Tampa Bay Rays


The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Hellickson Redux

The last week of the season is a weird one here at TPIITP.  All year long, we've been using the advanced metrics to weed out the "hey, he's on a roll!" or "boo, this guy stinks!" gut reactions from your fantasy moves, helping you look at the big picture behind a small sample size of a few games or even few weeks' worth of numbers.

Now that there's only five games remaining in the season, however, the sample size can't help but be small.  Since August I've narrowed the "recent metrics" window to just the previous month's worth of results, but at this point, you can't get any narrower.  Nobody can predict what'll happen in these next five days.  I can't, you can't, Nate Silver can't....well, he might be able to, but still, he wouldn't return my requests to co-author the column this week.

With this in mind, I'm going to forsake the usual stat-based analysis and revisit my first column of the year, which considered the case of one Mr. Jeremy Hellickson.  I singled him out since Hellickson was one of the prime examples of a pitcher who advanced metrics revealed to be pitching over his head for not one, but two seasons.  As I noted last April, Hellickson had the highest strand rate (81.8%) and lowest BABIP (.244) of any pitcher in baseball during the 2011-12 seasons, numbers that helped him to a 3.02 ERA over 366 innings despite these unimpressive peripherals....

2011: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.78 SIERA, 35% ground ball rate, 1.63 K/BB, 5.6 K/9

2012: 4.60 FIP, 4.44 xFIP, 4.44 SIERA, 41.8% ground ball rate, 2.10 K/BB rate, 6.3 K/9

Chalk it up to a bit more veteran experience, a bit of turning 26 and entering his baseball prime, or maybe Hellickson just got fed up with all the fantasy naysayers, but he went out and had the best advanced metric season of his career.  Though 169 1/3 IP, Hellickson posted...

2013: 4.27 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 4.16 SIERA, 39% ground ball rate, 2.71 K/BB rate, 6.9 K/9

The boost was largely due to an uptick in strikeouts, as Hellickson struck out a career-best 130 batters.  Now, those still aren't a superb set of peripherals, but hey, they're decent enough numbers for The Luckiest Pitcher In Baseball to work with, right?  What now, is he going to flirt with a 2.50 ERA?

Uh, make that flirt with a 5.20 ERA.  To be exact, Hellickson's ERA sits at 5.16, a stunning number for a guy who'd beaten the odds for two years and is now getting busted even with better cards.  Only two qualified starters (Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson) have a larger negative gap between their ERA and their FIP than Hellickson's 0.88 drop. 

It came down to a lack of help from the BABIP and strand rate gods; Hellickson had a somewhat high .305 BABIP and a somewhat low 67.9% strand rate.  That's all it took for Hellickson to go from a fantasy dark horse into an easy roster drop come June.  I'll give it to him, however -- even in failure, he makes for an interesting advanced metric test case.

The question now is, what should be make of Hellickson for your 2014 fantasy season?  I recommended drafting him last year and, by thunder, I'm sticking to my opinion and saying you should keep Hellickson in mind as a last-round, rotation-depth selection in your next draft.  His poor season will drop him off just about every other owner's rader and, as I noted, next year is his age-27 season and he does seem to be improving as a pitcher. 

With a bit more development and a bit of luck, Hellickson could finally stop starring in Advanced Metrics: The Movie and just be your garden-variety pitcher whose peripherals more or less mirror his actual statistics.  It'll make him a lot less fun to write about but after seeing what he did to my fantasy rotation's numbers this year, I've already been to Hellickson and back.



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: AL East Closer Roundup

Welcome back to Shutdown Corner, folks. We're rolling through closer roundups for every division in baseball, this week focusing on the five teams in the AL East. We've previously reviewed the AL West and NL East, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

And, 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.

Baltimore Orioles: Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson was the major-league leader in saves for 2012, racking up 51 for the surprising Baltimore Orioles during their playoff run. But despite the gaudy save numbers and 2.49 ERA, Johnson's a nice candidate to turn into a pumpkin next season. Johnson doesn't strike out nearly the amount of hitters that a closer needs to in order to be effective. Johnson had just a 15.3% strikeout rate, not an exciting number, and the fourth-worst of all qualified relievers. He was almost the worst strikeout reliever in baseball. Don't draft him for Ks.

