Washington Nationals


Draft Round Battles: Nationals' SP Battle Royale

It's hard to have a fantasy draft without at least one position run.  I've written about this before on Roto Authority, but about 13-14 years ago, I was in a fantasy draft that saw the run on catchers take place in the very first round, giving us the spectacle of Darrin Fletcher and Todd Hundley as first-round draft picks.  No, this wasn't in a league with members of the extended Fletcher or Hundley families, so I can't explain it either.

The point is, while position runs are a known variable to plan for, "teammate runs" are a lesser-known phenomenon that occur with some regularity, yet they aren't commented upon since they don't really have the impact on draft strategy of a position run.  A teammate run, as you might guess, is when you have multiple players from one team taken in quick succession.  It's as if after the first player goes, the rest of the league thinks, "oh yeah, Team X is supposed to be pretty good this year.  Hmm, well, their second baseman and the second baseman I had queued up next are pretty similar, I guess, so let's go with the guy on the good team instead." 

Note that this isn't a smart tactic or a reasonable one, as "playing for a good team" is only a limited factor in gauging fantasy value.  Maybe you can chalk it up to our brains' natural inclination towards order -- we still have a mild tendency to group similar objects like teammates together, even in the disordered world of a fantasy draft.

Teammate runs aren't usually a big factor in fantasy drafting since, unless you're a real superfan who was looking to take your favorites, it doesn't really matter if several players from one club are taken since, obviously, most of these players are at different positions.  The only positions* where it could present an issue would be outfield and starting pitcher, and for this week's Draft Round Battle, we'll focus on three options from the Nationals' rotation.  Stephen Strasburg will obviously be the first Washington hurler taken, but who would you rather take between Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister?

* = and, possibly, relief pitcher in cases where a team is using a closer committee.  If one manager drafts one part of the committee, expect another committee member to be taken soon after.  You can also see teammate runs take place in leagues that counts holds; those leagues might've seen another Nationals "teammate run" last season when Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard went off the board in quick succession.

First, let's take the obligatory moment to gawk at the Nationals' rotation since, wow, there aren't many teams who can roll out a top four like that.  Now, with a tip of the cap to Fangraphs, let's break down how Fister, Gonzalez and Zimmermann have each performed over the last three seasons via the four relevant 5x5 categories and a few extra statistics...

Fister: 35 wins, 3.30 ERA (3.21 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 3.54 SIERA), 1.19 WHIP, 6.78 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, 586 2/3 IP

Gonzalez: 48 wins, 3.12 ERA (3.29 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, 3.68 SIERA), 1.23 WHIP, 8.98 K/9, 2.45 K/BB, 597 IP

Zimmermann: 39 wins, 3.12 ERA (3.35 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 3.74 SIERA), 1.13 WHIP, 6.91 K/9, 3.84 K/BB, 570 1/3 IP

The first thing you'll notice is that these guys are pretty similar pitchers.  Gonzalez and Zimmermann are outperforming their advanced metrics (particularly SIERA) more significantly than Fister is, and Fister and Zimmermann have better control than Gonzalez, but Gonzalez has a notable edge in strikeouts and wins.  Gonzalez also has the edge beyond the limits of my sample size -- I limited the sample to 2011-13 since Zimmermann has only been a full-time starter for three seasons.  Gonzalez, meanwhile, was impressive in 2010 (and Fister was pretty average).

All three men will have the same home ballpark advantage and the same solid lineup behind them, so predicting wins is a fool's errand even if that stat determined anything beyond a fantasy category.  ERA and WHIP are also essentially even, so that leaves strikeouts, making Gonzalez the clear favorite, right?

Well, over Zimmermann, yes.  Let me be clear, I fully expect Jordan Zimmermann to be a very good starter in 2014 and if he's the #2 starter in your rotation, you're in good shape.  My only beef is that he's evolving into more and more of a ground ball pitcher (his grounder rate has jumped by 4% in each of the last two seasons), which is making him a better pitcher overall in a real-world context but limits his fantasy value in terms of strikeouts.  Gonzalez has also improved his control since his wilder, younger days in Oakland but done so while still averaging just under a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

That's enough for me to give Gonzalez the slight nod to Zimmermann.  In terms of a pure "draft round battle," this is the decision that counts, as Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position report shows the Z-Man (102.68 ADP) slightly ahead of the Gio Dome (108.3 ADP).  Whatever the order, both guys are rated on roughly the same level, so if you're looking to anticipate a "teammate run," don't be surprised to see either Gonzalez or Zimmermann quickly follow the other around the ninth round of your fantasy draft.

