Relievers


RotoAuthority League Update: Fantasy All-Stars, Pitchers Edition

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he’s not one of them.

In keeping with last week's theme, let's take a look at the fantasy All-Star pitchers in the RotoAuthority League. Once again, it's all about profit as opposed to overall production.

Johnny Cueto

Owner: A Century of Misery

Investment: Round 16 pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $34

The most profitable pitcher on the season is also the top pitcher overall thus far. Clearly my best draft pick, Cueto is the main reason I'm in the top half of the standings at this point. When he's been healthy, the Reds right-hander has always been effective; the problem has been staying on the mound. The injury risk is likely the reason he slipped all the way to Round 16 on Draft Day, the equivalent of a $6 investment. Well, this year he's been plain filthy and earned a whopping $34 assuming a 70 / 30 hitting / pitching split, good for a $28 profit.

Scott Kazmir

Owner: A Century of Misery (acquired from The Bombers in exchange for Matt Lindstrom)

Investment: Round 19 Pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $23

As you'll notice shortly, this is the only other top pitching value that was actually drafted. (More on that in a minute.) The Bombers grabbed Kazmir in Round 19 of the RotoAuthority League Draft, a mere investment of $3. The Athletics left-hander was effective last season in a limited sample size, but he's showing that was no fluke at all. I've made quite a few trades this season, some of which I regret. However, I was able to exploit the premium placed on closers in this league and ship Matt Lindstrom to the Bombers in exchange for Kazmir. Needless to say, that's been one of the biggest heists in the league thus far.

Tim Hudson

Owner: Spirit of St. Louis

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $22

Dallas Keuchel

Owner: Cobra Kai

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $21

Jason Hammel

Owner: Guitar Masahiro

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Kyle Lohse

Owner: Cobra Kai

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Mark Buehrle

Owner: Guitar Masahiro

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Francisco Rodriguez

Owner: The Jewru (acquired from Men With Wood in exchange for Sonny Gray)

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Garrett Richards

Owner: Smell the Glove

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $14

As I mentioned, Cueto and Kazmir are the only top pitching values that were actually taken on Draft Day. For brevity's sake, let's group the rest of the top pitching values together. The names don't matter; it's the larger point as to what this indicates about how fantasy owners should approach pitching going forward. Let's take a minute to recap how the fantasy landscape has changed the past decade. When DIPS theory was not yet mainstream, sabermetric nerds like myself could more easily find undervalued starting pitchers. Flash forward to today, though, and it's just not as easy. When one couples this reality that the average fantasy baseball manager is more informed with the fact that pitching continues to be more dominant, we just can't wait on pitching anymore.

Still, more so than in the case of hitters, pitchers have so much that is out of their control. Due to the volatility of pitching performance then, it still makes sense to gamble on pitchers to fill out your staff in the endgame. Along those same lines, spend that FAAB money early and often on starting pitchers dispaying good skills in April, even in small sample sizes. In summary, gone are the days when a fantasy owner could hold out on starting pitching; however, there will always be tremendous pitching values that go undrafted in leagues due to the volatility of the position.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Closers

As you certainly recall, we’ve recently dug into a number of different position rankings for hitters (including Outfield, Catcher, First Base, Second Base, and Third Base – with Shortstop rankings to arrive on Saturday). Now it’s time for Closers to get a little love. Like the rest of the RotoAuthority rankings, we’ll break down the position into tiers with some extra attention to sleepers and setup guys. Unlike Opening Day, we won’t make you wait any longer…

Tier 1 – Top Guns

1. Craig Kimbrel

2. Kenley Jansen

3. Aroldis Chapman

4. Greg Holland

The top tier features four excellent closers with high-end career strikeout rates (Kimbrel – 15.1 K/9, Jansen – 14.0, Chapman – 14.7 K/9, Holland – 12.3). With 163 combined saves last season, each one of these guys can give you a serious advantage in the relief pitcher department week-to-week. Many will place Kimbrel in a tier all by himself, and perhaps rightfully so, but I think that Jansen, Chapman, and Holland will give him a run for his money in 2014.

Tier 2 – Next Best Thing

5. Koji Uehara

6. Joe Nathan

7. Trevor Rosenthal

8. Casey Janssen

9. Jim Johnson

10. Glen Perkins

Uehara had an outstanding end to 2013 and might be among the game’s best. If he can prove that his 2013 numbers aren’t a flash-in-the-pan (1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 21 saves), he’ll be pushing Kimbrel with the rest of the top tier. Nathan has been consistent (340 saves over the last 10 years) and should keep the Joe Show going in Detroit. Rosenthal will have to prove that last season was not a fluke (2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.9 K/9) and he can handle the ninth before moving up the rankings. Janssen, Johnson, and Perkins are all consistent enough to round out the top 10 for the fickle closer position.

