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In our last look at the Bottom of the Ninth, we tackled four closers I thought were being severely undervalued in fantasy drafts this year. Today, let’s discuss a few non-ninth inning relievers that I feel will end up with the job before all is said and done, and probably sooner rather than later. Bring us your Segio Santoses, your Jason Mottes, your Jordan Waldens, your Javy Guerras! OK, maybe not your Javy Guerras.

Vinnie Pestano, Indians. All right, I’ll admit I’m cheating a bit with this one. A Chris Perez injury means Pestano is actually likely to start the season manning the ninth inning, which completely side-steps the premise of this column right off the bat. Am I a fraud? Is it okay to tar and feather me and display me in the public square? Hang on a minute.

To be fair, Pestano would have led this article whether Perez was healthy or not. While the Indians closer did a good job on the surface, converting 36 of 40 save opportunities and posting a decent 3.32 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, Perez was far from good, or even acceptable, last season. A 5.9 K/9 rate mixed with a 3.9 BB/9 rate gave Perez a Royals-rotation-worthy 1.50 K/BB ratio in 2011. His FIP was a 4.27, while his xFIP was a 5.01. Since those numbers probably mean nothing to you, let me put that FIP in context. Only six other pitchers who threw at least 50 innings had a FIP that awful last season: Sean O’Sullivan, Brad Hand, Miguel Batista, Kyle Drabek, Guillermo Moscoso and John Grabow. How many of them do you want closing games? I think Sean O’Sullivan (a.k.a. “Sully”) finished the season pitching BP for your kid’s Little League team. Or your kids’ Little League team. Seriously, I don’t know what you do behind closed doors.

So by now, you’ll realize that the best way to talk up Pestano as a long-term option is to run through Perez’s flaws. However, I think they manifest themselves quite well in that 5.01 FIP, so let’s move on to My Sleeper Vinnie. His ERA, FIP and xFIP were all under 3.00 last year while he struck out 84 batters in 62 innings. His numbers were even better in 2010 while pitching most of the year in the minors, where he had FIPs under 2.00 in Double-A and Triple-A. Even conservative projection systems have him striking out over a batter an inning while maintaining an ERA south of Perez. With the Indians drawing a little sleeper buzz thanks to new pitching and the brilliant re-signing of Grady Sizemore, who is so injury-prone that he managed to get Scott Sizemore knocked out for the entire 2012 season, the club can’t afford to put up with a Perez meltdown. Pestano is guy you want in this bullpen.

Kenley Jansen, Dodgers. Javy Guerra (2.31 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) isn’t Chris Perez, but he’s not fantastic either, with a K/9 of 7.33 and a K/BB of 2.11 last year. If HR/9 and BABIP head to their standard levels, Guerra could be looking at an ERA in the high threes or low fours, and with the competition looming in his ‘pen, that’s not going to cut it.

Jansen has visions of Craig Kimbrel dancing in owners’ heads after striking out 96 guys in 53.2 innings for a 16.1 K/9 last year. I’d love to tell you the last time a pitcher had a 16.0 K/9 rate or better in 50 innings or more, but it never happened before last season. Ever. Not even during Eric Gagne’s Cy Young season. Kenley Jansen: best strikeout pitcher ever? He was last year, and that’s why owners are drafting him over Guerra in most formats. I would too — he has a shot at being something special. And not special like when your parents call you special, but really special.

Addison Reed, White Sox. Matt Thornton posted his worst season since 2007 last year, but he wasn’t awful. In fact, he still struck out over a batter an inning and posted a decent 3.32 ERA despite being done in a bit by luck (.326 BABIP, 61.2% strand rate). In fact, he makes for a perfectly serviceable closer — if you like your closers to be 35-year-old lefties. Another knock against Thornton is his mediocrity against right-handed batters, against whom he had a 7.8 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and 1.9 K/BB (compared to 11.8, 2.1 and 5.7, respectively, against lefties). When you stick a guy solely in the ninth inning, you let the opposing manager dictate whom he sees. Who do you think they’ll send to the plate to face Thornton?

