San Francisco Giants


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.



Closers: Giants, Mets, Athletics

For all the latest breaking news on closer shakeups, be sure to follow @closernews, where temporary closer demotions quietly morph into permanent ones. 

Giants
We've seen a few shrewdly handled closer committees over the past couple years, two of which now belong to the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, who deserves plenty of real-life credit for playing matchups toward the end of getting outs and winning games -- rather than being a slave to flimsily defined niche roles such as setup man and closer.

Real-life credit is fine and all, but Bochy's saber bullpen is not going to win him any friends in fantasy circles, as we fake gamers are sick of playing Whac-A-Mole with potential Giants closers. But unfortunately for those who are speculating for saves as the season's final month approaches, they'll have to look beyond San Francisco (unless willing to sacrifice any semblance of roster efficiency), as there looks to be no end in sight to the Giants' mix-and-match philosophy.

Here's the confusing "pattern" with which we have to work: Since July 31, Jeremy Affeldt has two saves, while Clay Hensley and Javier Lopez each have one. Both of Affeldt's saves spanned longer than one inning (1 1/3 and two). Hensley's and Lopez's saves were both of the one-out variety. Lethal setup man Sergio Romo, meanwhile, has none; ditto for ex-closer Santiago Casilla. Nothing is jumping out at me here from which I can confidently infer anything. While Affeldt looks to have had an early edge in the committee, Bochy's willingness to lift him from a save chance on Saturday night in favor of Hensley kind of tells us all that we need to know. No one is promised anything here.

My sense is that any yearly leaguer who is willing to dip his or her toes into these waters must be in contention and desperate to add saves or prevent a close competitor from accruing more of them. In which case, Affeldt is probably the place to start, but short of adding Lopez and Romo -- and perhaps even Hensley and Casilla -- there's bound to be plenty of frustration for owners who are out to mine saves from this bullpen. It's hard to fathom a scenario in which owning three relievers from the same 'pen is a net win for a fantasy roster (even two is pushing it), so perhaps it's best to leave this piecemeal arrangement alone.

Mets
In truth, the 2012 Mets could have had a weekly slot as one of the three featured bullpens in this column. Between Frank Francisco's perpetual mediocrity, Bobby Parnell's inability to seize a closing opportunity when one is presented to him, and Jon Rauch's Jon Rauchness, the Amazin's have plenty of options, but all are flawed in some way such that job security is always a concern, regardless of who's filling in or bailing out at a given moment.

Most recently, a red-hot Rauch was called upon to bail Francisco out of a couple of hairy situations, earning saves in both cases. Fantasy owners are all too familiar with Rauch, and the Mets too were apparently wary of looking too much into his recent run of success, as his unexpected saves didn't translate into any kind of role change. Parnell, similarly, ceded closing chores back to Francisco after being awarded the gig when Frank-Frank was on the DL in June and July.

With little to play for, uninspiring alternatives, and Francisco on the books for 2013, perhaps the Mets are simply disinclined to rock the boat now. Certainly, they would have been within their rights to make a full-hearted change at several junctures this season. With Francisco's ownership down to 62% in Yahoo! leagues, there's roughly one-third of you who have the opportunity to snap up a free closer off the wire right now. It seems woefully naive to point out the discrepancy between Francisco's 6.06 ERA and 3.76 SIERA, but I just did, so if you want to hang your hat on anything -- however glass-half-full it may be -- in hopes that there's some chance of improvement, there it is.

In the meanwhile, Rauch and Parnell are not worth stashing until I see something out of the Mets to suggest otherwise. With so few bats missed, Rauch's nice run may soon end -- and with it, his chances of vulturing some saves. And while I think Parnell has the chops to close, the Mets might not even consider him next in line.

Athletics
I have to admit: When the A's switched back from Ryan Cook to Grant Balfour as their closer for what they said would only be a couple of save chances, I didn't know what the heck to think in terms of laying out a sensible fantasy strategy. Cook had been so good before settling into a nasty post-break slump, and Balfour's career was seemingly on life support when he relinquished closing duties earlier in the season.

So far, it has paid off for the A's. While Cook's sabbatical has extended well beyond the original two save chances that were prescribed, Balfour has banked each of his first four save chances since reclaiming closing duties -- and Cook is showing modest signs of progress, going unscored upon in each of his past three outings.

