The baseball season is only a few short weeks away, which means were oh-so-close to closer controversy, out-of-nowhere fantasy stars and disbelief that anyone could have been suckered into drafting Brandon Lyon again. It also means it’s time for our first Bottom of the 9th of the season.
We’ll get to a few sleeper candidates for saves in a future article, but now, let’s find some value in the safer options at the position. Sure, you can dip into the waiver wire all season trying to find saves, but wouldn’t it be easier to pay a reasonable price for what could be elite ninth inning options?
Sergio Santos, Blue Jays. This guy absolutely killed it in his first chance closing, racking up 30 saves for the White Sox while posting a 3.55 ERA that smelled a little better than the numbers indicate. Chicago decided to cash out and nab a pretty good prospect from the Blue Jays, who are obviously going to want to recoup some of the trade price they paid by sticking with Santos in the closer role through thick and thin. And when you have a guy that struck out over 13 batters per nine innings while keeping his walk rate south of Carlos Marmol territory, there’s gonna be plenty of thick. Currently the 16th closer off the board according to ADP measured at Mock Draft Central and 184 overall at Fleaflicker, Santos should have no problem find his way into the top 10 at his position by season’s end.
Huston Street, Padres. What’s not to like with Street? He maintained a nice K rate near 9.0 per nine innings while walking just nine batters all year. I tell you that and you’re wondering how much time Street missed last year, but that came from a standard workload of 58.1 innings; he was that much in control. Now he takes his talents to San Diego, which is excellent for a guy that had a 14.5% HR/FB rate last year. The fact that he’s the 21st reliever off the board n Mock Draft Central can be blamed on the possibility of him getting re-cast as a set-up man on a contender at the trade deadline, but there’s nothing stopping you from ringing three months of top-shelf value out of Street before dealing him on July 1, is there?
Rafael Betancourt, Rockies. Slotting in right behind Street on MDC is Betancourt, and there’s simply no reason he should be taken as the 22nd reliever off the board. He pitched 62.1 innings in each of his last two seasons, walking just eight guys in each while averaging 81 strikeouts. Do the math; he averaged — averaged! — higher than 10.0 K/BB over the last two years. Not K/9, K/BB. Only Koji Uehara (another sleeper alert?) managed that level of fantastic over the past two years. Amongst pitchers that pitched both in 2010 and 2011, Betancourt equaled Craig Kimbrel’s 1.77 SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA, which is just what it sounds like it is) as the best in baseball. How many more ways do you need me to tell you that this guy is elite? He’s locked in as the ninth inning guy in Colorado and could be a top-five closer in 2012.
Frank Francisco, Mets. Francisco’s ADP on Mock Draft Central is so low that it’s not even worth mentioning, as it ranks him behind RPs like Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Melancon, Fernando Salas and Leo Nunez, a guy that technically doesn’t even exist anymore. Francisco was yanked around a bit in Toronto, which is causing his low sticker price, but he wasn’t all that bad. He’s always been a high K guy that keeps walks in check. In seven years, 331 games and 334 innings, Francisco has a 9.9 K/9 rate, and no one wants him? He just 32 years old and doesn’t have to worry about losing his job this year — Jon Rauch proved he isn’t a reliable option in the role. Expect Frank Frank to stay the closer all year, rack up 35 saves or so, strike out a ton of batters, and make owners that passed on him for Chris Perez, Matt Thornton and the non-closers listed above look pretty foolish.
Let’s stop there and leave you pondering the sleeper picks to come. If your draft is around the corner, grab a couple of the picks above and consider yourself ahead of the game at RP.