Tier 3 – On the Cusp of Top-Notch

11. David Robertson

12. Jonathan Papelbon

13. Jason Grilli

14. Sergio Romo

15. Ernesto Frieri

16. Rafael Soriano

17. Grant Balfour

18. Steve Cishek

Robertson will inherit the ninth after Mariano Rivera’s departure and has outstanding numbers as a setup guy (2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 last season). If he can keep these numbers up, he’ll perform admirably in Mariano’s stead and be a draft day gem. Although Papelbon seemingly struggled last season, he still posted good numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves) and should have another good year. Grilli provides strong value this season and was a dominant closer most of last season (2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9, 33 saves) despite missing time due to injury.

Tier 4 – Steady Eddies

19. Addison Reed

20. John Axford

21. Huston Street

22. Jim Henderson

23. Fernando Rodney

24. Bobby Parnell

Without being too flashy, this tier is dependable if you’ve decided to wait at closer. Axford might return to form and move up a tier before the season’s end. Rodney is closing for the new look Mariners and could have plenty of save opportunities. If Parnell can stay healthy for 2014, he’ll provide some great value later in drafts.

Tier 5 – Position Battles & Closer Sleepers

25. Jose Veras

26. Tommy Hunter

27. LaTroy Hawkins

28. Neftali Feliz

29. Nate Jones

30. Chad Qualls

31. Mark Melancon

32. Rex Brothers

33. Jesse Crain

34. Danny Farquhar

35. Joakim Soria

Unlike the above tiers, this one if chock full of potential and uncertainty. Jose Veras will regain the ninth as closer for the Cubbies and Tommy Hunter seems to have won the closer gig in Baltimore. Hawkins might eventually lose his job to Rex Brothers, but the Rockies are paying him to be their closer on Opening Day. While Jesse Crain may eventually own the job in Houston (out until April with injury), Chad Qualls should be the first to have it in 2014. Neftali Feliz and Nate Jones would both be ranked higher if either were officially named closer.

Tier 6 – Setup Guys

36. Darren O’Day

37. Tyler Clippard

38. Cody Allen

39. Pedro Strop

40. J.J. Putz

41. Matt Lindstrom

42. Joaquin Benoit

43. Brad Ziegler

44. Tanner Scheppers

45. Sergio Santos

46. Daniel Webb

47. Brian Wilson

48. Jose Valverde

49. Francisco Rodriguez

This grab bag tier features a number of names you’ve seen before and some that are fairly new to the scene. Clippard and Allen are both elite setup men that could steal a few saves. Strop, Benoit, and Santos also provide tremendous value as setup men and can be useful in several fantasy formats (especially those that count holds). Putz and Ziegler are speculative picks that could pan out if there’s a closer competition in Arizona. Other wild cards include former closer studs Wilson, Valverde, and K-Rod.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Good Heavens, I Have an Innings Limit

Nobody should be shocked by seeing their fantasy team run smack into their innings limit at this point of the season but that's exactly what happened to me last year. (This time around, I've been much more discipline: I've only used about 85% of my allocated innings thus far, but that's beside the point.)

Now, I don't write this to admonish more careful innings management over the course of the first five months of the season, nor do I intend to suggest the sort of roster planning that will see you sailing breezily under your limit with space to spare. (That's a good way to kill yourself in Wins and Strikeouts, for one thing.) Quite the contrary, I prefer to rack up a decent amount of starts over the early season, but that also is not the point to which I am meandering.

The point is this: if left on autopilot, all roto format fantasy teams will do one of two things over the course of the next month-and-a-week-or-so: blast through their innings limit and render each of their pitchers completely useless, or leave potential points on the table by missing the limit by a lot. Ugly scenarios, both. Fortunately, the situation is not without its attendant opportunities, which I will now discuss....

'Wait!' yells a chorus of disgruntled readers, 'I don't play in a roto format, I play some sort of head-to-head, and I don't have an innings limit--this article is gonna be totally useless for me. I'm going back to Notgraphs.com!'

Fair point. While those in the most need of late-season roster overhaul are probably in roto formats, those in head-to-head leagues can ask themselves this: are you winning pitching's rate stats more often, or the counting stats? By how much. The tactics I'll outline can be used to great effect in any category-specific format (and many points leagues too, I'll wager, but probably not mine) to provide balance to your team. Or, if you're losing all the pitching categories, unbalance you enough to snag a couple wins.