Chicago knows they’re better served using Thornton in the right matchups before the ninth inning, so I fully expect them to tab Addison Reed as their closer for the majority of this season. After being selected in the third round of the 2010 draft, Reed barnstormed through four different minor league levels last season, amassing a 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 and 4.9 hit/9 in 78.1 innings. Even MC Hammer couldn’t touch that! (Crickets.) You’re right, I apologize for that one. Oh, he ended up posting a 12.0 K/BB in 7.1 major league innings too, so yeah. He could be the next great closer, as soon as this season.

And, we’re out of time. What, this isn’t a TV show? OK, well I at least promise to speed through these next options and let you get on with your day.

Sergio Romo, Giants. Brian Wilson is probably the most identifiable reliever in baseball, but he’s honestly not even the best reliever on his own team, according to last season’s stats. While Wilson’s K/9 dropped under 9.0 and his BB/9 rose to over 5.0 in 2011, Romo struck out 70 batters while walking only five guys in 48 innings. Amongst players with at least 40 innings pitched last year, Romo was first in FIP and xFIP by a wide margin over Craig Kimbrel. Since Wilson’s just turning 30 this season, the Giants should be able to trade him at a high value if they decide to go that route. Obviously, I think they should. He’s already dealing with elbow inflammation, and though it’s being called minor, I’d give him one month to build trade value then send him to the highest bidder.

Greg Holland, Royals. This could be the year the Mexcellent Trade Piece gets dealt to a contender, and that should be just fine with Royals fans. While the team added former closer Jonathan Broxton last offseason, the real jewel of the bullpen is Holland. His contact rate of 64.4% put him third in the league last year behind Jansen and Kimbrel (min. 50 IP). Ranking just behind him in that stat were Jonny Venters, Pestano and Sergio Santos. Excellent company. I think Soria gets traded by July 31 at the latest, and Holland outpitches Broxton in the first half.

Fautino De Los Santos, A’s. Oakland has a handful of candidates that could close games for them this year, headlined by assumed closer Grant Balfour and veteran Brian Fuentes (and “veteran” is about the nicest thing I can call him from a fantasy perspective). The intriguing option is De Los Santos, who’s posted K rates of 10.0 or higher every year since starting in A-ball in 2007. He struck out 43 batters in 33.1 innings in his major-league debut last year, and if he can keep the walks in check, he could quickly emerge as the A’s best ninth-inning guy.

From Around The Web

  1. SmokeTNT says:
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    12 team points league w/ holds,2 util, 5 sp, 3 rp, 2 p, how’d I do?:

    1. (1) Troy Tulowitzki (Col – SS)
    2. (24) Tim Lincecum (SF – SP)
    3. (25) Mark Teixeira (NYY – 1B)
    4. (48) Matt Cain (SF – SP)
    5. (49) Buster Posey (SF – C)
    6. (72) B.J. Upton (TB – OF)
    7. (73) Howie Kendrick (LAA – 1B,2B,OF)
    8. (96) Drew Stubbs (Cin – OF)
    9. (97) Brett Gardner (NYY – OF)
    10. (120) Brian Wilson (SF – RP)
    11. (121) Logan Morrison (Mia – OF)
    12. (144) Chris Carpenter (StL – SP)
    13. (145) Mark Trumbo (LAA – 1B,OF)
    14. (168) Ryan Dempster (ChC – SP)
    15. (169) Kendrys Morales (LAA – 1B,OF)
    16. (192) Ryan Vogelsong (SF – SP)
    17. (193) Tyler Clippard (Was – RP)
    18. (216) Sergio Romo (SF – RP)
    19. (217) Johan Santana (NYM – SP)
    20. (240) Rafael Soriano

    • ChillmanCometh says:
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      @SmokeTNT, I think you’re team is going to run into trouble.
      1. You’ve reached on a whole lot (Posey, Morales, Dempster, Vogelsong).
      2. You’re not rostering a 3rd baseman, and counting on Trumbo to get it which isn’t guaranteed.
      3. Brian Wilson is your only closer, and unless holds are comparable points wise to saves, that could be bad news.

      I like the 6th/7th combo of Upton Kendrick.

