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AL Relievers: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Relief Pitchers with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
W = Wins.  S = Saves.  ERA = Earned Run Average (ER*9/IP).
WHIP = (Walks + Hits)/IP aka Ratio.  K = Strikeouts.  BB = Bases on Balls aka Walks.
H = Hits.  IP = Innings Pitched.  P = Pitches.  B = Bats.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider whether a pitcher qualified as a starter in Scoresheet fantasy baseball .

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Mariano Rivera7431.380.8780185078.1
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35P:R    B:R322930.930.9

Although Rivera started the year very slowing, blowing two saves within the first week, he quickly relaxed, reemerging as the game's premiere reliever. His 1.38 ERA easily bested his previous career-best of 1.66 in 2003, and all his other skills remained reasonably perfect. Rivera won't match these marks in 2006, but nothing here offers any indication that we'll see more than a mild downturn. Bidding to $30 should enable you to secure the services of the best closer ever.

Joe Nathan7432.70.9794224670
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R282616.216.2

Ignore the minor fact that Nathan's ERA rose by more than a full run. His overall skill set actually improved, blighted only by a slight homer rate bump to .6 HR/9, a rate more commensurate with his strong flyball tendency. That homer rate stands as the only flaw preventing me from universally endorsing Nathan as Mariano Rivera's equal. Given that I anticipate a resurgence from the Twins this year, acquiring Nathan anywhere around $25 will net you a great closer at a surprisingly decent price.

Francisco Rodriguez2452.671.1491324567.1
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:R    B:R262415.815.8

KRod missed two weeks at the end of May, watched his walk and homer rates approach uncomfortable levels, and yet still saved 45 games while striking out 91 batters. No closer possesses his upside, and with the Angels treading water this winter, essentially maintaining a team that reached the ALCS, he could clear 50 saves, post an ERA near 2.00, and total well over a hundred strikeouts. Few pitchers seem safer investments for your $30 than the key member of baseball's most consistently dominant bullpen.

Bob Wickman0452.471.2641215762
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 36P:R    B:R242116.216.2

Owners nearly ran away from Wickman last spring due to understandable concerns regarding his durability and chronic lack of dominance. Of course, he merely proved the biggest beneficiary of Cleveland's return to contention, and with Fernando Cabrera perceived as relatively unprepared to close, the veteran stopper re-signed for one more campaign. I generally recommend handcuffing Cabrera to Wickman wherever you draft the latter, but with the Indians fully capable of echoing their 2005 success, he at least should save thirty games this summer. I see no problem with pushing $20 to obtain Wickman for your team.

Danys Baez5412.861.3351306672.1
TB Devil Rays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R232015.315.3

Used by Tampa with Lance Carter to obtain Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany at an unexpected discount from the Dodgers, Baez will see a dramatic drop in roto value yet still should clear double digits. Eric Gagne will not return to prominence immediately, likely providing several save opportunities for Baez in the early spring, particularly in northern stadiums on long road trips. Baez's sim value also increase thanks to the league switch and move to Dodger Stadium, so although you harshly cut your chances of seeing a profit by bidding past $10, anteing several dollars for the once-and-future closer is a decent idea.

B.J. Ryan1362.431.14100265470.1
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:L    B:L222018.618.6

Don't be surprised to see Ryan replacement Chris Ray accrue more value than Baltimore's former closer since Ryan's qualitative stats will rise in the Rogers Centre. His hit totals could skyrocket due to Toronto's likely porous defense, yet Ryan still will save a few dozen games. My main concern is that he won't earn the salary he'll cost in most leagues following his extremely high-profile free agent signing. Consider Ryan nearer the second-tier of closers than a good comp for $25+ studs Rivera, Nathan, KRod, and Street.

Dustin Hermanson2342.041.1033174657.1
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:R21181824.7

Hermanson's rise to fantasy prominence didn't shock us after he first returned to his former closer duties in the second half of 2005 with San Francisco. We happily added him on several teams and watched him pitch very effectively, so once Ozzie Guillen soured on Shingo Takatsu, moving to the club's $2.7M set-up man made perfect sense. Of course, we failed to anticipate Hermanson's persistent injury troubles or his subsequent removal from save situations in favor of Bobby Jenks. Since Hermanson still doesn't look healthy in camp, he similarly appears unlikely to return to the White Sox as anything more than a capable middle reliever. Expect on more $20 season from at some point, just not in 2006.

Eddie Guardado2362.721.1948155256.1
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35P:L    B:R20181313

Although Guardado remains a tremendous risk after pitching with a torn rotator cuff and could hit the DL at any time, his plan to exercise his player option kept him from the best free agent market for relievers in memory. Atlanta and Tampa lead the pack of teams that continue to seek bullpen help even with spring training underway, however at least Steady Eddie returns to the role where we know he can approach $20. Risking the majority of your saves' budget on Guardado remains extremely risky, but if he slides into the teens, feel free to target him as a second closer.

Francisco Cordero3373.391.3279306169
TEX Rangers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R201810.110.1

Our continued bias against any pitcher forced to spend half the season in Ameriquest generally keeps us away from Cordero, who nevertheless owns an impressive all-around skill set. Of course, aside from his career-best 10.3 K/9, his other skill ratios waver near worrisome levels, placing him at risk for a qualitative spike whenever his consistency slips. Despite the reasonable likelihood of 40+ saves, exceeding $20 for Cordero leaves you little margin for error.

Huston Street5231.721.0172265378.1
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R201827.636.8

Somehow Street won the AL Rookie of the Year despite finishing with the fourth-best performance of Oakland's four key rookies. Perhaps his 23 saves and 1.72 ERA swayed voters. Despite only two save opportunities prior to June and missing much of that month with a strained hamstring, Street finished the season with 18 saves in 18 second-half opportunities while compiling a 1.78 ERA on a 28:10 K:BB in 35.1 IP with 24 H and 2 HR. The Athletics drafted the Texas closer with the full intention of him occupying a similar role in the majors, and given his strong skills, nothing here offers any indication that he won't remain a dominant endgame option indefinitely. Yes, his award win send his value shooting upward, but anything less than forty saves and a sub-2.50 ERA would shock me. Happily roster Street if your $25 bid wins you the pitcher most likely to hit $30 for the first time this summer.

American League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: AL closers break down into three fairly clear tiers. Rivera, Nathan, KRod, and Street merit bids around $25 while Cordero, B.J. Ryan, Todd Jones, Wickman, and Guardado deserve about $20 each. The six likely closers suffering from uncertainty regarding their situation or skills then warrant bids closer to $15, with Keith Foulke, Bobby Jenks, and Mike MacDougal generally worth a couple bucks more than the highly unproven Chris Ray and Chad Orvella, who should finish the year with more save than any other pitcher on the Rays. Taking the conservative approach of spending your $30 on one of the 40-save certainties and a sleeper set-up man like Scot Shields, Justin Duchscherer, Fernando Cabrera, or Fernando Rodney seems a marginally better strategy then going for MacDougal and Ray. However, anyone who departs the draft with two anointed closers conversely will feel far more comfortable regarding their competitiveness in saves, and a fast start by an unheralded stopper creates plenty of intriguing trade opportunities to address other team needs.

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