Don't Pap that Ass if His Hips Don't Lie: Some Reliever Info to Consider

Closers are, without a doubt, the most confusing and polarizing position in fantasy baseball. Some analysts say don’t take any, they always pop up on the waiver wire (think David Aardsma and Ryan Franklin, neither of whom were their team’s opening day closers). Despite this, some others say that you need a top closer, as long as you find the right one (think Jonathan Broxton last season, or Francisco Rodriguez two years ago). I’m of the latter belief system – you need a top closer. Still though, it is important to find one or two on the waiver wire (foreshadowing at its finest). I’ve compiled two lists for you: one of current closers who are interesting (for better or worse), and one of relievers who will either dominate, become the closer, or both. Clearly Rivera, Broxton, and the like are awesome. I dug a bit deeper.

The Unquestionable Opening Day Closers

Jonathan Papelbon – Boston Red Sox
Why He’s Interesting: May not be as safe as you think…

On the surface, he’s fine. His deeper statistics however, are terrible. Like, post-juice Eric Gagne terrible. For relievers, you need to look at the per-9 innings and ratio stats. His walks per 9 innings (BB/9) was 1.04 in 2008, a good but not great number. It got three times as worse in 2009, to the tune of 3.18, or one walk every third inning he pitches. You can’t have this many question-marks if your taking a closer in the first 100 picks (where Pap is going). Relievers need to cut down on base runners to be valuable somewhere other than saves (WHIP, ERA), and Papelbon puts himself at a disadvantage with all those walks, leading to a higher then desirable WHIP. Adding to this, another scary stat is his strikeouts per walks (K/BB), which went from 9.63 in ’08 (great) to 3.17 (pretty bad) in ’09. That’s only a little better than Mike Gonzalez, who’s going 124 picks after Papelbon. Do not Pap that Ass.

Trevor Hoffman – Milwaukee Brewers
Why He’s Interesting: How do you value last year?

Father Time has been closing forever, and he’s damn good at it. However, he was trending down until 2008 because he was old and not on Eric Gagne’s juice (his 370 straight saves were totally legitimate!). He’ll only get you saves (his K’s are going down) and maybe help with WHIP but generally is not to be counted on except for the one category. It doesn’t help that assuming he knocked their mothers up at or around the prom he could be Jon Broxton’s, Andrew Bailey’s, or Joakim Soria’s father. Feel free to take him, but don’t assume it’ll be smooth sailing. He’s a number 2 closer at best.

Chris Perez – Cleveland Indians
Why He’s Interesting: He’s dirty. Like, “Jersey Shore Hot Tub” Dirty.

Come for the fantasy advice, stay for the semi-topical jokes. Perez came over in the Mark DeRosa deal last year and the Indians were ecstatic. He was okay for the remainder of the season, but he’s a helluva talent. Throw in the Indians all but making Kerry “The Wild Thing” Wood sleep on the couch, and he’s the kind of sleeper dreams are made of. He threw less fastballs and more sliders last year (7% less fastballs, 5% more sliders), a good sign for a young pitcher. Unlike Papelbon (who has used the fastball more and more throughout his career) he isn’t content with his pitch, he’s working at the slider. If he can keep the walks down, he can be scary good. Think the Joakim Soria Memorial “Good Closer on a Bad Team” award (that is, unless the Indians make Kerry Wood wear skull-clad glasses and walk out to the mound in a leather jacket).

Chris Perez is falling on the grenade that is Kerry Wood

Valuable Even Though They Aren’t Closing (yet)

Neftali Feliz – Texas Rangers
Why He’s Interesting: He’s got a Rivera-like arm and throws three pitches.

Neftali was a candidate for a starting job with the Rangers this year until a rough Spring Training led him to the bullpen. Feliz is the bee’s knees when it comes to the radar gun, hitting 100 routinely in his late season stint with Texas. He had a .68 WHIP last year while K’ing almost 5 guys for every one he walked. Feliz Navidad is a known commodity and you will need to take him before the last round, but consider this: if Frank Francisco (the Rangers’ current closer) so much as gets a hangnail, Feliz will be in that role.

Joel Zumaya – Detroit Tigers
Why He’s Interesting: He’s hitting the century mark again.

The year was 2006: Shakira’s hips didn’t lie, Panic! At the Disco was a relevant band (inspiring poor punctuation from angst-filled teens everywhere), and Joel Zumaya was all the rage. He had just finished pitching 83.1 innings with a 1.94 ERA as a setup man and was valuable in fantasy that year. Then he got hurt. Then he lost the strike zone. Then he got hurt again. Now he’s hitting triple digits on the gun and finding the strike zone again. Jose Valverde (Detroit’s opening day closer) has been shaky in his career and is trending down (BB/K up, K/9 down) so if Zumaya shows what he showed in ’06 and Valverde struggles, he’s money. There’s no risk here either; if Joel doesn’t please early, drop him faster than you can say “Eric Gagne’s enlarged cranium” (told you, Gagne jokes galore). Zumaya’s hips may lie, but his skill set doesn’t.

Zumaya's skills don't lie.

Daniel Bard – Boston Red Sox
Why He’s Interesting: He may drive Papelbon out of town.

Daniel Bard is the reason Boston is playing hardball with Papelbon’s contract. They’ve had to watch the Yankees have a reliable closer anchor their title teams for the last 15 years, so they clearly know the value of one. When Bard came up last year he had a not great 1.28 WHIP, but a fantastic 11.49 K/9. He did all this despite an especially high BABIP for a fire-balling reliever, .321. He throws a slider and a fastball while keeping the ball on the ground (on the rare chance it is hit), and Boston’s vastly improved defense will scoop it up and make all the plays, lowering his BABIP (and thus, WHIP) significantly. The Bard Dog may even vulture saves if Papelbon has a rough year (which I’m predicting), or Boston decides they don’t want to extend his contract after this season. Danny Boy is a keeper league gem.

Look out for these guys when filling the RP slot on your roster. Relievers are hard to predict, but if you catch lightning in a bottle you’re set at the position for the rest of the year. Find your saves at some point in the draft, but make sure to think of the “fantasy spin” every time a closer struggles and be familiar with their backups. It’ll be one less category to worry about.

Good luck on your draft and, as always, keep the bat on your shoulders.
-Backwards K

Questions? Comments? Tweet me @J_1t_S or comment on this article and look out for some fantasy podcasts, coming soon!

2 Responses to “Don't Pap that Ass if His Hips Don't Lie: Some Reliever Info to Consider”
  1. TomPier says:

    great post as usual!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Round 7 – Jonathan Broxton (RP-LAD) I did not want to take a closer this early. Mo Rivera was the first one off the board, but Broxton is the best this year. His ADP is 59 and he was available to me at 76. I didn’t have a choice. It didn’t hurt that I had all of 1 pitcher (Felix Hernandez, round 2) at the time. Broxton is also the only closer who make a significant difference in places other than saves. His 114 strikeouts were more than you got from Derek Lowe, Ross Ohlendorf, or Mark Buehrle last year and his 0.96 WHIP will help your whole staff. In Other News: Someone popped a Papelboner and took the Red Sox closer later this round. I hate him, not just because he’s on the Red Sox. I”ve made it abundantly clear why, here. […]

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