Fortunately for Johnson and the folks who draft him, Pedro Strop isn't exactly banging down the door to take Johnson's job. Buck Showalter is probably locked into Johnson, so he'll get all the rope in the world with which to hang himself. If you want saves, and care less about strikeouts and rate stats, Jim Johnson's your man.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (low strikeout rate, settled into role)

Next in line: Pedro Strop

New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera

I know, I know, he's the greatest closer in baseball history. His peripheral stats are phenomenal, and he's racked up nearly 40 wins above replacement despite only throwing 1219 and 2/3 innings over his career. Then you can toss in about 15 more RA9-Wins because the guy gets weak contact and can bear down with runners on.

This year, Mo is coming off a missed season, thanks to a brutal knee injury. Word is that he's about ready to return, and he's likely to be elite when he comes back. He's basically always been elite. However, if there's any chance that Rivera is still dealing with injury, or if the knee trouble causes an injury cascade, then Mo may not be as effective as we're used to ... or he may be out and David Robertson will be owning the ninth.

That having been said, Mariano is still an elite closer, based on prior body of work. Actually, I'm only giving out one Tier 1 grade this pre-season, and it's going to Craig Kimbrel. But, if anyone else was close, it was Mo. He is a monster, and while his K-rate dipped in 2010, it rebounded nicely in 2011 and what little 2012 he pitched.

Respect Mariano, everyone. Ignore him at your own risk.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (phenomenal skill, injury risk)

Next in line: David Robertson

Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen

Important news: Casey Janssen is probably better than you think. More than a few roto heads got a nice boost in the middle of the season thanks to Casey's solid performance and 22 saves as the closer after Sergio Santos flamed out before the season even started. Janssen checked all the boxes for solid closer performance, with only a few blown saves (three all season), high strikeout totals (27.7% k-rate), and a sparkly 0.86 WHIP.

So why aren't I rating Janssen higher?

The important thing about Janssen's status as closer is that the Jays have other options in the 'pen. Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln, Sergio Santos, all these guys could have strong seasons, and the Jays may be looking to make a quick change if the team isn't getting good closer production. If Janssen were on a different team, he'd probably be up a tier, maybe even two. But on the win-now Jays, the team may look to add another reliever, or move Janssen out of the ninth if he hits a rough patch. Plus, it's not like he has the track record that would give his skipper irrational confidence in his abilities going forward. There's always the possibility of performance decline, especially on the wrong side of 30.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (small room for error, doesn't have "proven closer" title, only two years of above-average performance)

Next in line: Sergio Santos

Boston Red Sox: Joel Hanrahan

Do you want to know a secret? Joel Hanrahan was actually pretty terrible in 2012. I know, the guy had a 2.72 ERA and stacked up 36 saves for the Pirates. But when you dig a little deeper, a few very concerning peripherals speak to a poor season. Hanrahan walked 14.2% of the batters he faced, which is a HUGE number. That's more than five walks per nine innings, and completely unacceptable.

Hanrahan also gave up a host of homers (1.21 HR/9), and that works out to a 4.45 FIP. By FanGraphs' WAR metric, Hanrahan was actually worse than a replacement-level reliever. That's not what anyone wants from a closer.

Now, I don't think Hanrahan will be quite as bad as he was last season, his BB% and HR/FB numbers should regress closer to his true talent level. At the same time, Fenway isn't exactly the best place to try and 

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (big strikeouts, high walks and home runs, huge potential for performance variance)

Next in line: Andrew Bailey

Tampa Bay Rays: Fernando Rodney

Probably no player -- and definitely no closer -- was as much of a surprise last season as Fernando Rodney. Rodney really hadn't been a good reliever since the '06 and '07 seasons, but in his first season in Tampa, Rodney was the best reliever in the AL. The strikeouts jumped up (27% strikeout rate), the walks dropped down (5.3% walk rate), and he stranded almost every runner who hit the bases. The result: an otherworldly 0.60 ERA.

But let's be real, this had to be somewhat of a mirage.

First of all, Rodney is entering his age-34 season, and has literally no history of performance at this level before this big season. Second, his peripherals led to a 2.13 FIP, which is still great, but doesn't reflect 48-save, under-one-ERA performance for next season. I just can't imagine he'll have another elite season, and the Rays have a whole host of solid relief options surrounding him (Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta), so don't draft him too early.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (lots of competition, 2012 performance doesn't appear to reflect prior performance)

Next in line: Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with a look at the NL Central.

All data from FanGraphs.