This all being said, Fister might end up being the best pitcher of the trio.  Fister is currently projected to go a couple of rounds lower (135.54 ADP) though I wonder if the sleeper buzz will cause him to rise up the rankings.  Fister did, after all, post a higher WAR than either Gonzalez or Zimmermann from 2011-13, which caught me off-guard.  While he and Zimmermann are essentially the same pitcher in terms of low-strikeout grounder specialists, Fister is a step beyond when it comes to keeping the ball in the infield --- Fister's 54.3% GBR was the fourth-best of any qualified starter in baseball last season.

If Fister is only a slightly better version of Zimmermann and still lags behind Gonzalez in strikeouts, however, why should Fister be rated so highly?  In a word, potential.  Fister will get a regular diet of NL lineups for the first time, and moving from the Tigers' hands-of-stone defensive corps to the Nationals' infield* is a big boost for any ground-ball specialist.  As well, while Gonzalez and Zimmermann have enjoyed good BABIP luck over the last three years, Fister posted his strong 2013 numbers despite a .332 BABIP.  With the highest strand rate and lowest BABIP of the three since 2011, Fister's WAR edge could easily have been even greater.

* =  Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon are tremendous up the middle, Adam LaRoche has traditionally had a good first base glove before falling to a -2 UZR/150 last season, and all you can say about Ryan Zimmerman's collapse as a defensive player is that at least Zimmerman's -14.9 UZR/150 was still better than Miguel Cabrera's -19.9 UZR/150 at the hot corner in 2013.

Gonzalez would still be my pick of the trio, yet the canny manager might use Fister's under-the-radar status to his advantage.  Picture a ninth round where Gonzalez goes first, Zimmermann goes right after since the next manager is like, "oh yeah, Nationals pitchers.  Yeah, look at Zimmermann, 19 wins last year!  Boom, taking him!"  Then you can sit back in the weeds and collect Fister a few picks later.  Some of your fellow managers will be chirping you for making a so-called stretch, others will chide you for going on a teammate run, and a few won't say anything since they had Fister queued up themselves. 



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

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

Orioles

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

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

Rays

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

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

Dodgers

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

Nationals

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

Rockies

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

Red Sox

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

Angels

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

Add-Vice

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

 



Shutdown Corner: NL East Closer Roundup

Last week, we started rolling out closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, we're heading to the National League East, to look over the projected closer situations for all five teams. If you missed last week's review of the American League West, here's a link.

We're rating each closer on a tier, and here's the 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.

Washington Nationals: Rafael Soriano

The big closer news from the past week is Rafael Soriano (finally) signing a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals, ostensibly to be their new closer. Soriano had been linked to the Tigers and a few other teams, but the Nationals ponied up the big bucks to bring him on. It's very likely that he displaces former closers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard ... in fact GM Mike Rizzo said as much when introducing Soriano in a press conference.

Soriano brings closer experience and, best of all, real skill to the Nationals, who now have a pretty scary bullpen. After a dismal 2011 with the Yankees, one that included DL time, Soriano did well as the only non-Mariano Rivera full-time closer for the Bombers since about 1996. He saved 42 games, and did so posting a 2.26 ERA and 24.7% strikeout rate. Not too bad.

The minor problem here is that Soriano probably wasn't as effective as he looked in 2012. FIP (or Fielding Independent Pitching) says that Soriano didn't do the strikeout-walk-homer thing quite as well as his ERA indicated, giving him a 3.32 FIP for the season -- a big difference. Soriano benefitted from a great LOB% (88%), which helped him limit runs despite a high walk rate.

Still, Soriano was paid a lot of money to be the last line of defense for the Nationals, and we should expect him to thrive in the ninth. He's not a top-tier closer at this point, but he is likely to have a good season, especially outside of the tough environment of Yankee Stadium and the AL East.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (moderate-to-high effectiveness, high cost to bring in / stability)

Next in line: Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen

Atlanta Braves: Craig Kimbrel

I wrote quite a bit about Craig Kimbrel in an earlier edition of Shutdown Corner, and the news hasn't changed in the past two weeks.

He's the best closer in baseball.

He's coming off what may have been the best season by a closer in modern history.

He strikes out everybody.

The only question with Kimbrel is whether he'll look like a "normal" closer in 2013, or if he's got another season of sheer dominance left in his right arm. I'm guessing that it will be something in between 2012 and a regular elite closer season. But it's unlikely, especially with Aroldis Chapman moving to the starting rotation, that any closer is as good a bet as Kimbrel.

