Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
American League Relief Pitchers with Positive Draft Value
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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.
Boston downgraded at a couple secondary positions in order to acquire Coco Crisp, although thankfully swapping the health-challenged Guillermo Mota for Dave Riske shouldn't cost them significantly. Riske heads into the season behind Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, and probably Julian Tavarez in the bullpen, along with possibly Jon Papelbon, Craig Hansen, and righty-specialist Rudy Seanez. Yet I never understood why Cleveland didn't trust Riske to close. Last year he exchanged a reduced strikeout rate for a dramatically lower walk rate and a career-best 1.07 G-F, sowing the seeds for a possible return to his 2003 form this summer. Paying a couple of bucks for Riske just might net you a half-dozen wins and saves.
Although the strained right finger that sidelined him toward the end of last year recently flared up, Speier otherwise appears perfectly prepared to echo his past two seasons with the Jays. He still allows too many homers, and we should see an ERA rise due to the overall decline in Toronto's defense. However, his solid command still makes him a safer option than most pitchers, so consider spending a buck here, especially if you're looking to protect a B.J. Ryan investment with the correct handcuff.
Another boring season for one of baseball's best middle relievers resulted in surprisingly useful roto value after Mateo echoed to his 2003 performance following 2004's downturn. Seattle smartly rewarded him with a two-year that deal offers Mateo with welcome security in the Mariners' relatively tumultuous bullpen. While his poor .60 G-F and career-worst 5.3 K/9 both worry me, his excellent control and forgiving home park leave him little downside. Rostering Mateo during Dollar Days would help any team's qualitative foundation.
Rincon initially garnered notice as the first pitcher suspended on the new drug policy, and although his season otherwise proved uneventful, he disappointed owners that spent several dollars in the hopes of a repeat of his 12-win 2004. Instead Jesse Crain emerged as the vulture, but at least Rincon still provided a solid four-category boost. He also remains the logical alternative in case of a Joe Nathan injury, so I see little reason not to spend a couple bucks here for a virtual guarantee of a small profit.
Recovering from Tommy John surgery in April of 2004 sidelined Rodney until June, however he quickly regained his pre-injury minor league form. He posted the best skills of his career even as he finished the year as Detroit's primary closer following the trade of Kyle Farnsworth. The Tigers then wantonly ignored the Troy Percival disaster by giving virtually the same contract to Todd Jones, but Rodney possesses more value to the club in middle relief. Of course, even though Rodney's roto value takes a big hit, I still recommend him as a necessary handcuff to Jones given the latter's past AL struggles.
Recalled from AAA Oklahoma(PCL) in May after compiling a 5.08 ERA on a 23:10 K:BB in 28.1 IP over 5 GS, Loe thrived in relief yet started eight games despite demonstrating terrible command in the rotation. While he owns a very impressive 2.46 G-F that minimizes his downside in Arlington, Loe's meager 4.4 K/9 leaves him little margin for error. Gambling more than a couple of bucks on the Rangers' probable #4 starter just doesn't make much sense given his limited track record.
Shoulder problems and a drug suspension cost Betancourt a couple of weeks in July, but he otherwise excelled for a third straight season. The improved Indians' defense translated into significant improvement in his hit rate, which unsurprisingly pushed his ERA back under 3.00. Few pitchers match Betancourt's overall skill set, making him a great endgame target for any team looking to improve their qualitative foundation.
Clearly stuck in relief for the indefinite future despite decent potential as a starter, Cotts looks like an interesting saves sleeper given the difficulties faced by both Bobby Jenks and Dustin Hermanson in camp. While Cotts won't repeat his dominance from last summer due to inevitable hit and homer rate increases, his high walk rate wouldn't be a problem as a one-inning closer. Consider him a mandatory handcuff for Jenks as well as solid target whenever trolling for low-risk endgame pitchers.
Foulke's normally irritating flyball tendency descended to an unacceptable level as he allowed more homers, more walks, and only ten less hits than in 2004 despite pitching nearly forty fewer innings. Obviously the knee surgery he required in July accounted for most of these problems, but given his difficulties in camp, counting on him for much more than $10 of saves seems unwise. Drafting Mike Timlin appears automatic for Foulke owners, and although I still plenty of upside in these skills, he needs to prove his health before gaining our endorsement.
