Detroit Tigers


Closer Updates: Riding the Trade Winds

Rumors continue to swirl around baseball this time of year, and no position receives more attention than relief pitchers. Why? Even the best are expendable on a bad team, and even pitchers of marginal greatness are assets on contenders. Everyone who spent the last two decades watching playoff baseball knows how important strong bullpens are for the October teams. For fantasy owners, this can be a mix of good and bad news. How your team fares is all about how prepared you are for the upcoming month. After all, a fantasy team doesn't need to be on the top of the standings to need more saves...or on the bottom to profit from trading away relievers.

Mid-season trades can create quite a lot of upheaval, often leaving two teams with new closers. Whenever a closer is traded away (except for other closers, hypothetically) a new one is created to fill the void he left and everyone scrambles to the waiver wire to get him. Better yet, stay on top of the rumors and try owning a new closer before he gets the job. The downside of this is that the best trade candidates don't usually have great backups.

The other trade fallout happens on the team that acquires the new closer: either that team's old closer is deposed (bad news for his owners), or the new pitcher is suddenly the setup man (bad news for his owners. Most often, good teams have an established closer by this point in the season, and they're looking to use bad teams' stoppers to shore up their 'pen. Yes, you should trade away any closers at risk for this situation.

At-Risk Closers

Keep in mind that trade rumors can change quickly and that not all of these closers will get dealt into setup situations. Why do you think we link to MLB Trade Rumors right at the top of the page? Here are just a few of the storylines circulating as I write this: Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn are drawing interest for the Marlins, who don't want to deal themthe Yankees are pushing to deal Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughesthe Mets probably want to keep Bobby Parnell and are releasing setup man Brandon Lyonthe Phillies would rather buy than sell Jonathan Papelbon; and all the Brewers' relievers are drawing interest. So, seriously, refresh MLBTR all day long and a couple times during the night just in case, because all these could have changed by the time you read this.

Steve Cishek and his setup man Mike Dunn could get dealt, but odds are they won't both be traded away. And since Cishek is under team control until 2017, the lowly Marlins could rationally think of him a piece on future good teams. He's one that I'd take a risk and trade for at low cost. His value won't be that high, as the Marlins don't do much winning, but it's looking pretty unlikely that he gets traded away. That's good, because he wouldn't be closing anywhere else (except maybe Detroit).

Jose Veras is a pretty good reliever. Not amazing, so if he gets traded, don't expect him to take over the ninth inning reins. In head-to-head leagues, I'd trade him away, but hold onto him in Roto-style. Wesley Wright might get the save opps if Veras is dealt, but there's no need to pick him up until that happens. Frankly, it'd probably be an open audition anyway.

Francisco Rodriguez has had a resurgent closing experience with Milwaukee. As a guy with playoff-tested moxie and at least some leftover brand name, I'll make the bold prediction that he gets traded to Detroit and closes for them. He's on the fringe of being good enough (in reality and appearance) to close on other contending teams in the event of a trade, so I'd hold on him. If he is traded, expect Jim Henderson to get his closing gig back.

Like Rodriguez, Glen Perkins has a good chance of beating out incumbent closers for the ninth inning. He's even less likely to be traded in the first place, so hold him if you got him. Your risk is relatively low if you trade for him, but it isn't nonexistent.

It almost seem taken for granted that Kevin Gregg will be dealt, and that Blake Parker, James Russell or Pedro Strop will take over the ninth. Maybe, maybe not. Gregg might close for the Tigers, but I don't think any other contender will let him close unless someone gets injured. If you can get any return for him trade him away, in head-to-head formats, and probably in Roto too.

Bobby Parnell's trade rumors might say he's staying now, but the Mets don't have any real need for a competent closer, and you have to think they'd move him for a decent prospect. Parnell doesn't have the raw saves totals or the history of closing to push other closers out of a job; for that reason I'd trade him away.

The Mariners don't look likely to find a partner willing to overpay for Tom Wilhelmsen, so he may stay with the club and close for the rest of the year. Or he might continue his periodic implosions. If you find a fellow owner willing to value him like Seattle does, trade him away. Most of us, however, will just have to hold on. If he's dealt or demoted...we'll, we've examined this mess before.

With the Blue Jays presumably expecting to have a better 2014 than this year, they probably don't want to deal Casey Janssen. If the tea leaves swirl in a new direction, I still wouldn't be worried, as Janssen is good enough to continue closing for several contenders. Unless he starts getting connected with teams like the Yankees and Rangers who have well-established closers, I would hold, or even trade for him. If he is dealt, perhaps final All-Star balloter Steve Delabar would take over.

Jonathan Papelbon seems less and less likely to get dealt in real life. I suggest you trade for him while the rumors are still lingering, and he's still got a low saves total, and the stigma of his blown saves is still recent. On the off chance that he's dealt, Antonio Bastardo is a good pitcher to own.