Projected Tier: Tier 1 (coming off an world-class season, no sign of slowing down)

Next in line: Jonny Venters

Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon

Again, I waxed poetic about the power of Papelbon two weeks ago, and precious little has changed since then. Jon was very consistent (for the most part) in his time with Boston, and little changed in a move to Philly. He threw 70 high-quality innings, striking out a beastly 32.4% of batters faced and racking up just a 2.44 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. While a higher percentage of his fly balls left the park, he's dealt with pitching in hitters' parks before, and this didn't seem to slow him down much in terms of FIP (2.89).

Papelbon already has 257 saves in just seven years closing, which is remarkable. It speaks to his consistency and durability in a position not known for either. Homers and age threaten to bring down this bastion of beatdowns, but I think there's at least another high-end season waiting in the wings for Paps.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high reliability, high performance, age could be an issue)

Next in line: Antonio Bastardo

New York Mets: Frank Francisco

Last season, the New York Mets bullpen was pretty ugly. Frank Francisco, who suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness, was pretty ugly too. Frank^2 did score 23 saves in just 48 games, which isn't too shabby, but his ERA of 5.53 and WHIP of 1.61 made things pretty scary. Worst of all, Francisco had surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow, so he may need time to recover from the surgery.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system sees Francisco as a reasonable option, posting a 3.78 ERA with a 25.6% strikeout rate, which would be a nice improvement from his 2012. Me, I'm not quite so bullish. Bobby Parnell is probably the better reliever at this point, and he isn't dealing with elbow surgery issues. Much like Ryan Madson in Anaheim, I think that Francisco will get the manager's benefit of the doubt if he starts the season healthy, but by the end of the season the younger arm (in this case Parnell) will own the ninth.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (low reliability, low-to-medium performance, stiff competition)

Next in line: Bobby Parnell

Miami Marlins: Steve Cishek

Though the Marlins are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball history next season, they actually are pretty set at the closer position. Steve Cishek inherited the job last season, and acquitted himself fairly well. He only notched 15 saves in his 68 appearances, but he posted a 2.69 ERA and a career-high 24.7% strikeout rate.

Cishek has a career 2.57 ERA and 2.85 FIP, and does two things very, very well. Cishek gets strikeouts at a serious clip (24.3% over his career), and he keeps the ball in the park (0.29 HR/9 over his career). Walks can be an issue -- I know, stop me if you've heard this before about a closer -- but if his walk rate is closer to his 2011 performance than his 2012 performance, he'll be a very solid option in the ninth.

He, along with Giancarlo Stanton, might be the only solid pieces on this Marlins team.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (moderate performance, little competition, awful team)

Next in line: Ryan Webb (?)

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 AL East.

All data from FanGraphs.



Go Bold or Go Home: Stephen Strasburg is the New Pedro Martinez

Stephen Strasburg is the new Pedro? What do I mean by that? Simply this: back in the day, Pedro was worth a first round pick, sometimes the first pick, and no other pitcher was all that close. I'm talking about Pedro before he threw Don Zimmer to the ground by the head, before he headhunted unsuspecting Devil Rays. I'm talking 1999-2001 Pedro, that's who Strasburg can be. Don't let him slip through your fingers in the first round, and whatever you do, don't waste a pick on some other pitcher instead.

As far as I can guess, there are three possible responses to this idea, and I'll deal with each one in turn.

1. Duh.
Fair enough, you're already on the Strasburg bandwagon. Go win your league. Better yet, finish reading this article just to be more sure.

2. But pitchers NEVER belong in the first round!
Never is such a scary word to throw around, but usually I agree with this idea. Whenever someone in my league nabs a starter in the first round, I always get excited, thinking they've wasted their pick. There are a couple reasons for this to usually be true, but they don't hold water this year.

The biggest reason is that pitchers are risky, moreso than position players and thus should not be given a first round pick. The problem with that this year is that there are an unusually rare amount of risky players on the first-rounder suspect list. Players like Matt Kemp (ADP 4.43) and Joey Votto (8.60) who missed significant portions of last season are there, not to mention garden variety injury risks like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75). On top of that, players like Justin Upton (15.07) and Adrian Gonzalez (32.16) who we counted on last year to provide big impacts failed to do so. Other first rounders that we've grown accustomed to seeing have dropped out of the top slots after injury marred (or ruined) seasons include Jose Bautista (14.11) , Troy Tulowitzki (16.15), and Evan Longoria (32.59). Someone has to take those spots over, but there's a lot more risk in the first round than there is in most years. So maybe taking a pitcher isn't so bad.

