We try to keep you ahead of the game here in The Bottom of the 9th, allowing you to make RP changes before most people in your leagues by examining rocky situations (whether thanks to injury or incumbent performance) and plotting a course of action. We’re still going to do that in a few paragraphs, but first, with teams near the 81-game mark of the season, let’s review the biggest surprises of 2011 thus far.
Joel Hanrahan was one of the last closers off the board in March, and because of that and his excellent strikeout numbers in 2010, he ended up on a lot of my teams, especially as he was named the team’s closer over Evan Meek pretty early in the drafting season. All he’s done at the (about) halfway point is sit atop the closer rankings with 22 saves, a 1.24 ERA and 0.94 WHIP without blowing a save opportunity. He’ll obviously be drafted much higher next year
Craig Kimbrel wasn’t even a lock to close, with fantasy owners having to choose sides between Kimbrel and Johnny Venters in many drafts and auctions. While Venters has been the better fantasy pitcher overall — can you believe he’s still No. 1 in Yahoo’s player rater among RPs? — Kimbrel has paid huge dividends on his draft spot. He current ranks as the fifth best closer in the game, with 20 saves and 58 strikeouts through 38 innings.
Finally, the biggest surprise may be the top of the relief charts in general. Toss out RP-eligible starters and the top 10 relievers in the game in order are Venters, Hanrahan, Francisco Cordero, Brian Wilson, Drew Storen, Kimbrel, J.J. Putz, Kyle Farnsworth, Fernando Salas and Adams. Ryan Madson ranks 11th. How many of those guys could you nail as top 10 relievers at the mid-point of the season? Wilson sure, Kimbrel and Putz maybe. You tell someone on March 31 that Cordero would be the third best reliever in fantasy through June and they’d call you Mrs. Cordero.
It just reinforces the old adage: don’t pay for saves. And if you do, pay a very small amount.
Ryan Madson is currently on the shelf, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to run out and grab more Phillie relievers in hopes of finding some saves. He should only miss a few more days, and there isn’t even a set interim closer to grab, though Antonio Bastardo is pitching so well (like, almost Venters-level well) that one could argue he should be owned in more leagues anyway. Your top-five non-closing RPs currently include Venters, Adams, David Pauley, Bastardo and Tyler Clippard.
Brandon Lyon is out for the season (as I’m sure you’ve heard), meaning we can cash in our “10 Saves Under (-105)” ticket at any time. It also means the until recently unknown Mark Melancon is locked into his closing job for the year, making him a top-20 closer and making the 50 percent of fantasy leagues in which he’s available look pretty dumb. I’d easily dump Dodgers and Blue Jays to add him, as well as any elite non-save guys outside of Venters.
Joe Nathan is back from the DL — if you were a Nathan owner earlier in the season, you’re probably saying, “So what?” However, he looked much better in his previous rehab assignment than he did at any other point this year, leading one to believe he may finally be recovered from Tommy John surgery. Matt Capps has a 0.87 WHIP and a 20:2 K:BB ratio, so one could argue his closing gig is safe. However, Matt Capps has a 4.06 ERA and five blown saves in 16 chances, so one could argue he’s on the way out the door. At any rate, Nathan will need at least a few weeks of great pitching before the Twins harbor any thoughts of a switch. If you have a free roster spot and want some potential post-All Star Break saves, Nathan is a good add.
The Dodgers have managed just two saves this month going into Sunday’s action. Jonathan Broxton should be back with the team by this time next week, and while he won’t be thrown back into the fire immediately, he should have his closing gig back by the All-Star Break. I’d think long and hard about trying to flip Capps to the Broxton owner in your league.
In the ever-revolving Toronto closer situation, Frank Francisco has the team’s last three saves, making him the Blue Jays Closer I Guess At Least For Right Now of the Week. Frank Frank hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 6, bringing his ERA down to 4.50. He has a good K rate (26 Ks in 22 innings), but I still don’t trust him. Beggars can’t be choosers though, so if you’re desperate for saves, grab the 48 percent owned player.