One of the many flaws of fantasy baseball is that it doesn’t reward teams for having good middle relief or set-up men. Holding a team in the 8th should be just as important as shutting them down in the 9th.
But, it doesn’t work that way. So, when we are talking about fantasy baseball relief pitchers, we are almost exclusively talking about the most valued fantasy baseball relief pitchers–closers. You can keep up with the closers and closers in waiting on the ESPN closer depth chart. Remember, when it comes to relief pitchers, its more about getting a chance to earn a save than being the best relief pitcher.
Many experts believe that it isn’t important to draft closers early since they will be available in later rounds and can be picked up off the waiver wire. And, certainly there were some prime examples of that last year when newly crowned closers were named during the season. Sergio Santos (30 saves), Fernando Salas (24), Javy Guerra (21), and Mark Melancon (20) were waiver wire gems that you could have picked up later in the season–legitimate sleepers so to speak.
Here’s our early look at relief pitcher sleepers for the 2012 fantasy baseball season.
1. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals — Jason Motte earned the closer role in September and was a big part of the Cardinals run to the playoffs and ultimately the World Series. Motte saved 8 of 9 on the year and was the Cardinals best relief pitcher on the year going 2.55 and 0.96. He has 63 lifetime saves, but should cross 100 lifetime after having the closer role all season in St. Louis.
2. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles — Jim Johnson had 6 wins and saved 9 of 14 in 2011 with a 2.67/1.11. There was thought of making Johnson a starter, but a bad back makes his move to the bullpen permanent. He was the closer in September after Kevin Gregg’s poor season with 22 of 29 saves converted with a 4.37 ERA and dreadful 1.64 WHIP.
3. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies — Rafael Betancourt converted 8 of 12 save opportunities last year with a 2.89/0.87. He’s a veteran at age 37. Don’t expect much competition from next in line Matt Belisle; Belisle was perfect in 2011 blowing 7 out of 7 save opportunities. Rex Brothers is another possibility as a closer. Brothers has fanned 13.1/9, but has also walked 4.9/9–too risky for a closer at Coors.
4. Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers — A lot of people are touting Kenley Jansen as the new closer in LA given Jansen’s 16.1/9 strikeout ratio, but we think Javy Guerra holds the closer role. Guerra converted 21 of 23 last year to go with 2.31/1.18.
5. Frankie Francisco, New York Mets — Frankie Francisco picked up 17 saves last year in 21 tries and had 25 saves in 2009 in Texas. The Mets are not totally convinced Francisco can do the job, however, as they brought in big Jon Rauch from Toronto to help him out if he falters.
6. Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins — Matt Capps was the Twins closer last year until losing the job to veteran Joe Nathan in July. A forearm injury hurt his numbers and he converted just 15 of 24 save opportunities. Capps is a lifetime 3.51 ERA guy proving that with closers its more about opportunities than ability.
7. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox — Veteran Matt Thornton will likely start the season as the White Sox closer, but we like Addison Reed to dethrone Thornton by mid-season. Reed burned through the minor leagues last year with a 1.26 ERA and limited batters to hitting just .157.
8. Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox — Andrew Bailey has averaged 25 saves per year for the past three seasons in Oakland. Bailey won’t have the advantage of pitching in the Coliseum, but he’ll have more save opportunities at Fenway.
9. Mike Adams, Texas Rangers — Mike Adams, acquired last year from San Diego, is the young insurance policy in Texas behind veteran Joe Nathan. Nathan, who is one of the best closers in history, is 37 and missed all of 2010 with Tommy John Surgery, then struggled to a 4.84 ERA last year. Texas may regret committing $14.5 million to Nathan over the next two years. Adams’s ERA for the past three years has been 1.47, 1.76, and 0.73! Batting average against was .169, .196, and .111! Wow!
10. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers — See #4 above. We are buying part of the Jansen story, but not all of it. Watch this battle closely in Spring Training before making your decision.
11. Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics — Despite one of the most unfortunate names in baseball history, Grant Balfour has as good a chance as any to take over the closing role from the departed Andrew Bailey, though he will face competition from a bevy of arms, including Brian Fuentes, Joey Devine and Fautino De Los Santos. This is another one to watch closely in Spring Training.
12. Brandon Lyon, Houston Astros — The Astros blew an unfathomable 50% of its save chances in 2011, but they still have Brandon Lyon signed for $5.5 million for the year. Lyon’s numbers in 2012 make him a legitimate sleeper: 11.48 ERA with a .409 batting average against! That being said, if the Astros can’t move Lyon, and its unlikely they will be able to with those stats, they are going to need to get some value out of that salary. Lyon has 78 lifetime saves.