Los Angeles Dodgers


Closer Updates: Orioles, Rays, Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels

As you can see from the title, there's been a little bit of closer news this week, so we'll get right down to business. Speaking of which, check out @CloserNews for up-to-the-minute info. Also, take a look at our Closer Depth Chart for a league-wide overview of the ninth inning. But anyway, on to business.

Orioles

Jim Johnson didn't have his best week ever. Three consecutive blown saves are enough to cost many closers their job, but Johnson earned his leash last year and manager Buck Showalter trusted him enough to hand him the ball in extra innings. Johnson earned the win, and there seems to be good reason to think this rough patch was just that and not a sign of impending doom.

For one thing, while his HR/9 rate and his HR/FB rate are much higher now than last year, a reliever's sample size is so small that that includes a whopping three homers allowed, two of which came during his three blown saves in a row. Moreover, while his BB/9 rate has also increased, it was already so low that it had wiggle room. Since his K/9 has increased since last year as well, he still maintains a 3.00 K/BB and is adding value with nearly two extra strikeouts per nine. All in all, he doesn't look like someone about to go Axford on us.

Rays

Speaking of impending doom and John Axford, Fernando Rodney appears to be turning into the proverbial pumpkin. His magical season last year has rightly earned him a lot of room for error, but at some point even that will have to be considered used up. Rodney has had bad results recently: he's blown three of his last four saves and looked bad doing it. Rodney has a bad process: his 8.35 BB/9 is rough to look at, let alone experience in the ninth inning. Not only is it worse than the sparkly but unbelievable 1.81 mark he put up last year, it's worse than any of the once-and-again wildman's previous ML rates, including the one that got him demoted by the Angels in 2011. Unless he gets his control under control, Rodney is probably on the way out of the ninth inning, at least temporarily.

Setup man Joel Peralta has gotten the most mention as a possible replacement, while neither Jake McGee nor Kyle Farnsworth have been obviously better than Rodney. Don't expect the Rays to go out of the organization, but don't be shocked if they do opt for a committee.

Dodgers

 The great and tragic drama of Brandon League and Kenley Jansen continues to play itself out, as manager Don Mattingly won't commit to "annointing" a closer. I guess that's technically a demotion for League, as he had already been annointed as closer (which apparently makes you some type of king by fiat). It's mitigated good news for Jansen owners and plenty of reason to pick him up if he's still unowned. Perhaps more reason to grab Jansen is that Mattingly may well play things as close to "the book" as he can while he flails around trying to keep his job. If he is fired, expect the new manager to make the obvious choice and officially install Jansen in the ninth, if only to earn some cheap points with the masses. As this situation begins to resolve itself, you're probably safe to drop League in most (a-hem) leagues. 

Nationals

Rafael Soriano came into the year as a top closer, and his 2.14 ERA suggests he still is. Though he blew two saves in a row this week (and tossed teammate Bryce Harper under the bus after one of them), he's firmly entrenched as the Nats' closer. There's trouble under the hood, however, as Soriano's FIP is 3.41 and his xFIP an even worse 4.23--Soriano isn't really pitching all that well. Perhaps more pointedly, his K/9 is sitting at just 6.43--the worst since his rookie season in 2002. As a starter. Now, he's got plenty of time to ratchet up the K's, but it might be a good idea to sell him while his ERA still shines as well as it does. Though he's not in imminent danger of losing his job, these things can shift quickly and the Nationals have other quality options in their bullpen.