The Next Big Thing: Waiting On Top Prospects

The 2012 season was the year of immediate impact. All across the league we saw rookie players come up and contribute more than expected, and it started right in April with reigning Rookies of the Year Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. It extended far beyond those two, of course. Wade Miley was an All-Star for the Diamondbacks, Rob Brantly hit .290 with a .372 OBP in a month's worth of games for the Marlins, Manny Machado hit two homers in his second game with the Orioles, the division-winning Athletics had an all-rookie rotation at one point, the list goes on and on. Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Rizzo ... there were impact rookies everywhere.

Fantasy owners are looking for that next big thing every season, and that search figures to be a little more intense in 2012 after the banner rookie class of a year ago. Top prospects are always a great place to start, but some are blocked or simply two far away from the majors to have real fantasy value. Some are the victims of their own success as clubs will keep them in the minors in April and May to ensure an extra year of team control down the line. Here's a look at some of the game's best up-and-coming big leaguers who could be this season's Trout or Harper.

Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Tyler Skaggs
The D'Backs have a strong rotation fronted by Miley, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy, but that fifth spot is up for grabs. Patrick Corbin handled himself well enough last year (4.54 ERA in 107 IP) and Josh Collmenter is lurking, but the 21-year-old Skaggs will get a chance to make the team out of Spring Training as well. He got hit pretty hard in six late-season starts (5.83 ERA and 1.50 WHIP) but that's not the end of the world. His minor league performance is dynamite (2.87 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in 2012) and his curveball is a true out-pitch. The trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Indians removed one fifth starter candidate from Arizona's equation, but my guess is Corbin will get the first shot with Skaggs waiting in Triple-A for someone to get hurt or underperform.

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Dylan Bundy
The Orioles made a bold move late last season by calling up baseball's best pitching prospect for the stretch run in September even though he was still a teenager at the time. Bundy, who has since turned 20, made two short relief appearances and is slated for more time in the minors in 2013. He has just 103 2/3 total minor league innings under his belt, only 16 2/3 have come above the Single-A level. Baltimore has already shown a willingness to use Bundy in the big leagues, but I highly doubt using him as a starter right out of Spring Training is in the cards. If anything, the young right-hander is a second half call-up.

Houston Astros: 1B Jonathan Singleton
No team is rebuilding quite like the Astros, though they recently signed Carlos Pena to caddy with Brett Wallace at the first base and DH spots. The first base seat is just being kept warm for the 21-year-old Singleton, who hit .284/.396/.497 with 21 homers in Double-A last season. He followed up the season with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. Houston has every reason to play the service time game with Singleton, who they acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade two years ago. After a few hundred Triple-A at-bats to start the season, expect to see he young left-handed hitter in the middle of the big league lineup.

New York Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler & C Travis d'Arnaud
Matt Harvey deserved a mention in my quick list of impact rookies in the intro, and he figures to have some running mates in 2013. Like the Astros and Singleton, the Mets have every reason to manipulate Wheeler's and d'Arnaud's service time next season. Wheeler, 22, is arguably the second best pitching prospect in the game but I do not think the team will want to keep him in Triple-A Las Vegas very long. It might the best hitter's environment in professional baseball and could wreck a pitcher's confidence over the full season. Since he needs a challenge after overwhelming the Double-A level this past season (3.27 ERA with 8.5 K/9), expect to see the right-hander in New York's rotation come June.

D'Arnaud, 23, was the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade. He hit a stout .333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in Last Vegas last season (the Mets and Blue Jays swapped Triple-A affiliates this offseason) but did not play after late-June due to a knee injury. After another few hundred at-bats in Triple-A, expect to see d'Arnaud replace John Buck behind the plate at the big league level. He, Wheeler, and Harvey are the team's high-end battery of the future.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker, LHP James Paxton & LHP Danny Hultzen
Perhaps no club has as many high-end pitching prospects as Seattle, especially if you want to factor in closeness to the majors. Walker, 20, is the best of the bench despite some hiccups at Double-A in 2012 (4.69 ERA). He did skip right over High-A High Desert to avoid the hitter friendly California League, so we'll cut him some slack. There is true ace potential in the young righty, but he's unlikely to see a meaningful amount of big league innings this coming season.