Along with the higher risk of some of the best potential first rounders this year, I think it's fair to say that, outside of the top four or five, the actual quality of this year's potential first rounders is lower than usual. A lot of those first round picks are providing the same (or nearly the same) value as players that can be found in the second round. Like Albert Pujols (7.18)? Try Prince Fielder (14.48). Like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75)? Try Adam Jones (25.41). Let's face it--a lot of first round picks are looking a lot like second round picks this year.

 The rule against taking a starter in the first round is a good one. This year just happens to be a great year to break it.

3. Strasburg isn't even the best pitcher in baseball, let alone as much better as Pedro Martinez was ten years ago! Give me Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander instead.

In all fairness, yes Strasburg is, for all it matters for your fantasy draft. In all but one respect, Strasburg is significantly better than Kershaw or Verlander than they are better than the others. That is to say, Kershaw and Verlander are great, but not very much greater than these pitchers: Cliff Lee, David Price, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Jared Weaver, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and others, in no particular order.

For the time being, I'm prepared to ignore any argument made that Kershaw will win more games in the shiny new Dodgers, or that Verlander will on the Tigers. Washington is a good team, and their offense will be good enough to keep Strasburg in plenty of games. With normal luck, he should be among the league's leaders in wins. Too bad you never know when someone will get normal luck with wins and when he won't. So call that one even, or insufficiently predictable.

The difference is in the strikeouts. Those of you who followed me in last year's Silver League Updates, will know that I love my strikeouts. So I'm admitting that bias. But they're a category, and they're decent at giving us information about two more categories (ERA and WHIP, obviously). We can learn even more when we add walks to the equation. Let's see how Strasburg (ADP 23.77) stacks up with the three pitchers being drafted before him: Kershaw (12.64), Verlander (15.56), and Price (23.59). Just for fun, let's check out the next three pitchers after him too: Lee (30.67), Hernandez (35.10), and Yu Darvish (36.95).

Here they are in K/9:

Strasburg    11.13
Darvish        10.40
Kershaw       9.05
Verlander    9.03
Lee                 8.83
Price              8.74
Hernandez  8.65

 All seven put up great numbers, but only Darvish came within two strikeouts per nine innings of Strasburg's total. And Darvish put up an ugly 4.19 BB/9 rate that didn't exactly help his ERA or WHIP.

Maybe you prefer K%, fair enough. How about this list:

Strasburg       30.2%
Darvish           27.1%
Kershaw         25.4%
Verlander      25.0%
Price                24.5%
Lee                   24.4%
Hernandez    23.8%

If anything, Strasburg looks even better here, blasting the competition out of the water. (In all fairness, Max Scherzer looks pretty good here too, at 29.4%.)

What about K/BB, then? That's the one that gives a really good indication of next year's ERA and (especially) WHIP. (Spoiler alert: Cliff Lee reigns supreme.)

Lee                   7.39
Strasburg      4.10
Verlander     3.98
Hernandez    3.98
Kershaw        3.63
Price               3.47
Darvish          2.48

Two names stand out here as outliers. In fact, Lee's rate is more than 2.5 BB/9 better than the second best pitcher by this measure, none other than Joe Blanton. Yeah, him. (Sleeper? Maybe...) The other outlier, of course, is Darvish. So here's more confirmation not to take him over Strasburg, or anywhere near the other six pitchers on this list, if you were thinking about it. 

That leaves us with five names, and, once again, Strasburg is on top. But maybe he's striking out so many batters that he can walk a few too many and still look good. Maybe a lousy walk rate could take his ERA and WHIP down like Darvish's did.

Or maybe not: his walk rate sat at 2.71 last year. Five of the other six pitchers we compared him too had better rates, but not by a huge amount. Discounting Lee's ridiculous number (1.10!), King Felix was the best, with a 2.17 BB/9 rate. Price, Verlander, and Kershaw all fell in between.

This has been a lot of stats, but it boils down to a pretty simple point: Strasburg's strikeouts are significantly better than his competition for the top pitcher in (fantasy) baseball. It isn't even close. His walk numbers are similar to the competition, and not different enough to give them significant value over him. Other factors, like his team, just aren't as big of a deal.

