2013 Fantasy Baseball: The Closer Report
Welcome to the Fantasy Fix Closer Report, our weekly look at closer situations around the league. I hope to provide you with pertinent and timely information for leagues of all shapes and sizes. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an email or tweet.
Enough of the introduction, let’s get to the news that will help you in your drafts this week.
The Tigers closing situation is a quagmire. I know that the Tigers brass call it a committee with the demotion of Bruce Rondon, but I respectfully disagree. Let’s take a look at the current committee members.
Joaquin Benoit – Benoit looks to be the head of the committee – at least on Opening Day. The concern with Benoit (at least from Jim Leyland’s perspective) has been his ability to bounce back. Ben Lindbergh covers this fallacy nicely at Baseball Prospectus here. Benoit is 36 years old and has only 13 career saves, but has always shown closer-worthy skills. He was hurt last year by an 18.2% HR/FB rate (career 10.1%). Assuming this normalizes, I can see Benoit holding on to the job as long as Leyland is willing to use him. He’s the best chance to get 20+ saves.
Al Albuquerque – Albuquerque looks to have the best skills (58.3% career GB% and 36.2% career K%) in the Tigers’ bullpen, but he’s relatively young (27) and he’s a bit of an injury risk (as his elbow woes in the past show). He has only six career saves in the minors and none since 2010 when he was with the Rockies. I think he ends up behind Benoit and Dotel as right handers who could close on the team and as a result I see fewer than five saves for him in 2013.
Phil Coke – Coke was a favorite of Jim Leyland in the playoffs, but he’s struggled mightily in his career against right handers. He has a career OPS against of .802 versus righties while he’s given up only a .623 OPS versus lefties. Coke’s saves will likely come when lefty heavy lineups are faced in the late innings of close games. I don’t see more than five to eight saves for him for the season.
Octavio Dotel – Dotel has some closing experience with 109 saves over his 14 year career. However, he’s the reverse-Coke. He struggles against lefties (.772 OPS allowed over his career) and exterminates righties (.523 career OPS allowed). He will also likely remain a matchup specialist and could see five to eight saves as well.
Brayan Villarreal – If you are looking for a dark horse, Villareal is on your man in the Tigers’ pen. He’s got an electric arm, but suffers from control problems. He’s a lottery ticket at best for your fantasy team and doesn’t deserve an investment this season.
Bruce Rondon – The Tigers did the right thing for Rondon’s development by letting him close in AAA (a level that he’s only pitched eight innings in) for the start of the season. Rondon has always had control and consistency issues along his development path. He’ll need to correct those issues before he’s going to be trusted to close on a team with playoff and World Series aspirations.
Jim Leyland has a history (especially in Pittsburgh) of distributing saves among bullpen members. Let’s assume a committee is defined (retrospectively) as any time a team’s leader in saves has fewer than 50% of that team’s saves.
In his 11 years as Pirates manager, this occurred seven times (64% of the time). This includes the three straight seasons (1990 through 1992) that the Pirates finished in 1st place.
In the ten managerial seasons since, it has only occurred once under Leyland’s watch (1998 with the Florida Marlins).
If we increase the percentage from 50% to 60%, he picks up two more seasons of committees – one more in his Pirates tenure (eight out of 11) and one more in his post-Pirate life (2008 Tigers).
This is a quick analysis without comparisons to league averages and norms. There could be other things at play (injuries necessitating change, the ‘change’ in handling relievers from the mid-80s/mid-90s to now, Leyland attempting to ‘simplify’ his bullpen or myriad other reasons). However, it looks like Leyland can certainly succeed with a committee.
|Year||Team||Team Svs||Leader’s Total||Leader’s %|
Whether it is necessity or freedom to do so, the Tigers will likely spread the save chances out all year long. The Tigers pen will be difficult to invest in this season.
Close to Closing
Each week I’ll try to give you a few names to speculate on if you are in need of saves. Generally, I would expect these players to move into the closing role sooner rather than later.
Kyuji Fujikawa – I’d draft Fujikawa before current Cubs ‘closer’ Carlos Marmol. Marmol has shown time and again that the strike zone and he are not friends. The only reason Marmol didn’t lose his job last season is the Cubs had no one to replace him. They rolled out talents named Rafael Dolis, Shawn Camp, James Russell, Manny Corpas and Michael Bowden. That is not how Rolaids spells relief.
Fujikawa is different. He has a track record in NPB (Japan) where he picked up 202 saves over six seasons and had a tidy 12.4 K/9 rate. I give Fujikawa an 80% chance of having more saves than Marmol this season. Pay full price for Fujikawa.
Junichi Tazawa – Joel Hanrahan struggled down the stretch last season and he has been lit up this spring. The Boston bullpen is full of arms that are better than Hanrahan right now. However, each of them have issues. Koji Uehara may be the best pitcher in the pen, but he’s generally seen as a setup man at this stage of his career (even with his success as a closer in the NPB and MLB). Andrew Bailey has probably hurt himself in the time it took to write this sentence. He can be counted on for at least one debilitating injury per season and that makes him too risky for me to speculate.
Tazawa is the deep play in this pen and I think he has a shot to close at some point this season. Tazawa is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and showed off a 48.7% GB% and 26.2% K% over 44 IP in 2012.
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