Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Tom Wilhelmsen, Ernesto Frieri, more

by Tim Heaney on May 31, 2013 @ 12:33:28 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)
Seattle Mariners
4
5
Tom Wilhelmsen Stephen Pryor DL Carter Capps
Yoervis Medina +

Wilhelmsen's sparkling 0.78 ERA belies his stark decrease in K/9 (9.87 last year, 6.65 this year). His opponents' in-play clip of .148 is ridiculously fortunate, even for a stopper's standards. His first two blown saves of 2013 have happened from May 20 on, including a one-run botch on Wednesday, so maybe regression is kicking in.

Seattle Mariners RP Tom Wilhelmsen
Somewhat sleepless

Of course, a return to reality of any sort is expected when you have a 0.75 ERA at the end of April, and it hardly has started to really hurt him. He's still posting an above-average frequency in his enemies' empty-hack rate (10.2).

Working against him, however, is a drop in called-strike rate on his curveball, as noted by Logan Davis at the cerebrally fulfilling Lookout Landing, a Seattle Mariners analysis site. On the bright side, his cache of pitches has been positive so far, and his experience as a starter gives him a solid mix so that he doesn't have to lean on a singular offering.

A simple tweak in approach or technique with his deuce should help him keep season-long potency, even if his ERA trends more toward his xFIP (3.74). It's too soon to start pining for Capps or Pryor in most mixed leagues, especially since Wilhelmsen, before his recent poor stretch, posted 11 straight successful tries.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3
5
Ernesto Frieri Ryan Madson DL Garrett Richards +
Sean Burnett DL
Scott Downs

Frieri endured a rough save on Wednesday, giving up two ninth-inning solo homers before escaping with a one-run victory. He rebounded on Thursday for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to avoid damage from a leadoff single, fanning two batters surrounding a pop-up for his 12th wrap-up of the season.

Frieri said Thursday that he knows his fastball hasn't had its typical late life and rise, but he's going to keep throwing it because he doesn't fully trust his cutter or changeup. (He wasn't emphasizing variety until this year.) He thinks the heater's movement will come back, as well. Frieri's lack of confidence has caused his walk rate to shoot up to 6.46 per nine this year.

Madson's delayed return from elbow problems means there's no legit full-time challenger to Frieri, and though Mike Scioscia might start sending out one of his southpaws in a matchup role, like they did with Downs last year, Frieri should have at least one or two more months of SVOs.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Houston Astros
3
5
Jose Veras Wesley Wright Hector Ambriz +
Joshua Fields DL

Veras received a vote of confidence from Houston Astros manager Bo Porter after the right-hander took the loss Tuesday night, allowing a run on two hits and a walk after entering a tied game. Porter said on Wednesday that he wasn't sure if Veras would be available that night, though, and if he wasn't, Ambriz would serve as closer.

Veras wound up working Wednesday, his third straight game on the bump, and allowed a solo jack; at least he had a four-run lead before doing so and helped them escape with a win anyway. Porter's plan instead took shape Thursday, as Ambriz notched his first career closure, working around a hit for a scoreless frame and two K's.

Ambriz's seasonal line has been skewed by a few rough performances; he's actually been solid and, with his capable velocity, could challenge Wright and perhaps Fields (forearm) for primary replacement duties.

Mound meetings

Baltimore Orioles RP Jim Johnson
Straightening up, flying right

Looking more like his old self, Jim Johnson registered a closure for the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday. In those two outings, he totaled 24 pitches, in contrast to the 37 from his Sunday disaster. Location had been the chief problem for him over his rough stretch, and he posted below-average first-pitch strike percentages in a few of his four recent blown saves.

Local observer Zach Wilt noted that Johnson worked efficiently on Wednesday with renewed horizontal movement and precision that had been absent in the recent past. The stopper looks like he's getting back on track, so mixed-league Darren O'Day speculators will either have to be patient or cut bait if they face a more pressing need.

***

Recording a save on back-to-back days buys more time for Fernando Rodney. He was brought in for the final out on Wednesday and tossed a perfect ninth the next night. Since he's been used by the Tampa Bay Rays on four straight days, Joel Peralta may be in line for a SVO if needed on Friday, but it looks like Rodney has built slightly more security.

He needs to show consistently streamlined performance to move closer to being completely out of the woods, though. The toe-tap he has developed of late was seemingly not so pronounced in that pair of appearances, but its existence means he'll have to make it a more beneficial part of his delivery or remove it. That, plus what looks like increased predictability in sequencing, has contributed to his shaky control, as well.

***

Vinnie Pestano and the Cleveland Indians haven't had a door-slamming chance since Chris Perez (shoulder) went down Monday. The fill-in was summoned to begin the ninth with the Tribe up four on Wednesday. He allowed a leadoff homer but recorded a whiff, ground-out and pop-out to preserve the victory.

While it wasn't a SVO, it showcased Pestano's recent changes to his mechanics. In contrast to his four-run Saturday stumble, when he sat within 87-88 mph on his fastball, he was between 88 and 91 on Wednesday. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway liked the dip Pestano was getting on his sinker. This should work in his favor if he can keep the role of filling in for Perez for at least the next week-plus.

***

Following a Saturday blown save and loss that restarted the Rex Brothers waivers push, Rafael Betancourt looked able on Tuesday, recording a scoreless frame with two punch-outs for his 11th save of the season. Betancourt was mentioned as potential trade bait this preseason because the Colorado Rockies weren't expected to contend, but since they're in the thick of the NL West race, that's looking like less of a possibility.

Things could change come July, of course, and, despite the diminished fantasy urgency, Brothers stands as the best option to take over should Betancourt switch teams or incur an injury.

***

More teams may invite Mariano Rivera to throw out the first pitch in their park during his farewell tour. The New York Yankees legend blew his first save of the year in grand fashion. After the New York Mets honored him in their pregame appreciation ceremony, Mo gave up three straight hits to allow two runs and take the loss by throwing the last one.

Rivera's K/9 has taken a big tumble off his 2012 pace, down to 7.45. His control has been pristine at 0.93 BB/9. He's being hit harder, but the cutter still works, even at a more tepid level. At least Rivera is notching 0-1 counts 75 percent of the time, which diminishes the dip in cutter bite and staves off critics and fantasy panic.

***

J.J. Putz (elbow) might throw off a mound Monday, June 3, after playing catch last week. The Arizona Diamondbacks aren't looking to rush the 36-year-old back into action, especially since Heath Bell has been 8-for-9 in save chances after taking over when Putz was sidelined in early May. If Bell sustains his revival, he could even split duties with Putz whenever he returns.

***

The Minnesota Twins' back end was busy since the last CHS. Glen Perkins blew his second save on the year with a Tuesday debacle, but he rebounded Wednesday, his third straight day of work, with a scoreless inning for his 11th successful conversion. On Thursday, understudy Jared Burton, with Perkins presumably rested, converted his second try of 2013 in perfect fashion.

Perkins holds some of the shiniest command peripherals (14.19 K/9, 2.75 BB/9) among closers outside the well-known names. The former starter boasts a ridiculous 39.2 K percentage and a crisp 7.6 walk percentage, complete with an elite 72.2 first-strike percentage. His lack of grounders allowed is made up for by a 23.5 percent infield-fly rate.

The scary 29.3 liner rate could wind up threatening him more as the season goes on but not enough to worry that he'll lose the job anytime soon.

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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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