Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Buzz Around The Bullpen: Fantasy Positional Preview: Relief Pitchers

[Editor’s note: With the fantasy baseball season fast approaching, SportsJudge continues its preseason positional preview. Please be sure to check back every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for a weekly positional analysis that will lead you right into your fantasy draft.

Other Fantasy Positional Previews:

1. Outfield

2. First Base

3. Second Base

4. Shortstop

5. Third Base

6. Catchers

Welcome back to another edition of “The Buzz Around the Bullpen.” This past week baseball got into full swing with the start of the World Baseball Classic. While there has already been coverage right here on SportsJudge, I’d like to weigh in on the WBC. Personally I love the WBC because it affords players a chance to play for their country. Players from Latin America spend their careers playing in a foreign country without an opportunity to ever play for the same fans that supported them as they developed into a major league talent. Equally as important to me, as a diehard baseball fan, I’m always up for some competitive baseball in the first week of March.

For right now, let’s get back to some preseason projections. Last week we focused on the Catcher position and today we will move on to some guys that toe the bump when the game is on the line. Let’s talk about some Relief Pitchers.


1. Jonathan Papelbon (BOS): The greatest River Dancer in Boston comes into ’09 as the number one closer once again. His numbers were impressive in ’08 and as long as Boston is a contender, he will continue to get a ton of opportunities.

2. Francisco Rodriguez (NYM): I love his move to New York and he should have a much easier time dealing with NL batters that haven’t had too many opportunities to see his stuff. For his critics that focus on the decline in some of his numbers last year; he was obviously doing something right when he recorded 62 saves.

3. Mariano Rivera (NYY): This guy continues to get better with age. Rivera is about as sure a thing as there is in fantasy baseball. I don’t foresee this being the year when AL hitters finally figure out his nasty cutter.

4. Joe Nathan (MIN): On draft day, please don’t be concerned with Nathan’s decision to pull out of the WBC. He has pitched well in limited innings in spring training and his shoulder will not be an issue this year. With that being said, sit back and collect your 35+ saves.

5. Brad Lidge (PHI): I’m pretty sure that Brad Lidge showed everyone in baseball that he was back when he converted 48 of 48 save opportunites in ’08. Although there are some reports of forearm tightness in spring training, Lidge has come out and said that this is nothing out of the ordinary. The Phils are legitimate repeat contenders this year and that means tons of save opportunities for Lidge.

6. Joakim Soria (KC): If this guy pitched anywhere other than Kansas City, he would be ranked right up there with the top 3 or 4 closers. He enters this season only 24 years old and he is only going to get better. This could be the year that he forces himself into the conversation as one of baseball’s top three closers.


7. Carlos Marmol (CHC): Although he has had some experience at closing serving as the set-up man for often injured Kerry Wood, Marmol comes into ’09 as the Cubs primary closer. He’s only 26 years old and like Soria, he’s only going to get better. He should get plenty of opportunities for what should be a very solid Cubbies squad.

8. Jonathan Broxton (LAD): Broxton came on in the second half of ’08 and was dominant at times. He has absolutely electric stuff and he has the ability to throw it past just about any hitter in MLB. As a closer, you’re not always going to have your good slider or change-up so it never hurts to have a 100 mph+ fastball that you can lean on.

9. Brian Fuentes (LAA): Fuentes takes over as closer for the Angels in ’09. One thing that immediately comes to mind is that the Angels were the same team that gave K-Rod enough opportunities to record 62 saves in ’08. I can see Fuentes benefiting from his change of scenery and I predict he’ll record between 32-35 saves in ’09.

10. Bobby Jenks (CHW): It’s never a bad thing to see a guy get 30 saves and consider it a “down” year. Prior to last year, Jenks recorded at least 40 saves in two consecutive seasons. While the Sox may be down this year, I still predict Jenks getting around 34-36 saves in '09.

11. Kerry Wood (CLE): Wood recorded 84 Ks in 66.1 innings and finished with 34 saves in ’08. Cleveland should be much improved this year and I think Wood will get a ton of opportunities as a result.

