Tomorrow is September 1st which means:  Hooray for September roster expansions and the many interesting players likely to be called up.  My recent focus for Steals Ain’t Got No Face advice has been a weekly reminder to use our SAGNOF stolen base success rates versus starting pitchers tool.  This goes hand in hand with the September call ups because most of these players won’t play anywhere near everyday, but some of them might make great ‘streaming for steals’ options.And guess which type of players are among those getting called up?  Some of the trendy SAGNOF sleeper types from earlier in the year, including one of my favorites, Dalton Pompey (bats Both, plays OF) of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Eric Young Jr. (B, OF, New York Mets) is on the way up as well and I think we all know what he can do.  James Jones (L, OF, Seattle), he of the 27 stolen bases in only 108 big league games last year, could be called upon as well.

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The Mariner bullpen has basically been that round-up ride at your local carnival.  It doesn’t look that bad until it totally messes with your vertigo and you end up spewing up kettle corn and other assorted goods for two hours there after.  Last year, the Mariners bullpen had a 2.60 ERA, good for tops in the MLB.  They also saved 51 games to only 11 blown saves.  They were all comfy and coozy like footed pajamas last year, and basically everyone could rely on the decent value of return from drafting Fernando Rodney.  Then the year changes to five and the ship went askew.  Their bullpen ERA is over 4.30 and are on pace to accumulate 45 saves, and, to date, have already blown 18 saves (behind only three other teams for worst).  So let’s just run down the year so far: Rodney was the closer, then he wasn’t the closer, Carson Smith took over, and now it seems as though they are reverting back to 2012 in hopes that Tom Wilhelmsen can right the ship of battered and injured bullpen dreams.  Stick around for some tid-bits and bullpen ranks…

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SAGNOF just keeps finding ways to stay absurd.  Tom Wilhelmsen, Jean Machi, John Axford = good.  Carson Smith, Junichi Tazawa…. even Greg Holland = bad.  If all you care about are saves there’s been a wealth of options available.  Realistically, I think chasing saves with bad closers can be a losing proposition.  What do the first three (the so called “good”) have in common aside from taking over as the closer?  How about WHIPs greater than 1.40.  These players need to come with a warning label.  “Implosion likely to occur.”  I mean, it only took Edward Mujica about a week to implode and he was arguably better than any of these three.  Axford and Wilhelmsen look like brothers from different mothers with their K:BB ratios at 1.75 and 1.91 respectively.  Anything below 2.50 is really bad for a closer.  Unless you’re Brad Ziegler.  Then it’s okay.  (I need a “no sarcasm” alert for that one).  Here’s the lowdown on the closer situations that will make you want to scream.

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When your team is battling for a playoff spot, what’s the most important thing?  Winning.  Winning out of the bullpen is a thing that is not predictable, I get it, but when your team goes 7-0 from the bullpen in the last 14 games, that is just a damn near beautiful thing if you love bullpens as much as I… I mean, you may not, but that’s cool (maybe).  You have your love interests… invested in beanie babies or all your Gregg Jefferies’ rookie cards that your whole childhood fortune is invested in… Just saying, you should probably move out of your mom’s basement or branch out from the family business for a bit.  As a whole, the Pirates are a top-3 club for bullpen ERA, and are led by the king of Holds currently: Tony Watson.  Him and his merry men of “set-uphood” have completely just wrecked shop out of the pen lately, their ERA is 1.21 and they have allowed just a measly 34 hits in 52 innings.  Take it from me, that is getting the job done.  The addition of Joakim Soria has lengthened their bullpen to the point where Jared HughesJoe Blanton, and Arquimedes Caminero are in prime win plucking spots.  Yeah, I just used Joe Blanton in a fantasy write-up, and no it’s not 2000-never.  So stick around as I wax symbolic about other bullpen situations arising as we stream towards the fantasy baseball playoffs.

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Are the Red Sox grasping at proverbial straws here?  I mean, let’s go to the waiver wire in real life… Grab a reliever, Jean Machi, that has three career saves, and let’s say we’ll think about him being the closer for our team.  It sounds weird and crazy, but then you look at the Sawx record (it’s the worst in the AL by the way), and realize maybe it’s not such a far fetched idea.  Hanley Ramirez has nine freaking doubles all year. NINE!  I just hit four at Fenway the other day, until I realized they were hamburgers.  Okay, back to closers.  So the Red Sox, with the loss of Koji Uehara to the DL, will turn to just about anyone to see if they can close the 8-10 chances they will get the rest of the year.  The front runners are Junichi Tazawa (has 4 blown saves in the last 30 days) and Jean Machi, and the sleeper candidate is the former All-Star closer Ryan Cook.  Who in himself was traded for that spectacular fantasy asset: PTBNL.  The situations for closers is getting bleaker with the bad teams losing actual options and not having a genuine fall-back option that you could tie your waiver wire dollars too.  Best advice is don’t chance saves from all these guys, it will nuke your numbers elsewhere.  Concede that you will only get seven points from saves instead of nine. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk while texting or making waiver claims.

