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Fantasy Baseball: 8 Best Reliever Handcuffs

Charles BennettSenior Analyst IMarch 15, 2013

Fantasy Baseball: 8 Best Reliever Handcuffs

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    With spring training in full swing and the start of the 2013 season just weeks away, many fantasy leagues are holding their drafts in the upcoming days.  And with many leagues you're probably going to have to draft someone in middle relief. 

    A popular strategy for middle relievers (and one that I'm going to try in several of my leagues this season) is "handcuffing," or drafting a closer and middle reliever from the same team to ensure that at least one of them will notch saves for you.

    Here are eight pairs of relievers for your consideration, with a variety of options.

    Note: If a player is listed as NR in the ESPN column, he has a reliever ranking above 45 and an overall ranking above 340, so his league-only rank will be listed.

8. Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams, Phillies

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    Papelbon ESPN Rank: 79, 2-RP

    Papelbon Yahoo! Rank: 92, 4-RP

    Adams ESPN Rank: NR (220 NL), 65-RP

    Adams Yahoo! Rank: 412, 82-RP

    Jonathan Papelbon enters the season as the second-best closer in the ESPN rankings and the fourth best in the Yahoo! rankings.

    Though Papelbon was strong last season, and is again projected to notch 35 saves on better than 11 Ks per 9 innings, Philly was notoriously weak in middle relief.  To remedy that, they nabbed Rangers setup man Mike Adams in the offseason.

    Despite the fact that Adams is again expected to post 30 or more holds this season, he is going undrafted in most 12-team leagues, with a 6 percent-owned rate across all formats.  

    Adams is a good last-round choice if you need a man who'll get you 30 holds.  However, he's 34, is projected to again hurl for fewer than nine strikeouts per 9 innings, and probably has almost no chance of taking the closer's job. 

7. Huston Street and Luke Gregerson, Padres

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    Street ESPN Rank: 154; 17-RP

    Street Yahoo! Rank: 158, 14-RP

    Gregerson ESPN Rank: NR (176 NL), 51-RP

    Gregerson Yahoo! Rank: 293, 42-RP

    Closer Huston Street was the lone All-Star for the Padres last season.  He's averaged 25 saves and 61 strikeouts a season over the course of eight years in the big leagues.  

    Last season, Street's metrics amounted to a 1.85 ERA with a 0.72 WHIP and 10.85 Ks per 9.  Those are great numbers.  They'd be even greater if he managed to stay off the DL for any length of time.

    Gregerson, who has more than 100 holds in the last four seasons, looks again to be one of the better middle relievers in baseball this season.  He is again projected to notch well north of 20 holds, and also to be the secondary option for the Padres should Street again suffer injuries.

6. Fernando Rodney and Jake McGee, Rays

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    Rodney ESPN Rank: 98, 7-RP

    Rodney Yahoo! Rank: 127, 7-RP

    McGee ESPN Rank: NR (200 AL), 54-RP

    McGee Yahoo! Rank: 298, 45-RP

    2012 AL Comeback Player of the Year award-winner Fernando Rodney is coming off a magical season where he notched 48 saves and had a 0.60 ERA.  Despite his stellar season last season, Rodney is projected to fall to the "it's-time-to-get-me-a-halfway-decent-closer" rounds due to a large regression expected when his walks-per-9 numbers come closer to 2011 levels (7.9 per 9 in 2011, 4.4 per 9 for his career).

    Jake McGee was one of the best middle relievers in baseball in 2012, notching 20 holds and five wins in relief with a 1.95 ERA and almost 12 strikeouts per 9.  

    Among pitchers on this list, McGee has perhaps the greatest discrepancy between ESPN and Yahoo! rankings.  This is due to the disagreement between the two agencies on how much McGee will regress: ESPN is predicting that McGee's ERA will balloon to north of 3.00, while Yahoo is predicting a much slighter regression.  Either way, McGee is a legitimate source of holds and wins in relief.

    If Rodney and McGee post close to their numbers last season, this could be a huge bargain, especially in a large league.  If they don't...

5. Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

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    Janssen ESPN Rank: 219, 27-RP

    Janssen Yahoo! Rank: 210, 27-RP

    Santos ESPN Rank: 282, 40-RP

    Santos Yahoo! Rank: 277, 38-RP

    The 29-year-old Californian Sergio Santos was dealt to the Blue Jays in the 2011-12 offseason with the prospect of closing games in 2012.  Santos only faced 24 batters in 2012 before being sidelined the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.  In the interim, Santos lost his closer slot to Casey Janssen, who was a surprisingly good arm in an otherwise-lackluster Jays bullpen.

