Relief Pitchers Outlook

by Tim Heaney on September 7, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT



Table: Do not bench list

Bobby Jenks
Mariano Rivera
Jonathan Papelbon
Joe Borowski
Joe Nathan
Brett Myers
J.J. Putz
Brad Lidge
Takashi Saito
Chad Cordero
Billy Wagner
Brad Hennessey
Jose Valverde
Joakim Soria
Francisco Rodriguez
Kevin Gregg
Jeremy Accardo
Ryan Dempster
C.J. Wilson
Todd Jones
Manny Corpas
Matt Capps
Trevor Hoffman
Al Reyes
Francisco Cordero
David Weathers
Jason Isringhausen
Huston Street


Rafael Soriano, Atlanta Braves

Schedule: 6 games - @NYM (3), @WAS (3)

Analysis: Soriano seems to have emerged from the pack of closer wannabes, retiring the side in the ninth inning on Labor Day. He has tossed 8 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, so he's certainly helping his cause for locking up the closer spot. He tossed a four-out save in his last outing on Aug. 29 after five days' rest, a promising sign that he could maintain his composure after a lack of usage. He's certainly a solid candidate for cheap save help both for those who spent less on closers and for those who want to fill in those extra flex pitcher spots.

Octavio Dotel, Atlanta Braves

Schedule: 6 games - @NYM (3), @WAS (3)

Analysis: KFFL last reported on Aug. 20 that Dotel (shoulder) was able to play catch but would be unable to return from the disabled list until a week after his eligible date of Aug. 23. The brittle right-hander hasn't thrown a live pitch since Aug. 7, so there isn't a lot of fantasy optimism floating around him right now. With Soriano assuming the brunt of the closer's work, the Braves might not be keen to use Dotel when they have a healthier option with a more reliable track record this season. You should follow suit.

Pat Neshek, Minnesota Twins

Schedule: 6 games - @KC (3), DET (3)

Analysis: Neshek's first two outings in September have been as uncomfortable as the sight of his herky-jerky delivery. The sidearmer has given up three runs in two-and-one-third innings of work in that pair of outings. According to reports from the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Minnesota coaches have said it might be a mechanical problem. They feel he could be getting flustered by rushing his own funky motion and they think he's reluctant to throw fastballs. Closer Joe Nathan's right-hand man has one of the most consistent statistical relievers in the game, but it's hard to stay entirely faithful in him when he's coming off a 5.06 August ERA. He had three straight scoreless outings sandwiched in between two pairs of awful outings. The Twins are freefalling from the playoff race, and it's not surprising that Neshek's ineffectiveness is coinciding with that. If Neshek continues to be overly careful with his pitches, he could have issues for the rest of the season.

Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

Schedule: 6 games - SD (3), ARI (3)

Analysis: Broxton has been sturdy, allowing just one run in his last 10 outings. He's coming off two months with microscopic ERAs - 0.69 in July and 1.13 in August - and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is hovering around four-to-one. Obviously, he won't be receiving many save chances pitching in front of closer Takashi Saito, who hasn't allowed a run in almost a month. But being the front end of one of the more effective one-two punches in baseball should warrant significant consideration for place on a fantasy roster. Broxton has been rocked by the National League West-leading Padres to the tune of a 6.00 ERA, as he has allowed five runs - four earned - to them in six innings. Contrarily, he has been effective against the Diamondbacks, as they are hitting just .214 against the right-hander.

Danys Baez, Baltimore Orioles

Schedule: 6 games - LAA (3), @TOR (3)

Analysis: Baez has seemingly won as the last arm standing among relievers Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker in the "I'm Not Chris Ray" Sweepstakes, but teams have left him lying in a heap on the mound. Before tossing a scoreless inning in his Sept. 4 game, he had given up at least one run in his last four outings. In that span, he allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings, including a blown save and a save in which he allowed two runs. He has two scoreless innings against the Angels and a 5.40 ERA against the Blue Jays. Baez also set a career high with 33 runs allowed in just 47 innings pitched. This is a prime example of what you have to endure on your fantasy roster just because there's a chance for a save. If you're feeling lucky or need some saves for your fantasy playoffs, sign him up.