12. Jose Valverde (HOU): For a guy that has recorded 47 and 44 saves respectively over the past two seasons, it seems a little late to be mentioning his name. However, he has a history of blowing saves and his ERA will also make you a little nervous. He is a guy that will drive you nuts one night and then strikeout out the side the next.

13. Chad Qualls (ARI): For the past several years, I’ve been waiting for this guy to get some notoriety as one of the games top relievers. Now that he is the early favorite to serve as the D-Backs closer, he finally has some great fantasy value. I predict a breakout year and he will be a great value pick because most owners will overlook him on draft day.

14. Trevor Hoffman (MIL): In comparison to his career numbers, Hoffman struggled for the San Diego Padres in ’08. Hoffman now finds himself in Milwaukee and he should benefit with this move to a better team. He’s definitely on the back-end of his career but he still should be good for at least 25 saves.

15. B.J. Ryan (BAL): If you’re wondering why I ranked Ryan so low, take a look at his numbers this spring. If you need some more convincing, just listen to what he has to say about his recent performances. My prediction is that there is something more going on and he is altering his mechanics because of it.

16. Matt Capps (PIT): The early news out of Buccos spring training is that Capps has come into camp in the best shape of his career and as a result, his velocity has increased significantly. I think this means more K’s for Capps this year and if you add this to the fact that he only walked 5 batters last year, he becomes a viable fantasy option.

17. Francisco Cordero (CIN): Cordero’s numbers took a hit with his move to Cincinnati in ’08. I think the numbers he put up last year are more of what we should expect in ’09. Keep an eye on Cordero leading up to your draft day because there are reports out of spring training of some possible injury issues.

18. Brian Wilson (SF): While Wilson did record 41 saves in his first year as closer for the Giants; he was a little too hittable. As a result, his numbers suffered and his 4.62 ERA was difficult to swallow for his owners. Hopefully he can rebound with better numbers but until then, you’re better off drafting a guy who can get you 25-30 saves with a lot better numbers.

19. Matt Lindstrom (FLA): If you haven’t heard about Matt Lindstrom yet, you will very soon. He does have a power arm but right now, his stuff is very raw. He will continue to develop throughout the season and like Broxton, he’ll have a 100 mph+ fastball to lean on when his other stuff isn’t working.

20. Mike Gonzalez (ATL): The Braves are hoping that Gonzalez can get back to the numbers he put up before his Tommy John surgery. If he can, he has the ability to record 23-26 saves in '09.

The Best of the Rest

21. Frank Francisco (TEX)

22. Heath Bell (SD)

23. Brad Ziegler (OAK)

24. Brandon Lyon (DET)

Waiting in the Wings

The next group of relievers have the potential to step in and steal some save opportunities in ’09. These aren’t guys you have to go out and get on draft day but you should definitely keep an eye on them on your league’s waiver wire.

25. Brandon Morrow (SEA): My guess is that even if Morrow doesn’t nail down the closer role in spring training, he will at some point early in the season.

26. Chris Ray (BAL): George Sherrill was good last year but he needs to cut down on his walks if he wants to keep his job. Ray is healthy again and I think he reclaims his job by June.

27. Manny Corpas (COL): Colorado brought in Huston Street in the Matt Holliday trade but he has been awful in spring training. Unfortunately, you can also almost guarantee a DL stint for Street so look for Corpas to step in and take advantage of some save opportunities.

28. Ryan Franklin (STL): Chris Perez is having some foot issues and as a result, I think Franklin wins the closer job at some point in the first couple weeks of the season.

29. Joel Zumaya
(DET): If he can stay healthy, I don’t think Brandon Lyon can hold him off. The last time he was healthy in ’06 he was a nightmare for AL hitters.

30. Joel Hanrahan (WAS): He will most likely come into the season as the Nationals' number one option at closer. The Nationals should be better so hopefully Hanrahan can cash in on some added opportunities.

Please be sure to check back next week when we take a look at Starting Pitchers.
As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.

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