Nate Stephens

Bullpen Report

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Bullpen Report: Week 3

Thursday, April 19, 2007

There were a lot of mixed feelings this spring when the Red Sox moved Jonathan Papelbon back to the closer's role. A still young and obviously talented pitcher, seeing how Papelbon could transition to the rotation after one of the best relief seasons of the decade would have been an interesting study. Instead, the right-hander decided he was more comfortable closing and requested a move back to ninth inning duties. Perhaps the team would have been better with Papelbon starting if he were only an above average closer. However, if he's really one of the best two or three closers in the game, than his utter dominance in high-leverage situations might mean everyone is better off. With nine strikeouts and no runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings, it's certainly looking like the proper move. Assuming he can remain healthy for a full season, it'd be surprising if Papelbon didn't finish in the top three in terms of fantasy closers.

All closers are rated in one of the following categories: Locked In, Secure, Shaky, In Danger, Filling-in, or DL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Jose Valverde (Secure)

Key setup men: Brandon Lyon, Brandon Medders, Tony Pena

Valverde gave up two hits in one outing this week and then walked a pair of batters in another, but he didn't give up a run in either appearance. With six saves and a strong strikeout rate in the early going, Valverde is looking like a steal for those who gambled on him this spring. After another few weeks of this he'll be a fine sell-high candidate given his injury history.

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Bob Wickman (Secure)

Key setup men: Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Oscar Villarreal

Wickman keeps chugging along, defying the odds and remaining an effective closer. He's still yet to give up a run this season. Soriano hasn't been lights out in a setup role, but Gonzalez's command problems might make Soriano the favorite for saves should something happen to Wickman in the near future.

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Chris Ray (Locked In)

Key setup men: Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker

It's nice to see Ray continue to rebound after giving up a walk-off grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. He hasn't allowed a run since, and he picked up a win and two saves since the last column. If your league includes a "Story to tell the grandkids someday" category, Ray has been even more valuable.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (Locked In)

Key setup men: Joel Pineiro, Mike Timlin, Hideki Okajima

Another reason moving Papelbon back to the bullpen was a good decision is Pineiro's play. He's looked decidedly average as a reliever thus far, and it's doubtful he'd be able to bail out the club's middle relievers as often as Papelbon has the past 13 months. Okajima has looked strong with eight strikeouts and one run in 6 2/3 innings thus far. His good command and quality secondary offerings compliment a windup that can seriously mess with a hitter's timing.

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Ryan Dempster (Secure)

Key setup men: Bob Howry, Kerry Wood (DL), Scott Eyre
For those of you who correctly surmised that Wood would get hurt and Dempster would be given a chance to regain his previous form, pat yourselves on the back. Dempster has only two saves, but he's looked dominant while striking out eight and allowing just one hit in seven innings of work. He's got more job security than many think right now.

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks (Secure)

Key setup men: Mike MacDougal, Matt Thornton, Nick Masset, David Aardsma

Jenks hasn't been dominant in the early going with a fastball that's still sitting in the low-to-mid 90s. He's given up seven hits and three runs in 6 2/3 innings, taking a loss in one outing and coming close to the same fate in another. He's now working with the team's psychiatrist to see if mental changes can improve his mechanics. It's unlikely that Jenks will be demoted until he struggles for an extended period of time, but that can't be ruled out. MacDougal is next in line despite a slow start, and former top prospect Aardsma's excellent start might put him in the mix at some point.

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: David Weathers (Shaky), Mike Stanton (Shaky)

Key setup men: Todd Coffey, Jon Coutlangus

I'll leave Weathers and Stanton listed as co-closers for another week, but Weathers is the one who's received every save opportunity thus far. It helps that everything has aligned for Weathers to finish the games, with Stanton starting the ninth in one save opportunity and then giving way to Weathers after retiring the first batter. Weathers can be bumped up a little in closer rankings, but the situation still remains a tricky one.

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski (Secure)

Key setup men: Roberto Hernandez, Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Cabrera

Borowski looked better this week than in the previous two, recording three saves and not yielding a run since the last column. There wasn't much doubt the club would stick with him through more than a few poor outings, but his owners are breathing a little easier now. Cabrera has eight strikeouts and hasn't yielded a run in 6 2/3 innings. A horrible start to the season did him in last year, but the longer he can remain effective the better a long-term investment he'll become. Those in AL-only leagues could consider stashing him away now.