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The term “tool” has multiple meanings around here.  A major league baseball player can have up to five tools.  A fantasy sports writer can be a tool — like when he recommends the wrong next in line to closer for the Rockies (that’s me).  Rudy Gamble makes tools — like the SAGNOF tool I talked up last week that gives you some insight on the best base stealing match-ups and like our DFS (daily fantasy) tools available here.  A commenter pointed out last week that “Using the (SAGNOF) tool, Venable (FA) faces Nelson who ranks #25…pretty stealable. Problem is, Nelson has been in top form lately so tough to get on base. I’m gonna give Venable a shot nevertheless.”  At this point I felt compelled to remind him and the rest of you that by using the tool “You can put the odds in your favor, but a one game result is ultimately a total crapshoot.”  Well, everything with such a small sample size is a crapshoot, so what I meant was that putting the odds in your favor is a good thing and something that you need to try to do consistently when it comes to managing your last few roster spots.  What happened that game?  Venable stole a base against Nelson.

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All this talk about the Blue Jays offense is completely detracting from the fact that their bullpen to date has been mediocre-to-awful for most of the year.  The additions they have made, namely Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins, are a future holds market band-aid.  The one true positive addition for the back-end of the pen is Aaron Sanchez.  He comes in with filthy stuff, isn’t afraid to pitch inside, and gives them a hard throwing right-hander, which they’ve been lacking.  The Blue Jays, to date, have the fewest saves (19) namely because they do one of two things that both involving blowing.  (It’s either a blow-out or a blown save.)  It’s a miracle that they are where they are record-wise with the amount of blown saves they have (it’s 17 and counting).  But the team is setup to win, and they are going to score a ton of runs, so from a fantasy holds perspective, anyone outside of Sanchez is a fool’s chance at holds gold.  With 13 games remaining against front-running New York, the schedule isn’t on their side as the slugging they do takes away from the bullpen allure.

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Papelbon, your new Nationals closer

Maybe the worst thing to happen on the trade deadline was something that didn’t happen.  Carter Capps to the Yankees would have been stupendous.  I wanted to see the media and baseball people lose their mind over Capps’ delivery and I think that’s exactly what would have happened had he ended up there.  But the thing that really has fantasy baseball managers in a tizzy is Jonathan Papelbon to the Washington Nationals.  As their closer.  (Yeah this old news, Grey and Smokey already beat me to Paplebon/Nationals puns.  Whatever.)  Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria and Jim Johnson are out of their closing job but jobs were created in the form of Ken Giles, Edward Mujica, Alex Wilson, and Arodys Vizcaino.  Now some of us might still be scrambling for players that can get some saves.  Well the Rockies have a closer spot up for grabs.  It sure took long enough, but this is something I’ve been saying would happen since Axford took that role.  Justin Miller, Rafael Betancourt, and Tommy Kahnle are the candidates to close there and that’s the order I would own them in.

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All the fantasy world was hoping that Jonathan Papelbon would be traded to a team without a reliable closer.  Instead, he goes to a team and kicks in the door swinging with the “I make more money than you” swagger that only comes with wearing Jordache jeans. And then he takes Drew Storen‘s job.  From a relief pitcher standpoint, Papelbon jumps from the worst save-driven team to top 10 overall.  The Phillies generated only 26 save opportunities to the date of his trade.  The Nationals were a far better team, and their record says so with 43 save opportunities.  The Nationals have also had a lead 32 more times than the Phillies, so Storen isn’t a completely wasted roster spot. If you got skunked by this, you need to keep him rostered.  He will still get the off-day save chances, and should pitch in a ton of high-leverage situations based on the bullpen shape of the Nationals, which isn’t a blue ribbon. Papelbon immediately jumps to elite status for me because of his history, and the whole contending team thing. He will easily double his saves total (in less games) to date, which stands at 17.  On the flip side of this trade, it opens up the gates to wunderkid Ken Giles to close in the land of steaks covered in cheese.  Giles immediate value is that of a closer, but with the Phil’s, he’s going to basically have a worse representation of what Papelbon had, but he still has moderate save appeal.  I can see him getting 10 saves the rest of the way.  This is posting a day before the deadline, so things could be in flux. And make sure to check out Ralph and myself over on Razzball Soccer, as the FPL is in full go.

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Some of the trade rumors I’ve seen are just plain funny.  Craig Kimbrel to the Yankees?  Wait, what!?  Really?  I’m not denying it as a possibility but I am thinking it might be a little overboard to acquire a premier closer when you probably only need a solid bullpen guy because you already have TWO premier closers.  The list of closers and strong middle relievers available is so long this year.  One thing’s for sure, there are going to be some strong bullpens vying for postseason play.  Here’s the lowdown on closers and some other relievers who could be dealt in the upcoming weeks, starting with some of the players most likely to be traded and ending in with those much less likely to be.

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