Greg Holland hasn't seen his name come up in the rumors, but the Royals are always in danger of seeing their season fall apart. You can safely hold him for now, but keep an eye on the news. Kansas City actually has several capable relievers, so it's hard to know who to pick up.

Potential Buyers

Everyone knows the Tigers are buyers. Joaquin Benoit may be on the final All-Star ballot, but that might not be enough to convince the team that he's their stopper. Obviously, keep Benoit around, but be ready for him to be replaced before the first of August.

With the struggles that Jim Johnson has had, I wonder if the Orioles will be in the relief market this month. There hasn't been much noise about that, but maybe they're just playing it quietly. Johnson would probably have to struggle after a trade is made to lose his job, but he's used a lot of a long leash this season.

The Red Sox may have two of the best Japanese relievers in the world in Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, and an ex-closer in Andrew Bailey, but that might not stop them from loading on more arms for the pennant race. If they add someone with more closing clout than Uehara, don't expect them to hesitate to make (another) change.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (all month long, probably), but the best way to come out of the trade crucible ahead is to keep up with the rumors on MLBTR and to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Closer Updates: Tigers, Blue Jays, Cubs, Angels, Mets, Brewers

Well, the good news is that you no longer need to worry about drafting a shaky closer. The bad news is that you may already own a shaky closer. Take me, for instance, I own John Axford and his 21.60 ERA in a couple leagues.

Speaking of shaky closers, Jose Valverde has signed a minor league contract with the Tigers, so you've got to wonder if he'll be in their bullpen mix in the future. For more up-to-the-minute updates, check out @CloserNews on the Twitternet. You better believe that's the first website I opened up to work on this article.

Brewers
Axford is the elephant in the room, with that 21.60 ERA, a WHIP of 3.60, and reports of lowered velocity. It's important to frame these things in their early-season context, though: he's allowed four runs on six hits in 1.2 IP. Of course, three of those six hits were home runs, but he's also struck out three in that time. Hiccups like these happen, and at times they are enough to scare a manager into making a change, but not on this team, or at this time. The Brew Crew isn't confident in Jim Henderson, and, really, if they demote Axford now, they're just admitting that they don't have a good bullpen. I don't expect them to do that just yet. 

Of course, Axford owners like me might want to stash Henderson just in case....

Mets
The Mets' situation thus far is one of rather happier news, as Bobby Parnell successfully put out a fire in the ninth inning of a four-run game. Fantasy owners don't care much about the results (he just recorded one out and didn't earn a save), but the fact that he was successful (and that other relievers struggled) strengthens Parnell's grip on the job just a little more. I really think Frank Francisco will have a hard time worming into save situations when he returns. Parnell is owned in just 68% of Yahoo! leagues, and 81% of ESPN leagues, so snap him up if you can.

Angels
Ryan Madson seems to be experiencing a setback (surprise!), while Ernesto Frieri locked down a save in the 13th inning of the Angels' opener. Neither fact is big news, or unexpected, but I'd say that Frieri's job security inched up just a little more over the week. He's owned in just 79% of Yahoo! leagues, so pick him up if you're among the 21%. No such luck for ESPN leagues, as he's owned in over 99% of leagues.

Cubs
You know what's worse than having your closer blow the lead in spectacular fashion? Having the lead rescued by his setup man. That's exactly what happened to Carlos Marmol on Monday, who threw just nine of nineteen pitches for strikes, getting one out before James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa. It was Fujikawa (51% owned in Y!/40% in ESPN) who got the save, and the writing is on the wall for him to take over the job. The Cubbies really want to ship Marmol out for something, but it sounds like won't have any patience with him at all.

The above--unadulterated--is what I wrote before the results of Thursday's game. I leave it this way for instructive purposes, because Fujikawa came on in the eighth yesterday and earned the hold. Maybe that's why Marmol was allowed to give up two runs in the ninth before hanging on for the save. He got some trust--which is good news, of course--but he didn't inspire any real confidence. I'd say Marmol's closing days don't last long at this rate. Maybe the Cubs should have taken their chances with Dan Haren....

Blue Jays
At some point in the middle of the spring, I was sure that Sergio Santos was going to close for Toronto. Fortunately, I didn't have any drafts until late spring, when it seemed like Casey Janssen would be closing. I think he'll be great value for owners that got him with a late pick, and that thought has been reinforced in the last week. Janssen pitched a scoreless 10th on Wednesday, while Santos blew the game the very next inning. The situation was the opposite of the Cubs', as Janssen was leading the closer race, and Santos managed to widen the gap. Making things better for Janssen and his owners, he nailed down a clean save with two strikeouts on Thursday. Owned in most ESPN leagues, but in only 76% of Yahoo! leagues, Janssen is a great add if he's actually available.