The only reason I can see to take Verlander or Kershaw or anyone else over Strasburg is their experience, which is really just cover for the fact that we're comfortable taking those guys off the board first. I don't think you'll find very many people willing to say inexperience is going to cause Stephen Strasburg any trouble in the near future. As a rookie, Strasburg wasn't a normal phenom. As fantasy's best pitcher, he isn't any more normal. The difference between him and the next best pitchers is noticeably bigger than the difference between them and all the other ace pitchers.

By the way, looking at last year's data is kind of like assuming that Strasburg has peaked in his age-24 season, and that he doesn't have room to improve for next year. How often do great 24-year-olds not become better 25-year-olds?

Between the higher risk and lower quality in this year's top position players and Strasburg's own dominance over his competition there is a lot of reason to reach for him. Like Pedro Martinez before him, Strasburg is worth a pick in the middle of the first round in a way that no pitcher has been in a long time. Next year, this idea won't make it into an article like Go Bold or Go Home because everyone will agree. Get ahead of the game.



Closer Updates: Nats, Padres, Dodgers, Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.



Closer Updates: Reds, Cubs, Nats, Mets

Chris Perez may not enjoy playing in front of 5,000 fans, but there are roughly 12,000 followers over at @closernews who are at the ready for updates on him and all the other stoppers in MLB. You should, too, if you don't already.

Reds
Aroldis Chapman is one of the fascinating stories of the season. He has ditched the control problems that ailed him intermittently in 2010-11 and become an overwhelmingly dominant relief pitcher. Now, aided by Sean Marshall's less-than-impressive start, he's forced the Reds' hand in promoting him to the closer's role.

If you drafted Ar-Chap with this momentous ocassion in mind -- and absorbed his terrific stats in the meanwhile -- good for you. For what it's worth, I was skeptical of his control issues coming into the season and thought Marshall would be able to hold the job without trouble. Sometimes, the right circumstances and a little fervor can make things happen. Lesson learned here, though I wonder whether we'll see another reliever with similar circumstances to Chapman's anytime soon.

Anyway, Chapman has top-closer upside, but there's reason to think he could fall short of it. For one, the Reds are playing it conservatively with respect to his workload. They don't like him pitching on consecutive days (let alone three in a row), although the two occasions he's done it this season were both last week. So, maybe those were test runs. Still, it indicates a concern about how to best use and protect his arm. There's also the issue of whether he'll be converted to starting at some point. The Reds had him in the starting rotation in Spring Training but got cold feet, perhaps because the 'pen didn't look quite as deep without Ryan Madson. I doubt they'll move him now, in-season, because that can be dicey, but you never know.

So, if you own the left-hander and want to hedge against either of those factors eating into his value (particularly the workload quirks), flip him now for dollars on the dollar while Chapmania is running wild. Otherwise, feel free to sit back and enjoy his contributions to your ledger. Marshall can safely be dropped in non-holds leagues, but bear in mind he might still vulture the odd save if the Reds keep the bubble wrap on Chapman.

Cubs
This season will go down as a forgettable one for the Cubs, and their bullpen is no exception to that theme. Between Jeff Samardzija's transition to starting and an offseason trade that sent Marshall to the Reds, the "stalwarts" of the relief corps were Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. Marmol did little to shake off his bipolar 2011, struggling badly out of the gate before being demoted from closing and then DL'd earlier this month. Wood looked every bit his age (including an umpteenth career DL stint) before suddenly and dramatically hanging 'em up last week.

Meanwhile, accidental Rafael Dolis has picked up the slack competently, but don't be fooled: His true talent is closer to his 4.82 SIERA than his 3.75 ERA.

Now, Marmol is set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment, a stint probably designed to massage all of his strained hamstring, eternally wonky mechanics and bruised ego back into form. There's little to suggest that'll actually happen, but it seems to come as quickly as it goes for Car-Mar, so you never know. The early reports indicate that a setup role is his likely first destination, but the guess here is that if Marmol can string together a few decent outings, the Cubs will shoehorn him back into the ninth. After all, he's an overpaid reliever on a bad, rebuilding team, which usually make for strong trade candidates when that time rolls around. A healthy, solid stretch as closer will boost his value, and the Cubs would be wise to facillitate that.

His ownership is down to 39% in Yahoo! leagues, so there's a chance you could recoup strong value if you stash him on your bench.

