Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Jose Valverde, Brandon League, more

by Tim Heaney on May 14, 2013 @ 12:20:00 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)
Detroit Tigers
2
5
Jose Valverde Joaquin Benoit Phil Coke
Octavio Dotel DL
Al Alburquerque
Bruce Rondon M

Through his first five appearances (scoreless, three saves), Papa Grande was a familiar boon for a tormented Detroit Tigers bullpen. He allowed his first run on Sunday, which happened to come when he had only a one-run lead. His first stumble in four closing chances on the year resulted from two walks and an RBI single.

Los Angeles Dodgers RP Brandon League
League: not best RP in town

Reports said Valverde's splitter was much improved during his spring workouts; this justifiably caused renewed optimism that the righty's approach would improve. According to Brooks Baseball, however, he has thrown the pitch just six times of his 92 offerings. The other 86 encompass his four-seam fastball, which has so far lost almost 1 mph from last year's average.

Luckily, Orel Hershiser of ESPN gave Valverde positive fastball reviews recently, specifically his ability to throw it low and away for strikes. Valverde said he hasn't eliminated his other chief pitch; his sparse deployment might stem from the colder weather or the fact he's still trying to round into form. He's using a new windup, as well, so that might be delaying his comfort.

For various reasons, it's rash to give up on him so soon, despite his troubling allowance of line drives and dips in strikeout peripherals. He's done the job more often than not so far, and that's enough for Jim Leyland and upper management to let Valverde progress.

He's hardly cemented, obviously. If his performance starts to crumble, Benoit and, in the long term, Rondon (if he proves his minors dominance is only a stepping stone to big-league growth) await. Don't expect Valverde to lose out to them if his dipper begins to translate, though.

Mound meetings

"Yeah, for now he is. I hate to say it like that. But yeah, for now." Talk about a ringing endorsement for Brandon League's closer status by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, right? League hasn't helped his cause, having given up at least one run in eight of his last 11 outings. His latest gaffe came on Sunday. Entering the ninth with a four-run lead, he allowed two singles and a two-RBI double before escaping. You can't create your own save sitch, Brandon.

Sound performances from Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez, however, might actually delay a change. Skip doesn't want to hold off on using his best pitcher(s) for a save spot because he'd rather use them to work out of jams and get them there. He doesn't seem married to the idea of using a team's best RP to hog this statistic.

Though a change might not come in the immediate future, Jansen shouldn't be a free agent in any eligible league, and Rodriguez looks like an increasingly steady NL-only weapon.

***

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell says they hope they'll get Andrew Bailey (biceps) back in the closer role sometime in the next five to seven days. He may have one or two rehab stops; he was scheduled to throw a 'pen session Tuesday.

Even if the incumbent returns without issue, fill-in Junichi Tazawa will remain a sound deep-league hold for the rest of the year. He's the main handcuff to brittle Bailey after Joel Hanrahan opted for season-ending surgery to patch up the flexor tendon that protects the ulnar collateral ligament on his right elbow. Dr. James Andrews will perform the procedure and could tack on Tommy John surgery if deemed necessary.

David Hernandez stepped in Friday when Heath Bell was resting after three straight days of work. The fill-in allowed a single but shut the door for the first time in 2013 with a scoreless inning. Bell was called in on Sunday but suffered his second BS of the year on the back of double doubles and two singles, which produced two runs.

Hernandez doesn't sit on many waiver wires in deep formats because of his skills and the formerly fluid speculative situation when J.J. Putz (elbow) was playing. If DH doesn't have an owner yet, scoop him up. (Don't forget Matt Reynolds, subterranean scroungers.)

Of course, Bell has a bit of rope and probably won't log that consecutive workload often if Kirk Gibson can manage it. He favors the vet's experience and won't let one stumble of four chances since Putz's deactivation change that.

***

Huston Street had teetered in a few San Diego Padres save situations which he wound up converting. He finally broke on Saturday, blowing one for the first time in nine tries and taking the loss via a two-out walk and a homer. His contract and history are on his side for rope, but he's forced only 27.1 percent grounders on his yielded contact this year, so that inflated 21.7 percent HR/FB doesn't look as anomalous.

Street's swinging-strike percentage from opponents stands at a glaring career-low 8.3 percent; they're not missing his slider (its movement looks off) and changeup as frequently as they did last year. For whatever reason this is happening, Luke Gregerson warrants a speculative saves pickup; like Hernandez, however, he's probably owned in most competitive leagues already because of his peripherals.

Bud Black could go in another direction as he did last year with Dale Thayer (maybe Brad Brach this time?), but Gregerson remains the best skills pitcher among the backups, the one who truly stands out as a backup.

***

Chris Perez worked around two hits and an unearned run to earn the save Saturday but experienced shoulder stiffness warming up for a chance Sunday, so Rich Hill started and Cody Allen finished that one in extras. Perez wasn't needed in either half of Monday's Cleveland Indians doubleheader, but he seemed OK because he was warming up late in the opener. Justin Masterson sealed it by himself, though.

At least this is good news for Perez's owners, who've enjoyed his nearly pristine season, if not the fact he only has six saves. He's blown only one chance, though, and before Saturday hadn't given up a run since April 3. Perez's velocity is down a bit and more shoulder concerns don't help, but his punch should build up as he moves deeper into the season.

***

On both Friday and Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays' Fernando Rodney navigated around a walk and struck out two to record a scoreless inning for an arrow shot. He's still lining up on the first-base side of the hill but in his last three outings seemed to back off his two-seamer while focusing on his steady fastball-changeup combo. Or maybe it's just the return of the magic plantain. The archer has refilled his quiver and will need to suffer a sustained breakdown to be in jeopardy again anytime soon.

***

For Class A Inland Empire, Ryan Madson (elbow) logged a perfect inning with a strikeout Monday and will appear for them again Wednesday. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim righty figures his fastball, clocked at 91-92 mph, should build up as he gets back into form. Madson could return later this week and initially should set up for Ernesto Frieri, who hammered home two more saves over the weekend. If you're desperate for saves, however, and Madson is unclaimed, tuck him away and wait things out.

***

Glen Perkins was unavailable Saturday because of soreness in his left side. Jared Burton stepped in for the Minnesota Twins and recorded the save in a scoreless stanza. Perkins was ready to go Sunday if needed after his Sunday 'pen session went well.

If Perkins were to miss time, Burton would be the primary but likely not sole stopper; Minnesota has previously said they'd like to conserve Burton's use, so someone like Casey Fien could be an option for secondary work.

***

Steve Cishek made a cameo Friday for his fifth save of the year. One of his two strikeouts was cinched on a borderline pitch, but including his non-save Sunday work, he hasn't allowed a run in his last four games. The Miami Marlins probably want to conserve him for situations that call for his job description. Since his ERA stood at 15.43 on April 7, it has been 2.13 with a 1.11 WHIP in 12 games.

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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 LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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