Saves and Steals is ready for the American League Central. It's tempting to award some closers in this tier sleeper status, but there might not be a ton of movement in this division. There's a group of young, cost-controlled relievers here, and only one team that's totally to-be-determined.
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Chicago White Sox
Up First: Addison Reed
After a blindingly awesome minor league track record, Reed came up to the bigs and was "meh." At least by ERA and WHIP. He still had above-average strikeout and walk rates for a reliever, and there's upside remaining, obviously. With 95 mph velocity, a good changeup and slider, and elite control (at least in his past), he could be in for a great season this year. Last season was the first time he failed to strike out a third of the batters he faced -- at any level -- and he still managed to be above average. The best news about last year, though, was that Reed managed to hold the position most of the season, despite some hiccups.
Next in Line: Matt Thornton
Thornton actually had a better year than Reed in all ways except strikeouts -- which are obviously pretty important. But he is a lefty, and managers don't like lefties, and anyway Thornton has had a checkered past with respect to the closer role. There is a major asterisk here -- Thornton's whiffs disappeared last year, and now he has elbow soreness in spring training.
Sleeper: Nate Jones
Hector Santiago is a candidate for the rotation now, so maybe it's Nate Jones that's the sleeper in the pen? He certainly has the gas (97.6 mph average fastball), and the fastball/slider guy broke in well with the team last year, with an above-average whiff rate and passable control.
Up First: Chris Perez
After two years of showing below-average statistics in whiffs, strikeouts, walks, and ground balls, Perez righted the ship last season and was above-average in all the same facets of the game. Not elite, but above average nonetheless. He's still all fastball-slider, and lefties still take him deep from time to time, but he actually looked like a closer last season. And the Indians spent some money this offseason and look to be competing. If his mouth didn't get him traded in the past, and he stays relatively healthy, there's no real reason to bet against Perez this season. (Unless he regresses to past rates, of course.)
Next in Line: Vinnie Pestano
Pestano has suffered a bit since we started touting him in 2010. He still gets great a whiff rate and has good control, so he's a good reliever. But the fastball has lost a mile per hour of gas since, and he 'only' struck out just short of ten batters per nine innings last season. He's still dreamy.
Sleeper: Bryan Shaw
Shaw is as strange beast: he throws his cutter 80+% of the time, and does so to get ground balls at an elite rate. That's useful, but it's not usually the profile of a closer.
Up First: Joaquin Benoit
This might be controversial, given some of the statements from the Tigers' brass on the subject, but a team that came up just short of the World Series does not seem like a team that is itching to turn over the closer's role to an unproven rookie with control problems. Benoit only has one problem -- homers -- and though that homeritis has creeped up on him from time to time, it's not a lifetime condition. The whiffs and the strikeouts are closer-level, and the control has been elite the last three years. He's also a veteran, if not a veteran closer.
Next in Line: Bruce Rondon
He's probably 'next' as in 'Next,' but is he really next? Rondon has to make some strides with his control. He just got pulled from a spring appearance for walking two out of the four batters he saw. He's got gas and great stuff, but he needs to find the plate more.
Sleeper: Al Alburquerque
It's all gas and sliders, and therefore susceptible to platoon splits, but the man with the made-up name does have great stuff. He also has a control problem, though, and injury issues to boot. So what about that Brian Wilson rumor again?
Kansas City Royals
Up First: Greg Holland
The scary part is that Greg Holland can be better. He's shown better control in the major leagues before, and even his double-digit strikeout rate, supported by an elite whiff rate, could possibly improve -- he's whiffed more in the past, and his fastball speed just went up (!) last year. The 27-year-old is right in the middle of his peak, and his team seems to believe in him. Since he gets a decent ground-ball rate and pitches in a stadium that suppresses home runs slightly, it's only the walks that serve as an asterisk. He should be fine all year, and borderline elite.
Next in Line: Kelvin Herrera
Holland has 'nice little' 96 mph fastball, and Herrera blows it by him with one that averages 98.5. He pairs it with a changeup that is almost 12 mph slower and the occasional curveball to keep his platoon splits kosher. Judging on his whiff rate, Herrera might strike more batters out this year, but judging on his control and ground-ball rate, he's already a very valuable reliever that is capable of closing.
Sleeper: Aaron Crow
Herrera doesn't have the platoon splits of an Aaron Crow, who throws a fastball and a slider -- neither neutralizes opposite-handed hitters. People might feel that Herrera is the sleeper and Crow is next in line, but I believe this setup best reflects the likelihood that each of these three pitchers is the closer this season.
Up First: Glen Perkins
Perkins wasn't the best starting pitcher, but as it's happened so many times before, he moved to the pen and immediately became a great reliever. Much of that has to do with his velocity jumping from around 90 mph to 94.9 mph last season, but it also has a little to do with using the changeup less. In any case, the reliever Perkins now pairs excellent whiff rates with above-average strikeout rates and strong walk rates. He still gives up a few too many home runs, but the control helps mitigate the damage. He's a lefty, but he's already been the closer for a half-season and he looks like the guy this season. He could be the cheapest thirty saves on the board this year.
Next in Line: Jared Burton
Last year, Burton found some lost velocity (back up over 92 mph), found the plate, and threw his changeup more than he ever had before. That resulted in the best walk rate of his career, and the best whiff rate of his career, if not the best strikeout rate. He's always gotten ground-balls, and he's a righty. He just doesn't do anything at an elite enough rate to hang your ninth-inning hat on, I suppose.
Sleeper: Casey Fien
Fien is an extreme fly ball pitcher, but at least he replicated his minor league work with the Twins last season, and it was interesting enough. And with Brian Duensing filling all sorts of holes for the team, it's Fien that's got the tools and is in the role that suggests that he might fill in and nab some saves here or there.
Rotoworld's fantasy preview: Catchers
Kay Adams (@heykayadams) and D.J. Short (@djshort) examine some catchers to target and avoid in fantasy drafts.
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