Tigers
Just when you think things are starting to clear up, they get muddier. Valverde is back in the fold, though it remains to be seen how long it will take him to be MLB ready; Bruce Rondon is in the minors; and Phil Coke has pitched twice in the ninth inning. He saved a game he entered with one out, and he blew the save for a loss after that. Al Alburquerque has pitched in the seventh and eighth, and Joaquin Benoit has started the eighth twice. Is Coke (41%Y!/24%ESPN) the closer? I don't know. You'd think so, based on usage, but his split success and handedness don't suggest it. The way I figure, if they run him out to start the ninth, in a save situation, against a righty, then add him. But really, the Tigers don't have a lot of need to avoid a closer committee here.

Add-vice

Technically, the week isn't over, but I think I might be able to say comfortably that none of my closers has lost his job yet. This time last year, I think two of them had. So, I guess Marmol might have an even longer leash than he did last April. 

If Janssen, Frieri, Parnell, or Fujikawa are available in your league, add 'em, in that order. If you can, get all four and thank yourself for not drafting closers, I guess. Coke is the next best add, while Henderson might make sense for Axford owners with space on their bench.



Shutdown Corner: Handicapping the Tigers Bullpen

During our breakdown of the different divisions, I basically stated that the Detroit Tigers closer situation is a crapshoot. With incumbent closer Jose Valverde potentially out of baseball, the Tigers are looking to pull someone out of their bullpen morass and anoint a new closer. Given that the Tigers look to be very competitive again in the 2013 season, fantasy owners want to draft this team's closer, as they chase their saves.

In an attempt to give you the best shot at squeezing value out of the Tigers' relief situation, I'd like to provide my own odds as to who is the closer for the brunt of the season. Most of this info is based on a combination of projected effectiveness, as well as projected use.

5% chance of closing: someone not mentioned below already in the Tigers organization

You've always got to put some money on the field, in cases like this. The Tigers have a number of people who are competing for a long-relief bullpen slot (Drew Smyly, perhaps Rick Porcello) or toiling in Triple-A. I wouldn't bet on any of these folks garnering time at the back of the bullpen, but you never know.

5% chance of closing: Phil Coke

Coke has done a pretty okay job as a reliever for the Tigers, but he has a few strikes against him. First, he's a lefty, and lefties don't close very often. Second, Coke doesn't have the wipeout stuff most teams look for in a closer. What he does have is tenure, and that appears to be valued by some managers. But more than likely, he'll be the primary lefty setup man, and not a serious contender for saves. (Holds are another matter entirely.)

5% chance of closing: Brayan Villareal

Villareal did a very nice job over nearly 55 innings last season for Detroit, posting a 29.2% strikeout rate and a 2.63 ERA. The real reason I don't see him getting so much consideration is that he's been dealing with some elbow soreness during the offseason. He's still kind of a young guy, so I could see someone with more experience getting the job over him ... and the top contender for the spot is like an amped-up version of him at this point. We'll get to that in a minute.

10% chance of closing: someone currently outside the Tigers organization

Last year, the Tigers waited until the "last minute" to add Prince Fielder to an already-stacked team. Who's to say that the team doesn't do something similar during Spring Training of this season. There've been rumors linking the currently-unemployed Brian Wilson to the team recently, and while I'm not sure that'll happen, it's a possibility. There's also the possibility that the team will make a deal mid-season, and that this person will end up leading the team in saves. When in doubt, say "I don't know" and move on.

10% chance of closing: Octavio Dotel

Each of the next three guys brings something to the table: strikeouts. In truth, Dotel gets a ton of Ks, but not as many as the guys after him on the list. Beyond that, he's a wanderer, having spent his career with nearly a dozen teams, his K-rate has dropped a bit, and he's entering his age-39 season. While the Tigers are likely to go with whomever is the best pitcher as closer, I'd have a tough time imagining that Dotel will get the position for full season, and then the Tigers might have to look again for options for 2014.

15% chance of closing: Al Albuquerque

Albuquerque has one thing in particular going for him: a righteous career ERA of 1.59. His FIP (2.11) tells the story of someone who didn't *quite* pitch that well, but those rate stats in his limited action of 56+ innings speak to real talent. But Albuquerque hardly pitched in 2012, and though his strikeout numbers are great, he may not be considered reliable enough to hold down the ninth inning.

25% chance of closing: Joaquin Benoit

Yawn. Joaquin Benoit is actually pretty boring, especially for a guy who strikes out a bunch of guys (29.2% K-rate last season), and gives up more than a few homers (1.77 HR/9 in 2012). But he's boring because he's relatively consistent on a season-to-season basis, and he's been around for a while. Though he had a down 2012, Benoit brings the combination of capability and tenure to a Tigers team looking for both, and that makes him an attractive option as an early-season closer. If he can stay consistent and maintain his recent increase in strikeout rate, I could see him riding out the whole season as the stopper for the Tigers.