I must warn you, though, that if you have already abandoned your baseball teams for the glitzy world of fantasy football (or the equally popular fantasy cricket), than this article may not be of use to you.

For those of us with too many innings (often also called a need in ERA and WHIP)

(All others may feel free to skim quickly through the next sections.)

Step 1 
Drop your worst pitcher. Even if he's good. Don't even pick anyone up, just drop the worst guy. If you've got someone like Felix Doubront who might be good (or at least have potential) in wins and strikeouts but isn't likely to help much in WHIP or ERA, that's who you drop. Alternatively, you can drop whoever helps least in strikeouts, if you have multiple pitchers who do about the same things in ERA and WHIP. Right now, I'm making Rick Porcello that drop in one league, and I think he actually merits more than his 21% ownership.

Unless you're neck and neck with another owner that you know can use a pitcher you're considering dropping, don't worry about how good he might be. If you're flying towards an innings limit in a serious way, all but the best starters will probably hurt your team. 

Step 2
On the free agents list (don't use a waiver pick for this unless you have to), pick up the best relief pitcher available. Since losing innings means losing strikeouts, this really means pick up whoever has the most strikeouts or the best K/9 or K% or whichever measurement you want. Relief margins are pretty small and the luck factor is outrageous over the course of a month, so this doesn't need to be an exact science.

I'm picking up Paco Rodriguez, who has a 10.45 K/9, plus a 1.35 ERA and an 0.76 WHIP. Since the innings started piling up for me a long time ago in this league, that makes him my sixth reliever--and in that quantity, these guys can be a pretty serious force in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Too bad they only add up to about a closer and a half between them....

Step 3
If you're still a long way ahead of where you should be in innings, simply repeat steps one and two. In the example league above, I feel decent about how many innings I'll be pitching for the next couple weeks, but if I'm still ahead of the pace after the first week of September the likes of Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Samardzija will be fighting for their roster life. 

Useful Relief Pitchers for Your Reference*

The following pitchers have K/9 rates over 10.00, FIP's of 3.00 or lower and are owned in 30% of Yahoo! leagues or fewer: 

Trevor Rosenthal
Cody Allen
David Robertson
Alex Torres
David Carpenter
Jordan Walden
Brett Cecil
Paco Rodriguez
Neal Cotts
Nate Jones

This list doesn't even include guys like LaTroy Hawkins (25% owned), who could plausibly be closing for the rest of the season, J.J. Putz (48% owned), who could get his closing job back, and Dane De La Rosa (12% owned) who may or may not be unseating Ernesto Frieri as the Angels' closer.

The 10.00 cutoff narrowly misses Drew Smyly (25% owned) and Luke Hochevar (just 3% owned), who have the extremely useful distinction of SP/RP eligibility. If and when your team runs out of RP and P slots for relievers, these guys will be quite the assets. If you don't get one of them, you may be stuck with Brian Matusz, which isn't terrible, I guess.

There are droves of other good and great relievers, out there, so if the aforementioned pitchers aren't to your liking, surely you'll find someone you do fancy.

Stop skimming here!

If you need to accumulate more innings for the sake of your Wins and Strikeouts

Choice 1
This option is for those who have trouble throughout their pitching staff and are not having much success in any starter-related category. 

Time to stream.

Not my favorite strategy, but if you're rolling into the last month with something like 700 IP used out of a 1500 maximum and you aren't killing your opponents in the rate stats, it's time to climb the standings in Wins and Strikeouts. How far our you are in the rate stats and how many points you can plausibly gain in the counting stats should determine how much you stream: anything from one pitcher a week to two per day might be appropriate.

When streaming, stream multiple days in advance. Chances are you aren't the only one with this tactic, especially in a public head-to-head league. The farther ahead you stream, the better options you'll have--and the worse that will be available to your opponent.

Option 2
If you're doing decently well in ERA and WHIP, don't sacrifice those hard earned points (or jeopardize categories you count on week-to-week) for the uncertain and possibly immoral benefits of streaming. 

Here you need to take a careful look at the pitchers available to you, with the goal basically being to go for the highest Wins/K's ceiling and the highest floor in ERA and WHIP. You're rate categories will dip a bit, so if there aren't any points to be gained in the counters, maybe you should just stand pat. In head-to-head, take it week by week, start by start.

Some Potentially Available and Yet Decent Starting Pitchers

I actually made a list of quite a few of these guys...and kept seeing more and more names. There are a lot surprisingly decent pitchers owned in 40% or fewer Yahoo! leagues. I'll let you crunch your own numbers and run your own risk/reward assessments, because options abound in all but the deepest leagues.



