Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Junichi Tazawa, Fernando Rodney, more

by Tim Heaney on May 7, 2013 @ 13:50:00 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.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Boston Red Sox
1
4
Junichi Tazawa +
Koji Uehara

Stop me if you've heard this one: Bailey (biceps inflammation) hit the disabled list. A Monday MRI sealed his fate. That's not even the punch line. Hanrahan, his Boston Red Sox replacement, gave up a game-tying solo homer to blow a save chance later that night. The kicker: He left the game with forearm tightness, and by the way his comments to the press sounded, Hanny might be joining Bailey on the long-term sidelines.

Tampa Bay Rays RP Fernando Rodney
Where ya goin', Rodney?

The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham reports that Tazawa is John Farrell's preference to close while the top two options heal. The righty has nine holds on the year, becoming a trustworthy weapon in save-like spots, and the former starter's giddy-up has displayed vastly superior punch in relief duty, as is usually the case.

Add him now, but don't write off Uehara, who saved 13 Baltimore victories in 2010. The widespread philosophy of counteracting his brittle health with kid-glove treatment probably continues to hold back the 38-year-old with shiny peripherals. He's worth carrying in many leagues on his non-save stats alone, so adding a chance here and there bolsters his case anyway.

Don't dismiss the potentially occasional use of lefty-killer Andrew Miller, but he doesn't provide fantasy upside outside of cavernous mixed (more than 15 squads) and AL-only setups. Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves ... don't go there.

Tazawa has the goods to hold this job at least until Bailey returns ... and beyond. We all know from Bailey's medical chart that a quick comeback is hardly a guarantee. In the worst-case scenario for Bailey and Hanrahan, Uehara may eventually threaten Tazawa's hold, if not act as co-chairman, which further justifies owning him.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Tampa Bay Rays
4
5
Fernando Rodney Joel Peralta Jake McGee
Kyle Farnsworth

Yeah, regression was coming, but this?

Many might've missed what noted Tampa Bay Rays blog DRaysBay caught earlier this year. Rodney's shift to the third-base side of the mound revived his career in 2012, allowing him to pitch in the zone with more precision and bait hitters more effectively thanks to his newly beneficial, properly positioned pitch movement.

For unidentified reasons, he's gone back to delivering from the first-base end. It cost him last night, as it has most of this spring. He gave up a two-run homer to right-handed hitter J.P. Arencibia off a down-the-pipe, straight-as-an-arrow four-seamer.

He hasn't been scrutinized much; that was his second blown save in six chances and his first since April 3. Analysis of release points and pitch results, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, paints a more troublesome portrait, though. Right-handers haven't whiffed as much on his offerings, including his formerly deadly changeup, because of his old, less desirable delivery angle. Lefties have crushed him with a .269 clip and a corresponding .333 in-play average. Rodney is striking out more enemies but also allowing more free passes along with a whopping 30 percent liners on connections.

When D'oh-Rod plans to throw one off the black, it's predictable, just as it was before Jim Hickey and company recalibrated him. He tries to guide the ball too much, and he's already putting himself at a disadvantage thanks to where he lines up.

Maybe he's tired following his World Baseball Classic championship run for the Dominican Republic, but that's less likely to be a cause than falling back into bad habits. Most times, a simple fix rectifies a pitcher, as it did last year as his new method. Switching back to the opposite end of the hill could trigger a rebound.

Of course, if that, or whatever else Tampa implements, doesn't work, a change might happen. Though they've had some big-name stoppers in recent years, the club also has churned out closers from retread names when needed.

Setup stalwart Peralta would be the likeliest choice, all things equal, having recorded eight saves from 2011-2012. Farnsworth, who tied 25 bows in 2010, has had a rough go with a 6.43 ERA, but that's mainly on the back of two major stumbles. McGee oozes strikeout talent but not necessarily control or sequencing savvy. His left-handedness may hold him back from fully taking over. Jamey Wright may even enter this fray eventually.

We're docking his Job Security score ever so slightly because of Rodney's limited SVOs and established 2012 cred. In some environments (notably solitary universes), acting ahead of schedule would help you beat a rush. It may take only a few successful outings to bring it back up to a 5, though.

Tampa might do a mix-and-match effort if Rodney is booted, so the tempered payoff of landing Peralta in a stash capacity might reflect what Joaquin Benoit at one point offered with the Detroit Tigers. Even before Tampa considers a switch, however, they'll give Rodney a significant window to turn things around.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Kansas City Royals
3
5
Greg Holland Kelvin Herrera
Aaron Crow
Tim Collins
Luke Hochevar

On Monday, Holland had a rough go and blew a brilliant shutout start by James Shields. The Kansas City Royals closer gave up three singles to load the bases, induced a 1-2-3 double play, issued an intentional walk and gave up a game-knotting, slow-rolling one-bagger on a tough, but makeable, unsuccessful force-out attempt.