Whether the A's will once again flip-flop when convenient remains to be seen, but my guess is they'll keep things as is. Age and experience aside, Balfour and Cook are strikingly similar pitchers. Balfour's peripheral line: 7.67 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 36% GB rate, 3.76 SIERA. Cook's peripheral line: 8.94 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 42% GB rate, 3.56 SIERA. If anything, Cook looks like a slightly better pitcher, but not by much, and unless Balfour slumps the way he did earlier in the season, the A's will probably look for (finally) some continuity.



Closer Updates: Athletics, Rangers, Giants

The pursuit of saves is a tiresome business, so if you need to "get fresh," in the words of Ron Washington, let @closernews do the dirty work for you. On with the updates ...

Athletics
"Wait till your honeymoon's over."

A caustic Pete Campbell shared these cautionary words with the love-smitten Don Draper in Season 5 of Mad Men, reminding our protagonist that life cannot be spent skipping through flowery fields with our lovers. Somewhere in this muddled metaphor I'm constructing an analogy for A's closer Ryan Cook, whose owners are too well aware of the adage about familiarity and contempt now that the right-hander has slumped badly in recent weeks.

I was wary of Cook from the get-go, because the numbers just don't add up. There's too little daylight between his strikeout and walk rates (2.09 K/BB), and the .180 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate look fishy, too. All told, something had to give between what is now a 3.63 SIERA and what was once a sub-1.00 ERA, and we've found out which one it is.

A's manager Bob Melvin said before Monday night's game that Cook's job is safe, but I can only envision an in-contention team suffering a slumping rookie closer for so long before looking elsewhere. So, Cook owners should consider handcuffing Grant Balfour, whose surface stats have rebounded nicely after his early-season slump that cost him the ninth-inning job. Cook's and Balfour's peripherals are comically similar, so I'm not sure Balfour is any more of an improvement than Cook was, but bullpens sometimes chase their tails.

For those who don't own Cook, I'd probably pass on Balfour; this one could get hairy, and the payoff may not be worth the frustration.

Rangers
Joe Nathan's return to dominance this season has been a great, and perhaps underreported, story. Based on his age and injury history (Tommy John surgery in 2010), I had little faith before the season started that he could recapture the form that made him one of MLB's best closers for the better part of a decade. But, here we are on Aug. 6, with Nathan sitting on 21 saves and a tidy 2.31 SIERA.

That being said, if there is any lingering concern about Nathan, it's whether he can hold up at age 37 over the course of a long season in the heat of Texas. And after he allowed runs in four of seven post-break outings, the Rangers were apparently concerned enough to rest Nathan over the weekend, instead deferring to Alexi Ogando for two save chances, which he converted.

I think there's enough here to speculate that an injury could be in play, although I can't hazard a guess at the nature or severity of it. In the meanwhile, nervous Nathan owners should definitely look to handcuff Ogando, and even those who don't own Nathan might want a piece of the action. We'll need a post-rest outing or two out of Nathan before we can gauge whether something is seriously askew, but in the meanwhile, it's not a bad idea to hedge against the worst.

It's also worth noting that ace setup man Mike Adams seems to have been skipped over as Nathan's stand-in. It's not entirely shocking, considering he hasn't enjoyed the kind of success in Texas that he did in San Diego, but it certainly underscores the argument that he was perhaps a Petco Park creation to some extent.

Giants
The Lads went ahead and pulled the trigger on one of those seemingly insignificant moves that could actually prove to have big fantasy implications. In acquiring Jose Mijares from the Royals, the Giants now have another LOOGY to pair with Javier Lopez, freeing up Jeremy Affeldt to claim a substantial role in what manager Bruce Bochy unapologetically said will be a closer-by-committee. Damn if that ain't the saber-ist thing Botchy Bochy ever did. Actually, in fairness, the Giants kind of went with a committee when Brian Wilson missed a whole bunch of time last season.

Anyway, I like Affeldt a lot -- and Sergio Romo a little more and Santiago Casilla a little less -- but I think this one is about to get pretty muddled. So, while deep leaguers and NL-only types will want to get any and all of these fellas, standard leaguers may want to pass unless they're desperate.