Joaquin Benoit, Texas Rangers

Schedule: 6 games - @DET (2), @OAK (4)

Analysis: Benoit was reluctant to flip his calendar, as the right-hander did not allow a run in 16 innings in August. His first September outing saw him give up two runs in one-third of an inning, but he bounced right back with a scoreless inning. The positive side with the Texas set-up man is his consistency in a role that was just taken over this season by closer C.J. Wilson. Although Wilson has held onto the job since reliever Akinori Otsuka (forearm) landed on the disabled list in July, Benoit has shown enough credibility in a setup role over the past few seasons that he could slide in at the first sign of trouble. He has given up six runs in five innings against Oakland for a 10.13 ERA, his worst against any team this season. He has tossed three scoreless innings against the Tigers this year.


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs

Schedule: 7 games - STL (1), @HOU (3), @STL (3)

Analysis: Marmol has three vulture wins in his last six starts, and has still offered lights-out goods with 17 strikeouts in his last 10 outings. Fantasy owners seem frustrated that Marmol isn't closing out games at this point in the season, since closer Ryan Dempster's outings haven't been as bumpy a ride as they have been in the past. For now, Marmol's role remains as the seventh- and eighth-inning wonder that he has proven to be. With the Cubs in the heat of a tight yet tough-to-watch race in the NL Central, expect them to rely heavily on Marmol down the stretch. He's certainly worth a pickup for all categories outside of saves. This season, Marmol has thrown one and two-thirds scoreless innings against the Cardinals and four and two-thirds shutout frames against the Astros.

Derrick Turnbow, Milwaukee Brewers

Schedule: 6 games - @PIT (3), CIN (3)

Analysis: The former Brewers closer hasn't given up runs very often this season, but when he does, they come in fantasy matchup-destroying bunches. He sandwiched seven scoreless innings in between two atrocious outings of 1/3 innings - one five-run outing and one three-run game. His August overall was stellar, as he had a .077 average against. Turnbow is caught in a mix for setup time with right-hander Scott Linebrink, and manager Ned Yost has told the Associated Press that he will be relying on heavy time from both setup men and closer Francisco Cordero. So Turnbow will be seeing more innings, meaning he has some more value in leagues counting holds. He has a 4.50 ERA in four outings against the Reds and a 3.00 ERA in six innings against the Pirates.

Brandon Morrow, Seattle Mariners

Schedule: 7 games - OAK (3), TB (4)

Analysis: Morrow has been a key component in the successful Seattle pen. Morrow was a success story this year, as in recent months he adjusted his windup, decreased his walks and became one of the more reliable relievers over the summer. He has taken a step back, however, giving up two or more runs in three of his last five outings - he allowed five runs over two outings in just 1/3 innings against the Yankees last week. Morrow needs to regroup before being seriously considered for playing time or a spot on your team. His home splits favor a good week, with a 2.84 ERA and a .157 batting average against in 25 1/3 innings pitched at Safeco Field.


Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox

Schedule: 6 games - TB (3), NYY (3)

Analysis: The American League Rookie of the Year candidate has been keeping his stuff fresh even as teams are facing him multiple times. Okajima gave up two home runs in the ninth inning Sept. 5, giving up just his fourth home run of the year. While he is still battling for time with right-hander Eric Gagne, it seems that Okajima is getting the crunch time innings, as Red Sox manager Terry Francona isn't counting on right-hander Gagne yet. And, worse for Okajima, rookie sensation Clay Buchholz is going from no-hitter wonder to the bullpen. Despite his limited innings, his presence could resemble that of New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain's tight schedule. Even with what could become fleeting appearances, Okajima's one of the more reliable left-handers you could plug in. He has thrown two scoreless innings against Tampa this season, but be wary - after dominating the Yanks in the beginning of the season, Okajima was rocked by the Bombers for three runs in 2/3 innings on Aug. 30.

Luis Vizcaino, New York Yankees

Schedule: 6 games - @TOR (3), @BOS (3)

Analysis: All in all, he's just another brick in the wall. The right-hander could soon be displayed in the Joe Torre Bullpen Hall of Shame. The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that Vizcaino has a sore shoulder, and the Yankees plan to shut him down for the Royals series to rest up. This broken record of Yankee relievers not named Mariano Rivera should ring a familiar bell to fantasy owners, as Torre is known for relying heavily on one arm if said arm produces a string of good outings. His 1.40 WHIP was already discomforting, as he usually had to work his way around base runners he creates. Avoid at all costs for the coming week, unless Yankee management creates a set of "Viz Rules."

