Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove: Josh Willingham, Houston Astros closer

by Nicholas Minnix on December 15, 2011 @ 11:24:21 PDT


Your fantasy baseball draft isn't far off.'s Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove surveys free agency, trades, salary arbitration and injuries that will affect your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league. You're cleared for your MLB offseason program: The Arizona Fall League, Baseball Winter Meetings, Rule 5 draft and more will shape your fantasy baseball rankings.

OF Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins agree to three-year contract

Willingham hit .246 with a career-high 29 bombs and 98 RBIs for the lowly Oakland Athletics in 2011. As Eno Sarris of Fangraphs suggests, this move to the Twin Cities appears to be a positive one for the transforming slugger. Roto owners shouldn't ignore him, for sure.

Houston Astros RP Brandon Lyon
Here we go again?

This past season, Target Field played better offensively than Park, statistically, according to ESPN's MLB Park Factors. In the two-year existence of the Twinkies' home park, it has still been extremely tough on home run hitters, however, making it at least competitive with the A's digs in terms of home run suppression for right-handed hitters.

The potential problem is the assumption that Willingham's documented shift in approach will continue to produce results like those in 2011, or even better. In general, as players age, they tend to resort to pulling the ball more often, and the strike zone becomes more exploitable against them.

A comparison to, say, the evolution of Jose Bautista could be misleading. Bautista has always been a dead pull hitter, and his control of the strike zone only improved while he added the title of "baseball's most feared slugger" to his bio. His advancement was in part the result of mechanical adjustments that gave him a more fluid swing and shortened his load time.

This past season, Willingham sacrificed in the area of plate discipline considerably, as has been noted. There are no encouraging marks to explain his downtrodden performance in the first half of 2011. Although he undoubtedly packs a wallop, he's been unable to avoid - at minimum - nagging ailments, especially in his knees. He'll be 33 next season.

Willingham remains a decent choice to round out a fantasy baseball player's deep-mixed outfield. It seems awfully hopeful to believe that 2011 was anything more than his best season and that even better numbers are in store.

Houston Astros have vacant closer role

With the trade of Mark Melancon to the Boston Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland, Houston essentially opened auditions for the job of 2012 ninth-inning fireman. It's a virtual certainty that a franchise with a poor but recovering farm system, an already low payroll and new ownership won't want to commit hefty dollars to a free-agent reliever. A trade for a high-end RP seems unlikely, too.

Candidates to fill the spot include Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter and Henry Sosa, according to the blogger for the club's official site, Alyson Footer. Lyon is the obvious choice, but he's recovering from surgery to fix a torn labrum and detached biceps tendon in his right arm. He's expected to be healthy, but that's TBD. He's also not a long-term solution.

Carpenter, 26, with his bouts of wildness, a mid-90s four-seamer and high rates of strikeouts per nine innings, has the profile of a closer. He's also filled the role in the minors and was quality for the Astros last season in 27 2/3 frames (2.93 ERA, 9.43 K/9, 4.23 BB/9).

Sosa, 26, has been a starter for practically his entire professional career. He throws a hard four-seamer, too, and relies heavily on a slider that can be a plus pitch. He has pretty filthy stuff, but he's been terribly inconsistent as a starter. There has long been speculation about how he'd succeed in the bullpen, however, and this is an opportunity to find out.

Even Wilton Lopez and Wesley Wright, or some other unknown, could factor into this race. Lyon is the most logical low-end NL purchase for saves hunters, but that's not the most intriguing bet to make. Carpenter probably represents the soundest long-term investment, and Sosa is an interesting wild card. This will probably be a situation that roto owners avoid, initially, though. At the very least, the players will be cheap.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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