25% chance of closing: Bruce Rondon

The prohibitive favorite for the position, Rondon brings prospect shine and the unearthly stuff to the discussion. Going into Spring Training, he's considered by many to be the likely guy for the ninth, despite having never thrown a major-league inning. Rondon brings 100 mph heat, but the problem is that no one is quite sure where the ball will end up after he throws it. The catcher's mitt, the third row, Ann Arbor ... your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Personally, I don't think Rondon will open the season as closer, and that Benoit will. Bruce'scontrol just isn't there yet, something he demonstrated in his most recent Spring Training outing. I'd obviously much rather pick the field over Rondon, especially to start the season. Nevertheless, if he heats up in Triple-A, he'll find himself on the major league roster soon, and his electric stuff will shift him into a ninth-inning role eventually.

In the end, I wouldn't go deeper than a 25% chance that any of these guys wins out. We'll need to get deeper into Spring Training before my confidence rises in Rondon or anyone else. And even then, as we all well know, things will definitely change during the season.

If you want to keep up-to-date with everything closer-related, follow @CloserNews on Twitter. And don't hesitate to drop me any questions on the Twitter machine, as you can find me at @bgrosnick.

All data from FanGraphs.



Shutdown Corner: AL Central Closer Roundup

Baseball players are showing up at Spring Training sites, everyone! And as spring gets within reach, I'm posting closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, it's the mysterious, murky, up-for-grabs American League Central on the hot seat. As always, you can check back in on our previous roundups: AL WestNL East, AL East and NL Central.

If you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Chicago White Sox: Addison Reed

Last season, Addison Reed -- a guy who was highly hyped as a sleeper closer by many fantasy mavens -- made good on most of his promise and held down the White Sox closer job for most of the season. While he turned in 29 saves, the rest of his numbers weren't quite as stellar as owners would have hoped: a 22.7% strikeout rate was lower than anything he'd posted in the minors by a fair bit, and his ERA sat at an ugly 4.75, despite peripherals that gave him an FIP of 3.64.

On the bright side, Reed is still young for a closer at 24, and will have the ninth inning all to himself this season. He's ensconced in his position now, and he still projects to improve upon last season's rate stats and K totals. This is a guy who just doesn't have the actual performance to move up to Tier 2 yet, but is on the leading edge of Tier 3 closers. He could have a big season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (needs more strikeouts / consistency to be a upper-echelon closer)

Next in line: Jesse Crain

Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez

After 2011, I swore I'd never draft Chris Perez again. The Cleveland closer has a history of cardiac saves, and Perez had more meltdowns in 2011 than the Springfield nuclear power plant. So you can imagine my surprise when 2012 was a pretty great season for Perez. Last year, Perez was actually pretty reliable, posting solid rate stats (3.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP), watching his strikeout rate rebound (up to 24.4%) and grabbing a career-high 39 saves.

Nevertheless, I'm still a little wary about drafting Perez again this season. While he's a good bet to grab you saves, his performance is still a bit too up-and-down for my taste, without some of the upside of other closers. And, of course, the Indians don't look to be contenders this season, and could very likely trade their expensive closer to a team closer to the playoffs. When factoring in Vinnie Pestano's readiness to close, Perez might only be a closer for half the season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (Perez is unstable, and always close to being traded)

Next in line: Vinnie Pestano

Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon

In truth, Bruce Rondon's name is here as a placeholder, because the Tigers are really giving no strong indication who will close for the team in 2013. With Jose Valverde (likely) leaving via free agency, Jim Leyland has yet to commit to a new stopper for the team in 2013. With plenty of decent-but-not-great options in the bullpen, trying to guess on the Tigers' closer before Spring Training kicks off seems like a fool's errand.

If we (as fantasy owners) are lucky, though, Bruce Rondon will be the guy for Detroit. Rondon has a big 10o+ mph heater, and if it plays up in Spring Training, the team may want to give him a shot at the ninth inning. We're still not entirely sure if Rondon can consistently get his big fastball over the plate, but if he can, he could be a huge strikeout machine in the mold of an Aroldis Chapman. And Rondon could certainly be a keeper for future years, provided he stays healthy.

But yeah, I wouldn't draft a closer from Detroit this year. I think it will take them a few months to figure out who owns the ninth, if they ever do.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too unstable to call at this point)

Next in line: Brayan Villarreal, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke

Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland

Without too much fanfare, Greg Holland has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two seasons. Last season was the first in which Holland was a "real closer" for part of a season, but the 27-year-old hurler did himself proud. A 31.5% strikeout rate puts him in the top tier of late-game hurlers, and a 2.25 FIP means that we can continue to expect big things going forward. While he's still prone to too many walks and hits (1.37 WHIP last year), he's probably one of your best bets when it comes to mid-level closers.

I'd be comfortable drafting him in the 5-10 range among closers for next season. Don't break the bank to add him (he's not going to put up a Craig Kimbrel season, most likely), but he's probably going to be better than most other late-inning options next season.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (solid strikeout rate, not much competition, recent track record is great)

Next in line: Aaron Crow

Minnesota Twins: Glen Perkins

Many Minnesota fans must be breathing a sigh of relief that the Matt Capps era is over in the Twin Cities. Though Perkins was once another unremarkable Twins starter, he has reinvented himself as a reliever, one who features a solid fastball-slider combo able to get whiffs at an above-league-average rate. I know. It is weird to see that written about a Twins pitcher.

