Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: J.J. Putz, Jose Valverde, more

by Nicholas Minnix on April 26, 2013 @ 13:43:29 PDT

 

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KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series gives you no-nonsense ratings of performances, injuries and managerial decisions in MLB bullpens. Get your arm loose: Let's find fantasy baseball players in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league who'll get saves.

Job Security (JS):
1 (unstable)
to
5 (untouchable)
Health Outlook (HO):
1 (fragile)
to
5 (durable)
: Up
 
+: Added
 
INJ: Injured
: Down
 
M: Minors
 
DL: Disabled List

 

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Arizona Diamondbacks
4
4
J.J. Putz David Hernandez Heath Bell
Matt Reynolds +

Putz issued a two-out free pass but otherwise dispatched the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning on Thursday night, in the process telling fantasy owners to chill the Putz out about his job security. Should they? Hernandez has had problems of his own (including a blown save opp in the ninth on Wednesday), so Putz owners may want to relax.

Detroit Tigers RP Jose Valverde
Big outing for Papa Grande

For how long? That's an interesting question. This is Putz's second straight rocky beginning to a season, and he's gone through a number of rough patches in his career, only to rebound. Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told the team's official site that his closer's problems are related to poor command of his splitter. Sounds familiar, too.

Putz's stuff isn't what it used to be, however. And why is it that, every so often, he finds himself in one of these same old ruts, and yet it takes him quite awhile to correct the problem? It just doesn't sound like the kind of pattern a conscious pitcher who learns from adversity and his mistakes would follow.

Incidentally, in his last six appearances (5 2/3 innings), Bell hasn't given up a run while striking out 11 and walking no one. Correct: the right-hander of the calamitous 2012 campaign with the misfortunate Miami Marlins as well as a 4.50 ERA this season. The beginning of that sizzling performance coincides with some dedicated film study by Bell and his administrators a few weeks ago.

What if? Hernandez is still next in line. The Snakes picked up most of the ridic salary the Fish tossed at Bell two winters ago, though. There's math, algebra, calculus and then whatever some teams use to determine their closer. Hey, there's always southpaw and extra-stanzas savior extraordinaire Reynolds (two closures this week). But, really, no.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Detroit Tigers
1
5
Jose Valverde Joaquin Benoit Phil Coke
Octavio Dotel DL
Bruce Rondon
Al Alburquerque

Boy did Motown turn back the clock. And quickly. OK, so the Detroit Tigers cut short Valverde's minor league trial, promoted him to the parent club, signed him to a major league deal that includes sweet incentives and then handed him the closer's role, all in one shot. Are los Tigres loco? How will he perform? Isn't it telling that Detroit called up Rondon, too -- and first?

On Wednesday, in his first 2013 appearance -- a save chance, naturally -- Valverde looked pretty darn good. He allowed two deep fly balls, one of them hit fairly well off the bat of Billy Butler, but he retired the Kansas City Royals' side in order. He was pumping four-seamers -- 18 of them, to be exact and to account for all offerings -- up there at 93, 94, even 95.

Sorry, haters. This is not the pitcher who spiraled downward in the second half of 2012 and flamed out in the postseason. So is Valverde a changed man, just like all the feel-good, eagerly dismissed reports said? "One scout said it's the best he's ever seen him throw the ball," Leyland told MLive.com, "as far as velocity and coming out of his hand."

Big ups to MLB Network staffers, including Harold Reynolds (who knows the art, if not the science. OK, not "if."). They provided visual analysis of the differences between and similarities of Valverde in 2011 (when he was 49-for-49 and posted a 2.24 ERA), 2012 and his initial outing of this campaign. The evidence is telling, if you can get this video clip to play. (WTH, MLB.com.)

HR pointed out to viewers that Valverde's hand placement at the set in 2012 was near his waist. In the odd-numbered years, the righty's hands came set near his head. The question: How important is the position of the reliever's hands to his results? Statistically and graphically, there don't appear to be drastic differences. Results-wise, in limited time, so far so good. Although the data don't show vast distinctions, there are distinctions.

What does it all mean? TBD. Plenty of folks believe that Valverde will revert to the form of the pitcher who was clearly in severe decline last year, and that Rondon (who gave up a lead in the seventh yesterday) will ascend to the throne eventually. That's a little too easily dismissive of a pitcher who, as Reynolds also stated, was humbled by the lack of interest in his services this past winter, though. Valverde went back to the drawing board and completely re-evaluated his process.

