Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on April 16, 2008 @ 02:13:47 PDT


A pair of closers - including one interim stopper - hit the disabled list on the same day this week. We had three key returns from the DL; two have been steady since being activated, but the other still has concerns about his arm strength. One of last year's elite save artists might need a new brush. We bring you all this and more in this week's Closer Hot Seat.


Durability grade: 1 (very injury-prone) to 10 (extremely durable)

Job security grade: 1 (very shaky) to 10 (firm grasp)

Hot Seat: Injury Concerns

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Manny Acosta

Next in Line: Will Ohman

Disabled List: Rafael Soriano (elbow), Peter Moylan (elbow), Mike Gonzalez (elbow)

It didn't take long for Moylan to leave the picture. He went down with his own elbow injury Tuesday, April 15, leaving Acosta as the primary option to seal the deal in the ninth. After allowing four runs in his first appearance of the season, he has pitched 4 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Acosta struck out 22 hitters in 23 2/3 innings pitched last year, but he walked 14. He is struggling so far with a 1.60 WHIP. Regardless, Acosta should be targeted in all formats, especially if you originally jumped on Moylan's availability.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 5 (without Soriano)

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Rafael Betancourt

Next in Line: Rafael Perez

Other Possibilities: Jensen Lewis, Masahide Kobayashi

Disabled List: Joe Borowski (triceps)

Borowski was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained triceps. He reportedly met with the Indians staff after he blew his second consecutive save chance Monday, April 14, by allowing three runs to the Boston Red Sox. His declining velocity had caused him to allow seven earned runs over one combined inning pitched in his two debacles. Those who drafted Betancourt in the later rounds are now rejoicing because he is the replacement; despite his 5.14 ERA in seven innings pitched this year, Betancourt has seven strikeouts compared to one walk. If Betancourt's available in your league, don't hesitate to grab him if you have the space. Fantasy owners should not be looking to dump Borowski; manager Eric Wedge confirmed that the veteran would return to the role when he came back.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 8 (without Borowski)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez

Next in Line: Scot Shields

Other Possibilities: Justin Speier

Rodriguez returned from a sprained right ankle to convert saves in his first two opportunities since his return; he didn't allow a hit in either attempt, but his two walks in his last outing made things interesting. The main positive for the Angels is the fact that he pitched for three straight days. K-Rod retired the side in order while recording a save in his April 14 appearance. You can safely return Rodriguez to your lineup, but hanging on to Shields for a little longer wouldn't hurt.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Mark Lowe, Ryan Rowland-Smith

Next in Line: Sean Green

Other Possibilities: Brandon Morrow

Disabled List: J.J. Putz (ribcage)

The carousel continues. Lowe is the latest Mariner reliever du jour to record a save in the committee to replace Putz, locking down the Mariners' win Friday, April 11. The Mariners had not had any save opportunities since then, so there have been no real hints as to who will hear the call next. Manager John McLaren hasn't had a chance to determine a "hot hand" to run with because he has been rotating his backend options. Green has been utilized the most among the pile (9 2/3 innings), but they haven't come during save situations. Rowland-Smith has pitched in three non-save chances since he entered the closer party and was tagged for two runs on three hits; he only pitched as late as the eighth inning once. His previous two outings each produced a scoreless inning. Putz threw off a mound before the Mariners' April 13 contest, and his return date will likely be determined by his performance in several bullpen sessions this week. The fact that the M's have saved Lowe for ninth-inning duty in his last two appearances gives the impression that Lowe is being saved for save situations. He's the most likely option here, but don't bank on him.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 2 (without Putz)

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: B.J. Ryan

Next in Line: Jeremy Accardo

Other Possibilities: Scott Downs, Brandon League

The big southpaw made his season debut in stylish fashion, earning the save Sunday, April 13, at the Texas Rangers. Ryan allowed a triple to the first better he faced but retired the next three in order. Accardo had a rough going after saving his first three opportunities; he allowed a combined five runs over his last 2 1/3 innings, mainly from a four-run shellacking at the hands of the Oakland Athletics. It's still reasonable to think that Accardo could pick up several saves even with Ryan back in the mix; it is unlikely that Ryan will pitch in back-to-back games because he didn't attempt that schedule during spring training or rehab. Owners of both Ryan and Accardo will still benefit from this arrangement for the near future, so you shouldn't cut the right-hander just yet. Keep your eye on Downs, however; the Jays turned to him Friday, April 11, for a save chance because of Accardo's struggles and Ryan was still out.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero

Next in Line: Jon Rauch

Other Possibilities: Luis Ayala

The problems have already surfaced in Cordero's return from shoulder tendonitis. In his April 13 appearance, Cordero retired the first two batters but eventually loaded the bases before Rauch came on to record the final out to nail it down. Cordero's declining velocity reared its ugly head when his fastball reportedly registered at 84-86 mph; he usually hits between 88 and 91 when healthy. We're not suggesting that the Nationals will remove Cordero from the closer role, but it's certainly worth noting that he still needs to regain arm strength. Rauch ran into some road bumps as Cordero's replacement, allowing five runs in three innings over his three outings prior to his one-out save. Cordero should be returned to fantasy lineups, but Rauch might be a promising stash option for those with roster space.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 8

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Next in Line: Tony Pena

Other Possibilities: Chad Qualls

Lyon has not had a save opportunity since a successful conversion Wednesday, April 9. He allowed two hits and one walk in one inning during a non-save appearance Tuesday, April 15. Besides two blown saves in which he combined to give up four runs, he has mixed in three scoreless innings and two saves in three appearances. Lyon has only walked one batter through his first five innings. Pena has been tagged in his last two outings: He allowed five runs over two innings, including a four-run effort by the Colorado Rockies. However, it was the only time he was roughed up in seven outings this year. Feel free to throw in Lyon if you need a No. 3 closer, but Pena owners could still stash him if they need reliever help. It's not out of the question that Qualls (0.00 ERA, one save) could enter the picture, but he's probably not worth owning.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 7 (Last Week: 5)

Houston Astros

Closer: Jose Valverde

Next in Line: Doug Brocail

We wrote last week that Valverde was too big an offseason prize to be in jeopardy of losing his job. Well, he's certainly doing his best to make the Astros sweat out their latest investment. This week he blew his second save of the season, allowing four runs (three earned) to the Philadelphia Phillies in the ninth inning Tuesday. Opponents are hitting a staggering .406 against the right-hander, and that has contributed to his 11.37 ERA through six appearances. Even with his latest struggles, we still can't say Valverde should be benched, but he might be revealing his erratic nature. He's looking more like the 2006 Valverde that posted a 5.84 ERA than last year's version that led the majors in saves.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 8 (Last Week: 9)

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Eric Gagne

Next in Line: David Riske

Other Possibilities: Derrick Turnbow, Salomon Torres

"Canadian Bacon" has been less greasy as of late, saving his last two chances in two perfect innings against the New York Mets on back-to-back nights. An encouraging sign comes from his 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first five innings. He looks to be gaining more confidence with each outing, and his ability to pitch on consecutive days is encouraging for his owners. Torres and Riske continue to be frequent flyers for manager Ned Yost, but Turnbow has recorded four walks in just three innings this season. Gagne is calmly increasing his stock while Yost determines the roles of his other relievers, so feel free to keep him in your lineup for the time being. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't remind you of Gagne's tumultuous recent past, but he's dealing at the moment.

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 8

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman

Next in Line: Heath Bell

Other Possibilities: Cla Meredith

Hoffman has calmed the waters in San Diego Harbor with two consecutive save conversions. He allowed a run in the first of that pair but ended up settling down. Meanwhile, Bell continues to lurk behind him with 1.04 detailing both his ERA and WHIP while opponents are hitting just .212 against him. To the surprise of fantasy owners, the team has claimed that Hoffman's velocity has actually been up from last season, and his flawed location is the true problem. Like Gagne, Hoffman still presents a risk, but he has looked slightly improved in the role since we last talked about him; let's just hope you swiped Bell since then, even though his strikeout rate is down. The setup man has actually reported a decrease in velocity since 2007, something that might be the result of his league-leading 93 2/3 innings last year. Either way, we can't argue against playing Hoffman in most formats at the moment.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 9

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brian Wilson

Next in Line: Brad Hennessey

Other Possibilities: Tyler Walker, Merkin Valdez

Wilson hasn't been pretty, but he has converted four of his five save chances this season, including back-to-back outings April 13 and 14. A two-out walk in his last effort wasn't enough to derail him from locking down the game. He hasn't allowed a run in his last four outings (3 1/3 innings pitched). He pitches too much to contact, though; he has struck out five and walked three, while opponents have hit .292 against him thus far. The right-hander remains a low-end fantasy closer, but owners might be more willing to play him if he continues this trend.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 7

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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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