Perkins has posted very sharp rate stats over the past two years, with ERAs sitting right around 2.50 and a 2012 WHIP of just 1.03. Not too shabby. When you factor in the fact that the Twins don't have a strenuous competition for the job, and that the team doesn't seem likely to add another bullpen piece to oust him, Perkins looks to be sitting pretty for 2013.

The only tough question with Perkins is whether or not he'll get the number of save opportunities necessary to make him an upper-tier closer. My guess is that, well, that's tough to guess. But if Chris Perez got 39 saves last season for the lowly Indians, there's a pretty good chance that Perkins could get 30 for the Twins in 2013. Don't hesitate to draft him.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (good strikeouts, good rate stats, homers can beat him up)

Next in line: Jared Burton

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with the last installment of the Closer Roundup series: a look at the NL West.

All data from FanGraphs.



Closer Updates: Angels, Mariners, Tigers

We've got in-depth closer analysis in this weekly column, but for timely, up-to-the-minute updates, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Angels
Ernesto Frieri has really taken to this closing thing. For one, he's sort of a ham. His jersey is untucked just so. He's extremely deliberate between pitches. He sports a closely cropped, curly mohawk (a sure sign of eccentricity). And, above all, he's really tough to hit.

And that seems to have been enough to convince Angels brass that Frieri should take the reins from Scott Downs, who has been every bit as good as Frieri, albeit with a completely different style. Perhaps the Halos prefer Frieri because Downs is a groundballer and a left-hander; prototypical closers are typically right-hander power arms.

Regardless, since May 23 Frieri has four saves to Downs' two, and while that's not an overwhelming split, it bears noting that Frieri has the past two and three of four. The Halos asked that Frieri earn his stripes before giving him the closer's gig, and he did; he remains unscored upon as an Angel through 14 appearances. That's about as well as a reliever can pitch.

The unbalanced saves split will continue between Frieri and Downs, with perhaps the former assuming an even larger share. Downs is worth an add if you're in need of saves and he's kicking around on your wire, but Frieri has taken precedence as the must-own.

Mariners
Brandon League was quietly removed from the closer's role late last month, and although I loved League coming into the year based on his strong 2011, he fully deserved the demotion based on his poor performance to date.

The problem is, the M's didn't necessarily have a no-brainer alternative at that point. The options included Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Delabar, Hisashi Iwakuma and minor leaguer Stephen Pryor. Wow, that's a who's who of prominent relievers, ain't it?

Iwakuma -- in his first year stateside after a lengthy career in Japan -- snagged Seattle's first two saves following League's banishment, but both were under pretty unusual circumstances. The first was a three-inning save in a blowout win over the Rangers -- a mop-up save, as it were. The other came in the 12th inning of a marathon against the White Sox in Chicago, in which the M's had already burned through five relievers (including Wilhelmsen for three).

Pryor, meanwhile, became a trendy pick over the past week based on his minor league dominance, but it's pretty rare for a team to anoint a rookie as its closer immediately upon his debut. He didn't get to close in his first outing, and while he was impressive in striking out a couple batters, he also served up a home run. Keep a close eye on Pryor in the coming weeks, but I don't see Eric Wedge handing over the ninth to him so soon.

Wilhelmsen, 28, is the best add of the bunch, as he locked down a more customary save chance in Monday night's win over the Angels. His 3.60 ERA doesn't look great, but his 2.44 SIERA suggests a nice correction could be in the cards, and the 10.8 K/9 and 2.70 BB/9 seem to back it up. The one word of caution here is that Wilhelmsen didn't flash stuff like this at the upper levels of the minor leagues, but it's possible that he is still improving as he sat out of professional ball in his early and mid-20s before making a comeback prior to 2010.

All that being said, League remains a trade candidate this summer, and the M's would be best served to restore faith in his abilities by getting him right -- and back him back into the closer's role.

Tigers
Jose Valverde seemed to defy ERA estimators throughout the entirety of 2011, and perhaps it has finally caught up to him in 2012. The veteran right-hander has yet to hit his stride this season (4.64 ERA, 4.89 SIERA), and we're left to wonder whether he ever will. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has trended downward for several years now, settling at an unseemly 1.13 through the season's first two months. And every time he settles into a few-outing scoreless stretch, he runs into a meltdown. Ugh.

Joaquin Benoit, meanwhile, is enjoying a fine season and racking up boatloads of strikeouts, and I think he's worth a stash now in 12-team leagues (and deeper) with Valverde so obviously on the ropes. There's mild concern over forearm tightness Benoit recently experienced, which is always worrisome, but assuming he checks out cleanly, he has pretty good odds of dethroning the incumbent. Nothing's ever promised in this ugly chase for the ninth inning, but Benoit right now looks like as strong a candidate to pull it off as any reliever in MLB.