Nationals
After withstanding a few weeks of up-and-down performance from interim closer Henry Rodriguez, Nats skipper Davey Johnson seems ready to look elsewhere, perhaps even a committee. I can't say I'm terribly surprised, as H-Rod's control has always worried me, but I don't want to gloat about it (even though I'm gloating about it). #humblebrag

Thumbing through the list of candidates who might see a lion's share of save opps, Tyler Clippard jumps out. We've grown accustomed to him being passed over the past few years, as the Nats have preferred to reserve him for the occasional two-inning stint, but a quick glance at his game logs from this year reveals that he's yet to pitch more than one inning in any outing this season. If he's now a one-inning reliever, why not make that one inning be the ninth?

The other candidates include Craig Stammen, a former starter who seems to have assumed Clipp's old role as a long-ish man who can also throw in high-leverage situations. Left-hander Sean Burnett is still kicking around the back of the 'pen, too, and although his peripherals are strikingly similar to Clipp's, he's been used more like a LOOGY this season.

Clippard is the add from where I sit. Note that anointed closer Drew Storen isn't due back until sometime around the All-Star break.

Mets
Frank Francisco is carrying on the fine tradition of bad Mets closers, making seemingly every save chance a rollercoaster ride. At 3.79, his SIERA says he's not pitching nearly as poorly as his 7.56 ERA and 2.04(!) WHIP suggest, but boy, it's hard to believe that if you've seen his past few outings, as I have. (Full disclosure: I actually liked Francisco as something of a sleeper based on his league change and somewhat unfair rep as someone who had no business closing.)

Anyway, if the gap closes between his SIERA and ERA -- as it "should" -- then there will be better days ahead. Maybe the Mets know this, because they've stuck with Double-F despite having a couple chances to look elsewhere, particularly at Bobby Parnell, who appears to be coming into his own (finally).

So between the Mets' relative "faith" in Fran-Fran and the hope that he'll continue to chip away at his ugly numbers, he could be someone you might consider acquiring for a song. He's only owned in 70% of leagues, so that could be an option. And if he's owned in your league, and you're so inclined to try the trade route, you could probably get him in exchange for roster filler. There's a strong chance you'll get what you pay for, but there's also a non-zero chance you'll recoup some sweet correction-phase stats.



Closer Updates: White Sox, Angels, Nats, Marlins

Henry Rodriguez ought to watch his back, because Chad Cordero has designs on a comeback to Major League Baseball. More on Washington's situation and others below, but first a gentle reminder to give a follow to @closernews on Twitter for all the latest breaking news.

White Sox
Named Chicago's closer after a heated spring competition, Hector Santiago never really found his rhythm once the curtain went up on the regular season. Manager Robin Ventura offered the rookie left-hander a vote of confidence after an epic meltdown last Wednesday (three earned in one-third of an inning), but no one really believed that, right?

Indeed, our skepticism was rewarded when old friend Matt Thornton was called upon for a four-out save on Sunday, which he converted without incident.

But does it signify a clean handoff? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. I'd expect Ventura to cycle through a few different guys before maybe settling on one, so Santiago owners shouldn't lose heart yet. If you have the roster flexibility, just bench him for the next week or so -- until we've seen how Ventura divvies up the next couple save opps. Thornton, meanwhile, should be added by saves-needy owners, and fireballer Addison Reed is probably worth a look, too. Just know that there's bound to be some frustration, no matter which one you own, at least in the short-term.

Angels
Jordan Walden's unexpected -- and apparently temporary -- demotion sure felt like a panic move, didn't it? Don't get me wrong: Walden hasn't pitched especially well. But the guy has one blown save in two opportunities.

Unless there's something going on behind closed doors with Walden -- an injury or some other tomfoolery -- this one smacks of desperation, a feeble attempt at appeasing a bloodthirsty mob that's furious over the Halos' slow start.

In the meanwhile, Scott Downs takes over closing duties, and he should be added where available. Walden owners are within their rights to be steamed, but take heart and stow this young flamethrower on your bench. Seeing as he's the Angels' anointed Closer Of The Future (COTF), I'd expect him to regain the gig sooner rather than later. Downs is a perfectly adequate reliever but shouldn't be much less prone to the occasional flareup than Walden is.

It's worth noting that the Angels are kicking tires on potential trades involving closers, in which things could get hairy. If this frightens you enough to consider flipping him now, I don't blame you, but know that his value is pretty low right now considering he's not closing.

Nationals
Brad Lidge has been placed on the DL, and so what was a supposed closer platoon last week has quickly been streamlined into a one-man show led by Rodriguez.