Rockies

First, the rumor was that Rafael Betancourt was going on the DL, now it's that he won't. The facts are that Betancourt is having a very nice season (albeit with too many walks) and won't be supplanted by a quick injury, DL trip or no. The other facts are that Rex Brothers is having an even better season (also with more walks than are preferable) and saved the game for Betancourt on Wednesday. While the 38-year-old Betancourt will probably be just fine, this isn't a bad time to add Brothers, just in case. It isn't every team that can replace their closer with someone pitching at least as well, but the Rockies are one of them. In the event something bad happens, Brothers would be a quality setup man. If all stays well, he's still a usable non-closer in many leagues.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey is back from the DL and back into the closer's role. Sort of. The Red Sox won't use him on back-to-back nights for an while as they let their fragile pitcher reacclimate. That means that Junichi Tazawa (who wasn't exactly a useful pickup during Bailey's absence) may still have the chance to grab some saves--more, certainly, than most setup guys. Keep him rostered until the Sox show us that Bailey is ready for a full workload. Considering his 25:3 K:BB ratio and Bailey's tendency to get hurt, Tazawa remains one of the better setup men to keep on your team.

Angels

Bad news for Ryan Madson is good news for Ernesto Frieri. Frieri will need it, as he's issued a ton of walks (6.75 BB/9) in April and May. He strikes a lot of people out too, which is good, but his ERA (2.25) doesn't match his FIP (4.58) or his xFIP (4.71). As long as Madson keeps having setbacks, however, expect Frieri to keep getting the call in the ninth inning. At least until those walks start costing him saves....

Add-Vice

Obviously, Kenley Jansen should be owned in all leagues at this point. If you own Fernando Rodney, I'd strongly suggest picking Joel Peralta up as backup (though the Rays do unconventional things whenever given an excuse). In fact, he's the top guy out there as far as speculative closers. If Junichi Tazawa's owner dropped him when Andrew Bailey came back from the DL, pick Tazawa up as he's in a great save-vulturing position. The same is true for Rex Brothers, but less so. Everyone else seems to be staying the course for now, so there isn't any real need to gobble up Orioles, Nationals, or Angels setup guys.

 



Shutdown Corner: NL West Closer Roundup

Welcome back to the (sixth and final) divisional closer roundup here at Shutdown Corner. It's taken us a long time to get here (and out AL West and NL East roundups need a little updating by now), but we're here! We're finally ready to roll out the division that's home to the defending World Series Champions -- the NL West. And, to acces any of the previous round ups, follow the following links: AL East, AL CentralAL WestNL 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.

Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz

Aside from a lost year in New York, J.J. Putz has quietly been one of the more consistent late-inning options in baseball over the past seven seasons. Last year, Putz sparkled in the Arizona sun, posting fine alphabet-soup rate stats (2.82 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 29.8 K%, 1.03 WHIP) while logging 32 saves. He rolls into 2013 with a firm grip on the closer spot in Arizona, despite strong relievers behind him in David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, and Heath Bell.

Putz's Achilles heel is his durability, as he's usually only able to throw between 50-58 innings per season. Given his injury history, a short DL stint is likely during a season, and an extended one certainly isn't out of the question -- meaning you should have a backup plan ready to go for when he goes down.

I recently had a discussion on Twitter with someone who firmly believes that David Hernandez is going to be the closer when J.J. inevitably hits the DL or needs a n extended break. I'm not entirely sure that's going to be the case. New addition Heath Bell is one of those guys who has the "proven closer" label, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets first shot to close when Putz goes down. For this reason, it's a little tough to predict who should be your handcuff if you want to grab a backup for Putz ... but remember that Hernandez projects to have much better rate stats than Bell.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (great numbers, doesn't pitch much more than 50 innings per season, serious injury risk, good competition)

Next in line: Heath Bell or David Hernandez

Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt

If you really want to talk about consistency, though, the first second name on your lips (after Mariano Rivera) should be the Rockies' Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt is a rare pitcher who has thrived pitching for the Rockies, using a simply two pronged philosophy: (1) strike everyone out and (2) don't walk anyone.

Revolutionary, I know!