Quick-ish Hits
Santiago Casilla remains unavailable after suffering a bruised leg on a comebacker last week, but the Giants say a DL stint is not in the cards. Sergio Romo picked up the first save in his absence, and Jeremy Affeldt got the one after that. ... Aroldis Chapman pitched on consecutive days Friday and Saturday but wasn't needed on Sunday, although Dusty Baker said he was available to pitch if need be. Chapman has yet to go three in a row this season. ... Drew Storen was transferred to the 60-day DL in procedural move by the Nats. He's still expected back around the All-Star break. ... Huston Street has begun a minor league rehab assignment and could be activated Tuesday. Dale Thayer owners should hold on till Street is back and pitching effectively, but I fully expect Street to return to closing. ... Rafael Soriano will remain Yankees closer even when David Robertson returns from the DL, according to Joe Girardi.



Sleepers & Busts: Jhonny Peralta, Johnny Cueto

We soldier on with the latest installment of Sleepers & Busts, looking at a couple of fellas whose names are prounced the same but spelled differently. For the sake of keeping things simple, let's keep the Jonny Gomes references to a minimum. See what I did there?

Jhonny Peralta, Tigers, ADP: 175.5

You may have noticed the state of affairs over at shortstop is not what it once was -- and it was never all too hot to begin with.

After Troy Tulowitzki, things get hairy. Hanley Ramirez is coming off a miserable season. Jose Reyes is coming off a good (but not entirely injury-free) one, which means as soon as you spend a second-round pick on him, his hammy'll pop like the high-E string you overtuned on your first axe.

Then, it's a mixed bag of vets and newbs who'll contribute in some cats but leave you wanting much more in others.

It'll take some guts on your part, but rather than reaching for an overvalued Asdrubal Cabrera, aging Derek Jeter or unproven Dee Gordon, how about nabbing Peralta? His current ADP puts him squarely in the mid-14th, which isn't a bad price to pay for a guy who could easily finish in the top 10 or 12 among fantasy shortstops.

Jhonny Got His Gun clubbed 21 homers and posted a cool .299 average in the Motor City in 2K11, making him a sneaky value for those who drafted him late or plucked him off the waiver wire. The right-handed hitter, 30 in May, enjoyed a rebound campaign after consecutive underwhelming seasons in 2009-10 that saw him slip out of fantasy relevance in all but very deep leagues.

And therein lies the rub: It's been tough to count on Peralta for consistent, year-after-year production throughout his career. The good news, though, is that nothing in his profile suggests last year was necessarily a fluke. He's actually had better power years in terms of ISO, and his .325 BABIP wasn't far off from his career .315 mark. So, this is hardly a case of a player far exceeding previously established career norms.

Peralta doesn't come without risk, but he could be a surplus value at a position that's notably thin. Considering many fantasy owners are overreaching for shortstops, Peralta presents a rare opportunity to buy a decent one at below-market cost.

Johnny Cueto, Reds, ADP: 116.4

There was a glorious but fleeting time when Johnny Cueto appeared to be a fantasy stud in the making. As a rookie in 2008, the right-hander struck out more than eight batters per nine innings, teasing us with the promise of what could be if he were to round out his game in the coming years. While Cueto improved his control in both 20o9 and 2010, it seemingly came at the expense of his strikeout rate.

So, by the time 2011 rolled around, Cueto's name was recognizable but his fantasy contributions were rather underwhelming. Last season, though, Cueto vaulted himself back into relevance on the strength of very sharp ratios: 2.31 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

Just a cursory glance at the peripherals, however, reveals that those ratios -- the ERA, in particular -- are unsustainable. Chiefly, Cueto's strikeout rate dipped for the third consecutive year in 2011, down to 6.00, while his control remained competent at 2.71 BB/9 for the second year in a row. As well, his BABIP was stifled at .249, a notable departure from his previous career average in the .290s. All told, SIERA was no fan of Cueto's in 2011 based on these periphs, churning out a 3.93 figure for what his ERA "should" have been.

Now, it's worth mentioning that Cueto actually became something of a different pitcher last season, inducing a ton of ground balls (53.7%), whereas he'd previously been a moderate flyball pitcher. He seems to have added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire over the past couple years, which he threw often and effectively in 2011, and he may have it to thank for the sudden spike in grounders.

Nonetheless, a new (i.e. strikeout-shy) Cueto is not necessarily a better one for fantasy purposes, so if you find yourself infatuated by his fortuitous 2011 ratios, resist the urge to buy him anywhere near his current going rate -- mid-ninth round! There are a handful of pitchers being drafted long after him who will offer more strikeouts, or a sturdier groundball profile, or both.



Transaction Analysis: Tigers Sign Prince Fielder

The mystery team struck again this week, as the Tigers agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract in the wake of Victor Martinez's torn ACL. The move will obviously improve a team that won its division by 15 games last year, but just how much is an argument for another time. We're going to focus on the fantasy impact of the signing, which is far-reaching.