2013 Position Rankings: Relief Pitchers

No position comes close to relievers when it comes to unpredictability. With their value tied so intrinsically to saves, and each pitcher throwing only a tiny sample of innings, it shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone when weird things happen: like Fernando Rodney being 2012's best reliever; like John Axford pitching badly enough to lose his job; like anything that happens when Carlos Marmol is on the mound. 

So how do you rank players that come with such an intense level of inherent variance? With caution. Waiting on closers and drafting multiple smei-competent back-enders has always been my plan at this position, and I see little reason to change. Great relievers fall suddenly, and nobodies rise to prominence just as quickly. The rounds into which the closers are tiered reflect my own closer-caution--unfortunately, some drafts won't let you play it so safe if you want to compete in saves, so consider the rounds looser guidelines than usual, even though the player groups stand just fine.

We're finished with the hitters; you can find ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders at these links. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff and they cover all the closers, plus some of the most draftable setup guys. They're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

3rd Round

1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Kimbrel is so good that even I would consider taking him in the third, and I haven't taken a closer before the 10th in about five years. Those strikeouts pile on value; my only worry is that dominant relievers before him have fallen hard.

7th Round

2. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI

After Kimbrel, there is no one I would take over Papelbon, for the simple reason that he's been good for so long that his sample isn't all that small any more: we can safely conclude that he's a good pitcher. It doesn't hurt that the Phillies are paying him big stacks of cash and won't remove him from the job unless he turns into Heath Bell.

8th-9th Round

3. Mariano Rivera, NYY
4. Joe Nathan, TEX
5. Jason Motte, STL

Rivera's been so good for so long that only his injury keeps him this low on my list. It's not that I think he'll be the best closer out there, it's that I'm very confident that he'll be good--and keep his job. Nathan proved last year that his injuries are behind him; like Rivera, so is a long history of success. Motte is a lot lower on this list than most, but don't get me wrong: he has a higher fantasy ceiling than anyone above him (except Kimbrel), but his relative inexperience also tells me that he has a lower floor. Plus, his team isn't invested in him the way Nathan's, Rivera's, and Papelbon's are.

11th-12th Rounds

6. J.J. Putz, ARI
7. Rafael Soriano, WAS
8. John Axford, MIL
9. Fernando Rodney, TBR

Putz is rock solid--when healthy. Fortunately, David Hernandez is one likely backup, and he's worth rostering in a setup role. Unfortunately, Heath Bell is the other likely backup. Soriano should be great in saves and strikeouts, but his walks will keep his WHIP up and probably lead to the occasional blowup. Axford should rebound from a tough 2012 to be the high-K stopper we'd come to expect. Rodney's last season screams fluke...but what if it wasn't? I'm willing to take that chance, albeit not as early as mock drafters are.

13th-14th

10. Jason Grilli, PIT
11. Sergio Romo, SFG
12. Greg Holland, KCR
13. Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
14. Rafael Betancourt, COL
15. Glen Perkins, MIN 

Grilli seems like he came out of nowhere, but he's put up two excellent seasons in a row, and has four straight years of increasing strikeout rates--a number that increased to 13.81 K/9 last year. Romo has serious questions about the health of his elbow, and the best-case scenario for him seems to be that other members of his bullpen vulture more saves than average. Holland and Williamsen rake in the strikeouts but play for mediocre teams. Also, their closing tenure has been short, so their leashes will be too. Betancourt would be a tier higher if he didn't play in Colorado. Perkins was excellent last year, but how many leads will the Twins' rotation be able to deliver?

15th-16th

16. Huston Street, SDP
17. Addison Reed, CHW
18. Jonathan Broxton, CIN
19. Jim Johnson, BAL
20. Grant Balfour, OAK
21. Chris Perez, CLE
22. Steve Cishek, MIA 

Street is a very good pitcher--when healthy, which isn't much of the time. Draft him expecting a DL stint. Reed flew under the radar a little, but was quite successful. Broxton didn't impress--especially with the strikeouts, but the Reds should hand him plenty of leads. Johnson was dynamite last year...but he doesn't get many strikeouts and this Orioles fan expects a bit of team regression. Balfour's overall numbers are pretty good, but he bounced in and out of the closer role. Oakland is an organization that isn't afraid to make changes or defy convention, which is great for them, but less than ideal for a fantasy closer. Perez was surprisingly competent last year, but his shaky history keeps our enthusiasm low. Cishek pitched well, but it probably wouldn't take much for the mercurial Marlins to make a change. Also, they might not be too good next year.