Paxton, 24, is probably first in line of the big three after pitching to a 3.04 ERA (9.3 K/9) at Triple-A last season. He'll get a long look in Spring Training and at the moment, his main competition for a rotation spot is the right-handed trio of Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi. I would expect to see Paxton sooner rather than later in 2013, perhaps even as a member of the Opening Day rotation. Hultzen, 23, has quite a bit of work ahead of him after walking 43 batters in 48 2/3 Triple-A innings last season, including 14 walks in his final 7 1/3 innings of the year. I wouldn't count on him for fantasy purposes next season.

St. Louis Cardinals: OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Shelby Miller & RHP Trevor Rosenthal
The Cardinals have arguably the best farm system in baseball, and they seem to produce productive players at an extraordinary rate. Jaime Garcia got hurt? Here's Joe Kelly (3.53 ERA in 107 IP). Need a versatile bench player? There's Matt Carpenter (.828 OPS while playing five positions). Rafael Furcal blew out his elbow? Don't worry, Pete Kozma will save the day (.952 OPS late in the season). I wouldn't count on Kozma ever doing that again, but the point stands. The Cardinals are an exceptional player development club.

Taveras, 20, is arguably the best pure hitting prospect in the minors. He managed a .321/.380/.572 line in Double-A a year ago and following up with a dominant winter ball showing. He's slated to open the season back in Triple-A and although St. Louis has a superb big league outfield, Taveras figures to make his debut in the second half either as an injury replacement or by simply forcing his way into the lineup a la Allen Craig. Miller and Rosenthal, both 22, made their MLB debuts late last year and pitched well enough to earn at least a real shot at making the team out of camp. Rosenthal in particular dazzled in relief, especially during the postseason (15 strikeouts and four baserunners in 8 2/3 innings). The Cardinals have rotation depth with Garcia, Kelly, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Lance Lynn, but Garcia and Carpenter are injury concerns at this point. I believe Rosenthal will open the year in the bullpen (and be a force) while Miller bides his time as a starter in Triple-A.

Tampa Bay Rays: OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi & RHP Chris Archer
The Rays play the service time game as much as anyone, though they didn't play it well enough with David Price. He qualified for Super Two status by approximately two weeks. Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson all had to wait their turn in recent years. The most notable exception is Evan Longoria, who was recalled a handful of days into the 2008 season only to be given a long-term contract extension (giving the team cost certainty) a few days later.

Myers, 22, was the centerpiece of the James Shields trade and could easily be in line for a Longoria-esque quick promotion and extension, but a return trip to the minors to start the season after striking out 140 times in 2012 seems like a safe bet. Tampa has enough outfield depth with Jennings, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Guyer, and Sam Fuld to cover. The 24-year-old Archer and 22-year-old Odorizzi are at the mercy of the team's rotation depth. Even after moving Shields and Wade Davis, they still boast a starting staff that includes Price, Hellickson, Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and possibly even the recently-signed Roberto Hernandez. Archer made six big league appearances last season (4.60 ERA) and is a) first in line for a promotion, and b) more fantasy useful given his elite strikeout rate (11.0 K/9 in MLB and 9.8 K/9 in the minors).

Texas Rangers: 3B Mike Olt & SS Jurickson Profar
Baseball isn't fair some times. Quality players at shortstop and third base are in short supply these days, yet Texas boasts an elite left side of the infield both at the big league level (Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre) and in the upper minors (Profar and Olt). I'm convinced the 24-year-old Olt will be traded before the season (Justin Upton?), especially since Lance Berkman will take most, if not all of the DH at-bats. Depends on where he ends up, Olt could either open the season in the show or back in Triple-A. That's a situation worth monitoring given all of the current injury-prone and unreliable fantasy third base options.

Profar, 19, is baseball's top prospect, and GM Jon Daniels recently told Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas that he doesn't envision using him as a bench player. "It doesn't necessarily make sense ... I don't see (Olt and Profar) as bench players. It doesn't make sense," said the GM. There had been some rumblings Profar could open the season with the MLB club as a second baseman with Ian Kinsler sliding over to first (or the outfield). Either way, he's the only prospect in the minors with a chance to have a Troutian level of impact, meaning power and speed and run-production. That's impossible and unfair to expect from any prospect however, especially someone so young. Profar will definitely play in the big leagues next season after receiving a September call-up last year, but the "when" part is a total wildcard right now.



Closer Updates: White Sox, Rays, O's, Royals

It's been a dizzying few days if you've been trying to keep tabs on the murky bullpen situations in hopes of emerging with an extra closer or two on your roster. No fewer than several teams waltzed into Opening Day without a clear-cut stopper, and while some of those situations may have been resolved for the time being, there's still plenty to keep an eye on.