No one should be predicting 40-for-40 and a 2.50 ERA from here on out. Everyone should be willing to see Valverde as a commodity with long-term possibilities, though.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Milwaukee Brewers
1
5
Jim Henderson John Axford Francisco Rodriguez M
Brandon Kintzler
Mike Gonzalez
Mark Rogers DL

Ron Roenicke sounds like a manager who's ready to put Axford back in the closer's role. He said so, basically. Henderson, who's allowed one run on six hits and two walks, with 10 K's and five saves, in his 10 innings, shouldn't take it personally. The skipper said so. This has been the Milwaukee Brewers' plan from the word "demotion."

Milwaukee Brewers RP Jim Henderson
Henderson chopped soon?

Not so fast. Note that Roenicke also discussed his acknowledgment of the importance of using his best relievers for the biggest outs, and that the toughest situations often come up before he might otherwise go to his best relievers. The Ax's improvements since his miserable opening week have made him one of Roenicke's most treasured bullpen weapons again. What's he saying, then?

At some point, the Brew Crew will probably go back to Axford in the ninth. Roenicke hasn't demonstrated with his actions yet that he's not a slave to the customary bullpen hierarchy. But "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the mantra of the day in Milwaukee, so Henderson has life. Assuming that he continues to pitch well -- no given, but he has the skills to be borderline dominant -- he may warrant ownership all season given Axford's propensity to lose it in save sitches and Roenicke's potential evolution as a thinker.

Mound meetings

Joe Nathan recorded his seventh save of 2013 on Thursday against one of his old clubs, the Minnesota Twins, without much of problem. He's allowed only one run, on seven hits and a walk with nine K's, in 8 1/3 frames, so it might surprise fantasy owners to find out that the right-hander's velocity is down notably across the board compared to last season's.

"Honestly my velocity has been down but I have been effective with other stuff," he told his team's official site. Nathan is correct. The 38-year-old can't be expected to fire rockets up there anymore, so he doesn't have as much margin for error. He'll have some rough appearances this year, no doubt. But he's smarter. Here's proof. Besides, there's no one on the Texas Rangers to challenge him for his job any time soon.

***

Steve Cishek was saddled with a loss on Thursday because he entered the Miami Marlins' knotted affair with the Chicago Cubs in the ninth and allowed a solo ding dong to Luis Valbuena. The outing leaves him at 1-3, with two saves in three chances, and a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings.

Fantasy owners don't have to be too worried, yet, if they invested in the right-hander. But it's clear that he's still not very confident in his slider, something he's been working on since the season began. He's relied on fastballs more often in 2013, and that trend continued on Thursday.

Cishek must have the opposite of the disease afflicts Carlos Marmol. Thankfully, this means Cishek's ailment comes with a lower rate of walks per nine. But it'll probably hurt a little more, anyway, until the Fish flinger is throwing his slide piece the way he likes it, and walking dudes more frequently is a possible -- but welcome -- side effect.

***

Something to monitor: Casey Janssen told Shi Davidi of Canada's Sportsnet that his right shoulder still isn't quite where it needs to be. No need to panic. It doesn't sound like a big deal -- for now. Janssen, like Nathan, has the stuff and the wits to retire the opposition despite downturns in pitch speeds.

But what happens if the Toronto Blue Jays' closer doesn't receive the days off here and there that he hopes for? What if the tax on his right shoulder becomes too hefty to pay? It sounds like Janssen isn't in immediate danger of stressing out the surgically repaired joint. Given the start to Toronto's season and his desire to contribute, however, how much will he push it, and how much will John Gibbons, one of those old warrior types, allow him?

This is far from ideal. Janssen may be just fine in the long run, but it sounds like the Jays could've stood to bring him back a little more slowly. If you can get something close to draft-day value for him in return, why not do it?

***

Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon were unavailable on Thursday, so the Pittsburgh Pirates turned to southpaw Tony Watson in a save situation against the Philadelphia Phillies.

It appears that Watson is third in line for saves in this bullpen. The Phils were scheduled to send two left-handed batters to the dish to open the bottom of the ninth. That didn't hurt, but Watson is probably most qualified among the Bucs' other options, anyway.

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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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