      • SmokeTNT says:
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        @ChillmanCometh, I was hoping to land Mark Reynolds but he went way early. Moustakas went undrafted so I’m going to keep an eye on the Trumbo situation and if it goes south he’s my backup plan. (no bench spots) As far as closers, I kinda hate drafting them anyway, something always shakes up before Opening Day, (snagged Hanrahan off the wires last year) and holds guys can do fairly well in this league. Venters, Clippard etc. ranked among the middle of the top RP last year. (5 pt svs, 4 pt holds).

        Thanks for the advice!

  2. chata says:
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    with the giants building their “biggest promotional give-away ever” ,
    the brian wilson gnome bobblehead , around one of the league’s most
    readily identifiable closers , i seriously doubt they will be trading him to another team this year .

    • chata says:
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      @chata,

      you’re absolutely correct , chata , Brian Wilson ain’t going nowhere .

      can you suggest another might-be closer that would be a better choice on draft day ?

      • @chata, Koji Uehara, Andrew Cashner, Glen Perkins

      • chata says:
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        @chata,

        yep .

        boston’s mark melancon is a nice late-round flyer , especially considering bailey’s history of injury and the fact that the sawx will probably never throw him 3 days in a row .
        plus , bobby jenks won’t be back .

  3. Bill_Buckner says:
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    I’d say you could add Ramon Ramirez to this list. Frank Francisco has never been able to stay healthy and/or hold a closer job all season long & Ramirez is the only other viable option in the Mets’ pen.

    • ichirosan says:
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      @Bill_Buckner, Unless, of course, they decide to go with the dreaded “RP with closing experience”, and treat us to Brain Freezing extraordinaire Jon Rauch.

      I just grabbed Ramirez as my last pick in my dynasty draft, anyway.

  4. Tony says:
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    14 team league should i be rostering lorenzo cain?

    i’ve got tabata, presley, or chris davis i could drop…

    • @Tony, I like Cain better than those guys. If you’re set at 1B/3B, I’d drop Davis for him. If you feel like you need Davis, Presley’s the way to go.

  5. Need help fast, keeper deadline in half hour, head to head league:

    Can only keep four:

    Pujols (obvious)
    Cano (obvious)
    Wainright
    Josh Johnson
    Hunter Pence
    BJ Upton
    Beachy
    Ivan Nova
    Daniel Hudson
    Chacin
    Billingsley

    Thanks!

    • @kR Express, I’d go Pujols, Cano, Pence and probably Upton. If you really feel you have to go with a pitcher, I can see Beachy instead of Upton. However, I bet the pitching available will be pretty good.

  6. emceeperiod says:
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    @Grey – Quick question: Why is Tommy Hanson being ranked so low this year? Wasn’t he like top 10 or 15 at his position preseason last year? Is it just injury concerns or…?

    @Grey – Long question: My auction league gives the usual $260 to play with, but we can use $100 for keepers from last year. Who would you keep in this mug? We’re using the Yahoo! projected auction values, which I’ve included to make it easier. From this post, there are no players on my team that you think Yahoo is overvaluing. So far I’m thinking of keeping Prince, Kemp and Beachy and just keeping the rest of my $$ for the auction (can’t keep CarGo w/Prince and Kemp or would go over $100 limit, unless you’d keep CarGo over Prince? Same deal with Kershaw, plus I know from every article you’ve read that you think there’s too much pitching out there this year to pay for top tier guys).

    My squad from el pasado ano:

    Kemp – $44
    CarGo – $37
    Prince – $29
    Pedroia – $28
    Wright – $24
    Victorino – $14
    Ethier – $9

    P’s
    Kershaw – $32
    T. Hanson – $11
    Bumgarner – $13
    Beachy – $9
    Morrow – $6
    Minor – $1
    (not putting in closers…SAGNOF!)

    Sorry to ask you to do math.
    I’m thinking Prince, Kemp, Beachy ($84) or
    Prince, Kemp, Wright ($97).
    With the former I would have the option of adding Minor or Morrow (or both) or Bumgarner or Hanson.

    Thanks froggy frog!

    • @emceeperiod, I’d actually go with Kemp, Fielder, Bumgarner, Beachy and Minor. Third is pretty deep, so I wouldn’t worry about hanging on to Wright. Those three SPs mentioned all seem like very good values to me.

      • emceeperiod says:
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        @R.J. White, awesome man, thanks for such a quick reply!