At any rate, 2012 was a bit of a down season for the purple-clad closer, as both his K% (24.2%) and BB% (5.1%) slipped a bit from his stellar stats in the previous few seasons. With Rafael entering his age-38 season, I think that we should temper our expectations for him in 2013. He's certainly still a good closer to draft, but signs point to him entering a decline phase.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good stats, starting to decline, age is an issue, younger competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Matt Belisle or Rex Brothers

Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon League

I'm not gonna lie, this is a weird one. The Dodgers already have a weapon of mass destruction in their bullpen: the heater-tastic Kenley Jansen. But because the team is flush with cash, they made a huge investment in League which seems to indicate that he'll be given the ninth-inning duties. League doesn't have the strikeout rate of a top-tier closer (17.9% in 2012), but he improved upon arriving in L.A. and has a legitimate out pitch. Nevertheless, strikeouts are the most important thing in my eyes, and anyone with that much trouble getting Ks isn't a safe bet. No matter how much the Dodgers are willing to spend.

Don't be fooled, though -- Kenley Jansen is coming for this spot. Jansen strikes out guys with authority (39.3% strikeout rate in 2012) and would be a lockdown option in the ninth if it weren't for continued medical worries about his heart. If you're going to pick one setup man to handcuff at the start of the season, make it Jansen, as his strikeouts will play in almost any league, and he could be closing again by June.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too few strikeouts, too many walks and meltdowns, good competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres: Huston Street

If you could be sure that Huston Street would pitch a full season, I'd have you draft him in the top 5-10 of all closers in baseball. Both recently, and over the life of his career, he's proved an ability to strike guys out, limit walks, and he pitches in the hurlers' haven that is PetCo park.

Of course, you can't ever be sure that Street will be healthy for a full season. Last year, Street only logged 40 appearances, but still recorded 23 saves for an unremarkable Padres squad. His injury risk hasn't kept him out of action for a full season yet during his career, but all the "minor" injuries he's sustained over the past three years are painting the picture that if health is a skill, it's one Street doesn't quite have.

Luke Gregerson will probably get first chance to close when/if Street succumbs to injury, but don't sleep on Brad Brach, who strikes everybody out and has only the slightest idea of where the strike zone begins and ends. If Brach can get the ball over the plate with a bit of regularity, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Padres bail on both Street and Gregerson, and hand the ninth over to the youngster.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good numbers, good situation, moderate injury risk)

Next in line: Luke Gregerson or Brad Brach

San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo's 2011 was about as good as a late-inning reliever could hope for. While no one would expect that 1.50 ERA and 40% K-rate to hold up, Romo's 2012 was pretty awesome as well. The ERA jumped all the way up to 1.79, and the strikeouts still came in bunches, though not as often as in 2011. With Brian Wilson long gone, Romo has inherited the coveted ninth inning role for the defending champs, and looks to hold it down with authority.

Everything would be great ... if it weren't for the fact that the Giants still treat Romo with kid gloves. Romo relies on a wipeout slider, and considering how much it taxes his elbow, the Giants tend to use Romo sparingly throughout the season. In 2012, Romo made 69 appearances, sure, but only logged a little more than 55 innings. There's a pretty fair chance that, while Romo will be the guy for the Giants, he may not be available on back-to-back days in some instances, and that other relievers will vulture some save chances. Nevertheless, the good signs are too many to ignore, and he should be considered a Tier 2 closer for the 2013 season.

The Beard is dead. Long live The Beard.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (fantastic stuff, injury / workload remains a risk, good competition)

Next in line: Santiago Casilla

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Next week we'll write about something other than closers by division ... so get excited!

All data from FanGraphs.



Closer Updates: Nats, Padres, Dodgers, Reds

As with last week, there's no shortage of bullpen shakeups to cover this week. Before we get down and dirty, your weekly friendly reminder to follow @closernews on Twitter, especially if you find it hard to respect me for not telling you the truth or not telling you face to face.

