Walks


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.

 



Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Marco Estrada--Or Else

A part of me didn't want to write this article. Not because I don't believe in Marco Estrada, just the opposite. It's because I play against my own father in two leagues, and I know he reads this site. So go ahead dad, steal him from me, for the good of the readers.

Why am I so excited about Estrada? Is it because I have an unnatural appreciation for Brewers pitchers who pitch less than a full season? To be fair, I do like his rotation-mates Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers--and I'm willing to think about Wily Peralta and Chris Narveson. But Estrada is better than those guys, and he's better than literally most of the pitchers getting drafted ahead of him. Check out his stats from last year (forgetting his meaningless W-L record): 

23 GS, 138.1 IP, 143 SO, 3.64 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 1.14 WHIP

All of that is nice stuff in low innings, especially those whiffs; they translate to a nifty 9.30 K/9. For all those strikeouts, the righty doesn't cook with as much gas as you might think; his fastball averages just over 90mph. It's hard to care so much, though, when you see his control: he posted a sterling 1.89 BB/9, or just 29 walks all season.

That brings us to his best attribute: that ratio of strikeouts to walks. Lots of strikeouts is a great recipe for success. Very few walks is too. Combining them makes you very hard to beat. Estrada does it with an eye-opening 4.93 K/BB rate. Take a second look: 4.93. For pitches with 100 IP or more, only Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, and Kris Medlen were better--and Estrada gets the most strikeouts of the bunch. Actually, of all nine pitchers with at least 100 IP and a K/BB of 4.00 or better, only Stephen Strasburg had a higher K/9.

This is a very impressive stat, and all the more so since past K/BB is such a good predictor of future overall performance (except in the case of Joe Blanton, but they can't all be winners). A bit of anecdotal evidence: I remember in 2004 when this pitcher came out of a tortured injury history to post a 4.00 K/9 and a 1.88 BB/9. Those numbers popped out then as much as they do now, so I drafted him. He turned out to be Chris Carpenter, and the next year he made his place among baseball's top pitchers. I'm not saying I'm sure Estrada will do the same, but I am saying I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Maybe he'll make the jump to ace next year and maybe he won't. He isn't terribly young (age 30 season coming up), but all he has to do is stay the same for 180 IP or so and he'll be extremely valuable. Especially at his current Average Draft Position.

Mock drafters are nabbing him in only 36.1% of drafts, at 226.4--that places him near the end of the 18th round. The highest he's been drafted at all is at 192--leading off the 16th. I'd happily grab him several rounds higher. Consider some of the pitchers being drafted ahead of him: A.J. Griffin, Ricky Romero, Phil Hughes, Trever Bauer, James McDonald, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill, lesser-but-still-good-teammate Mike Fiers, maybe-relieving Alexi Ogando, probably-starting-in-the-minors Dylan Bundy, half a season of Brandon Beachy, and the duct-taped together Scott Baker. There are more, but you get the idea. A lot of those pitchers are higher risk or lower reward than Estrada. Actually, most are both and I'd happily take Estrada over any of them.

Estrada's ADP makes him the 71st pitcher taken and I have to scroll way up the list before I get to a place where I'd rather have most--still not all--of the pitchers being taken over him. It's probably somewhere around the 40th pitcher taken. There are still some before that point that I wouldn't draft, and a few behind it that I'd take over Estrada, but that's about where the quality starts going up. Pitcher number 40 happens to be Tim Lincecum at the moment, an enigma of his own. Overall, that gives him an ADP of 148.32--good for a spot in the 12th round. Adding a round to account for the fact that I think I can get a good deal, that means I'm targeting Marco Estrada in the 13th. And if his ADP goes up, I might be jumping on him even earlier.

There are reasons to doubt, I suppose. Most importantly, Estrada's low innings total was the highest of his career, so one worries how things will go when stretched over a full season. But if it weren't for those worries, you wouldn't be able to get Estrada in the 13th round, let alone the 18th. You'd be drafting him in the fourth of fifth.

There aren't many lists in fantasy baseball more different than the pitchers that show up around Estrada when you search him by K/BB--Lee, Medlen, CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Cole Hamels--and those that you can find when searching him by ADP--Romero, Griffin, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, Josh Beckett, and even Carpenter, in a cruel irony. His performance puts him with elite pitchers, his price tag with innings-eaters and retreads. That's what I call a bargain.

 I wanted to make a list of other targets similar to Estrada, but there really aren't any. His K/BB is far ahead of others who have good ones. His K/9 is far better than most other pitchers with his kind of control. So get him on your team. Whatever he costs, I'll bet you he's a bargain.





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