Let's get to it ...

White Sox
Count me among the sad, sappy suckers who are feeling jilted after burning a draft pick on Matt Thornton. Based on his experience, stuff and salary, I assumed he'd emerge the South Siders' closer by Opening Day. But new manager Robin Ventura apparently isn't afraid to try something different, instead calling upon darkhorse Hector Santiago for Chicago's first two save opps, both converted successfully.

Santiago is a tough nut to crack at this point. He split last season as a starter in high Class A and Double-A, and frankly, his peripherals there weren't all that impressive. That being said, Ventura has stated that Santiago is his guy, so we can't afford to be too picky about his minor league stats or how he projects; he's worth an immediate add if he's still on your wire.

Unfortunately, if you're skeptical of Santiago's long-term odds of holding the gig, as I am, there's little recourse you can take at this point. Thornton would seem to be the next in line if Santiago were to falter, as he was with eighth-inning setup man in Santiago's two saves, but Ventura has already proven that he's got his own way of doing things, and it doesn't necessarily fall in line with the type of linear thinking that we fantasy owners typically prefer. Plus, don't forget that the Sox have other good arms at the back end of their 'pen in addition to Thornton, such as Addison Reed and Jesse Crain, who could just easily be next to claim the throne.

The bottom line is, Santiago is the must-own right now, but I'm not sure we can divine an obvious handcuff for him at this point, so this is a situation save-needy owners should watch closely but not necessarily act on.

Rays
If you're feeling queasy, it might be time to ditch the stale Easter candy -- but it's more likely that the prospect of adding Fernando Rodney is making you ill. Though the circumstances are worth examining closely, the fact is that Rodney emerged from the Rays' supposed closing committee with a win and two saves this weekend. Ugh.

On Saturday, the Rays were cruising to an easy win until the trio of Josh Lueke, Joel Peralta (the presumptive closer by many, including yours truly) and Jake McGee slogged the trail of tears to varying degrees of ineptitude through an ugly ninth inning, creating a one-out save opportunity for Fern-Rod, who converted. Similarly, Joe Maddon was trying to wrangle a complete game out of starter Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday until the right-hander ran out of gas -- and with Peralta apparently off-limits after racking up too many pitches on Friday and Saturday, Rodney again got the call, converting for another one-out save.

On one hand, we see two saves in Rodney's column. On the other, we see a guy who wasn't really intended to earn either save.

I say, add Rodney if you can, but don't dump Peralta yet if you own him, and don't break your neck to make roster space if you're in a bind. It may be wishful thinking on the part of this Peralta owner, but something tells me that either the Rays aren't ready to anoint Rodney their undisputed closer, or that he won't be able to the job in the unlikely event that they do. We've all seen Rodney's act before, and while I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of the Rays guiding him to some kind of career rebirth, a la Kyle Farnsworth, I'll bet against that one for now.

Don't overinvest in Fern-Rod, and don't entirely count out Peralta.

Orioles
There was never much of a question as to whether Jim Johnson faced any legitimate competition from within his own bullpen -- however coy Buck Showalter might've wanted to play it -- so much as there were some disconcerting reports about him dealing with back pain and diminished velocity in Spring Training. Thankfully, the O's announced the inevitable on Opening Day, officially naming Johnson their closer, and more importantly, he's coming out throwing well in the early going, recording a pair of saves.

Perhaps all he needed was for the lights to come on.

While I sense some overall reluctance among fantasy owners to embrace Johnson as little more than an also-ran closer type, I'm a proud Johnson owner and think he's better than he's given credit for. He posted a 2.39 SIERA last year, preceded by solid a 3.05 in 2010 and 2.91 in 2009. If you own Johnson, enjoy the ride. I'm thinking his upside is something like what Brandon League did a year ago -- not a ton of strikeouts, but solid ratios and plenty of saves. If you're in need of a closer, consider acquiring Johnson at a fraction of what you'd have to pay for an elite or even second-tier closer. 

Royals
It appeared the Royals were leaning toward Broxton to handle the ninth, and indeed they went in that direction. It may be worth filing away: It's my experience that for every Santiago situation, wherein a younger closer is given a shot, there are just as many of these, where a reliable vet with The Experience gets the nod. In this case, underdog Greg Holland remains in the eighth inning despite tearing off a terrific 2011 that saw him finish with a handful of saves, lots of strikeouts and tidy ratios.