Nationals
Tyler Clippard's respectable season numbers (3.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) are a testament to how well he pitched prior to this month, because he has suffered through a nightmarish September: 9.64 ERA, three losses, one blown save. Clippard's tough stretch has culminated in a demotion, with Drew Storen being named Washington's primary full-time closer by manager Davey Johnson. Obviously, Storen, now owned in 61% of Yahoo! leagues, is a must-add if he has somehow slipped through the cracks in your league. Johnson said he'll still mix in Ty-Clipp, so he's worth holding onto if you're desperate, but I'd be surprised if he earned more than one save the rest of the way.

Padres
Finally, Huston Street has made his long-awaited return from an August calf strain. The right-hander earned a save in his first outing back on Sunday, although he coughed up a run along the way. Even still, the guess here is that Street will be the Friars' sole closer the rest of the way. The team was very cautious in monitoring his comeback, presumably because they wanted to minimize the chance of a possible re-injury. With that in mind, I have to think Street is essentially 100% healthy. Luke Gregerson owners might want to hold on to see how San Diego's next save chance shapes up, but I'm also not averse to cutting LG before then if someone better is sitting on the wire.

Dodgers
Kenley Jansen has looked sharp in three outings since returning from the irregular heartbeat that sidelined him for a few weeks. The only problem is, none of those outings has been a save situation. I predicted last week that the Dodgers would shoehorn Jansen back into the ninth after only an outing or so, but clearly they are taking a more conservative approach, allowing Brandon League to soak up a couple more save opps. The Dodgers are close enough in the wild card race that they can't just put up the white flag, but will that result in Don Mattingly erring toward preserving the status quo? It seems that way to me.

Reds
Aroldis Chapman returned to the hill in a non-save situation on Saturday after missing nearly two weeks due to shoulder fatigue. The question now is whether Chapman is now available for regular closing duty. My guess is no. The Reds have already clinched their postseason berth and have little reason to push the fireballer other than to tune up for the playoffs -- but that goal can be accomplished in any number of situations. I think Chapman might see another save chance just because the Reds might want to see how he responds in that setting, but Jonathan Broxton owners should hold on.

Mets
Frank Francisco hasn't pitched since Sept. 16 due to elbow tendinitis, but the Mets insist they're not ready to shut down the right-hander for the season's balance. Francisco's poor season had already stifled his ownership rates, but he's now rostered in just 58% of Yahoo! leagues, and I don't blame owners for having little patience. Hold onto Double-F if you have the room and need saves, but don't torture yourself over your decision on this one. Jon Rauch is the guy you want to snap up if you're scrounging for Mets saves.



Closer Updates: Dodgers, Rangers, Padres

Now that I'm back from my weekend dead-arm sabbatical, please remember to follow @closernews on Twitter for breaking updates on all the bullpen situations. That being said, three's a lot to address this week, so I'll try to keep 'em short and sweet.

Dodgers
Kenley Jansen has apparently gotten a clean bill of health and is expected to return to Los Angeles' bullpen tonight. Despite a several-week layoff, I'd expect him to return to closing after one outing, if not sooner, so Brandon League owners should be ready to cut away. In fact, at this point of the season, depending on where you are in the standings, I don't mind making that move even before KJ is back on the hill, which I typically don't advise. End of the season calls for bold flavors moves, eh?

Rangers
Joe Nathan's surgically repaired 37-year-old right arm has generally held up surprisingly well this season (surprising to me, at least), but he was unavailable over the weekend due to a so-called dead arm period, his second such hiatus. He's supposed to be ready to return on Tuesday, but it's one worth watching. Meanwhile, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando are both dinged, so if you want to foray into this mess, Koji Uehara is your guy.

Padres
Luke Gregerson owners who have been dreading the impending return of Huston Street may get a reprieve after all. Details have been sketchy, but Street is apparently fit to return ... yet he hasn't. Perhaps the Friars are shelving Street because they know he's rickety and he's under contract for a couple more years. Not to mention, Gregerson has done a fine job in Street's absence (with an odd assist or two from Tom Layne et al). LG is well worth holding onto until Street is on the mound again in a Major League game.