17th-18th

23. Joel Hanrahan, BOS
24. Bobby Parnell, NYM

Hanrahan's underlying numbers were pretty shaky last year, and I don't think Boston will hesitate to make a change if one is needed. They proved with Andrew Bailey that trading for someone doesn't mean he'll get a long leash. Parnell is looking more and more like the Mets' closer in camp. If he starts the season with the job, he'll have to really blow up to lose it to Frank Francisco.

19th-20th

25. Brandon League, LAD
26. Ernesto Frieri, LAA
27. Kenley Jansen, LAD
28. Jose Veras, HOU
29. Sergio Santos, TOR

League and Frieri are both slated to start the season closing for their Los Angeles teams. Both teams are expected to switch closers at some point in the year. For the Angels, that's the plan: switch to Ryan Madson. For the Dodgers, it's what you expect when Jansen is that much better than League. As far as what will really happen...I couldn't say at all. I can say, however, that I prefer to take the guy with the job in hand, because sometimes they don't let it go. Speaking of jobs in hand, that's what Veras has in Houston, and what Santos appears to be grabbing--to start the season--in Toronto.

Should any of these messy closer situations get fully straightened out by Opening Day, Frieri and Jansen would belong in the 13-14th tier, Santos and League in the 15th-16th tier.

21st-22nd

30. Casey Janssen, TOR
31. Ryan Madson, LAA
32. Carlos Marmol, CHC
33. Kyuji Fujikawa, CHC

Janssen and Madson haven't healed as expected and could be seeing their jobs slip away. Should they manage to gain a certain hold on their jobs before Opening Day, both would be worth taking among the 15th-16th tier.

Marmol will have the job as long as he's a Cub--how else to keep his trade value up? The bad news for anyone who drafts him is that the Cubbies might have him traded by Opening Day. If that happens, bump Fujikawa way up this list, as he won't have much competition for saves. I would take him around the 15th or 16th round.

23rd and Beyond

34. Joaquin Benoit, DET
35. Al Alburquerque, DET
36. Bruce Rondon, DET
37. Frank Francisco, NYM 

I don't know what will happen in Detroit's bullpen, but all three of these guys have a chance to close, and a chance to keep the job if they get it. Maybe Francisco will keep his job.

Quality Non-Closers 

38. Vinnie Pestano, CLE
39. David Hernandez, ARI
40. David Robertson, NYY
41. Luke Gregerson, SDP
42. Sean Marshall, CIN
43. Santiago Casilla, SFG
44. Ryan Cook, OAK
45. Andrew Bailey, BOS
46. Drew Storen, WAS
47. Johnny Venters, ATL
48. Mike Adams, PHI
49. Antonio Bastardo, PHI
50. Tyler Clippard, WAS
51. Jacob McGee, TBR
52. Trevor Rosenthal, STL
53. Koji Uehara, BOS 

Some of these guys have a decent shot to close, thanks to a shaky or injury-prone incumbent (Pestano, Hernandez, Robertson, Gregerson, Cook, Bailey, Uehara), while others might vulture some saves along the way (Casilla, Marshall). Some are just worth rostering on their skills alone (Bastardo, Storen). All of these guys are probably best left for deeper leagues.

This year's closer picture is murkier than it has usually been in the recent past. More teams have unresolved questions surrounding the back end of their bullpens: the Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Cubs are all without a certain closer. Expect to get quite a few saves off the waiver wire, and in the meantime, draft a few backup closers. Your relievers don't have to be the best to get the most saves.



Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.



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.



2012 Position Rankings: Relievers

Time for our final set of rankings, the guys pitching the end of the game appropriately enough. Saves are what it's all about for relievers in 5x5 leagues, but they aren't the only stat that counts.

