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AL Relievers: Day Two
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.

Miguel Batista5314.101.4354278074.2
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34P:R    B:R16144.413.2

Returned to Arizona with Orlando Hudson for Troy Glaus and Sergio Santos, Batista also heads back to his old role in the Diamondbacks' rotation. Although I initially questioned that projected assignment due to the Snakes' bullpen troubles, the steady stream of groundballs that result from Batista's offerings will find a far friendly home in the desert. The reasonable chance of seeing 180 IP of a 4.25 ERA and just maybe a career-high dozen wins warrants several bucks in most leagues.

Kyle Farnsworth1162.191.0187274470
Age: 29P:R    B:R141320.720.7

Biceps tendonitis and then a sore back somewhat limited Farnsworth, however he still finished the season with the best overall skill set of his career and the "proven closer" label that always eluded him in Chicago. He pitched quite well for Detroit before a deadline deal for Roman Colon and Zach Miner brought him home to Atlanta. While Farnsworth dominated in his return to the NL, he foolishly signed with the Yankees as Mariano Rivera' set-up man, thereby turning his back on the many owners that managed to roster him for a surprisingly keeper-friendly FAAB bid. Even if he helps the Yankees win the Series, he absolutely does not deserve a trip back to the Magic Kingdom. Bid the same six bucks that you anted for Tom Gordon last year.

Mike MacDougal5213.331.3272246970.1
KC Royals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:S131210.910.9

The Royals' former closer quickly reemerged when Jeremy Affeldt faltered. Although MacDougal saved comparatively few games, improved control easily led to the best season of his career. Even a drop to a 1.98 G-F from his normal mark near 3.00 doesn't worry me since he still forces two grounders for every flyball. With a reasonable expectation of better defense behind him and an extra six weeks in the closer's job, 30 saves and a 3.50 ERA seem like decent goals. Bid to $15 without hesitation

Scot Shields1072.751.1298376691.2
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R121220.720.7

Few relievers regularly amass double-digit decisions, yet somehow last summer Shields won ten games, lost eleven, saved seven, blew six saves, and still managed to rack thirty-three holds, effectively directly factoring in the decision in almost seventy of the seventy-eight games he pitched. While he still walks too many people for my preference, his overall dominance and very limited downside makes him the safest middle reliever in the game. Bid to $10 here in standard leagues, although if already paying $25+ for KRod, handcuffing Shields at the going rate will severely reduce your saves budget.

Mike Timlin7132.241.3259208680.1
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:R    B:R121123.223.2

The aged veteran remains Boston's de facto closer whenever Keith Foulke struggles, however Timlin simply will not approach a 2.24 ERA again. A career-worst 1.41 G-F doesn't jibe with his unbelievable .2 HR/9. Remember that Timlin turns 40 in two weeks, doesn't dominate many hitters, and now appears destined for a homer rate spike. Bidding more than about $5 leaves you little chance to see any profit.

Justin Duchscherer752.211.0085196785.2
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R121125.135.1

Duchscherer's second full year in Oakland's bullpen resulted in his striking out jumping from 5.5 to 8.9 K/9, which resulted in massive qualitative improvement and an All-Star berth. His all-around solid skill set makes him an ideal set-up man for Huston Street, especially with similarly capable relievers Kiko Calero and Jay Witasick controlling the middle innings. The only problem here is that Duchscherer does not look like g good candidate for saves given Billy Beane's established willingness to deal for an established closer than the risk upsetting the rest of the bullpen sequence. Only draft Duchscherer as a capable middle reliever good for $6-8 at half that draft cost, not as Street's caddy.

Bob Howry732.470.8948164973
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:L1091919

A perfectly innocuous season-and-a-half in the American League's best pitchers' park in front of a very solid defense somehow led Jim Hendry to award Howry $12M for three years to set-up Ryan Dempster, which merely compounded the questionable signing of Dempster to a $15.5M/3 deal in December. Of course, while we like Dempster's upside and also view Kerry Wood as a potentially outstanding short man, hopefully someone told Dusty Baker that Howry is merely a reliable middle reliever and not a closer. His 5.9 K/9 and .87 G-F could make the terribly underrated LaTroy Hawkins look like vintage Eck. Howry will earn a few bucks in 2006, but don't consider him as a much more than roster filler in any save the deepest leagues.

Jesse Crain1212.711.1325296179.2
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:R    B:R9718.418.4

No reported physical problem contributed to the abrupt disappearance of Crain's strikeout rate. Did he forget to pack his strikeout pitch when departing Rochester? Perhaps another Metrodome denizen borrowed his dominance for an evening on Lake Minnetonka. Of course, we certainly we know we didn't err in expecting Crain to continue striking out batters in the majors, so perhaps we'll view 2005 as a fluke. Then again, he now owns a 3.3 career K/9 in 107.2 big league innings, which rather directly prevents me from expecting another sub-3.00 ERA. Don't be surprised to see Crain slip into the low single digits as Juan Rincon, Francisco Liriano, and perhaps even Matt Guerrier emerge as more important set-up men. Think Dollar Days.

Cliff Politte712.000.9457214267.1
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R9821.421.4

With a career ERA over 4.00, an average annual ERA of 4.41, and a standard deviation of that average over 1.50, Politte appears in severe danger of watching his qualitative stats skyrocket. A career-worst .58 G-F similarly could cause plenty of problems following Aaron Rowand's departure from the outfield. Consider anything better than four wins and a 3.75 ERA an excellent return on the minimal bid Politte's skill set merits.

Ugueth Urbina5103.621.1997395679.2
Age: 31P:R    B:R999.59.5

Philadelphia foolishly wasted Placido Polanco to acquire Urbina, who simply provided little to the Phillies' playoff push. Mere weeks after the season ended reports appeared of Urbina's arrest for attempted murder in Venezuela, and with no resolution to his case in sight, he obviously couldn't sign a deal for 2006. If he somehow returns during the season, make sure you wait until he registers several solid outings before you risk rostering him anywhere.

Tom Gordon522.571.0969295980.2
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:R    B:R872020

With a 7.7 K/9 that ranks as his worst mark since 1997 and a walk rate spike, Gordon's slipping control could place his qualitative stats in serious jeopardy as he departs Yankee Stadium for Philadelphia. Perhaps Flash will exceed 27 saves for only the second time in his career, but with an unproven set-up corps bridging the gap between the defense-dependent rotation and Gordon, I expect him to fall short of general expectations. Pushing above $20 will reduce your chance of seeing a profit very sharply.

American League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: MacDougal still looks the real sleeper here since we still get a general feeling that most owners view him as a timebomb when he actually owns very good skills for a closer. However, other than him and Gordon, only Shields seems set to remain at this level of value next year. Most owners instead should mine the ranks of rising late-inning relievers rather than expecting repeats from inconsistent or aging veterans like Farnsworth, Timlin, Howry, and Politte.

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