H-Rod has mostly done the job so far, but I'm not especially high on him. (My colleague Tom Warman disagrees, which gives me serious pause because Tom is a sharp fantasy mind. But alas, I have to stick with my gut). Rodriguez's stuff is nasty, but he lacks control, which can lead to ugly meltdowns -- like the one he suffered Saturday night in Los Angeles. Plus, although I'm not a scout, he showed a Benitezian lack of composure as the game slipped away. Sounds like a powder keg, don't it?

The surface stats look pretty now, but don't be surprised if they've peaked, so if you're comfortable in saves or have other needs, H-Rod could make for a decent trade candidate. That being said, stranger things have happened than a guy like Rodriguez tearing off an extended hot streak, and since I firmly believe all closers should be owned, I have no problem holding onto him.

Marlins
 I wrote about Bell two weeks ago, and it's amazing how little the story has changed. He continues to stink, and the Fish continue to run him out there for save opps. His Rotoworld page is pretty depressing, actually, between the headshot and string of bad-news updates.

Can he snap out of it? I'm not optimistic. He's either injured or has fallen off a cliff age-wise, and I'm afraid neither of those scenarios is especially good news for his owners. But the only option for his owners now is to stash him and wait it out. Since the Marlins continue to use him as closer, something will eventually have to give here, and it'll get sorted out. Meanwhile, speculators are left to throw a dart at Edward Mujica or Steve Cishek, either of which could take the reins if Bell goes down. Cishek'll be your trendier pick du jour because of his better season stats to date, but Mujica is more of a sturdy veteran type. Recall, if you will, that the Fish were cagey as all heck last summer when naming a temporary replacement for then closer Leo Nunez (now Juan Carlos Oviedo).



Closer Updates: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Nats

I would have published this sooner, but with three lefties coming up, my editor pulled me in favor of a LOOGY ...

Blue Jays
I said last week I wasn't all that concerned about Sergio Santos' sluggish start -- unless it was on account of an injury, which we would have had no way of knowing. Sure enough, the flame-throwing right-hander hit the DL late on Saturday due to right shoulder inflammation.

Am I worried now? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I don't own Santos in either of my leagues, but that wasn't by design; I like him quite a lot and expected him to have a strong season. Now, however, things are murky. The Jays say the ailment is not serious, and I suppose there's no reason not to take them at face value, but ... it's still an arm injury.

Meanwhile, Francisco Cordero has been named closer in Santos' absence. I'm no fan of Cordero's, but I was able to snatch him up when news broke of Santos' injury, and I suggest you do the same if you still can. I'll be gritting my teeth through his save opps (including Sunday's underwhelming performance), but saves are saves, and I need 'em in my primary league.

I fully expect Cordero to cede the job back to Santos when the latter is ready to to return, but I'm not assuming Santos will necessarily be back right away, either. Santos owners are frustrated, I'm sure, but your only option is to sit tight for now and stash him on your DL.

Red Sox
Smart money had reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard returning to Boston's bullpen at some point this season, but I'm not sure anyone thought it would happen this soon. Then again, who could have foreseen things going as poorly as they have so far?

The trouble, for our purposes, is that the Red Sox are calling this a temporary move; Bard will only be available in relief while one of his turns in the starting rotation is skipped. Further complicating matters, they've also been cagey as to exactly what role he will fill during this cameo. If it all sounds unusual to you, that's because it is.

I was able to read the tea leaves and nabbed Bard before the announcement was made, but now I'm feeling like I may be stuck with Louis Friend. Will he remain in the bullpen for the long-term? Will he close if so? Well, now that I've completely revealed my bias, I don't mind saying that I hope so, but Bobby Valentine said Monday he doesn't think there's a strong temptation to move Bard back to the 'pen permanently. Why he phrased it in such a creepy way, I can't say, but the point comes across.

This situation is a mess. I'm going to hold onto Bard because I'm needy for saves, and Bard's upside as a closer is pretty big, but if you're in any better standing, you can safely pass.

Nationals
In case you missed it last week, Drew Storen is out for an undefined period of time after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Washington hopes to have Storen back before the All-Star break, but in the meanwhile, Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge will share closing duties.

That's a double helping of ugh.

H-Rod's surface numbers look great right now, while Lidge's do not, but don't be fooled: both options are underwhelming. The right-handers should be owned, because saves are saves, but neither of these guys is going to provide long-term surplus value, and the fact that they're cast in a platoon only further diminishes their already dubious contributions. These remains are better left for the saves bottomfeeders in your league.