Reds
Aroldis Chapman says his fatigued shoulder is feeling better, but neither he nor the Reds have provided a firm timetable as to when a potential return could happen. The guess here is that both pitcher and team will want him to see some game action before the playoffs get underway, but he could take off another week or 10 days and still make that happen. Till then, Jonathan Broxton is the optimal add, but since he's not allowed to pitch on more than two consecutive days, Sean Marshall is worth a look if you're scrounging for every last save you can find.

Angels
Ernesto Frieri owners were dealt a double-punch to the gut this weekend, when the previously immortal right-hander blew a save in very un-Nasty-like fashion and then saw Kevin Jepsen convert one the next night. The former isn't a huge concern, per se; even the best closers blow saves. But no one would blame Frieri owners if the timing of Jepsen's unexpected save had them a little uneasy. Not to fear, apparently, as Frieri was just getting a breather. He should be good to go now, having rested on Sunday and Monday.



Closers: Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox

For all the latest on closers and their potential rehab setbacks, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Dodgers
It appears that the only obstacle to a long stretch of dominance for Kenley Jansen may be his own health. Having claimed closing duties early in the season, the hard-throwing right-hander was authoring a terrific campaign, sitting on a 2.54 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 25 saves and 86 strikeouts in just 56 2/3 innings through last week. Then, out of nowhere, the bad news broke that Jansen would be out indefinitely after suffering a recurrence of the heart condition that sidelined him for a month last season and for a spell during Spring Training this year.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been noncommital about naming a proper replacement for Jansen, saying that Ronald Belisario and Brandon League, both right-handers, would share closing duties in Jansen's absence. It's only been a week since Jansen went down, so it might be too soon to infer much from a small sample of games, but the Dodgers have been involved in several close games in that time, and there are some interesting trends to note. While Belisario is enjoying a better season than League and was called upon for the first post-Jansen save chance, he has since been used in situations not typically reserved for closers, including pitching the top of the ninth with his team trailing on Sunday and then making a one-out appearance in the seventh inning on Monday that eventually led to a League save.

So while these small-sample trends make League the better add than Belisario at the moment, I don't think we can say this one has necessarily been settled, especially considering Mattingly's original declaration at the outset.

Of course, all of this may be moot depending on what happens with Jansen. The Dodgers were expected to make an announcement as soon as Tuesday as to whether he would return at some point this season. My initial instinct is to guess that he'll be shut down, considering he's dealing with such a serious medical condition, but that is mere speculation. In the meantime, League is where I'd look first for a replacement, and then to Belisario.

Padres
With Huston Street's DL stint creeping up on a month, his owners got some bad news over the weekend. Street apparently suffered something of a mild setback during his rehab from a calf strain, and there's still no timetable in place for his return. With about a month remaining on the season's calendar, there's still time for Street to return and accrue a handful of saves for his owners, but the window is closing.

I said when Street went down that the Padres probably wouldn't be in a huge rush to get him back on the mound -- because of Street's recently signed extension and the team's place in the standings -- and that appears to be the case. This can only be a good thing for owners of interim closer Luke Gregerson, who should see a handful more save chances before Street elbows him back into a setup role. Gregerson blew a save chance on Monday and has allowed runs in back-to-back outings, but I'm thinking he should get another go-round before Bud Black considers making a(nother) change. There's only so short a leash you can place on your closing candidates before you've cycled through them all.

Hold onto Gregerson if you own him now, and if he's still kicking around on your league's wire (only owned in 18% of Yahoo! leagues), give him a long look if you're in need of saves. He should have the gig for at least another week and perhaps more, and he should do a fine job.