Anyway, Brox has had two outings so far, one sketchy and the other pretty good. What can we make of that? Not a whole lot. Brox is the definitive own for now, and with Holland looking less than impressive in his first outing, there's no reason why the Royals should feel motivated to tinker with their roles.

At this point, it's pretty hard to argue Holland should be owned in standard leagues.

Red Sox
Boston's bullpen has gotten off to an horrendous start, with Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves both getting hit hard in the early going. Now, manager Bobby Valentine is even alluding to the possibility of returning reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard back to the 'pen to close. Frankly, I don't think it's all that crazy, other than the potential inconvenience felt by Bard.

If you want to make a stealth add while your leaguemates fumble over one of the four White Sox in line behind Santiago, Bard is your guy. It's by no means urgent at this point, but it's something to consider.

Meanwhile, Melancon and Aceves owners should sit tight. Store 'em on your bench if you have to, but either right-hander could settle into a groove and run with the job, and you don't want to be the guy or gal who gave away a bunch of saves out of frustration.



Elite Prospect Updates: Moore, Trout, Harper

Elite prospects are always popular targets come draft day, and this year we have a trio of ultra-promising young players on the cusp of the big leagues and eager to help your fantasy team. To help you prepare for the early part of the season, here's the lastest news on each of those three players. Average Draft Positions come courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

Matt Moore, LHP, TB
ADP - 104

A mild oblique strain held the game's best pitching prospect back early in Spring Training, but Moore got into his first game action this week and struck out three of the six men he faced. Thanks to his new contract extension, the Rays have no salary or free agency-related reason to send the 22-year-old southpaw to Triple-A to start the season. Either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis will be shifted to the bullpen to free up a rotation spot, with Niemann the favorite to remain a starter. A trade is always possible as well. There's enough time left in Spring Training for Moore to make four starts, which should give him plenty of time to properly stretch out and start the team's fourth or fifth game of the regular season. Oblique issues can be tricky though, and a setback would surely have him start the season on the DL.

I ranked Moore as the 43rd best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a few weeks ago, but I like him quite a bit more than that. I can definitely see a Madison Bumgarner-type of performance coming in 2012, which means something like 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. Given the tough AL East competition, I would probably take the over on the ERA though.

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
ADP - 220

Injuries are a theme in this post, but in Trout's case it's an illness. The 20-year-old told Bill Plunkett of The Orange County register that he's "feeling weak and feverish with no appetite" due to a flu-like virus which has also caused him to lose ten pounds. Trout hasn't played in close to a week now, so his already long chances of making the club out of camp have been diminished further. The Angels have a logjam of outfielders and DH-types with Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales penciled into just three lineup spots (four if you're feeling generous and think Trumbo can cut it at third). Abreu and Wells are release candidates, but the latter will likely get a significant opportunity to show he's worth the $63MM left on his contract.

Trout was #59 on my list of fantasy outfielders mostly because his playing time is so uncertain. The talent is there for him to club double-digit homers with 30+ steals if given 400 plate appearances, although the high batting averages might not come right away. Fantasy owners won't benefit from Trout's above-average defense, but there's enough here to become a top ten fantasy outfielder in the near future. I just wouldn't expect it to happen this summer given the team's currect roster situation.

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
ADP - 227

Harper has been limited by a calf issue this week, prompting him to tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he probably won't be able to make the team out of Spring Training despite his (and manager Davey Johnson's) wishes. Still just 19, Harper has five singles and two walks in 13 at-bats this spring, and he was going to really have blow the doors off the competition to have a realistic chance to make the club. There's a open spot in the outfield calling his name and GM Mike Rizzo says he's still a candidate for the roster, but I get the sense the club is content with letting the game's best power prospect get some more time in the minors rather than throw him to the big league wolves as a teenager.

I didn't rank Harper among the game's 60 best fantasy outfielders only because I find it very hard to believe a kid that young will be that productive right away. Harper has insane power, legitimate 40 homers-a-year type of power, but no teenager has ever hit even 30 homers in a season, and only twice in the last 50 years has a 20-year-old managed 30 homers (Alex Rodriguez in 1996 and Tony Conigliaro in 1965). There figures to be a point in the not too distant future when Bryce is among the game's very players (fantasy or reality), but that probably won't happen in 2012.