While Donnelly slipped to the worst skills of his career, we hope a couple of nagging injuries warrant the primary responsibility for his downturn. He still pitched decently, and if fully recovered as anticipated, he once again could return several bucks of value. Letting Donnelly go for less than $3 in any league guarantees his owner will see a welcome profit on that minimal investment.
Assigning Escobar to the bullpen as part of his recovery from elbow surgery made sense for the Angels as they attempted to salvage something in September for the $6M he received last year. Of course, we also support his return to the rotation this spring given the upside inherent in his skill set. While we can't expect more than 180 innings at best, Escobar could echo former teammate Chris Carpenter's breakout without surprising us at all. Don't hesitate in bidding to double digits.
Sold to a Japanese team two years ago by Toronto, Walker returned stateside last spring and quickly reclaimed his old role with the Jays. He continues to succeed despite limited dominance, but with Toronto's defense looking quite questionable and Walker now on the wrong side of 35, counting on him for positive fantasy value looks like a mistake. We don't even plan to employ him as roster filler, so draft him at your own risk.
Summoned from AA Birmingham(SL) slightly before the All-Star break on the basis of a 3.73 ERA and 19 Saves on a 48:20 K:BB in 41 IP, Jenks secured the closer job by the end of August and eventually saved four post-season games, including the win that earned Chicago their first World Series win since World War One. Of course, Jenks unsurprisingly rewarded Ozzie Guillen for his continued faith in the heretofore troubled youngster by arriving at camp uncomfortably out of shape. We simply can't count on anyone this historically inconsistent for more than fifty innings and two-dozen saves, so even though the Sox should create significant save opportunities, please drop out of any bidding for Jenks that heads toward $20.
Following his first full season in the majors, the journeyman began the off-season with a November car accident and then concluded the winter by encountering shoulder problems mere days after arriving in Florida. He looks likely to miss at least a few weeks, so although he proved useful for fantasy teams last year, Williams won't merit a roster spot in any league until he fully recovers from his injury and at least demonstrates comparable skills to his 2005 ratios.
Elbow problems sidelined Calero in the first week of the season, and although he returned by the end of April, he soon required a month on the DL to fully recover. Calero's season essentially started in early June, and over the balance of the year he clearly proved why Oakland wanted him included in the Mark Mulder deal. While not a likely late-inning candidate, he joins Jay Witasick to provide a superb bridge from the club's starters and long relievers to Street and Duchscherer. Calero ranks near the top of my list of low-risk middle relievers, and anyone looking for 60+ IP of a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.10 WHIP needs to target him during Dollar Days.
Rhodes followed an injury-plagued 2004 with a bizarre 2005 campaign. He again looked like a dominant reliever in the first half but watched his season come to a screaming halt in August. A DL trip for a bum knee followed an initial stay on the bereavement list, though Rhodes reportedly then missed the rest of the season due to off-field issues involving his family. Cleveland happily dispatched him to Philadelphia for Jason Michaels. At least he appears healthy and ineffective now, albeit not worth more than a minimal fantasy investment as Tom Gordon's set-up man.
Recalled as Troy Percival's roster replacement in May, Spurling seems surprisingly settled into Detroit's pen considering his fairly abysmal 3.3 K/9. He stands no chance of seeing more than a token save opportunity, and although he might not hurt you, his non-existent dominance leaves him little upside. Don't risk rostering him in any standard roto league.
Losing much of the first half to elbow problems thankfully prompted the Rangers to realize he belonged in the bullpen. Benoit owns a 3.04 ERA on an 80:34 K:BB in 92.2 over 44 relief appearances during the past three years, clearly indicating significant upside as a reliever. Reducing his innings also minimizes the risk fo further injury, so although he realistically should join every other Texas middle reliever on fantasy free agent lists, Benoit just might emerge as a useful option, particularly in sim leagues.
The other name that popped out at me is Kelvim Escobar, who remains an obvious injury risk yet looks like a superb Cy Young sleeper thanks to the all-around support provided by the Angels. I like Escobar's skills more than Bartolo Colon, and even if Escobar misses another month of action, he, Colon, and John lackey offer as much fantasy upside as almost any trio of starters in baseball.
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