Red Sox
Short of an official announcement, it was nonetheless all but certain last week that Andrew Bailey had overtaken Alfredo Aceves as Red Sox closer following Aceves' brutal August and team-imposed three-game suspension. But just in case there was any lingering doubt, the Red Sox since then announced that Aceves would be starting over the season's final month, clearing the way for Bailey to man the ninth inning, just as they'd planned when they acquired him last offseason from the Athletics.

I will admit, I had this one wrong. When Bailey was nearing his return, Aceves was still pitching capably and the Red Sox were still on the fringes of playoff contention. What would be their motivation to make a switch? Well, Aceves played his cards about as poorly as one can, and Boston's season went completely off the rails.

Bailey is owned in only 62% of Yahoo! leagues, so be sure to snap him up if he's fallen through the cracks in your league. It's hard to say whether he's back to his old form considering he's made only eight appearances so far this season since returning from the disabled list, but the upside is enough to warrant the benefit of the doubt. Now, if only the Sox could get him a save chance ...



Pryor, Tolleson & Doolittle: Holds Risers

Most of our content at RotoAuthority focuses on standard 12-team mixed leagues with traditional 5x5 scoring, but today we're going to veer off our usual track and look at some recent call-ups who could help in the holds category. Predicting who will pick up holds might be more difficult than predicting who will pick up saves in a given season, but banking on young power arms is never a bad idea. Here are three guys with barely two combined weeks of big league time to their credit who could help you in a holds league, presented in order of fantasy usefulness.

Stephen Pryor | Mariners

A fifth round pick in 2010, the 22-year-old right-hander has three appearances under his belt but already has seen high-leverage work. Pryor entered last night's game with men on first and second and one out with a one-run run lead in the sixth inning against a division rival, coaxing an inning-ending double play before chipping in a scoreless seventh. The 6-foot-4, 245 pounder comes right over the top with a big mid-90s fastball and a power low-80s curveball. His minor league strikeout rates are off the charts (12.3 K/9 and 33.0% of batters faced) but he needs to iron out his strike-throwing abilities (4.6 BB/9 and 12.4% of batters faced). We've seen countless late-game relievers succeed with high walk rates as long as they miss bats, which Pryor certainly does.

Tom Wilhelmsen has filled in nicely for displaced closer Brandon League, who is working setup innings and is likely to moved before the deadline. Pryor should assume eighth inning duties once that happens if not sooner.

Shawn Tolleson | Dodgers

Los Angeles called up the 24-year-old Tolleson in the wake of Javy Guerra's knee injury two days ago, though he has yet to appear in a game. The right-hander had video game numbers in the minors, with a sky-high strikeout rate (13.4 K/9 and 38.4% of batters faced) and a low walk rate (2.1 BB/9 and 6.0% of batters faced) in 120 innings since being a 30th round pick in 2010. Tolleson has a sometimes violent delivery that adds deception to his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter, and mid-80s slider. It's true late-inning, high-leverage stuff.

As expected, Kenley Jansen has taken over as the Dodgers' closer with Josh Lindblom handling most of the setup work. Ronald Belisario has also seen a few setup innings since coming off the restricted list. Manager Don Mattingly is from the Joe Torre school of bullpen use, meaning Tolleson will first have to prove his worth in miscellaneous middle relief innings before being trusted at the end of the game. Even if he doesn't displace Lindblom, seventh inning guys are underrated holds candidates, especially those who pile up strikeouts.

Sean Doolittle | Athletics

Doolittle, 25, has a story right out of a move script. He was the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft as a first basemen, struggled with injuries that kept him on the shelf for all of 2010 and just about all of 2011, then converted to pitching and dominating ever since. The southpaw threw one tune-up inning last year before striking out 48 (17.3 K/9 and 51.7% of batters faced) and walking just seven (2.5 BB/9 and 7.5% of batters faced) in 25 minor league innings this season. He was called up to Oakland recently and in his first (and only) appearance, he struck out three of the four men he faced in a mop-up role. He's a fastball-slider guy and clearly has the ability to miss bats.

