing first-pitch strikes and working ahead of every hitter he faced. He threw first-pitch strikes at a 60 percent clip, which is above average, but below the 62.7 percent marks he posted in 2011 and 2009.

I'm not buying an age-35 renaissance for a previously replacement-level reliever. Even if you are, he's bound to regress to something closer to a 3.00 ERA. Is he worth taking 10 places before Nathan? No chance. Heck, he's going three picks ahead of CC Sabathia on average (Nothing makes sense anymore in this world). In my mind, he becomes a reasonable risk around pick 136 -- after Rafael Soriano. However, he's not going to last that long in drafts, so I'm steering clear entirely.

Final Ruling: Bust

Casey Janssen, TOR - ADP 212

Some 130 picks later in the draft, Janssen is coming off the board as one of the "well, what the hell, let's go with this guy" closers. I'm not really sure why that is, because Casey Janssen has been a pretty damn good pitcher for three straight years now.

Dating back to 2010, Janssen has a 2.87 ERA, 3.17 FIP and 3.19 xFIP. He's fanned 8.8 batters per nine innings, which is four times more than he's walked. He doesn't induce a silly amount of ground balls, but he's been right around the league average during that stretch (45.6 percent).

Admittedly, Janssen is coming off November shoulder surgery, so he's not completely without risk. However, he's also coming off the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. And, unlike some stoppers going ahead of him (I'm looking at you, Brandon League), he's shown no discernable platoon split in recent history. In fact, Janssen has been markedly better against left-handed hitters than righties in each of the past two seasons.

I'm buying Janssen ahead of League, Kenley Jansen (only because he won't start the season in the closer role), Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton -- all of whom are going before him.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Jose Veras, HOU - ADP 237

I can safely say that when Tim Dierkes approached me about writing for RotoAuthority last season, never in my absolute wildest dreams did I imagine writing a post that focused on Fernando Rodney, Casey Janssen and Jose Veras. But here we are!

Veras will have the dubious task of protecting that roughly 40 games in which Houston will actually bring a lead into the ninth inning (sorry Astros fans). He's currently the 35th reliever coming off the board at MDC, and I assume he'll jump to 36th as Bobby Parnell will now leapfrog him with Frank Francisco temporarily on the shelf.

I'm well aware that the Astros are bad. I'm also aware that Veras doesn't exactly carry an illustrious Major League track record. Still, there's no justifiable reason to draft non-closers like Drew Storen, Ryan Cook and Kyuji Fujikawa ahead of him on Draft Day.

And really, there's some things to like about Veras. Over the past three seasons, his ERA/FIP/xFIP is a reasonable 3.73/3.68/3.84. To go along with a respectable ERA, Veras has a blazing 10.3 K/9. Sadly, the caveat is that that number is barely more than double his walk rate.

Veras is going to put his fair share of batters on base, but if the end result of the 2013 season resembles something like his 3.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over the past three years to go along with 20-25 saves, the 20th-round price tag currently attached to him will look like a bargain. Instead, he's going seven picks later than Bruce Rondon, who's never thrown a Major League pitch and has worse command at Double-A than Veras has in the Majors. Tyler Colvin, Oscar Taveras, Garrett Jones, Rondon, Cook and Fujikawa are just a few of the names going ahead of Veras whom I think he should leapfrog.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

All draft data courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com.



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