  1. John Axford, MIL - Strikeouts (10.5 K/9) and ground balls (49.7%) are the name of Axford's game, and his teammates should ensure him plenty of save chances. Every reliever is risky, but I feel there's less risk here than usual despite his unusual background.
  2. Mariano Rivera, NYY - Even at 42 years old, Rivera is a marvel. He's dominant in ERA and WHIP, and will pile up saves like few others. The Yankees have scaled back his workload in recent years, so don't expect to see him make too many back-to-back appearances. No one has more job security.
  3. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI - Papelbon has never really been at risk of losing his job in Boston, but his new contract guarantees him the ninth inning with the Phillies. Elite production in all categories except wins.
  4. Craig Kimbrel, ATL - Kimbrel's absurd strikeout rate (14.8 K/9) does not come without risk. He was second among all relievers in appearances (79) and ninth in innings (77) last season and seemed to tire down the stretch. Throwing over 30% sliders is usually cause for concern as well.
  5. Drew Storen, WAS - The Nationals' new rotation should mean more save chances for Storen, who was already sixth in the league last year (43). Doesn't get enough love as a top tier closer.
  6. Ryan Madson, CIN - A minor elbow injury has slowed Madson in camp, but otherwise the ninth inning job is undoubtedly his for the first time in his career.
  7. Joakim Soria, KC - A hamstring injury and some cutter issues gave Soria problems early last season, but he finished strong and figures to be his usual self in 2012.
  8. Rafael Betancourt, COL - The Huston Street trade opened up the ninth inning for Betancourt, who filled in briefly last season. His high strikeout, low WHIP ways just got a ton more valuable.
  9. Brian Wilson, SF - Wilson had oblique and elbow issues last season that delayed his start this year, but he'll have to show that the drastic declines in his strikeout and walk rates were a fluke if he wants to regain top closer status.
  10. Joel Hanrahan, PIT - Hanrahan is finally get the hang of throwing strikes, though he traded some strikeouts for ground balls last season. He could be midseason trade bait given the Mike Adams, Andrew Bailey, and Mark Melancon hauls.
  11. Heath Bell, MIA - The big drop-off in strikeouts in a concern (11.1 K/9 in 2010 to 7.3 K/9 in 2011), but Bell will still have a shot at 40+ saves even if the secondary numbers are less than impressive.
  12. Jose Valverde, DET - The 49-for-49 in save chances thing helped mask what is now a five-year trend of declining strikeout rates. You'll get lots of saves, but at some point the underlying performance will result in a 4.00+ ERA.
  13. Jason Motte, STL - Motte stepped up as closer at the perfect time for the Cardinals, and now he'll have the job right from the get-go. He's gotten his homer problem under control in recent years, and the strikeouts have always been there.
  14. J.J. Putz, ARI - Putz had a big return to the ninth inning last year, but as always the question remains health. He's good for a DL stint or two per season, plus some other day-to-day stuff.
  15. Sergio Santos, TOR - Santos took the closer job and ran with it last season, and now takes his high strikeout ways to Toronto. If he can cut down on the walks, he'll rocket up the rankings.
  16. Carlos Marmol, CHC - The strikeout rate dropped (to a still excellent 12.0 K/9) but the walk rate didn't in 2011, and he lost his job at times last season. Sean Marshall is no longer a threat, but it doesn't make him any less risky.
  17. Andrew Bailey, BOS - Injuries have limited Bailey to just 89 appearances over the last two seasons, which is the big concern. The Red Sox should give him more save chances than the A's did.
  18. Jordan Walden, LAA - Lots of strikeouts, a low ERA, and lots of blown saves (ten). That's what Walden gave the Angels last year, and I do wonder how long his leash will be given the increased expectations in Anaheim.
  19. Brandon League, SEA - The low strikeout rate hurts, but League is in the final year of his contract and is prime midseason trade bait. He could windup a setup man come July.
  20. Kyle Farnsworth, TB - Farnsworth has traded strikeouts for ground balls in recent years, which hurts his overall value. His elbow problem late in 2011 at age 35 is a concern.
  21. Tyler Clippard, WAS - The game's most fantasy dominant setup man, Clippard is workhorse who will provide elite strikeout, ERA, and WHIP production.
  22. Huston Street, SD - Moving from Coors Field to Petco Park will help his extreme homer problem, but not the injuries. There's still a ton of risk here.
  23. Joe Nathan, TEX - Nathan finished well after a slow start, but as a 37-year-old fly ball pitcher moving to a hitter's park (with a major injury in the recent past), he's a grenade with the pin pulled.