  7. emceeperiod says:
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    Whoa…seems like I posted this on the wrong page. Meant to do your Yahoo/Grey picks comparison page. Google Chrome…snap! If you’re not familiar…when scrolling down in Chrome on blogs and other pages where there is a “next” button, Chrome will just keep scrolling down and load the next page so you don’t have to press “next” so you have all blog pages on one page, so to speak. However there are times when it is not convenient, like now. Anyway, reposting back on that one. Sorry everyone!!!

  8. emceeperiod says:
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    …though RJ advice would be nice too! It just has nothing to do with this article…

  9. TheRealRandallSimon says:
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    Also worth mentioning that Andrew Cashner is looking like the unquestioned set up man to Huston Street who is always good for at least one long DL stint.

    If you need any more reason to consider him, he’s also averaging 102.2 MPH on his fastball this spring.

    • aaronjames says:
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      @TheRealRandallSimon,

      IMO the most reliable piece of information about Cashner is that the Cubs traded him.

  10. Goose says:
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    What do you think of Juan Abreu on the ‘stros? We know they’ve dubbed Myers the closer, but you gotta think Beatdown Brett’s gonna be traded, right? So is Abreu is the #1 set-up man / future closer in Houston these days?

    • @Goose, Myers could get traded; it really depends if anyone’s willing to take on his contract. I don’t know that Abreu would be first in line for the job, and he might even be third behind Lopez and Carpenter. However, I do agree that he has the best stuff out of all the Astro relievers, and I would expect him to get a crack at closing at some point in the future.

  11. JeffFromTallahassee says:
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    Hey R.J., who would you rather own Jensen or Reed? I know it’s sort of a pointless question because I could always draft both of them, but Reed seems to have a better path to being the closer since Thornton has always struggled as a closer, but Guerra was successful (though somewhat lucky) as a closer. The Dodgers have already said that Guerra will close to start the year, but the White Sox say that it is an open competition.

    Also do you think it would be a good strategy to draft Soria and Holland or is there a chance that Crow would still be next in line?

    • @JeffFromTallahassee, I’d rather own Reed, simply because I suspect he’ll be named the closer before the season starts, while Guerra has already been confirmed to be the closer in LA. Jensen has the higher upside of the two, but Reed comes at a much better draft price and should finish with more saves than Jansen this year.

      I wouldn’t mind owning both Soria and Holland, but there’s no way of knowing who’s second in line behind Soria at this point. Could be Holland, Broxton, Crow. Again, Holland has the most upside, but Brox has the resume to his advantage.

  12. Fenst says:
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    How do you feel about this squad. 6×6 (obp replacing avg); doubles and quality starts); 5 keepers, 12 teams

    C M. Wieters- 4th round
    1B A. Gonzalez- Kept
    2B C. Utley- 2nd round
    3B M. Young- 2nd round
    SS D. Jeter- 10th round
    OF J. Upton- Kept
    OF J. Bruce- Kept
    OF D. Jennings- 1st round
    UTIL C. Young- 5th round
    SP C. Kershaw- Kept
    SP C. Lee- Kept
    SP M. Latos- 3rd round
    SP B. Morrow- 6th round
    RP K. Jansen- 9th round
    RP B. League- 12th round
    P J. Chacin- 11th round

    Bench:

    OF P. Bourjos- 11th round
    SP M. Minor- 13th round
    1B/OF B. Belt- 14th round
    3B I. Stewart- 15th round
    RP V. Pestano- 16th round
    RP M. Capps- 17th round
    SS S. Drew- 18th round
    SP R. Porcello- 19th round

    • @Fenst, I think that’s very good for a 12-teamer, nice job.

  13. Pugsly says:
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    You mentioned that Soria will likely be traded before the deadline. What other closers do you anticipate being dealt?

  14. Street, League and Betancourt are all prime candidates. Whoever is closing in Oakland could also go. And Houston will do all they can to convince someone to take Myers.

  15. GT says:
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    Sergio Romo is often used as a specialist with his sick slider skills (SSS), which makes it unlikely that he could transition into a full-time closer role. Giants pen has plenty of other options as well (Casilla, Affeldt)

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