Quickly
Nationals right-hander Drew Storen earned a save Sunday while incumbent Tyler Clippard rested after pitching on three consecutive days. I'm not reading too much into this, as Clippard is still the primary closer, but it sounds like the Nats will be fairly liberal in allowing Storen to close occasionally. ... Frank Francisco has returned to closing for the Mets, bailing out Bobby Parnell in his first game back from the disabled list. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey is progressing through his minor league rehab stint and is slated for a mid-month return from the DL, but I think Alfredo Aceves holds onto the job for the season's balance.



Closer Updates: Giants, Blue Jays, Rangers

We've got the latest on all the @closernews closer news, so unless you want to walk off the mound a loser, read on ...

Giants
The headliner since we last spoke came this weekend, when news broke that Giants closer Brian Wilson sustained a serious injury, one that San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy ham-handedly phrased as "structural issues." Yes, that's one way of putting it, Boch. The short of it is, The Beard is very likely headed for a second Tommy John surgery, in which case he would be sidelined for the year and perhaps into next.

Of course, we wish Wilson the best and hope to see him back at full strength as soon as possible. Apropos of nothing, may I suggest this excellent piece by Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com for an interesting look at Wilson, which somehow manages to both strip away and prop up Wilson's "Beard" persona.

Anyway, what do we make of this unfortunate situation from a fantasy perspective? Well, Bochy wasted no time in announcing that he'd be deploying a closer-by-committee of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez, much to frustration of owners everywhere. It's my experience that fantasy types tend not to appreciate ambiguity in these kinds of situations.

The way it plays out may be simpler than it appears at first glance, though. Lopez can probably be discounted as a seriouus closing candidate on account of his LOOGY profile, unless it should work out that he's brought in to face a tough lefty for the final out of a game. That leaves us Romo and Casilla, and though Romo would be the rightful successor as one of the dominant relievers in baseball, he must be handled gently on account of his propensity for injuries, as Baggarly notes in the above-mentioned article. We can debate it from an old school-new school perspective all we want, but frailty is not a virtue for ballplayers -- especially not for closers, who are supposed to get their Dale Earnhardt on on the mound.

In fact, Casilla is the trendy own, and I think it has merit. Recall that the Giants faced life without Wilson for a substantial chunk of the second half last season on account of an elbow strain (ominously enough). During that time, the bulk of save opportunities went to the right-hander Casilla, a strong-armed reliever whose shiny surface stats have seemed to belie rather pedestrian peripherals for a couple years running now (3.66 SIERA vs. 1.74 ERA in 2011, for example). Casilla will likely get first crack, and although I worry about whether he can run with the job, he's the better pickup.

Blue Jays
Sergio Santos got off to a slow start as a Blue Jay, allowing four earned runs in his first three innings of work. Then, he had the indecency to tend to the birth of his child, which left his ugly small-sample-size numbers to linger on his owners' stats sheets like two-week-old Easter candy.

The good followers at @closernews pinged us with a few questions regarding Santos before he bounced for paternity leave. Though we've seen even the most entrenched closers receive ye olde demotion over the years, I'm not yet worried about Santos' job security. For one, the Jays made a point of trading for him and his team-friendly contract this offseason, so you know he's Their Guy for the foreseeable future. For two, Francisco Cordero ain't much of an alternative at this juncture of his career. I mean, what would be the point?

Unless Santos is injured -- and I have absolutely no reason to believe that -- bet on him bouncing back now that Mary's dropped his baby girl. I hesitate to ignore that whole correlation-causation rule, but would it shock you if Santos' poor early production had something to do with an impending addition to his family? We can't say that for sure, but don't do anything crazy like dropping or selling low on Santos. Sit him down for an outing or two, if you're really concerned.

Rangers
Like the Blue Jays and Santos, Texas has seen newly acquired closer Joe Nathan scuffle in his first few outings as a Ranger. Ron Washington quelled any concerns with an unequivocal declaration as to the identity of his closer (hint: it's Nathan), but this is a situation I'm watching a little more closely.

Nathan is old and two years removed from Tommy John surgery. The latter concern may not be worth mentioning considering the usual time frame for pitchers to fully recover from the procedure, but at Nathan's advanced age, it may be fair to wonder whether he's looking at a different time table. After all my 29-year-old legs tire when I hike up more than two sets of subway steps at a time, so I can't even imagine whipping a baseball at 93 mph eight years from now coming off TJ.

