The Cubs' Kyuji Fujikawa is one of many new closers to take over ninth-inning duties this week.
It won't take long to figure out the theme of this week's top waiver wire pickups, so rather than dragging it out any further, here it is: Pitchers, and more specifically, closers.
One reason these recommended adds are so hurler-heavy is the simple fact that it's tough to get too caught up in small sample sizes, particularly when it comes to hitters. (Here are a few suggestions on that front, though, if you're looking for more batsmen).
Another reason? There already have been quite a few noteworthy starting pitching performances by lesser-owned arms—and even more turnover in the ninth inning.
So while a hitter who's proving he's worth owning in every league leads off the Top 10 Pickups for Week 2, there's a mounting mass of mound men to follow.
If you're in one of the leagues where Jed Lowrie is still available, do something about it, will ya?
The 28-year-old switch-hitting infielder is only batting .500 with three homers through his first seven games.
With Lowrie, we know the bugaboo is health, so it's better to get in now while he's active and producing rather than wait and find out just how for real it is. That goes double because of how shallow shortstop is.
Following a mini-breakout in 2012—a career-high 16 homers in a career-high 340 at-bats before missing much of the second half with a serious ankle injury—Lowrie has left the Astros behind for greener pastures with the Green and Gold. Playing in an actual major league lineup this year will help Lowrie's all-around production. As long as he's healthy, that is.
Well, that didn't take long.
The 32-year-old hasn't exactly had such a hot start himself, but manager Dale Sveum and the rest of Chicago's staff simply couldn't take much more of the Marmol high-wire act, so they're putting their trust in Fujikawa, who was one of Japan's top stoppers for a long time.
Upon earning the Hanshin Tigers' ninth-inning job full-time in 2007, Fujikawa put up a 1.36 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 12.4 K/9. Best of all, his walk rate was an un-Marmol-like 2.3 BB/9.
If you need saves, Fujikawa earned his second of the year—and first as the closer—Tuesday night, so this is your man.
Greg Holland's early-season struggles has opened the door for someone in the deep Royals bullpen. The question is: Who?
The most talented option behind Holland might just be Kelvin Herrera, a second-year right-hander with triple-digit heat.
After getting the first save, non-Holland division, though, the 23-year-old had to watch Aaron Crow get the next opportunity Monday (apparently because both he and Holland were unavailable), then Holland got the call Tuesday night and picked up save No. 2, although he was again shaky, allowing two more walks and another hit.
Where this sitch stands at the moment isn't crystal clear, but Herrera, who posted a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 as a rook in 2012, is worth owning even if he's not the closer. So just imagine how valuable he'll be if he officially gets the gig at some point.
Clay Buchholz, it seems, has teased fantasy owners for years.
The 28-year-old did have that breakout 2010 when he won 17 games with a 2.33 ERA, but even that didn't feel quite right (blame that 6.2 K/9), and sure enough, he went right back to being just so-so the past two seasons.
The right-hander, though, has looked very good through two starts this year—two wins, only one run allowed in his first 14 innings—so if you don't mind the occasional blowup outing, it's worth at least rostering Buchholz to see how things go in his next turn or two.
It's a tempting trap to be sure, but if deployed carefully and strategically (preferably at home), Buchholz could be more good than bad.
You're familiar with Hisashi Iwakuma, right?
You know, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Japanese right-hander who spent the first part of his rookie season in the Mariners bullpen, only to enter the rotation in July and do this over 16 starts: eight wins, 2.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.4 K/9.
What's that? You hadn't realized, you say? Even after Iwakuma has allowed just six hits against 10 strikeouts in his first two starts (14 innings) this year? Looks like someone's started off 2013 where he left off in 2012.
And it looks like someone else needs to check the waiver wire.
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear "Paul Maholm"?
After being subjected to years of Maholm's who-cares production in Pittsburgh, start conditioning yourself to think "really good fantasy pitcher."
Since the start of 2011, the 30-year-old left-hander owns a 3.54 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in over 350 innings. Even better? Since being traded to the Braves in the middle of 2012, Maholm's once-non-existent strikeout rate has jumped to nearly 8.0 per nine, and now that he's a part of a team with a great lineup and a strong defense, Maholm and his ground-balling ways should actually win some games, too.
All aboard the Jose Fernandez train.
Fernandez's major league debut—at age 20, with no experience above A-ball—went about as well as anyone could have imagined. The powerful right-hander pitched in the mid- to high-90s throughout his five innings against the Mets, whiffing eight while allowing just one run on three hits and a walk.
The Marlins are obviously going to be cautious with their prized phenom, meaning his innings will be limited and he could be sent back to the minors at the first sign of struggle (or once other arms return from the DL), but for now, jump on and see where this choo-choo takes you.
If the next few stops are as good as the first, though, it might be time to punch your ticket and sell high while you can. Unless, of course, you're in a keeper league.
John Axford got the axe.
(Easiest punchline of the week out of the way, let's move on to the actual fantasy analysis).
Following Axford's atrocious first few appearances, news came over the weekend that Jim Henderson, a little-known 30-year-old who's basically a veteran minor leaguer, will take over the closer job in Milwaukee. For now.
Manager Ron Roenicke made it sound like a temporary move. "Once [Axford] gets his stuff back, we'd like him back in that role," Roenicke told reporters Monday, the same day Henderson converted his first save opportunity of the year.
Problem is, Axford may not get his sh...—uh, stuff back.
On Tuesday night, while he did polish off the last out of the seventh inning against the Cubs, Axford allowed a hit, two more walks and three more runs in the eighth to turn a tie game into a loss. In four games, he now sports an ERA that looks like a cross-Manhattan cab fare (24.30).
Henderson, 30, isn't likely a long-term answer, but he wasn't so bad in his first big league action last year (3.52 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 13.2 K/9), and the 6'5" righty did manage three saves while filling in for Axford for a spell.
It may only be a matter of time now before Trevor Rosenthal has the ninth inning all to himself in St. Louis.
With all due respect to Mitchell Boggs, who was anointed the closer after Jason Motte was put on the DL at the very end of spring training, Boggs just can't match the 22-year-old Rosenthal's dynamic stuff.
News on Motte has taken a turn for the worse, according to the Belleville News-Democrat, which is reporting that Motte has a ligament tear in his right elbow and could be facing season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Boggs' disastrous outing Monday night only made things worse, and while he pitched a clean ninth inning in a non-save situation Tuesday night, we're talking about a guy with five saves, a 3.96 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP for his career.
Hey, saves are saves, right?
Frankly, Benoit seems to be little else than the next toy horse on the merry-go-round after prospect Bruce Rondon couldn't cut it in spring and veteran lefty specialist Phil Coke blew his second save opp then pitched poorly in his next appearance.
Complicating matters even more? Detroit re-signed Jose Valverde on a minor league deal last week.
Benoit's actually pretty good—the righty put up a 2.71 ERA and 10.4 K/9 from 2010-12—but let's put it this way: Don't expect a 35-year-old with 13 saves on his résumé to double that total by the end of the season.