Weve already seen it happen. Not once, not twice, but multiple times. In fact, nearly a third of big league clubs have already made changes in the ninth inning from where they were expected to be about four weeks ago. A month ago no one cared about Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos or Vicente Padilla, but now all three are arms that even those of you who are in mixed leagues have to be interested in having on your team. So is the way of the save in the fantasy game.
What if you own, or owned, Matt Thornton or Ryan Franklin and you missed out on those arms that have stepped up to fill in? You need to remain patient and see if you can work the trade market to your benefit. If that doesn’t bear any fruit than the next thing to do is to try and seek out the arms that are on waivers in hopes of finding that diamond in the rough. In what follows I’ll point out a couple of arms to look at in situations where the current closer is either (a) struggling or (b) just not very good.
Closer: Brandon Lyon
Name(s) to know: Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon
Lyon, simply put, might be the worst pitcher (skill wise) who has a lock down on the 9th inning role with his club. Never a K-master, his K/9 rate sits at 3.86 this year, and there is zero chance he will be able to keep the closers role if he doesn’t at least boost that number up to his customary low 6-ish number. Even then, he just doesn’t profile as a hurler who can miss bats, and that is a trait that almost all teams look for in their end of the game arm. For now his role seems secure, especially since he’s pitched better since a rough start to the year.
With Wilton Lopes on the DL with right elbow woes (he should return in short order), the fall back option would appear to be Mark Melancon. In 12.2 innings this season he has allowed only two runs, and contra to Lyon he can get a strikeout with 42 in 50.1 career innings. However, he doesn’t have a single save, and just barely over 50-innings pitched in the bigs, so even though his skills might say closer when compared to Lyon, don’t look for the Astros to make a move unless Lyon struggles badly.
Tampa Bay Rays
Closer: Kyle Farnsworth
Name(s) to know: Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, J.P. Howell
Two months ago no one was drafting Farnsworth. Now you talk to some people and they make it sound like he is a lock for 30 saves. Given his history of uneven work, and the fact that he has only 32 saves in 12+ seasons in the big leagues you have to be objective and admit that smooth sailing isn’t likely to be in the cards, even with his success to the point of the year (he’s 5-for-5 converting saves). It’s almost impossible to draw anything usable off of just 7.1 innings, so his terrible K/9 rate of 6.14 (career 9.02) and his spectacular walk rate (zero walks when he owns a 3.85 per nine mark) have to be taken with a huge grain of salt leaving us to look at the body of work in his career which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Howell continues to improve on his road back from shoulder surgery. He’s looked solid in the minors and could be back in three weeks. Still he’s a lefty coming off a major injury, so he isn’t likely to be thrust into the closers role when he returns.
McGee is destined to be a top of the rotation arm, but for now he toils out of the pen. He’s looked terrible this year with two strikeouts over 6.2 innings of work. As a result, he doesn’t seem close to stepping into the 9th inning if needed.
Peralta was strong last year posting a 9.00 K/9 mark and a wonderful 5.44 K/BB rate. He hasn’t been quite as good over his 11 appearances this year (8.74 K/9, 3.67 K/BB) but his ratios are still plenty good enough for the team to turn to him once Farnsworth has his inevitable hiccup. Therefore Peralta is probably the back up arm you want from the Rays pen at the moment.
Kansas City Royals
Closer: Joakim Soria
Name(s) to know: Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress
The Royals continue to say that Soria is fine. Soria continues to say that he is fine. The results say that he clearly isn’t. Let’s compare Soria’s career numbers to his work this season,
Career: 2.13 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.69 K/9, 4.44 K/BB
2011: 5.06 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4.22 K/9, 0.83 K/BB
Of course, you could throw sample size in anyone’s face here since we are only talking about 10.2 innings of work, but when you are a flat out dominating arm in the bullpen over the course of three seasons and now you are pitching like Brandon Lyon, it’s hard to say there isn’t a problem even if we are only talking about a handful of outings. Further causing some concern is that his fastball is a mile and a half below his career number at 90.2 mph. Perhaps his mechanics are just off, but still, everything points to there being a concern that is undiagnosed. On the plus side we have his four year excellence on the hill, and the fact that the Royals remain steadfastly in his corner (as they should) is a huge bonus. If you own Soria hold on, he’s likely to be just fine.
Still, there is some concern, and his performance has certainly been poor. So, if the Royals were forced to make a move, who would they turn to? There are two names to know.
Crow, a first round pick in 2009, has come out of the gate firing with 12.2 scoreless innings to start his career as he has whiffed 13 against five walks. He often gets out of whack mechanically which forces him to avoid his secondary stuff which is death on a starting pitcher. Perhaps a long-term move to the pen will help to alleviate that issue.
Jeffress is a heat throwing bad ass who could be played by Charlie Sheen and no one would likely be able to tell the difference between the two. Jeffress possesses filthy stuff, and when he is on good luck hitting him (he has a .188 BAA and 11 Ks in 9.2 innings). At the same time his personal life can often times spiral out of control. Speaking of control he rarely has that locked down either as he has already walked eight guys on the year and 14 in 19.2 big league innings. Given his volatility it’s far from certain that he would be asked to close if something happened to Soria. If he was going well he could settle in an excel. If he was asked to take the ball during one of his patented battles with his control, well let’s just say that the results wouldn’t be very pretty.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray’s baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys’ Twitter account.
Tags: Brandon Lyon, Fantasy, Fantasy Baseball, MLB, mlb closers