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AL Relievers: Day Five
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.

Shingo Takatsu285.201.6538194136.1
Age: 36P:R    B:R11-2.7-2.7

Takatsu lost his closer job by mid-May, seemed to rebound in June, but then slipped off the roster completely in mid-July, earning his release by the end of the month. He joined the Mets two weeks later, reached the majors in September, and actually didn't look bad down the stretch. However, his general ineffectiveness led Takatsu to return to Japan, and he signed with Yakult last month.

Tanyon Sturtze514.731.3245277678
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34P:R    B:R11-1.57.7

After barely breaking camp in the majors and missing much of April due to a sprained oblique, Sturtze emerged as Joe Torre's third most trusted reliever by the playoffs after only Rivera and Tom Gordon. Sturtze returns in that same role this year, although given his weak command and general lack of dominance, he simply isn't a roto asset. Only employ him as roster filler when no safer options are available.

Luis Vizcaino603.731.4743297470
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R117.47.4

Sent to Arizona with Orlando Hernandez and Chris Young for Javier Vazquez, Vizcaino may break camp as the second most reliable reliever on the Diamondbacks. Posting a career-best 1.17 G-F compensated for an unexpected drop to a career-worst 5.5 K/9, however with Vizcaino moving from a superb defensive team to one with some questions, his ERA seems certain to shoot over 4.00. Don't target him as anything more than a reserve.

Ron Villone514.081.4470355764
Age: 35P:L    B:L12411.5

Seattle re-signed Villone to a two-year deal last winter, netted perhaps the best four months of his career, and then moved him to Florida for Yorman Bazardo and Mike Flannery. The Marlins then redealt the veteran to the Yankees for Ben Julianel, a shockingly big discount for New York given Villone's reasonable contract and definite usefulness as a situational reliever. With little overt change in his skills as a reliever other than a dominance boost, Villone appears track for another similar season, earning minimum positive value without possessing any real utility to roto teams.

James Baldwin013.811.2429165456.2
Age: 34P:R    B:R115.412

Demonstrating very impressive control at AAA Ottawa earned Baldwin an initial promotion to Baltimore in May. Although he excelled for about a month, he gradually lost favor with the organization, heading to Texas on waivers in July and then back to the Orioles on waivers almost exactly a month later. He still allows too many homers, but relief work simply seems to agree with Baldwin. The biggest problem he faces now is that he landed a minor league deal in Toronto, placing him in a park particularly ill-suited for his skills and therefore extinguishing the previously scarce remainder of his fantasy value.

Ambiorix Burgos323.981.4465316063.1
KC Royals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 21P:R    B:R124.712.1

Shockingly promoted to the majors from AA Wichita after only seven games at a level above the Midwest League, Burgos joined fellow level jumper Andy Sisco to play the primary role in solidifying the back end of the Royals' bullpen. While Burgos briefly flirted with the closer's job, he eventually ceded the position to Mike MacDougal, instead settling into surprisingly effective middle relief work. Of course, rostering him remains a definite risk due to his limited track record, and even if you draft MacDougal, only add Burgos if he costs you a minimal amount in the endgame since either Sisco or Jeremy Affeldt also could see save opportunities if MacDougal implodes a second time.

Matt Guerrier003.391.3346247171.2
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R1110.518.9

After a strong camp that unexpectedly won him a roster spot over far more experienced pitchers, Guerrier never looked back as he emerged as one of baseball's most successful middle relievers. He finished the year with only a slightly weak strikeout rate marring an otherwise excellent skill set for a rookie. Yes, Guerrier lacks any significant upside, buy consider his lack of wins an absolute fluke. The departure of J.C. Romero could juggle several roles in the Twins' pen, so Guerrier just may luck into the double-digit wins that Juan Rincon and then Jesse Crain netted in recent years. Strongly consider drafting Guerrier when looking for a low-risk Dollar Days option to complete your roster.

Andy Sisco203.111.4676426875.1
KC Royals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:L1213.722.5

The incompetence of the Cubs' brass that failed to protect Sisco in the Rule 5 draft should have cost Jim Hendry his job. Losing a second round pick with the upside of the 6'9" southpaw appears particularly inexcusable given Chicago's continued bullpen problems. Hendry instead watched Sisco emerge in Kansas City as one of baseball's most dominant young relievers. Now, although Sisco probably should resume starting back at AA, he instead will remain in the Royals' relief corps, offering plenty of long-term upside for anyone willing to ante a buck or two despite the limited hope of seeing any significant profit this summer.

Chad Orvella313.601.4043234750
TB Devil Rays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R11611.9

Almost everyone in the sabermetric community fully expects Orvella to seize the closer's job in Tampa. He shot from the Sally League to Tampa in less than sixteen months, even managing to finish polishing his skills by compiling a 0.36 ERA on a 29:6 K:BB in 25 IP with 15 H and 0 HR over 16 G for AA Montgomery(SL) last spring. While Orvella failed to dominate after joining the Rays at the end of May, only minor tweaks of his control and ground-fly rate look to stand between him and $20 of fantasy value. Exercise extra caution in single-season leagues, but I see no reason not to push well into the teens in any keeper league with the logical expectation of thirty saves in 2007.

Chris Ray102.661.2843183440.2
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:R    B:R119.714.4

Despite a remarkably similar developmental timetable and skill set to probably Tampa closer Chad Orvella, Ray appears a far better bet for 2006. While the Devil Rays added Shinji Mori and a few other veterans capable of closing, Baltimore just acquired LaTroy Hawkins and Jim Brower, established middle relievers with little chance of seeing more than an occasional save opportunity. The Orioles' superior starting rotation and new presence of Leo Mazzone also enhance Ray's immediate value, so although he probably only merits bids around $15, bidding to $20 if necessary isn't a terrible plan.

Shigetoshi Hasegawa104.191.2330166666.2
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:R    B:R113.23.2

Hasegawa still owns decent skills and didn't pitch badly last year, but after failing to land a deal in this winter's loaded free agent marker, he retired last month after nine big league seasons. He departs MLB with a very respectable 3.71 ERA, 33 saves, and a 45-44 record from his stays with Anaheim and Seattle.

Vinnie Chulk003.881.3139266872
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R106.36.3

While Chulk didn't pitch badly during his second year in Toronto's relief corps, nothing here suggests any upside. He certainly won't see more than a token save opportunity thanks to the presence of B.J. Ryan, Jason Frasor, and Justin Speier, and given Chulk's limited dominance, he also possesses plenty of downside in his hitter-friendly home park. I see no reason to draft him in any league.

Jonathan Papelbon302.651.4734173334
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:R    B:R108.112.1

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: Boston for my comments on Papelbon.

American League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Regardless of the lofty profiles of Papelbon, Orvella, Ray, and even Burgos and Sisco, Matt Guerrier looks like the pitcher discussed above with the best chance of earning a profit this summer. He demonstrated the best control of this group last summer, probably possesses the only guaranteed middle relief spot of the bunch, and therefore owns both minimal downside and an excellent chance to finish among the league leaders in relief wins.

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