    Despite having a 2.41 ERA over the last two seasons, Janssen is projected near the bottom of the men who will be closers on Opening Day.  That is because most expect Santos to return to something near his 2011 form (30 saves) and split the closer duties with Janssen.  

    In terms of handcuffing for the sole goal of saves, this is one of the better options.

4. Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, Nationals

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    Soriano ESPN Rank: 94; 6-RP

    Soriano Yahoo! Rank: 131, 8-RP

    Storen ESPN Rank: 271, 38-RP

    Storen Yahoo! Rank: 280, 39-RP

    Clippard ESPN Rank: 326, 45-RP

    Clippard Yahoo! Rank: 290, 41-RP

    Welcome to the only Cerberus on this list.  Last season, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen split the closer role on the division-leading Nationals.  This year, both men appear to have been supplanted by Rafael Soriano, who signed with the Nats this offseason after the Yankees opted to bring back Mariano Rivera for a final year.

    Soriano will look to replicate the successes of last season, again notching more than 35 saves on a sub-3.00 ERA.  As with Rodney and Rivera, look for Soriano to fall in a round where several No. 1 closer options are taken.

    Storen and Clippard are projected to be major sources of holds; Clippard may again have another 30-hold season.  Though neither is projected to have a sub-3.00 ERA, Clippard is again projected to hurl for 11 strikeouts per 9 innings.

    Note that it would not be the best idea to draft all three of these men in most (but not all) formats.  The idea is that if you have Soriano and someone else grabs Storen, you could still handcuff him to Clippard.  

    Storen and Clippard also bring completely different things to the table: Draft Storen if you want WHIP or likelihood of taking over the closer slot, but go for Clippard if you want Ks per 9 or holds.

3. Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano, Indians

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    Perez ESPN Rank: 192; 22-RP

    Perez Yahoo! Rank: 196, 23-RP

    Pestano ESPN Rank: 256, 36-RP

    Pestano Yahoo! Rank: 285, 40-RP

    This one works at a number of levels.  One level is holds. Pestano was second in MLB in holds with 36; he could very well again notch 30 holds this season. 

    The other level is likelihood that Pestano will close games.  Several articles, both on and off B/R, have been reporting that the Indians are looking to dump Perez.  Perez also hasn't been the greatest of late, battling a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness.  I consider it a strong possibility that Pestano will notch double-digit saves for the Indians this season.

    The biggest drawback to this handcuff: ERA.  Though Perez is again projected to save 30-plus games, his ERA is projected to again be well north of 3.00, and Pestano's is projected to also creep into the 3.00 range.

2. Ryan Madson and Ernesto Frieri, Angels

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    Madson ESPN Rank: 169; 19-RP

    Madson Yahoo! Rank: 208, 25-RP

    Frieri ESPN Rank: 229, 30-RP

    Frieri Yahoo! Rank: 258, 35-RP

    Ryan Madson was signed by the Reds last year to be their closer.  That didn't pan out; he sat out all of last season and is now with the L.A. Angels as their closer.

    The Angels didn't have a real closer last season, but the man who came the closest was Ernesto Frieri.  Frieri had great metrics last season, with a 0.98 WHIP, 13.4 strikeouts per 9, 23 saves and five wins in relief.  Frieri and Madson are expected to have double-digit saves this season; Frieri is also expected to have double-digit holds numbers and several wins in relief.

    If this handcuff could be summed up in one word, that word would be strikeouts: Both men are expected to throw far north of nine Ks per 9.

1. Brandon League and Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

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    Jansen ESPN Rank: 202, 25-RP

    Jansen Yahoo! Rank: 230, 31-RP

    League ESPN Rank: 241; 32-RP

    League Yahoo! Rank: 234, 32-RP

    After trading for Brandon League last season, the Dodgers inked him to a fat contract this offseason.  League split the closer's duties with Kenley Jansen last season, and it's fair to expect that each could notch 10 or more saves this season.

    Jansen is slated to start the season as one of the league's top setup men.  Jansen has a career 14.5 Ks per 9, and is expected to hurl for a number somewhere about that this season.  He also is projected to have a solid ERA and WHIP.

    League has a substantially worse ERA and Ks-per-9 ratio than Jansen, but the fact is that he's saved 52 games in the last two years, and is being paid to save even more in the next four. 

    One thing to watch out for with this one, though: In the drafts I've done in preparation for writing this article, I've noticed that people have a tendency to reach for Jansen, particularly in roto leagues, on account of his Ks-per-9 ratio.

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