StrategyJune 5, 2009

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Closer Complex: Don’t Judge a Book…

By Matthew Robertson

Baseball is a game based on mental and physical skills with a large dose of specialization. As the game evolves, specialization becomes increasingly prevalent — some examples being lefty/righty platoons, personal catchers, defensive replacements, pinch hitters, and situational relievers. MLB managers are constantly trying to get the best outcome for their team by putting players in the best situations possible in order to win. This trend toward specialization can lead fantasy owners without a lot of baseball knowledge in the wrong direction if they simply base their decisions on box scores.

For instance, at first glance some people might conclude that 34-year-old lefty Randy Choate is the current closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, as he’s gained 4% in Yahoo league ownership since his recent stint of saves. What the box score fails to show is that Choate was brought in to close out games against lefty-heavy lineups and that those were the only two saves he’s ever recorded in his career. Combine that with the fact that Choate has only pitched three total innings this year and it’s obvious that Choate isn’t the way to go. Now, this isn’t a knock on Choate as much as it is warning for fantasy leaguers to think logically and look beyond the box score. Saves aside, this past week has seen one Rays reliever build on an already impressive season. J.P. Howell has been the most-used reliever on the team and rewarded his faithful with 9 Ks in 4.2 IP without giving up a run. Howell’s only apparent weakness has been retiring left-handers, but he is continuing to improve on those stats. Coach Joe Maddon is still clearly playing matchups, but Howell, as evidenced by his clean save last night, is quickly becoming Maddon’s most trusted reliever.

I think its safe to say that Oakland’s Brad Ziegler is no longer atop the closer depth chart for the A’s. He hasn’t pitched in a save opportunity in two weeks as his hit and walk rates have steadily gone up. It appears that Andrew Bailey has laid a tentative claim to the top closer title, since saves threat Santiago Casilla has pitched very erratically of late and is likely third in line at this point. Still, Bailey’s youth holds him back at times, as he has recorded just as many blown saves over the past three weeks (three) as he has saves. Beware the growing pains.

In other recent news, the Cardinals promoted Jess Todd (video here) to the bullpen. Todd is a former second round pick that was converted from starting this year. He features a mid-to-high 90s fastball while relieving and a biting slider that batters chase. Todd joins Chris Perez and Jason Motte to further strengthen a young, talented, high-octane relief corps. While odds are against him taking on ninth inning duties anytime soon, he has the prototypical skill set seen among the best closers. If all goes well, the St. Louis Cardinals could have one of the best bullpens in baseball very soon.

Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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