Park Effects

Miller Park is one of the game's most underrated hitter's parks, at least in the sense that it doesn't get talked about as much as Yankee Statium, The Ballpark In Arlington, Citizens Bank Park, or Coors Field. It has inflated home run production by 12.1% over the last three seasons according to ESPN's Park Factors, but we can be more precise than that. StatCorner provides park factor splits for left-handed and right-handed hitters for a variety of stats, and they say Miller Park has a home run park factor of 118 for lefties and just 103 for righties. That might be surprising since it's 356 and 374 to right and right-center fields but only 344 and 370 to left and left-center, but the orientation and physical shape of the ballpark creates a bit of jet stream out to right. If you watched the NLCS at all this past October, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Fielder's over-the-fence power received what is approximately an 18% boost thanks to his home park in recent years. Comerica Park is much less forgiving though; the homer park factor for lefties is just 88, so it suppresses long balls by lefties approximately 12%. Now we can't just add the 18% and 12% and say that Fielder's homer total will drop 30% because of the ballpark switch, it doesn't work like that. Prince isn't your average home run hitter, he has arguably the most power in all of baseball, so it's not like he's just barely clearing the wall on his way to 35+ homers each year. Petco Park and Tropicana Field didn't stop Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria from hitting all those homers, and Comerica is unlikely to do the same to Fielder. Heck, just look at his new teammate Miguel Cabrera, who still continues to rank among the league leaders in long balls every year. Park effects don't always apply to great hitters.

According to Hit Tracker, Prince's homers had an average standard distance of 407.5 ft. last season, more than 13 ft. and 3.5% greater than the 393.7 ft. MLB average. Furthermore, just ten of his 38 homers qualified as "Just Enoughs," meaning they cleared the wall by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Given their definition, Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer from year-to-year, which is part of the reason why Casey McGehee went from 23 homers (and 15 Just Enoughs) in 2010 to just 13 homers (and five Just Enoughs) in 2011. Slightly more than one-quarter of Fielder's homers last year qualified as Just Enoughs, so he's out of the danger zone when it comes to signficant drop-off next season. Prince doesn't just sneak the ball over the fence, he's fond of the second deck and 400+ footers, which plays anywhere.

Now that doesn't mean Fielder won't see some decline in his power numbers next year, just that it might not be as drastic as one would assume at first glance. Age-related decline isn't a concern at 27 (28 in May), though he will have to adjust to a new league and presumably DH'ing at least part of the time. I think we all have Adam Dunn in the back of our minds, who went from being one of the game's most prolific power hitters to unrosterable last year, but that's a rather extreme example. Similar players like Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero made the same switch a few years ago and showed no ill effects. It's safe to project another 30+ homers out of Fielder next year, but the days of 40+ might be a thing of the past. Then again, he's only topped 40 twice in his six full years, the last time coming in 2009.

The Trickle Down Effect On Cabrera

Manager Jim Leyland was emphatic that Cabrera will be his third baseman when Fielder was officially introduced on Thursday, which is wonderful news for fantasy owners. I don't know of many people that expect the experiment to work given his size and already subpar defensive skills, but as far as fantasy owners are concerned, it's a goldmine. If Cabrera -- who's already the best fantasy option at the most productive position -- manages to play enough games at the hot corner to qualify for third base eligibility, he has a chance to become the most dominant fantasy weapon since Alex Rodriguez in his heyday. We're talking a super-elite hitter at a premium position, even though his offense might take a slight hit given the transition. But still, he's starting from such a high production baseline that we'll barely even notice.

The Trickle Down Effect On Boesch

During the same introductory press conference, Leyland acknowledged that Brennan Boesch will bat second in front of Cabrera and Fielder, which improves his fantasy outlook a bit. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .283/.341/.458 with 16 homers in 115 games and 472 plate appearances before a thumb injury ended his season in late-August. That production alone made him valuable, but hitting in front of the two big bats should boost his runs scored total if nothing else. The effect of lineup protection is generally overstated, but in the case of elite hitters like Cabrera and Fielder, it can have a very real impact. I definitely have Boesch earmarked as a breakout candidate for 2012.

The Trickle Down Effect On Fister And Porcello

As wonderful as a third base eligible Cabrera would be, his defense at the hot corner figures to create some problems for a few members of Detroit's staff. The team will employ three below-average defenders on the infield in Fielder, Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta (Peralta's +9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, not necessarily make more plays) regardless of who they play at second base. Both Doug Fister (career 5.52 K/9 and 46.5% ground ball rate) and Rick Porcello (4.84 and 51.9%) are pitchers that rely on their defense, so don't be surprised if they wind up with a higher WHIP and ERA than projected. Fister was already doomed to be overvalued on draft day given his dominance after the trade (five of his ten starts with the Tigers came against the lowly Twins, Athletics, and fading Indians), so don't fall into the same trap. That's not to say he won't be a solid option, but don't count on him repeating his second half numbers over a full season, especially now with the defense behind him. Porcello wasn't much more than a fringe roster candidate in standard 12-team, 5x5 leagues to start with, so I wouldn't blame you if you took him off draft boards entirely now.