The A's have two veteran and imminently trade-able relievers in their bullpen in Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, creating a potential opportunity for Doolittle down the road. Right-hander Ryan Cook has been brilliant since coming over in the Trevor Cahill trade and currently sets up, so he figures to be the first in line for save chances. Power left-handers will get chance after chance though, so keep the former first baseman in midn when trying to dig up bullpen help later this year.



Position/Role Battles: The Dodgers' Closer

Poor Javy Guerra. On most other teams, Guerra's rise to prominence would be a Cinderella story; a fairly unheralded minor league starter who battled injuries and a switch to the bullpen, rising through the ranks to finally make his Major League debut in his eighth pro season. And Guerra didn't just debut, he bailed the Dodgers out by taking over from Jonathan Broxton as closer and posting a 2.31 ERA and a 2.11 K/BB over 46 2/3 innings, racking up 21 saves.

So why is it 'poor Javy' and not 'viva Javy'?  Because rather than regard Guerra as a closer on the rise, it seems that everyone has already looked past him to his understudy, who has an even more remarkable story and a ceiling as high as any young reliever in baseball.

Signed as a 17-year-old catching prospect out of Curacao in 2004, Kenley Jansen was converted to relief pitching in 2009 and has been blowing away hitters ever since. Jansen recorded a whopping 110 strikeouts in 64 2/3 minor league innings, earning himself a callup in 2010 and a full-time bullpen job in 2011. All Jansen did last season was post a Major League record 16.1 K/9 (96 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings), along with a 2.85 ERA.  Jansen even finished seventh in Rookie Of The Year voting last season, quite the sign of respect from voters given that relievers rarely get awards attention without saves.

Don Mattingly has said that the closer's job is Guerra's to lose, a fair decision by the manager given that Guerra didn't do anything to warrant a demotion.  With a weapon like Jansen in reserve, however, you wonder how much leeway Mattingly will give Guerra the first time he has back-to-back blown saves, or even a few shaky outings in a row.

Let's look at both pitchers' 2011 numbers...

Guerra: 46 2/3 IP, 2.31 ERA (3.30 FIP, 4.07 xFIP), 38 K, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 42.9% GBR

Jansen: 53 2/3 IP, 2.85 ERA (1.74 FIP, 2.09 xFIP), 96 K, 16.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 5.0 H/9, 26.9% GBR

While Guerra is better at keeping the ball on the ground, that massive gap in strikeouts is hard to overlook.  Equally as interesting are the wildly divergent FIP and xFIP numbers; judging by these advanced metrics, Jansen was unlucky to post his 2.85 ERA while Guerra may have been very fortunate to have such a low real-world ERA.

There are a few areas that will give Jansen owners pause, however.  He has just been pitching for less than four years, he has averaged 4.6 BB/9 over his two seasons (so there's at least a possibility of him transforming from 2010's Carlos Marmol to the 2011 Marmol) and, most disturbingly, Jansen recently visited a hospital with heart palpitations.  He received medical clearance to continue playing, but it's a warning sign given his stint on the DL last year due to cardiac arrythmia.  These are the type of health issues that go beyond the field and make you hope that Jansen will be able to live his life without any difficulties, let alone pitch effectively.

Fantasy outlook: Jansen's peripherals are so eye-popping that his fantasy value is comparable to Guerra's even if he doesn't win the closer's job.  In his recent fantasy rankings of relievers, Roto Authority's Mike Axisa focused on saves first and foremost given that they're the most important fantasy stat for relief pitchers.  Mike ranked Guerra 29th and Jansen 33rd --- or, Guerra near the bottom among closers and Jansen near the top of the non-closers (or, "holds guys"). It's a fair ranking since frankly, if Guerra didn't have the closer's job, he wouldn't be on the list at all.  He is a quality pitcher but, had the situation been reversed and Jansen gotten the first chance to close last year, we wouldn't be calling this a position/role battle.  The job would be Jansen's from start to finish this season, barring a major blowup or an injury.