Storen, obviously, is a strong undisputed DL stash. You can take a risk on dropping him outright -- and there's a decent enough chance that he washes out completely that it wouldn't be insane from the perspective of lost stats -- but someone will snatch him off your wire with the quickness.



Closer Updates: Red Sox, Mets, Nats, Royals

I suppose it's true what they say about closers being such a dicey fantasy investment. We've just flipped our calendars to April and there are already a handful of situations in flux -- with more certain to follow over the course of a long season.

I'll be weighing in weekly with a closers piece now that the season is under way, but for more timely updates, be sure to check in with @closernews. It'll be the feel-good follow of the summer for you on Twitter. You can also refer to our Closer Depth Chart if you're looking to handcuff setup men for standard leagues or seeking holds in leagues that count that stat.

Anyway, on with the latest in the closersphere ...

Andrew Bailey, Red Sox
Well, I think it's high time we officially labelled Bailey as injury-prone (unless he already was and I missed the memo). In his first season with the Sox after being acquired from the A's via trade this winter, the right-hander will likely see the DL before he throws a pitch for Boston, as he's reportedly been told he needs right thumb surgery (no word yet on timetable for missed time, but it sounds like it could be substantial). If true, that makes three straight seasons in which Bailey has been shelved, which is a shame for his owners (past and present) because he's pretty dang good when he's on the hill.

Now, being the good reader that you are, I'm sure you've already tabbed over to the aforementioned Depth Chart, saw Mark Melancon listed as Boston's probable next-in-line, and dashed over to your local waiver wire to nab a closer on the five-finger discount before your leaguemates even knew what happened. Unfortunately, as these things tend to go, the Sox have already mucked it up (for fantasy purposes), with reports surfacing that Alfredo Aceves will be in the mix for saves, too.

Argh.

If you're wondering which guy you should grab, my answer is yes. If you have four good closers, you can probably abstain. If  you have three, maybe throw a dart at one. If you have two or fewer, give serious consideration to adding both.

Yes, chasing closers is a dirty biz.

Frank Francisco, Mets
Well, this didn't take long, either. The annually injured Fran-Fran was headed for an MRI on his bothersome knee Monday, although he's apparently not worried about a DL stint. So, I suppose his outlook appears far rosier than Bailey's, but this doesn't sit well with me nonetheless. I mean, one doesn't undergo an MRI no reason, right?

As with the Red Sox, the Mets' bullpen situation could get hairy if Francisco is out for any substantial period of time. Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch would be candidates to take the ninth-inning reins, but Bobby Parnell apparently wouldn't be, as the Mets prefer to keep him available for some kind of swing role. You'll recall that Parnell was given a stab at closing last year and didn't perform especially well, although he's apparently tweaked his repertoire to strong results this spring.

The bottom line is, I wouldn't bother moving on this right now unless I were absolutely desperate -- and even then I'd wonder whether I could put that roster spot to better use. Remember, none of those guys is exactly a Kenley Jansen type, and the latest report is that Francisco will be ready for Opening Day.

Drew Storen, Nationals
Things got a little sketchy for Storen a couple weeks ago, as the young right-hander of 43 saves in 2011 was shelved due to elbow problems. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be too serious, as he threw a bullpen session without problem on Sunday. That's a really good thing because I was dreading the prospect of adding Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez (OK, confession: I did add Lidge in one league). 

Storen hasn't yet been officially added to the DL. That's probably a formality, but perhaps Washington is holding out hope that he can be ready by Opening Day or a few days thereafter? In any event, don't count on him missing a substantial chunk of time.

Tellingly, though, Tyler Clippard would not be The Guy, contrary to what was long ago presumed. Nats manager Davey Johnson made it a point to share that he prefers to have the option of deploying Clipp in two-inning stints in the seventh and eighth innings.

If you can figure out a way to shoehorn H-Rod or Lidge onto your roster, more power to you, but if not, I wouldn't sweat it. Storen should be back shortly, and neither of his replacements is especially good.

Jonathan Broxton, Royals

Contrary to this genius' prediction, a report surfaced last week that the Royals are learning toward giving Brox the ninth-inning nod over Greg Holland. We'll see how that goes, but I guess when it comes down to it, you've got a 50-50 chance of calling these things accurately. I still think Holland should get the call, as he was excellent last year while Broxton hasn't been the same pitcher in a year and a half.

If you need one badly enough and are still deliberating, try the Guns of Broxton. If you get stuck holding the bag, you can blame Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.





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