Sleepers & Busts: Kyle Farnsworth, Adam Wainwright

Two pitchers. Each has four letters in his first name and 10 letters in his surname. Coincidence? Probably so ... or is it? OK, enough nonsense. Let's get on with the column. As always, I issue the standard disclaimer: The terms "sleeper" and "bust" are relative to average draft position (courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com).

Kyle Farnsworth, CL, Rays
ADP: 224

In the words of Biggie Smalls, things done changed for Kyle Farnsworth. Once a guy who seemed incapable of effectively harnessing his immense raw potential, the right-hander has refined his craft as he's settled into his mid-30s, culminating in last season's unforeseen and surprisingly successful run as the Rays' primary closer.

Considering that Farnsworth owns a long track record of disappointments and late-inning meltdowns, you can hardly hold it against mockers for casting a jaundiced eye (18th round) toward his 25 saves and 2.18 ERA in 2011. But a look beyond the surface stats indicates that K-Farns could in fact again be a late-round bargain on Draft Day as he was a year ago, when Tampa broke camp with a short-lived three-headed closing monster of Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.

It's all there, clear as crystal: You stole Fizzy Lifting Drink Farnsworth is a different pitcher than he was during his frustrating youth. The right-hander has added an extra pitch, a cutter, to his arsenal over the past three years, which has furnished him with the dual benefits of inducing more grounders and preventing hitters from sitting on his old fastball/slider two-pitch mix. He's also significantly reduced his walk rate, down to a solid 2.64 BB/9 in 2010 and then a minuscule 1.87 last season.

Now, there are a couple of concerns that are worth mentioning. First, don't count on a repeat of last year's ridiculously strong ERA, as Farnsworth was exceedingly fortunate in strand rate, at 85%, and BABIP, at .250 (vs. .294 for his career). SIERA liked him for a 2.77 figure last year, which is still excellent, but again: bank on a figure closer to 3.00 than 2.00.

Next, Farnsworth missed time in September due to a tweaked elbow, which is always something worth taking into consideration. He didn't undergo offseason surgery, which is encouraging in that it's safe to assume he mended with simple rest, and the notoriously frugal Rays exercised their club option on him, suggesting they weren't overly concerned. If the club's not worried, I'm not going to get all in a tizzy, either.

Farnsworth is currently the 27th reliever being drafted, even behind the underwhelming Chris Perez and two setup men in Sergio Romo and Francisco Rodriguez. The closer's job is Farnsy's in Tampa, and he's got the stuff to once again provide surplus value relative to what you'll pay for him on Draft Day.

Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals
ADP: 104.5 

I hemmed and hawed on listing Adam Wainwright as a "bust" here, because I don't want to root against a guy who's coming off Tommy John surgery. In truth, though, I won't be pulling against Waino; I just happen to think too many mockers are taking an unnecessary risk.

Wainwright, 31 in August, missed the entirety of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John in Spring Training. He'll be a full year removed from the surgery by Opening Day, and though I'm not a doctor, we all know that there's a long list of pitchers who have returned from TJ and regained their old form or something close to it -- some sooner than others.

But what exactly does that mean for Waino in 2012? Will he pick up and be the awesome pitcher that he was in 2009 and 2010? Maybe he'll be effective but not quite as effective. It's not far fetched to think his strikeout rate might dip from 8-plus K/9.  As well, much of his value was tied to his 230-inning workloads in 2009-10, but it's hard to imagine him doing that again coming off major surgery and a year-long layoff. I think the Cards will limit him to something like 160-180 innings. And finally, there could be other kinks to work out. Perhaps there will be a minor setback -- the tearing of scar tissue or some such -- at some point.

You get the idea.

Currently the 29th starter being drafted in mocks (mid-8th round), that places Wainwright right in the middle of the No. 3 starters, which is hardly a throwaway roster spot. Consider some of the starters being drafted after Waino: Brandon Beachy, Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Max Scherzer and Brandon Morrow, to name a few. These guys bring different skills to the table, and I like them to varying degrees, but depending on who you take as your first and second starters, any of them could be very nice complements.

With pitching as deep as it is, I'd rather focus on filling out my lineup in the eighth round than taking a flier on a guy with health concerns. The long odds of the potential upside being realized just doesn't seem to justify the risk.




Search Roto Authority

Custom Search




Roto Authority Mailing List

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Roto Authority Features



Recent Posts



Monthly Archives









Site Map     Contact     About     Advertise     Privacy Policy     MLB Trade Rumors     Rss Feed