2010 Fantasy MLB Relief Pitchers ~ Breakouts, Busts and Sleepers
We are back with our final in this series of Breakouts, Busts and Sleepers. We’ve done the infield; Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Short Stops, Third Base as well as Outfielders and Starting Pitchers. That leaves us with the Relief Pitchers, or more factually, the Closers.
The Closers are perhaps the hardest to assess, as half the guys on the list are likely to be replaced at some point during the season due to injury, or failure to perform. Since I wrote my *early season Closer rankings we’ve seen a top three Closer, Joe Nathan, get knocked out for the season, and some others, Kerry Wood, Andrew Bailey, Huston Street, get felled temporarily (we hope) by other injuries. There are still a couple of Closer situations undecided, and several guys with tenuous holds on their Stopper status. Still we have to draft, so here are the thoughts from some of our experts on who may or may not be worth drafting.
So here we go, our various picks for 2010 Fantasy MLB Closers.
Tab Bamford (Wears a condom when he’s streaking)
Breakout: Billy Wagner, ATL – Wagner fell off a lot of radars because of injury and age, but he’s been lights out in Spring Training and averaged better than a strikeout per inning in his return last year with the Mets. With the good starting pitching and offense in Atlanta, he could be a great late-round steal.
Bust: Brandon Lyon, HOU - Lyon has started to struggle with injuries yet again and the Houston Astros looks like a train wreck. They’re hoping he can replace Jose Valverde, but he might do little more than create problems in Texas.
Sleeper: Chad Qualls, ARI - The Arizona Diamondbacks have exceptional starting pitching, and Qualls could step in as a closer in a great situation in the desert. Considering the state of the NL West, the starting pitching and offense in Arizona, Qualls could be a solid play this year.
Breakout: David Aardsma, SEA – Aardsma saved 38 games in 2009, but he’s still struggling to get on many draft boards because he’s in Seattle. In 2010, with an improved starting rotation that includes Cliff Lee and an improved offense, he could see more save opportunities. If you hadn’t heard of Aardsma yet, he should be on your draft board.
Bust: Jose Valverde, DET – Valverde is going to the Detroit Tigers, which has always been a tough place to pitch when the weather gets bad early and late in the season. While the dimensions of the park might help Valverde, the change of scenery (and weather) could hurt the emotional closer.
Sleeper: JJ Putz/Matt Thornton, CHW - Putz is a wild card for the Chicago White Sox. Bobby Jenks has been in trade rumors for a couple years now, and recent questions about his health (MRI on a calf turned up negative over the weekend) could make him more expendable to the Sox. Putz has been lights-out since joining the Sox this winter, and Thornton has been one of the best setup men in baseball the last couple years. One of the two could steal the closer spot if Jenks is injured or dealt.
Ray Tannock (His wife coined the term, “Where’s the beef?”)
Breakout: Leo Nunez, FLA - Nunez is an upcoming talent in the organization for the Florida Marlins, and towards the end of the year everyone got a glimpse of what the kid can do. He’ll enjoy plenty of run support to create Save chances.
Bust: Ryan Franklin, STL - There really isn’t left in the tank for Franklin. He’s not known for throwing heat or strikes and will be more of a headache than an asset. He’s struggled this spring, and Jason Motte has not. A changing of the Cards could come sooner or later for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sleeper: Heath Bell, SD - Bell had a nice 2009 campaign and you have to put a little stock into anyone who closes in San Diego’s pitcher friendly digs.
Breakout: Mike Gonzalez, BAL – Gonzo is young, talented, can get the job done, and the O’s are hungry and coming into 2010 with some quality talent that should bode well for Save opportunities.
Bust: Kerry Wood, CLE – There was a time that Wood was considered one of the best rising talents out there but to be honest, he hasn’t ever stayed healthy enough to claim such a tag. The Cleveland Indians aren’t exactly going to set the world on fire either and Wood is even now battling through more injuries. Stay away from him.
Sleeper: Andrew Bailey, OAK – 26/30 save rate equating to a SV% of 87%, 9.8 K/9 rate, 2.6 BB/9 rate, 1.84 ERA with a startling 0.876 WHIP…..and that was just his rookie year folks. These are the type of numbers you see from an elite fantasy closer, and you can bet Bailey is only going to get better. Don’t buy the injury over-hype.
Mike Sholty (Is the designated drinker at all his social functions)
Breakout: Neftali Feliz, TEX - We all know that Frankie Francisco has some great stuff when he is healthy, but he seems to have trouble staying off the DL. He had three separate trips to the DL last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frank succumb to injury again at some point this season, and it might be for longer than 15 days. If this happens, Neftali Feliz will be a premiere source of saves. He has amazing knockout stuff and he will be closing for a good team. If you have bench spots in your league make sure you get him, otherwise watch him very closely in free agency and pick him up when you need him.