  24. Jonny Venters, ATL - Overworked like Kimbrel, Venters will grab some save chances throughout the season since the Braves seem destined to play a lot of close games.
  25. Matt Thornton, CHW - A terrible April was followed by five pretty good months, and Santos' departure means Thornton is the man at the end of the game on Chicago's south side. For now.
  26. Jim Johnson, BAL - He won't miss many bats, but Johnson took the closer's job from Kevin Gregg last year and will run away with it thanks to his turbo-sinker.
  27. Brett Myers, HOU - The newly minted closer in Houston, hopefully the move back to the bullpen boosts Myers' strikeout rate and allows him to avoid the long ball. SP eligibility will provide some extra flexibility.
  28. Frank Francisco, NYM - Prone to the occasional meltdown, Francisco is good for strong strikeout numbers and a DL stint (at least one in each of the last three seasons).
  29. Javy Guerra, LAD - Guerra stepped in nicely last season, seemingly getting his career-long walk issues under control. He'll be the closer from day one.
  30. Chris Perez, CLE - Perez flirted with a 1.0 K/BB ratio for much of 2011, but he finished well. An oblique problem could delay the start to his season.
  31. Vinnie Pestano, CLE - Few setup men were better than Pestano last season, who's going to get the call in the ninth if Perez starts the season on the shelf.
  32. Mike Adams, TEX - The setup man extraordinaire is first in line for saves if Nathan slips up or gets hurt.
  33. Kenley Jansen, LAD - No one struck out a greater percentage of batters faced last season (min. 40 IP), and Jansen is right there waiting for Guerra to slip up.
  34. Brian Fuentes, OAK - The Athletics have yet to decide on a closer, but Fuentes held the job while Bailey was hurt last season. It could give him a leg up.
  35. Grant Balfour, OAK - If not Fuentes, then Balfour is likely to be The Guy in Oakland. He offers better strikeout and WHIP numbers as well.
  36. Sean Marshall, CIN - Arguably the best left-hander reliever in the game, Madson means it'll be tougher for Marshall to steal saves than it was with Marmol in Chicago. Good thing he's valuable in other categories.
  37. Joaquin Benoit, DET - A rough start to his Tigers career was long forgotten by the time the playoffs rolled around. Benoit showed that 2010 was no fluke.
  38. Matt Capps, MIN - If you don't like strikeouts, low ERAs, and low WHIPs, here's your fantasy closer. Without saves, Capps is unrosterable.
  39. Glen Perkins, MIN - Perkins was off-the-charts good in 2011, and Capps' perpetual shakiness means he could see his fair share of save chances in 2012.
  40. Sergio Romo, SF - Romo was so good last season (70 K and 5 BB) that Bruce Bochy made sure he didn't break him by only using him for 48 IP. We need more than that, Boch.
  41. David Hernandez, ARI - When Putz makes his annual DL trip, Hernandez is the guy that will fill in. The walks are a little high, but the strikeouts make up for it.
  42. Francisco Rodriguez, MIL - It's easy to take K-Rod for granted - 9+ K/9 in each of last nine years plus a sub-3.00 ERA in seven of last eight years - but Axford is standing in the way of saves. Too bad.
  43. Scott Downs, LAA - If Walden slips up at all, the save chances will likely go to Downs. The strikeout rate isn't great, but it's tough to ignore everything else.
  44. David Robertson, NYY - Roberton broke out in a big way last season, but his walk rate is scary high and could result in a 5.00+ ERA with some bad luck.
  45. Greg Holland, KC - Holland was very quietly one of the best relievers in baseball last season, but he's only third in line for saves for the Royals right now.
  46. Kerry Wood, CHC - With Marshall out of the fold, Wood is next in line for ninth inning work whenever Marmol has one of those glorious meltdowns.
  47. Mark Melancon, BOS - From closing for the Astros to setting up for the Red Sox. Bailey's sketchy medical record means a few save chances should come his way.
  48. Addison Reed, CHW - A hard-throwing reliever prospect, Reed struck out a dozen and walked one in his six game cameo last season. He's right behind Thornton on the depth chart.
  49. Francisco Cordero, TOR - The self-proclaimed closer of the eighth inning, Cordero gives the Jays a veteran fallback option of Santos slips up at any point.
  50. Rafael Soriano, NYY - Rivera never slips up, but if an injury were to sideline him for an extended period of time, the Proven Closer could get the nod over Robertson. Soriano isn't exactly Mr. Durable himself, remember.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Broxton, KC; Aroldis Chapman, CIN; Andrew Cashner & Luke Gregerson, SD; Joel Peralta, TB; Fernando Salas, STL; Jon Rauch, NYM; Jesse Crain, CHW; Brad Lidge, WAS; Kevin Gregg, BAL; Brandon Lyon & David Carpenter; HOU; Hong-Chih Kuo, SEA

