Bullpen turnover last year was at an all-time high with two of every three teams making changes in the 9th inning. We're not even to March yet of 2013 and there is already movement with a few teams setup at the end of the game. Will the presumptive Athletics closer be healthy enough to take the ball on Opening Day? Just how historically good is the Rockies' closer? Who is going to get the call for the Blue Jays since both of their options are coming back from shoulder surgery? What the heck are the Astros doing with their bullpen? After breaking down those throwers we'll spend a wee bit of time looking into a couple of outfield situations that could have an impact in how you draft players for your fantasy baseball squad in 2013.
RELIEVERS IN THE NEWS
All the reports are excellent to this point with the recovery of Grant Balfour from knee surgery. The hope was that he would be available for Opening Day. If he keeps progressing as he has to this point, it will seem to be a lock that he's good to go at that point. He's not a big name in the closer field but don't overlook how damn impressive he was last season in the second half. In 33 second half appearances Balfour posted a 1.71 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and struck out 40 batters in 31.2 innings as he converted all 17 of his save chances. Told you he was impressive. Speaking of head turning performances from a reliever...
Rafael Betancourt was finally allowed to work the 9th inning last year for the Rockies, and the results were a 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 31 saves. Now it's an open question if the Rockies hold on to Rafael all year, he'11 be 38 in April, and if the team isn't in contention they could ship him out of town to get a few pieces back. However, that doesn't diminish how impressive Rafael is on the hill, even if he might be the most boring pitcher in the league to watch throw (the guy takes flippin' forever between pitches, it's soooooo annoying). In his career Betancourt has thrown 617.2 innings with a 3.15 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Pretty impressive right? However, he's taken things to another level with his strikeout and walk marks. For his career he owns a 9.57 K/9 mark an a 4.66 K/BB ratio. Do you know how many pitchers in baseball history, who have thrown 600-innings, can match those two totals? The answer is none. Rafael Betancourt is the lone member of that club. How do you like them apples?
Casey Janssen has been anointed the closer for the Jays. Don't take that as gospel though. While everyone has focused on Sergio Santos and his plight coming back from shoulder surgery, many have overlooked the fact that Jansen is also coming back from shoulder surgery (you can read more about the situation in Movement on the Field & on the Hill). Now we get word that Janssen is still feeling something in his shoulder and that it will still be a few days before he gets back on hill. That's the sound of Sergio Santos gaining on Janssen.
It looks like Jose Veras is going to be the Astros closer this season. Oh boy. Unfortunately for the 'Stros, they really don't have another viable option right now. Let's get down and dirty with this group of arms. We know there will be 30+ saves this season for the Astros. The question is, who will get them?
Veras throws 94-95 mph and has very impressive stuff. For his career he has struck out better than a batter per inning, an in each of the past three years that mark has been at least 10 per nine. Unfortunately he's also somehow managed to be nearly as scary as Carlos Marmol Jr. by walking an average of 4.92 batters per nine innings. That just ain't gonna cut it and helps to at least partially explain why a guy who has stuff like this has all of five saves during a seven year big league career. It's also a concern that he's on his sixth big league team. He's the leader in the clubhouse for sure, but oh those walks.
Wesley Wright is a solid lefty, but teams are often reluctant to go with portsiders in the 9th inning. A mess at the start of his big league career (2008-10), Wright has turned his game around the past two years: 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.09 K/9, 2.95 K/BB ratio. Of course, he only threw 64.1 innings which isn't exactly the largest sample size I've ever seen.
Sam Demel has the traditional fastball/slider combo going for him out of the pen. The past three years he's hurled the pill for the D'backs, and the results were pretty darn blah: 4.95 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 6.79 K/9. He generates a lot of grounders, 55.3 percent for his career, but this isn't a 9th inning skill set.
Rhiner Cruz appeared in 52 games last season covering 55 innings as a rookie. He was solid with a 7.53 K/9 mark, but that's about all that can be positively said. His GB/FB ratio was 1.08, he walked 4.75 batters per nine, and generally didn't look much like the guy who saved 22 games for the Mets Single-A club back in 2009.