* * *

Given his mammoth power and the fact that he's still very much in the prime of his career, Fielder will again be a top fantasy producer in 2012 even though he's moving to an unfriendly ballpark. Cabrera stands to gain the most out of the deal since he'll pick up third base eligibility, though Boesch should receive a boost as well. Some members of the pitching staff won't like the infield defense behind them, so make sure you don't get stuck depending on them for quality innings next year.



Sleepers & Busts: Jonathon Niese, Justin Verlander

After kicking off this series last week with a look at Kenley Jansen and Michael Young, we continue today with a pair of starting pitchers.

Just a friendly reminder: The labels bandied about here -- "sleeper" and "bust" -- are relative to average draft position, courtesy of Mock Draft Central. For example, Carl Crawford would have provided sufficient value in the 24th round last year, but since he went off most draft boards in the first or second, he became a bust. You get the idea.

Jonathon Niese, Mets, ADP: 218.75

For some, Niese's appearance in a piece like this will elicit sleeper-list fatigue, while others will see it as an opportunity. Indeed, Niese has been a preseason breakout candidate a couple years running now, and those who've invested (hopefully not too heavily) have yet to be rewarded. However, the lefty's 2011 peripherals suggest that this could finally be The Year.

Last season, Niese flirted with periphs befitting a bona fide No. 3 fantasy starter: 7.89 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 51.5% GB rate. Just for kicks, compare those to Ricky Romero's: 7.12 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 54.7% GB rate. Niese bested Romero in two of those three categories, which, as Meatloaf tells us, ain't bad.

If you pour Niese's 2011 peripherals into the SIERA blender, it spits out a tidy 3.42 figure. Fantasy owners would have gladly taken an ERA in that neighborhood, but instead they were (mis)treated to a 4.40, rendering Niese a decent streaming candidate but hardly a must-own. Romero owners, meanwhile, laughed all the way to the bank with a 2.92 ERA/3.78 SIERA.

The one-run difference twixt Niese's ERA and SIERA can mostly be explained by his below-average strand rate of 67% and his alarmingly high .333 BABIP. Ground ballers typically have higher BABIPs than their flyball counterparts, and the Mets' infield defense is no great shakes at this point, but with a little more luck, Niese's BABIP will trend closer to .300, and with it, his ERA and WHIP will both come down.

With Niese's peripherals already rivaling pitchers who are being drafted far sooner (11 rounds, in Romero's case) than him, the southpaw is one to keep in your back pocket. He's had a couple injuries (unrelated to his arm) already in his career, so don't reach too far, but you'd be wise to regard him as someone who could bring real value to your roster if things break right rather than someone who's just filling out the back of your rotation.

Justin Verlander, Tigers, ADP: 8.81

Verlander, the winner of both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP in 2011, is a classic example of a fantasy commodity who's a victim of his own success. The right-hander was a fixture as a fourth-round selection (at least in my drafts) for several years before his fortune-addled 2011, and now some foolish owners are drafting him with their first pick.

Simply put: Don't be That Guy. Verlander is a terrific pitcher, but in terms of the peripherals, he didn't become appreciably better in 2011 than he was in 2010, 2009, or 2008. And more importantly, there was no way of predicting in which of those seasons his SIERA would be closer to 3.00 or 3.50. To his credit, Verlander refined his already solid control last season, whittling his BB/9 down to 2.04, but it was his well-above-average 80% strand rate and freakishly low .236 BABIP that were the real culprits.

To be clear: I have no reason to believe Verlander will be anything less than his career-average self in 2012. That should place him safely in the third round -- maybe the fourth depending on your league, although I find it hard to believe he'll last that long. But for the right-hander to warrant a first-round pick (or any pitcher, for that matter), he'll need to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pitching field, which is an impossible standard and tought to predict.

To wit: Let's say Verlander wins 18 games, strikes outs 219 in 224 1/3 innings, and posts a 3.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Great season, right? Indeed. However, in 2010, when Verlander put up those very numbers, he was No. 41 overall on ESPN's Player Rater.

Reigning RotoAuthority champ Tom Warman suggests that taking a hurler before No. 15 overall is too soon in this new Era Of The Pitcher, and I tend to agree. Verlander should be a perfectly suitable fantasy ace once again in 2012, but he won't produce like a first-rounder, so be sure to pay accordingly.



Closer Report: Detroit Tigers

Jose Valverde is clearly the Tigers' closer, as they committed two years and $14MM to him this winter.  He's going in the 12th round currently, and he's probably a better choice than earlier picks Francisco Rodriguez and Francisco Cordero.

The Tigers have three hard-throwing relievers who could serve as Valverde's backup: Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, and Daniel Schlereth.  Zumaya is the favorite, and he says he's...wait for it...finally healthy.  Since he comes from the right side, averages 95 mph, and has more big league experience, you'd have to put Perry third in line.  All three need to show the necessary control for a late-inning role.





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