Fernando Rodney, Detroit Tigers

Schedule: 6 games - TOR (1), TEX (2), @MIN (3)

Analysis: Rodney has been pretty much lights out since his return from the disabled list. He was tagged for three runs by Oakland in the Tigers' late collapse Sept. 2, but that was the first time he allowed any scoring since June 17. Rodney has put goose eggs on the board in 13 of his last 14 appearances, and he had a microscopic 0.58 WHIP in 11 August appearances. There are no signs of him slowing down either, and he could certainly help teams in the ratio categories. The Blue Jays tagged him for five runs in two innings over three games, so they might give him some trouble. He allowed one run in one inning against Texas, and two earned runs in two innings against the Twins.

Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs

Schedule: 7 games - STL (1), @HOU (3), @STL (3)

Analysis: Fantasy owners would normally think that Kerry Wood being on the mound at all is a great sign. His control has been somewhat suspect, adding eight walks to his 11 strikeouts this year. He has been used in the seventh and eighth innings for the most part, so the Cubs are ready to trust him again. He has established enough of a 2007 resume to consider him an emergency pickup only, especially if you can somehow snag Carlos Marmol. This year, Wood has given up just two hits in five innings against the Astros and also tossed a scoreless inning against the Cardinals.

Eric Gagne, Boston Red Sox

Schedule: 6 games - TB (3), NYY (3)

Analysis: As if Gagne didn't have enough problems adjusting to Boston, Buchholz's aforementioned switch to the pen reeks of a yearning for back-end security by the Sox. Buchholz has certainly earned a spot on the big-league club, and Gagne could be affected by that. The Sox could take a lightning approach to Gagne; if opposing hitters don't see him too often, he could be more effective. This obviously cuts down on how much he can affect a fantasy team during a week of play. Gagne hasn't pitched since Aug. 26, which for him was the tail-end of four consecutive outings with a scoreless inning. For the Canadian, implement the well-known French phrase laissez-faire for this week, especially against two aggressive offenses. If you're not desperate for help, keep your hands off until you see a few more solid innings, especially with his recent lacking in mound work.

Joel Zumaya, Detroit Tigers

Schedule: 6 games - TOR (1), TEX (2), @MIN (3)

Analysis: Motown's Guitar Hero has struck some clashing chords since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 21. Opposing teams hit .291 against him in his five August appearances, but his control seems to have improved in his first two September outings. He hasn't walked a batter in his last five trips to the mound, and when his fastball is working there are not many better relievers in the game. This season, Zumaya has given up just one hit in five innings pitched against Toronto, but allowed two runs in two innings against the Twins. He has not yet faced the Rangers.

Tom Gordon, Philadelphia Phillies

Schedule: 7 games - COL (4), @NYM (3)

Analysis: Despite closer Brett Myers' recent struggles - especially in the Phillies' Sept. 5 late-inning collapse against the Atlanta Braves - Gordon is not likely to step into the closer's role. He has allowed five runs over his last three outings as of Sept. 6, including allowing four runs in that dreaded freefall to the Braves in the eighth inning. He lasted just 1/3 of an inning. Opponents are batting .291 against him, and the 39-year-old appears to finally be showing his age. He cannot be counted on for steady contributions anymore.

Scot Shields, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Schedule: 6 games - @BAL (3), @CWS (3)

Analysis: The Shields might be down in Anaheim, or Los Angeles, or wherever home base is for the Angels. In his last 10 outings, he has three outings where he allowed three runs or more. He seems to be mired in a situational platoon for the eighth-inning role with Chris Bootcheck, and even though he's the more experienced reliever, there is no clear edge as to who throws that late in the game. He has a vulture win in three games and 1 2/3 shutout innings against the Orioles and has a save among his 4 1/3 innings against the White Sox.


Rich Harden, Oakland Athletics - Out until September

Akinori Otsuka, Texas Rangers - Out for season

Mike Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves - Out for season

B.J. Ryan, Toronto Blue Jays - Out for season

Chris Ray, Baltimore Orioles - Out for season

Justin Duchscherer, Oakland Athletics - Out for season

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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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