Hector Ambriz throws hard and last year that resulted in 22 Ks in 19.1 innings for the Astros. Like seemingly everyone else on this list though, he also walked everyone (5.12 BB/9). At least he generated a 49 percent ground ball rate. He has only six saves in a professional career that began back in 2006.
It seems like it's Veras or bust right now, but boy could this situation get really, really ugly.
Andy Dirks is currently dealing with a minor intercostal strain (he should be able to return to action in a couple of days). Dirks was recently named the Tigers starter in left field. He will have to hold off Brennan Boesch, Avisail Garcia and Quentin Berry for at-bats, but if he does we could be looking at something here. Dirks has the skills to be a solid 15/15 kinda guy, and in his career he's gone deep 15 times while stealing six bases over 533 at-bats. He's also shown himself to be a solid batting average contributor with a .293 batting average. At the same time, I'd throw this word of caution out there. Besides the fact that the Tigers have other options they can turn to, there's the evil regression monster hanging out. Dirks had a .365 BABIP last year which really drove that .322 batting average. Both numbers are coming down this season. However, his season was torn apart by injury last year, so perhaps there is still some upside here if the Tigers truly commit to him being an every day player. He's worth speculating on in the reserve rounds in mixed leagues.
Kelly Johnson signed this offseason with the Rays, and though no one really cared at the time I wrote about why you should in Minor Signings Rule the Day. Now comes word that the Rays will ask Kelly to grab an outfielders glove to familiarize himself with the position this spring. “Whatever opportunities I'm able to get out there, whatever positions, it's fine with me," Johnson said. Kelly figures to play mostly second base, but he could also help out James Loney at first if needed, and if he's able to catch a fly ball, he could see some time in the outfield as well. I'm telling ya, Johnson isn't going to be a bad player to own in AL-only leagues this season, though his batting average is something that you will have to be willing to address with other players to shield your teams' mark in that category.
Alex Rios spent the majority of last season hitting 5th for the White Sox, and what a season did he have as he hit .304 with 25 homers, 91 RBIs, 90 runs scored and 23 steals. Teammate Adam Dunn, he of the homer-walk-strikeout outcome, hit third in 146 games (Dunn had a total of 649 plate appearances last year as he hit 41 homers, walked 105 times and struck out 222 times. Add those three numbers up and we get 368. That means that, literally, 57 percent of Dunn's plate appearances last season ended up with a big fly, a walk, or a punchout. How amazing is that?). This season, the Sox are going to switch things up and move Rios up to third and drop Dunn down to fifth. One of the biggest reasons for the change is that Dunn has an issue with focusing on pitches when someone is running on the bases. “My whole life, I’m so locked into the pitcher that whenever I see somebody move, especially with like two strikes, my eyes go straight to the runner.” Dunn thinks that movement on the bases last season was at least part of the reason for his immense punchout total from last season. “If they’re going to go, go kind of go early in the count. There were a couple of times with two strikes I’d either freeze up or just wail at one I normally wouldn’t.’’
While I'm calling B.S. On Dunn, it's not like last year was the first time he ever struck out, I think this is still a solid move for the Sox. Dunn will hit homers and drive runners in no matter where he hits in the order, and let's face it, he's ideally suited to be a #5 hitter at this point of his career. As for Rios, moving up a few spots in the order should garner him another 30-40 plate appearances over the course of the season, and that isn't going to do anything to harm his fantasy value. The issue for Rios is that he was so good last season, what does he do for an encore?
He stole 23 bags. He should be able to repeat that since he's reached that mark in four of the last five years.
He hit 25 homers, a career best. His 12.6 percent HR/F ratio was a career-high. He's likely to see a small dip here.
He scored 93 runs, the second best mark of his career. Moving up to the third spot should allow him the chance to reach that number again.
He drove in 91 runs, a career best. Ideally suited to produce runs in the three hole, it' possible he get there again (he had 88 RBIs as recently as 2010).
The average was .304 last year, and that's an issue. The previous three seasons he failed to reach .285. He's also a .278 career hitter who had a slightly elevated .323 BABIP last year (career .308) and line drive rate (21.8 percent last year was a career high and two percent above his career mark).
Rios should be very good once again, but build into your expectations a slight across the board pull back.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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