Pitchers with both SP and RP eligibility

  1. Cory Luebke, SD
  2. Brett Myers, HOU
  3. Neftali Feliz, TEX
  4. Daniel Bard, BOS
  5. Chris Sale, CHW
  6. Alexi Ogando, TEX
  7. Josh Collmenter, ARI

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield, Starting Pitchers


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ADP Analysis: Overrated Starting Pitchers

Every Friday during the pre-season I will be analyzing ADP-related issues using the most recent ADP information courtesy of Mock Draft Central and other sources. We start this week by looking at pitchers that are overrated in relation to their ADP positions (don't trade an "overrated" top tier starter appearing on this list for Chris Volstad, unless it is because you have a fanboy mancrush on Theo Epstein), and the upcoming schedule will be:

  • Friday, January 27 - Underrated starting pitchers.
  • Friday, February 3 - Overrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 10 - Underrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 17 - Comparing ADP variances from different sources or other requests from the comments.

Leave any other ADP-related requests in the comments, and I will try to add as many as possible to the pre-season schedule. Here we go with the overrated pitchers (unless stated otherwise, all stat references are for the 2011 season):

  • Any starter in the top 15 overall (Justin Verlander is at ADP 8, Clayton Kershaw at ADP 13 and Roy Halladay at ADP 15) - As I discussed here, I am in favor of drafting a starter in rounds 2 or 3 because a 200-inning starter will have about 13% of your total innings (assuming 1500 inning limit) and a 600 at-bat hitter will have about 7% of your at-bats. I want to lock in 13% of my innings with quality stats since I have flexibility to find cumulative hitting statistics elsewhere, including by streaming at-bats. However, taking a pitcher in the top 15 is too early in this newfound era of the pitcher. I am taking Joey Votto (ADP 10), Evan Longoria (ADP 12), or Prince Fielder (ADP 16) before a starter.
  • The First Five Closers Off The Board - Also as I discussed here, do not be the owner starting closer runs in your draft, you are only chasing one category (an elite set-up reliver can get you similar non-saves stats 50-150 picks later, or off the waiver wire). I do not care if the first five are Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Ricky Vaughn (where can I buy the Dorn jersey shown in that link?), or the late great Rod Beck's Des Moines center field RV, resist the urge to take a top closer! This urge will grow if top closers begin falling in your draft, but since we are only chasing one category (saves totals, which are about as predicable as throwing darts against a spinning dart board while blindfolded) the value of closers is relative to where others are being drafted. Craig Kimbrel (current ADP 54) does not increase in value falling to the eighth or ninth round if no other closers are being drafted. Ignore ADP slots or draft sheets, and just try to target getting three out of the thirty closers wherever they are being drafted. I do not believe that any owner should punt saves, just saying getting any three is fine. We will see next week that the bottom tier closers are underrated - wait on drafting closers and then pounce in rounds 11 through 18 to make sure you get three.
  • Jeremy Hellickson (ADP 131) - Among qualified starters, he had the lowest BABIP in MLB last year (.223) and had the highest differential (1.83) between SIERA on the high end (4.78) and ERA on the low end (2.95). He also has a measly 1.63 K/BB rate. And he pitches in the AL East. I'd rather have Anibal Sanchez (ADP 132, 3.29 SIERA), Max Scherzer (ADP 147, 3.63 SIERA with a 3.11 K/BB), or Shaun Marcum (ADP 154, NL Central starter, 3.91 SIERA) or Brandon Morrow (185 ADP, 3.31 SIERA, 10.19 K/9 (!)).
  • Jered Weaver (ADP 31) - 2.41 ERA masked 3.67 SIERA and 3.80 xFIP. His hr/f dropped from 8% each year from 2008 through 2010 to 6% in 2011, and was carried by an insane 3% in the first half of 2011 (10% second half of 2011). Expect regression. Give me instead Zack Greinke (ADP 51, more on this stud sleeper to follow in later posts) or teammate Dan Haren (ADP 39, 3.34 SIERA). Does this mean that if Weaver and Zack Greinke are sitting on the board at 31 that you should take Zack Greinke? The answer is, as George Lucas would have Darth Vader say (or as George Lucas would stupidly remix years later over the audio of your draft), NOOOOOOOOOOOO! It means that you take a hitter, wait a round, and still get a superior pitcher in Zack Greinke to the one you were going to take at 31 in Jared Weaver.
  • Mark Buehrle (ADP 275) - 4.38 SIERA and 4.78 k/9. I prefer the upside of Jon Niese (ADP 279, 7.89 k/9, 3.42 SIERA) or Mike Minor (ADP 296, 3.76 SIERA) instead.
  • Ian Kennedy (ADP 70) - 3.44 SIERA, and the 21 wins will cause owners to overreach. Not saying just yet I would take Madison Bumgarner (ADP 74, 3.18 SIERA) or Daniel Hudson (ADP 78) over Kennedy, but I would rather wait on my No. 2 or a high-end No. 3 starter to get one of these two a round later.

As a bonus, like seeing the Avengers teaser at the end of the Captain America credits (yes, I was one of the five or so nerds in the theater opening weekend that knew it was coming and forced my girlfriend to sit through five minutes of credits), here is a guy that seems like he would be overrated but is being drafted at about his correct slot:

  • Stephen Strasburg (ADP 58) - He will put up sick numbers for 160 innings, and then you can round out the other forty innings or so with bantha fodder set-up men from the waiver wire. I love taking him before the next two starters on the ADP list (Matt Cain at 65 and James Shields at 66). Nab him in the fifth round if he is available, particularly if you have not drafted a starter yet.





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