StrategyApril 11, 2012

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Bottom of the 9th: Even Mo Blows Occasionally

By R.J. White

As it was last year, the beginning of the 2012 season brought about quite the run of blown saves in the early going. Even the best ever wasn’t immune, as Mariano Rivera failed to convert his first save opportunity of the season. But you’re not reading a fantasy column about closers to find out what to do about Rivera (at least, I hope you’re not). So let’s discuss the newsworthy ninth-inning notes in this edition of Bottom of the 9th.

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ARI J.J. Putz
ATL Craig Kimbrel
BAL Jim Johnson
CIN Sean Marshall
COL Rafael Betancourt
DET Jose Valverde
KC Jonathan Broxton
LAA Jordan Walden
LAD Javy Guerra
MIA Heath Bell
MIL John Axford
NYM Frank Francisco
NYY Mariano Rivera
OAK Grant Balfour
PHI Jonathan Papelbon
PIT Joel Hanrahan
SD Huston Street
SEA Brandon League
SF Brian Wilson
STL Jason Motte
TEX Joe Nathan

Safe … For Now

CHC Carlos Marmol
CLE Chris Perez
HOU Brett Myers
MIN Matt Capps
TOR Sergio Santos

Now Closing

BOS Alfredo Aceves
A disastrous weekend from the Boston bullpen had people calling to move Daniel Bard to the closer role before he even had the chance to make a start. It didn’t happen, and Bard made his scheduled start Tuesday, giving up five runs in five innings and taking a loss that drops the Red Sox to 1-4. Well, that didn’t help. Aceves uneventfully closed out on the one Boston win on Monday after failing to even record an out in either of his first two appearances. He’ll be given a long leash, as Mark Melancon is one of the few relievers in baseball that’s impressed less than Aceves over the first week. The second-in-line designation could very well go to lefty Franklin Morales, who’s given up just one hit and no walks while recording eight outs (three via Ks) in two games.

CHW Hector Santiago
He’ll gravitate to the “Safe … For Now” section next week — though, considering the move upwards, perhaps “gravitate” is the wrong word — but let’s take a minute to talk about Santiago here. The screwball pitcher was tabbed a darkhorse saves candidate in the spring, and on-the-ball speculators were quick to add him with a late pick or a $1 bid in the hopes he’d get the first save opp. Well, he did. After sending the Rangers down in order for his first save, Santiago gave up a lead-off home run to Jose Lopez on Monday before racking up two Ks and his second save. It’ll be interesting to see if he can handle the ninth inning all year, as his presence at closer gives the White Sox a pretty tough set-up combination of Matt Thornton and Addison Reed. He’s pitched far better than the man he replaced, who’s falling apart in Toronto, and there’s no reason to doubt Santiago at this point.

TB Fernando Rodney
Kyle Farnsworth was initially expected to miss just a week or two, sending owners to the waiver wire to grab Joel Peralta in the season’s first few days after Farnsworth was placed on the DL. But after picking up a win with a clean ninth inning against the Yankees in Tampa Bay’s first game, Rodney wound up with back-to-back saves against New York, pitching to only one batter in each save. How many of you had Rodney getting a win and two saves three games into the season? That being said, it’s obvious you should try and sell high on Rodney with the news that Farnsworth is actually going to be out a month or more. Joe Maddon, one of the game’s most progressive managers, is unlikely to stick with Rodney as his de facto closer — after all, Rodney didn’t start the ninth inning of either of his two saves — and Peralta could easily wind up leading this true committee, with four or five guys landing save opportunities before Farnsworth returns.

WAS Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez
It’s tough to speculate on the severity of Drew Storen’s injury at this point, but scheduling a trip to see Dr. James Andrews is never a good thing. I’d put money down on even odds that his kids are named “Tommy” and “John.” I think an April return for Storen is being wildly optimistic, and he could even miss a couple months, even without the Tommy John procedure. Lidge recorded Washington’s first save, allowing just a single hit while striking out two. Santiago then locked down the team’s second save, striking out three batters while walking one. Santiago saw the next action, being called into the ninth inning of a 3-3 tie on Monday and allowing the game-winning run. Lidge pitched the ninth on Tuesday with a four-run lead, so both remain at one save. Now that you’re caught up, you can likely expect more of the same for the near future. Both are must-own guys in fantasy, and even though Rodriguez’s pure stuff is better, I’d opt for Lidge if I had to make the tough decision. If either guy winds up hurt, the other becomes a top-12 closer immediately.

Other Notes

Carlos Marmol and Sergio Santos have been battling for the moniker of Week 1’s Worst Closer. Marmol took a loss in his first game after giving up a run, then gave up two runs on two hits and two walks in his next appearance without recording an out. Santos was fine in his first game (though didn’t pick up a save) before blowing saves in his next two appearances. Santos takes the title by default after Marmol converted a successful save on Sunday, though he needed just one out to do so. Santos is also going to miss a few games this week to attend the birth of his child. Francisco Cordero is a great short-term pickup, and who knows? He could wind up with more saves than Santos when all is said and done.

Chris Perez was just awful in his first appearance, blowing a 4-1 lead, but he followed it up with two scoreless appearances and one save. I’m still not investing after his putrid peripherals from a year ago. Jose Valverde blew his first save chance after turning in a perfect 2011 season, but he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth on Tuesday. Jonathan Broxton has a clear lead over Greg Holland, though both should be owned in most leagues. Javy Guerra’s allowed just one hit and one walk in three innings while coasting to three saves. I hope you Kenley Jansen owners weren’t expecting saves anytime soon. In roto leagues, Jansen is quite valuable regardless. Francisco Rodriguez secured a Tuesday save, but there’s no changing of the guard here — John Axford was resting after pitching each of the previous two days.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and has previously written for FanHouse and Razzball. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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