Holland looked like he was nibbling but was only slightly off the plate most of the time, yet he fell behind in the count too much. The right-hander, who often falls noticeably to the first-base side of the mound during his delivery, looked to be too hittable in the strike zone.

Though that movement could be worth fixing over time, it's going to take more stumbles than this for him to be in any danger. He had given up just one run over his previous 10 appearances and was riding a streak of nine scoreless. He had struck out 16 and walked two.

Herrera holds an 8.00 ERA over his last eight game entrances. Crow, on the other hand, just gave up his first run of the year on Sunday after nine scoreless logs of his own. He's close to leapfrogging Herrera on the depth chart but might be held back because it looks like he's KC's best arm to put out fires with runners on base.

Either way, you shouldn't expect anyone to challenge the incumbent if he rebounds quickly.

Mound meetings

Kirk Gibson confirmed on Friday what Nick wrote earlier that morning: J.J. Putz remains the Arizona Diamondbacks' closer but will get more rest. It seemed to help turn him around last year. David Hernandez and Heath Bell remain sound deep-league dice rolls that may record the occasional save.

***

Chicago Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa (forearm strain) may exit the disabled list if his Tuesday rehab outing, his second, goes well, per skipper Dale Sveum. He fanned two and walked one in a rehab frame Sunday for Triple-A Iowa.

He may need a few major league tune-ups before heading into a save situation, but he should at least start stealing chances from Kevin Gregg, if not boxing out Gregg from them soon. Gregg is pitching above his head right now, despite the realistic improvements he has made. Both pitchers have a legit shot at chances for the near future, with Carlos Marmol making a cameo when the availability of the other two becomes limited.

***

Note the reminder to drop Jason Motte (Tommy John surgery) from single-year formats. Edward Mujica doesn't look like he's giving up the St. Louis Cardinals' gig anytime soon. Trevor Rosenthal remains the likely successor, even though he needs some tinkering to cement that standing; he may get a shot in early 2014 to hold the fort if Motte must heal for a full year or longer.

Newly called-up Carlos Martinez looms as a potential alternative if the need arises this summer, but NL-only prospectors should be the only chasers in one-year leagues.

***

In 2013, Steve Cishek has more outings in which he's given up a run than he has saves. The Miami Marlins' struggles in producing chances have brought him some time, though, and he tiptoed around a walk Saturday to register his fourth save of the year.

His slider's effectiveness and overall ability to pitch down in the zone have been ongoing projects, but he's been better in both realms of late, especially regarding velocity. Cishek has been establishing 0-1 counts more frequently than ever in a full season. He offers a strikeout or so per frame along with a productive grounder rate while also cutting back on his allowance of walks.

The stats say he deserves your confidence. Miami's performance, however, will continue limiting Cishek's contributions.

***

As is the case with Cishek, Jose Veras doesn't get many chances to offer saves -- only four this year. The Houston Astros gave him one Friday, though, and he failed, allowing a two-run, game-losing homer. The righty previously had logged six straight scoreless games but has converted only half of his chances.

Staying with their M.O. of developing their young but raw players, Houston will probably take their time in making a change, though if you're trying to get ahead, Wesley Wright would be the logical stand-in.

***

On 32 pitches, Aroldis Chapman allowed three runs on two walks and four hits Friday, entering while the Cincinnati Reds were up by four in the ninth for his first work since the previous Monday. He left what started as a non-save spot with two outs, and J.J. Hoover recorded a strikeout to close the door.

Chapman rebounded Saturday, working around a walk for a scoreless closure. With Chapman and setup vet Jonathan Broxton unavailable Sunday, Hoover successfully returned to the gig. Don't overreact to the hitch in an otherwise fine season for Chapman.

***

It's hard to say Atlanta Braves stud Craig Kimbrel is teetering, but he's blown two of his last four opportunities, including one by allowing a game-tying homer Friday. His velocity has been fine; he's just been slightly more hittable. Sometimes these things just happen.

Over his first month-plus, he's seen a dip in opponents' grounder rate, a 24.0 percent liner frequency and a .320 BAABIP. Much of these concerns may be quelled by the 30.0 percent infield fly rate his enemies have produced.

No reason to go grabbing Jordan Walden in mixed leagues yet -- just some hiccups and trends to watch.

***

Another game, another homer allowed for Huston Street. Despite yielding the solo job Friday, he battled to record his seventh San Diego Padres save of the year. It's just another testament to what was written early last week about Street's disappointing performance so far.

Luke Gregerson may finally get an extended chance to close if Street needs work or rest, but outside leagues where frequent hold accumulators like Gregerson carry high lineup value, mixed owners don't need to make a move yet as long as Street continues sealing the deal.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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