That being said, the Rangers lavished two guaranteed years and $14.75MM on Nathan this offseason, so the last thing they want at the one-percent mark of the deal is a closer controversy. Nathan will receive every chance to get right. It took Neftali Feliz till August-ish to hit his groove last season, and though he presented the Rangers several opportunities to look elsewhere, they never did.

But what if Nathan doesn't get right? Could it finally be the year for Mike Adams? This is one to keep tabs on.

Marlins
Heath Bell's first few outings in Florida Miami haven't gone, um, swimmingly, either. The chubby stopper has allowed two runs in two of his four outings this season, and in one of the others, he issued three free passes. Ugh.

Bell's peripherals took a pretty drastic downturn last season, so this is not an altogether shocking development. Is he hurt? That's hard to say. His velocity is down about one mph, but that's in a very small sample, and ... it's one mph. That being said, let's wait a few more outings till we write off Bell as another free-agent flop (joining Ryan Madson). The Marlins -- perhaps even moreso than the Rangers -- have every incentive in the world to stick with their closer till his arm falls off because of the roundly criticized contract they signed him to during their offseason feeding signing frenzy.

Ironically, Bell was one of the beneficiaries of the Marlins' awkward hey-look-at-us-we-have-money campaign. Now, we'll get to see how serious they are  in handling him if it comes down to wins and losses.

Edward Mujica is my pick to succeed the Heater in the event something should go down (although Steve Cishek would be a candidate too, I spose), and while I have my cursor on the add-drop button, I'm not acting until Bell turns in another clunker.



Is Barry Zito For Real?

Seven starts in, we've already read quite a bit about Barry Zito's renaissance.  Consider me a skeptic.

I'm not doing anything too advanced here, but Zito's numbers outside of his 1.90 ERA are not impressive.  His walks are still high - 3.6 per nine innings.  His strikeout rate is his worst since '03 - 5.7 per nine.  We could blame a lot of this on his last start - without it, his walk rate is 2.55 per nine.  On the other hand, eliminating a pitcher's worst start will often give a huge boost when he's only made seven.

Zito has excelled in two areas - hits and home runs allowed.  6.3 hits allowed per nine is not a reasonable expectation moving forward.  You just don't see pitchers do that over an extended period.  His BABIP is quite low at .241, though we have to credit Zito for posting four other low-BABIP full seasons in his career (including .242 in '03).  Zito has also not allowed a home run so far this year, despite a career rate of 0.94 per nine coming into the season.  His 44.4% groundball rate is a career-best, so maybe he will continue doing a better job preventing the longball.  Still, that rate doesn't place him on the groundball leaderboard.

XFIP is always a good way to see how a guy has really pitched.  Per FanGraphs, Zito's is 4.49.  If the reduced strikeout rate continues Zito may have a hard time even matching last year's value of $5.43, from here on out on a prorated basis.  You may want to hang on to him for now, though, as his next start is against the Astros.



Facing The Giants

The Giants easily have the worst offense in the NL at 3.63 runs per game.  Here's a look at their opponents this week, for spot-starting purposes:

  • Monday: Daniel Cabrera
  • Tuesday: Jordan Zimmermann
  • Wednesday: Shairon Martis
  • Thursday: John Maine
  • Friday: Livan HernandezTim Lincecum starts this game for the Giants, but it's Livan Hernandez so you probably wouldn't use him anyway.
  • Saturday: Johan Santana

Zimmermann is my pick of the week, though Maine is worth a look if he's out there (despite his 5.3 BB/9).  You might be able to hang with Zimmermann, as he draws the Pirates in his following start.



A Look At The San Francisco Bullpen

The Giants made an early strike to sign Jeremy Affeldt to be their setup man.  It was surprising Affeldt signed on November 17th, as the market for him figured to be strong.  Plus, he chose not to seek a closing role given Brian Wilson's presence in San Francisco.

Wilson used his 95.8mph heater to whiff more than a batter per inning.  However, that K rate was accompanied by a lot of walks, hits, and home runs.  His WHIP was 1.44, yet he still saved 41 games.  At the least, his BABIP (.336)/hits per nine innings (8.95) will come down.