Non-closers are somewhat of a roster luxury in a standard 5x5 league, but a reliever delivering nearly two strikeouts per inning and keeping a low ERA is hard to ignore. Try to find two full-time closers if you can for your two RP spots, but for an open P spot, picking up Jansen has more relative upside than filling it with a middling starter who will have higher counting stats but at the cost of a much higher ERA and WHIP.

For your fantasy draft, the best way to approach the Dodgers' closing situation is, of course, to draft both pitchers.  If you can't pull off the handcuff strategy, however, I'd take the risk and pick Jansen if both he and Guerra are still on the board.  Jansen has at least a 50% shot of becoming closer eventually and even if Guerra does keep the job all year, Jansen is still worth owning because of his strikeouts (and he will be a beast if your league tracks holds). If you draft Guerra first, you'll spend the entire season crossing your fingers that he can stay in front of the Jansen Express.



Lilly Remains With Dodgers

Good news for fantasy leaguers, as lefty Ted Lilly inked a three-year deal with the Dodgers.  Lilly has found the National League to his liking since 2007, trimming his walk rate significantly.  Only a handful of starting pitchers had an average fastball velocity below Lilly's 86.7 mph this year.  Unlike Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez, and others, Lilly is able to deceive his way to a strikeout rate near 8.0 per nine typically.

Lilly's wart is his groundball rate, which at 29.5% was the second-worst in baseball this year behind Kevin Slowey.  Tons of flyballs means frequent home runs; fortunately, they come without men on base given Lilly's control and apparent ability to prevent batted balls from falling for hits.  Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher-friendly place, though this year and in '07 it actually inflated home runs according to ESPN's park factors.  Lilly had a 1.35 HR/9 in 46.6 Dodger Stadium innings this year, which is around what we've come to expect from him.

Lilly had a sparkling 2.96 SIERA in 76.6 innings for the Dodgers this year, with a 4.14 mark in 117 Cubs frames.  His past Cubs' SIERAs suggest you should look for something in the 3.80 range going forward.  Lilly turns 35 in January, and there is health risk.  He missed most of April this year due to minor shoulder surgery, and has a history of shoulder problems from his American League days.

Lilly isn't an exciting pitcher, but he still gives you 165 Ks and a strong WHIP.  Last year he was drafted in the 16th round on average, and he should be in the same bargain range in 2011.



Clayton Kershaw Time?

Looks like phenom Clayton Kershaw may debut in Chicago on Tuesday.  The 20 year-old has these numbers in Double A:

43.3 IP
9 starts
2.28 ERA
1.08 WHIP

9.76 K/9
3.12 BB/9
3.13 K/BB
6.65 H/9
.291 BABIP
0.00 HR/9

In an early Kerry Wood sort of way, it's likely that Kershaw will have a strong WHIP even if control is worse than average.  That's because he'll be very tough to hit.  He has ace stuff.

I can't tell you what kind of adjustment period Kershaw will need.  Try to look at the bigger picture if he struggles at first.  He's skipping Triple A by design, but he's still missing out on that experience.  I would use a #1 waiver priority on him, if only for the strikeout potential alone.



Watching Kuroda

Why did I wait til this year to get the Extra Innings package?  This is great.  I've been watching Hiroki Kuroda's debut against the Padres in HD.

Granted it's the Padres, but Kuroda is looking nasty.  He's mixing in all kinds of pitches - splitters, sliders, shuutos.  And his heater is consistently a healthy 93mph.  I really like Kuroda's chances of baffling the NL for much of this year.  And even when the scouting reports make their way around, his stuff is legit.  He's going to be one of the more valuable undrafted players of '08.  Consider picking him up now if you can, as he's allowed one hit in his first five innings.  He might be a popular pickup in shallower-type leagues on Saturday.





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