Astros Name Wheeler Closer

by Bryce McRae on April 9, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


ESPNews reports the Houston Astros have finally made the switch that many could see coming, removing Brad Lidge from the team's closer role and replacing him with relief pitcher Dan Wheeler. Since the end of the 2005 season, Lidge has been unable to recapture the All-Star form from earlier in his career. His best season came in 2004, when he registered 29 saves and 17 holds. Even more impressive was his 1.90 ERA and the 157 strikeouts he managed in only 94 2/3 innings pitched. Lidge followed it with another solid year in 2005, as he managed 42 saves with a 2.29 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings.

However, something changed for him entering 2006. Last year saw Lidge blow six saves and post a 5.28 ERA in 75 innings pitched. He still managed 32 saves, but this masked the fact that he was removed as the closer later in the season. So far in 2007, Lidge has been shaky at best. He has only pitched 1 2/3 innings but already has one blown save and a 16.20 ERA. He is suffering from control problems (three walks) and has not been able to get strikeouts as regularly as he used to. This prompted the team to move Wheeler into the closer's role in an effort to stem the bleeding.

Wheeler moved into the closer's role in place of Lidge late last season, when Lidge hit a run of bad form. Ever since coming to Houston in 2005, Wheeler has been a different pitcher from the one he was earlier in his career. In his first season with the Astros, Wheeler had 17 holds, three saves and a 2.21 ERA. He also had 69 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings pitched. His 2006 numbers were about the same as he posted a 2.52 ERA with 24 holds, nine saves and 68 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings pitched. However, in 2007, he has already blown one save, allowing two runs in two innings pitched.

The club has not specified their long-term plans for Lidge. According to Alyson Footer, of Houston.Astros.MLB.com, manager Phil Garner said, "Brad will not be closing as a general rule. There may be a situation where it will be right to do it, but we'll probably pitch him earlier in the sixth or seventh inning." He has left the door open for Lidge to return to closing. In the meantime, Wheeler will likely get most of the late-inning action for the club.

What does this mean for your fantasy team? Wheeler should definitely be picked up if he is still available. He probably won't give you the same strikeout numbers as Lidge did, but he will at least have the chance at picking up some saves. Lidge's value isn't completely gone, but he should be put on the shelf for the time being.

It might be tough to replace Lidge's numbers (at least his projected numbers), but one option would be Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher David Weathers. He is off to a great start for the Reds, saving two games while registering two strikeouts in three innings pitched. Don't expect him to be a long-term solution, though.

If you want to replace Lidge's strikeouts, one option would be Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Pat Neshek. Neshek has made two appearances this year, picking up one win in 1 2/3 innings pitched. He has only one strikeout; however, in 38 2/3 career innings pitched he has managed 54 strikeouts. He likely won't get many save opportunities (barring an injury to Twins closer Joe Nathan), but he should give you solid contributions in ERA, strikeouts and WHIP.

The situation in Houston is something to keep an eye on. Lidge has too much talent to be a middle-innings relief pitcher, and there is a decent chance he will be back closing games at some point. Keep an eye on KFFL for updates on the situation as it progresses.

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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