Bust: Bobby Jenks, CHW – I just can’t recommend Jenks to anyone after what I saw from him post-break. The numbers might show that he had things under control, but I actually watched him on TV and saw a guy struggling on the mound. He had terrible command of his fastball and was even losing some velocity near the end of the year. He gave up a career worst 9 HR last season and didn’t get to 60 IP for the first time since his rookie season. His spring numbers don’t suggest an improvement (.545 AVG against, 37.80 ERA), so steer very far away from drafting Jenks.
Sleeper: Scott Downs, TOR – At this time, no one knows who will close for the Toronto Blue Jays. I can almost promise you that Scott Downs will be closing the majority of their games. Downs has had a great spring while Gregg has struggled and Frasor has been almost pitiful. Downs is leagues ahead of the competition and should see about 30 saves this season, as long as he can keep the job.
Breakout: Carlos Marmol, CHC - People don’t think Carlos Marmol can handle closing for the Chicago Cubs because of his tenancy to walk people, but I think he will keep enough control to be able to close the entire season with success. If Marmol pitches around 75 innings, he will get you 100 strikeouts which is definitely welcome from the closer position. His WHIP will be a lot higher than other closers so you need to keep that in mind when drafting your SP, but he should close out about 35 games this year and that’s great value considering he is usually drafted outside the top ten closers.
Bust: Matt Capps, WAS - I generally like having closers on bad teams but Capps is an exception. Considering the only good pitcher for the Washington Nationals is Stephen Strasburg, and considering he won’t be pitching for them until later in the season…I just don’t see the Nationals winning much at all. The bullpen is constantly tired for Washington because their starters can’t go deep into games, so it’ll be hard for Capps to actually get into the game with the lead. If he has a week or so of rest, you know that Washington will throw him in to the game in non-save situations and those are never end up pretty. Just stay away from Capps.
Sleeper: Octavio Dotel, PIT – Dotel is relatively unknown, but now he has a chance to become “the man” in Pittsburgh. Considering the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t a top-notch team, you will probably not look at Dotel like he is going to be an ace on your fantasy squad. The Pirates only won 62 games last season, but 39 of those wins were by 3 or less runs. Let’s say Pittsburgh wins 70 games this season. If that happens, Dotel will have over 40 chances to close a game. It’s nice closing for bad teams huh? If you don’t know, ask Heath Bell.
Breakout: Octavio Dotel, PIT – Dotel has long been a stud relief pitcher, mostly known in leagues who uses Holds as a stat. But he’s also been a nice source of K’s and WHIP at the RP position. This year he gets to flex that curve ball on a bad team. This means a good shot at lot’s of save opportunities. New fantasy managers won’t know much about Dotel, but he should have a 30-35 save season and about 100Ks. The Pittsburgh Pirates chose the right guy.
Bust: Huston Street, COL – His recent injury is not the reason I have him here. One I believe he’ll be traded, two I believe he’ll be injured again during the season, and three Franklin Morales is going to become the closer for the Colorado Rockies. This is mere conjecture and gut instinct on my part. I don’t trust Matt Capps in Washington either, in fact even less, but Street will go much higher in drafts making him a more painful bust if he goes bad.
Sleeper: Billy Wagner, ATL – The great Tab listed Wags as a breakout candidate, but he did that years ago. Wagner has been off the radar for well over a season, but he’s always been a lights out kind of guy. He was the reason Dotel never got the chance to close in Houston those many years ago. I think Wagner will be looking at the big 40 this season, and I don’t mean his age. The Atlanta Braves have a true closer this season.
Breakout: Chris Perez, CLE – Perez is the Cleveland Indians Closer of the future, and that future may be now. The only thing standing, I mean limping in his way, is the ever injured Kerry Wood. He has a career K/9 ratio of 10, and in 32 games with the Indians last season he had 38 K’s, and a 1.08 WHIP.
Bust: Kerry Wood, CLE – This seems almost like a cheat, but if Perez is going to be a breakout, Wood has to be a bust. He has already been injured and will not start the season with the team. He should be back by May, but who knows when, if, or for how long.
Sleeper: Fernando Rodney, ANA – Rodney has always had the stuff, but injuries, and bouts with control issues have kept him out of the full time closers gig. However, Brian Fuentes is the man in front of him for the Anaheim Angels (or whatever their name is this season) and Fuentes will as likely give Mike Scioscia a heart attack as an easy save.
*A new Closer Rankings will be out this week.