The Giants figure to stick with Wilson unless he takes a step backward in 2009.  However, there is a case to be made that Affeldt is the better pitcher.   The main difference is Affeldt's superior control.  Affeldt was also plagued by a rough BABIP (.329).

The Bill James projections suggest the pitchers are in the correct roles, however.  They have Wilson with a 3.74 ERA and 1.38 WHIP and Affeldt with a 4.39 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  They may have projected Affeldt as a Red though.  ZiPS sees a similar ERA but higher WHIP for Wilson, but likes Affeldt for a 3.44 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.

This was a long-winded way of saying that I think Affeldt is a better pitcher than Wilson, but the Giants are unlikely to agree unless Wilson is horrific.  I'd be intrigued if Bob Howry steps up as a strong setup man and Affeldt gets a chance to start.  Howry doesn't project too poorly himself, with the systems calling for an ERA in the 3.75-4.10 range and a WHIP around 1.25.

While the Giants' revamped pen should certainly be an improvement, note that all three late-inning relievers allowed more than one home run per nine innings in 2008.  This could lead to some especially painful losses.



Armando Benitez Projection

Purchasers of my 2006 Fantasy Guide may have noticed that Armando Benitez is valued at just $2.39, right below Kyle Farnsworth.  Given that Benitez posted a 1.29 ERA with 47 saves in his last healthy season, what gives?  Let's take a peek under the hood and see why I've projected Benitez to have a 4.26 ERA in 2006.

To begin with, I have Benitez pitching 68 innings in '06.  It's his previously established healthy level, and he hasn't really exceeded it since 2001.

Next, let's look at his K rate.  While there are some dangerously small samples from 2003 and 2005, Benitez's strikeout rate has seen a fairly steady decline since 1999.  I've pegged it at 7.6 per nine for his age 33 season, which would be better than his '05 mark in 30 innings.  Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system thinks Benitez will remain at 2005's 6.9 K/9 rate.  The ZiPS system went with 8.1, a rise from his 2004 mark.

Now it's time to predict Benitez's hit rate.  This is far from an exact science, but I'll do my best.  I put it at 7.4 hits per nine.  It hasn't been that high in a full season since '03, and Benitez  posted a remarkably low 4.6 per nine rate in 2004.  I'm not sure how much control he has over his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) but the .178 mark from '04 seems a tad lucky.  ZiPS says 7.4 and PECOTA went with 7.9. 

Walk rate must also be projected for us to come up with his WHIP.  2004 and maybe 2002 were the only two seasons during which Benitez had walk rates that could be considered good.  He has a 4.62 per nine career mark, and I went with 4.65.   I think he could get this down to 4.3, but I'd be surprised to see much better than that.  The field does not agree, as ZiPS said 4.0 and PECOTA 4.2.  In their defense, Benitez's career walk rate is influenced by some wildness early in his career.

My projections call for a 1.34 WHIP, versus 1.40 from PECOTA and 1.28 from ZiPS.  The range here is huge, with the most variation in the walks allowed portion.  Improved control is how Benitez would most likely prove my projection wrong.

I was pessimistic in projected his HR rate, going with 1.1 per nine.  He hasn't been that bad in a full season since '02, but Benitez did spend 2004 in a major pitchers' park.  ZiPS went with 0.90 and PECOTA predicts 1.1.

Given Benitez's salary and the weak San Francisco bullpen, it'd be a surprise to see him lose his job.  That's why I still predicted 34 saves.  According to the depth chart at The Closer Watch, we could have to endure more 9th innings in the hands of Tyler Walker if Benitez really blows up or gets hurt.   

PECOTA projects a 4.40 ERA while ZiPS is kinder with 4.03.  My final projection:

  IP    H   HR   BB   SO ERA WHIP    W    SV
  68   56    8   35    57 4.26 1.34     5    34

There's plenty of uncertainty here, but three independent systems predict an ERA over 4 for San Francisco's closer.  I'm not sure what kind of price Benitez will go for in auctions this year, but I'd have to think it will be more than $5.  He went in the 11th round of ESPN's expert mock draft, ahead of Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Brian Fuentes, and Jose Valverde.  At this point in his career Benitez just doesn't look like a good fantasy investment, and I'd prefer any of those four.





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