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Brian Fuentes (Secure)

Key setup men: Manny Corpas, Ramon Ramirez, LaTroy Hawkins

A slow start was rectified quickly by Fuentes, who recorded two saves without allowing a baserunner in three innings this week. He remains a fine option. Hawkins has already struggled in key situations, which should be a surprise to nobody, and has been demoted to middle relief. Both Corpas and Ramirez have looked strong, and it's still up in the air which would be next in line should something happen to Fuentes.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones (Secure)

Key setup men: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Wilfredo Ledezma

Jones hadn't allowed a run despite striking out just two batters in 7 1/3 innings entering Wednesday, but then he blew a two-run lead against the lowly Royals. Those who own Jeremy Bonderman, the starter whose win was blown by Jones, aren't quite happy, but there's nothing to read into here.

Florida Marlins

Closer: Henry Owens (Shaky)

Key setup men: Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg

Julio went from closer to shaky option to setup man to mop up duty almost overnight. Now he's on the disabled list, which is the best thing for the Marlins right now. Owens hasn't recorded a save since taking over for Julio, but he still hasn't given up a run in eight innings of work either. He remains the top option. Tankersley has looked fine in a pair of innings since coming off the disabled list, and he's probably already second in line.

Houston Astros

Closer: Dan Wheeler (Secure)

Key setup men: Chad Qualls, Brad Lidge, Trever Miller

Wheeler only pitched once this week, throwing a scoreless inning and recording a save. If his lack of saves thus far leads to his owner undervaluing him, go out and make a trade. Lidge has thrown two scoreless innings over his last three appearances, but he's also allowed five baserunners during that span. He's not out of the woods yet. Even if Lidge does start to look better it will likely take Wheeler struggling in order to affect another set of role changes.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Octavio Dotel (DL), Joakim Soria (Filling-in)

Key setup men: Joel Peralta, David Riske

All it took was one blown save for Riske to lose his title as interim closer. If that was the case, manager Buddy Bell should have just gone to Soria right away. Instead, Riske again gets knocked down a peg for no good reason. Soria recorded a save as this column was being written last week, and then gave up three runs against the Tigers in a game that was already a blowout. With Dotel's return being pushed out until early May, Soria is worth claiming for at least the next few weeks.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scot Shields, Justin Speier, Darren Oliver

K-Rod is one of the best closers in the game. Shields is the best setup man in the game. Speier is one of the best third options in the game. Any questions?

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito (Secure)

Key setup men: Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, Rudy Seanez

Someone needs to inform Saito that his unexciting fastball isn't supposed to work now that clubs have had a year to scout the right-hander. He's yielded one run while posting a 9/1 K/BB ratio and recording six saves in 7 2/3 innings thus far. It's still early, but another few weeks and he'll need to be bumped significantly higher on most rankings. Broxton still looks like an ace closer in waiting and Jon Meloan still looks like the best relief prospect in the game. Fantasy leaguers would love to see one of them dealt, but only with Meloan is that even somewhat plausible.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Francisco Cordero (Secure)

Key setup men: Derrick Turnbow, Matt Wise, Carlos Villanueva

Cordero has given up one hit while notching 10 strikeouts in just six innings thus far. His poor first half with the Rangers last year lowered his perceived value in many leagues, but the astute owner was able to capitalize on that perception this winter. Should Cordero falter, Turnbow is again looking like the elite reliever who posted a 1.74 ERA in 2005. He has 13 strikeouts in seven innings thus far and hasn't allowed a run to score.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan (Locked In)

Key setup men: Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek

Although he still hasn't blown a save, Nathan gave up two runs in a tie game against the Devil Rays this week and suffered his first loss of the season. He's also yielded 10 hits in his last four innings of work and has just three strikeouts in six total innings thus far. However, it's still early and this is an incredibly small sample size for someone with such an elite track record over the last few seasons. Don't adjust his value.

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner (Locked In)

Key setup men: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith, Ambiorix Burgos

It was another fine week for Wagner, who threw two scoreless innings to pick up a pair of saves. Smith has pitched better than Heilman thus far, but it hasn't been enough of a difference to change who would be next in line for saves.

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera (Locked In)

Key setup men: Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino

If Alex Rodriguez keeps playing well and performing in the clutch, expect the media to turn their attention to the contract status of manager Joe Torre and Rivera. It's doubtful that playing for a contract for the first time in quite a while will be much of an issue for Rivera, so it's not something that should affect his fantasy value. As long as he can avoid Marco Scutaro, who hit a three-run walk-off homer against him last week, Rivera should be fine.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Huston Street (Locked In)

Key setup men: Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Alan Embree

Street rebounded from giving up three runs and taking a loss last week to throw 3 2/3 scoreless innings while picking up a win and a save this week. I still expect him to be a top eight closer.

