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.