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Tom Gordon (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary

I never thought I'd have to list Jon Lieber as a key setup man in this space. I couldn't fathom having to replace Lieber on the setup man list with Brett Myers. The Phillies have totally butchered this whole situation. Lieber should have been dealt for a setup man this off-season. Instead, the club refused to accept 90 cents on the dollar and then moved a $7.5 million player who hadn't pitched an inning of relief since 1996 to the bullpen. Now they're demoting their best starter to eighth inning duties after a couple of bad outings. The club clearly isn't happy with Myers' performance to date, but the mishandling of the Lieber situation is what enabled the club to make such a poor decision.

Myers should do fine working in the eighth, but he shouldn't be there for long. If getting Myers back in the rotation means the ownership group has to fire manager Charlie Manuel and the entire front office, so be it. Fantasy owners should remain patient and hold on to Myers for now.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Salomon Torres (Secure)

Key setup men: Matt Capps, Damaso Marte, Jonah Bayliss,

Torres gave up three runs over two outings to take a loss last week, then pitched just once over the last seven days. His early season saves lead was bound to vanish at some point, but he remains a fine option. Capps continues to pitch well as a setup man, solidifying his status as the leading candidate for closing duties in the future.

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith, Heath Bell

It was a slow week for Hoffman, who pitched just once but was able to record a save. Meredith continues to look like the real deal, having not allowed a run in 8 1/3 innings of work. Bell and Rule 5 pick Kevin Cameron also have looked strong while combining for 16 2/3 scoreless innings, but both remain well behind Linebrink and Meredith in terms of being next in line.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Armando Benitez (Secure)

Key setup men: Kevin Correia, Steve Kline, Jonathan Sanchez

Benitez didn't pitch at all this week and still has appeared in just three games total. It's surprising the club didn't use him just to get some work in at some point, but it appears everything is fine with Benitez.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: J.J. Putz (Locked In)

Key setup men: Chris Reitsma, Julio Mateo, Brandon Morrow

Putz still hasn't been given a save opportunity, in part because the Mariners have played just nine games to date. It's unlikely, but maybe the Putz owner in your league has become inpatient due to the slow start. Make an offer if another slow week passes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brad Thompson, Tyler Johnson, Russ Springer

Isringhausen has looked fine through the first three weeks of the season, showing no ill effects from the hip surgery he underwent at the end of last season. He's becoming a better investment as time passes.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Closer: Al Reyes (Secure)

Key setup men: Brian Stokes, Ruddy Lugo, Juan Salas

Reyes' job security is increasing by the minute. He recorded three saves over the last week and still has yet to give up a run this year. Add in that Stokes and Salas haven't looked ready in setup roles, and Reyes is all but a lock to close for at least a few months this season. Reyes is capable of above average ratios and he'll be quite the asset if the first eight innings continue to go so well.

Texas Rangers

Closer: Eric Gagne (Secure)

Key setup men: Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit, C.J. Wilson

The Rangers activated Gagne from the disabled list this week, and he recorded a save with a scoreless ninth the same day he was added to the roster. We'll have to wait and see if decreased velocity will hurt Gagne or if he'll be able to work around the issue. Otsuka remains willing and able in the eighth inning role.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: B.J. Ryan (DL), Jason Frasor (Filling-in)

Key setup men: Shaun Marcum, Jeremy Accardo

The Blue Jays placed Ryan on the disabled list this week with a strained ligament in his elbow. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks, but the higher end of that range seems much more likely. Ryan could have to undergo Tommy John surgery if he experiences a setback, so he's no lock to return and resume his status as an elite closer in late May. Frasor, who earned 17 saves as a rookie for the Blue Jays back in 2004, will close for now and could resemble an average closer. He's a better pitcher now than he was back in 2004, so Frasor owners shouldn't be looking to dump him on the cheap before Ryan returns.

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jon Rauch, Ryan Wagner, Jesus Colome

It was a better week for the Nationals, who went 4-2 after starting the season 1-8. Cordero also finally recorded a save with a scoreless ninth against the Braves. However, the right-hander has struggled more than not in the early going, giving up 16 baserunners in just seven innings thus far. It's nothing to worry about yet, and the Nationals' poor play remains a larger source of concern for Cordero owners.

Now in his fifth season, Nate Stephens is one of Rotoworld's most tenured baseball analysts. He heads up the minor league coverage for the site while also contributing other columns and analysis.
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