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March
13th
2006
Your Daily Fantasy Rx
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NL Relievers: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National 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.


1.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Chad Cordero2471.820.9761175574.1
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:R    B:R292628.528.5

Rocky Biddle's struggles in 2004 allowed Cordero to gain some experience closing prior to 2005, providing the basis for him to crank out a stunning 31 saves and a 1.13 ERA in 48.2 first-half innings. While Cordero fell from that record pace after the break, his 3.04 ERA and 16 saves appears a reasonable ceiling for the relief ace for 2006. My biggest concern involves the high workload for such a young pitcher, particularly considering that he spent much of the spring on Team USA in the WBC. Since his dynamic 2005 also will leave him vastly overpriced in most leagues, let someone else roster Cordero once bidding heads much past $20.


2.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Billy Wagner4381.510.8487204577.2
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34P:L    B:L272532.732.7

While Wagner's four-year, $43M deal with the Mets remains a risk, his dominance last summer in a tough pitchers' park suggests Wagner only needs to remain healthy to thrive at Shea. Few pitchers match either his skill set or pure stuff, and almost no one possesses both. With the Mets likely to provide more save opportunities than the Phillies, a reasonable projection of forty saves and an ERA near 2.00 should provide you plenty of incentive to remain very involved when bidding on Wagner heads toward $30.


3.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Derrick Turnbow7391.741.0864244967.1
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R252326.428.3

Another great example of Doug Melvin's exceptional ability to exploit the free talent market, Turnbow joined the Brewers off waivers from the Angels in October of 2004. He broke camp in the majors, and after Mike Adams, faltered, quickly emerged as one of the league's best closers. Turnbow utterly dominated in the second half, compiling 22 saves while holding a .90 ERA in 30 innings. Despite the inevitability of some regression to the mean, Turnbow's skill set makes him a far better bet to remain successful than past closers like Dan Kolb. Bid into the $20s with the full expectation of another three dozen saves.


4.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Brad Lidge4422.291.15103235870.2
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R252322.922.9

Lidge spent another summer among baseball's best closers, and while minor elbow problems during the summer briefly scared his owners, he generally seems one of the safest saves' options in the game. However, the blast off Albert Pujols' bat that ended Game 5 of the NLCS clearly demoralized Lidge, and his further service for Team USA during the WBC this spring also increased his injury risk. I still see no reason to avoid Lidge, but definitely consider adding Dan Wheeler as insurance while also remembering that Minute Maid isn't exactly a pitchers' haven but rather potentially troublesome for someone with Lidge's flyball tendencies.


5.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Todd Jones1402.101.0362146173
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:R    B:S242225.425.4

Although I can't support the signing from the Tigers' perspective due to the presence of Fernando Rodney, Jones nevertheless demonstrated the best overall skills of his career, easily earning a two-year deal given the flush market this winter. He also shouldn't be a bad fit for a second tour in Detroit, so although some regression appears inevitable, I doubt we'll see anything worse than a 3.50 ERA and 30 saves. Consider him a safer bet at $20 than many younger AL closers.


6.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Trevor Hoffman1432.971.1154125257.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:R    B:R232013.913.9

A surprising dalliance with the Indians in free agency provided the biggest news for Hoffman during another unremarkably dominant season. He wisely returned to the Padres, who awarded him a two-year deal with a vesting option for 2008 that should net the future Hall of Famer a total of $20M, still below the level of Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan but fairly reasonable given Hoffman's age and overall workload. While Scott Linebrink remains in the wings if needed, Hoffman appears set to spend this summer charging at Lee Smith's save record. He need 42 saves to tie and 43 to break it, after amassing 84 saves over the last two years, only an unexpected injury appears to present any real challenge. Consider Hoffman a virtual lock for 40 saves and an ERA nicely under 3.00, though don't be afraid to spend the $5 to retain Linebrink just in case something goes wrong.


7.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Jason Isringhausen1392.141.1951274359
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:R    B:R211920.320.3

Hip surgery last winter didn't prevent the Cardinals from giving Isringhausen a two-year extension prior to 2005. Despite his injury history, he rewarded the club by basically remaining healthy aside from a minor abdominal strain in the spring, reemerging as one of the league's most dominant relievers. He appears perfectly healthy this spring, so while he certainly could encounter a recurrence of one his past problems, Izzy appears good to go for now. Talk up his previous inconsistency as you try to steal him near $20, hopefully also snagging Braden Looper as insurance for your potentially fragile stopper.


8.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Ryan Dempster5333.131.4389498392
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R181720.322.8

While nothing excuses that $15.5M, three-year deal awarded Dempster in October, effectively preventing Kerry Wood from making an otherwise logical transition to closing on the Cubs, I at least understand why Jim Hendry wanted to retain Dempster after helped him rehab from arm surgery. Joe Borowski's injury opened the door for Dempster, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to emerge as a surprisingly dominant option. He still suffers from control problems, which will prevent him from developing into a top closer, but Dempster clearly remains the class of the Cubs' pen even after the additions of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre. A full season as the unequivocal closer should lead to upward of forty saves for the converted starter, albeit without particularly impressive qualitative stats.


9.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Brian Fuentes2312.911.2591345974.1
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:L    B:L171618.518.5

Clint Hurdle's willingness to close with Fuentes ranks as one of the sole bright spots of his otherwise unremarkable tenure in Colorado. Fuentes always owned fairly solid skills, but teams' general reluctance to employ southpaws as closers seemingly left him bereft of fantasy value headed into last season. Instead, Chin-hui Tsao's injury cleared the job for Fuentes, who even snagged the club's All-Star berth in a terrible year for the club. While my general hesitance regarding all Rockies' pitchers remains, Fuentes still merits bids to $20 in most standard leagues given his high level of security in his current role.


10.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Braden Looper4283.941.4727226559.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R13117.17.1

Looper wasn't a bad pitcher for the Mets. He just paled in comparison with the crosstown closer, which prompted the club to overpay for Billy Wagner this winter. Hopefully undergoing minor shoulder surgery in September fixes the problem that sapped Looper's strikeout rate, although dominance no longer appears too important considering he opted for the Cardinals' three-year, $13.5M offer to set-up for Jason Isringhausen. The lower pressure role should lead to another round of solid numbers for the journeyman reliever, making him a solid choice for a buck or two even if you don't own Izzy.


11.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Jose Valverde3152.441.0775205166.1
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R121120.320.3

While shoulder and biceps problems limited Valverde throughout last spring, he quickly emerged as the primary set-up man and then secured the closer's job in early August. He enters 2006 in a similar role, and although his past inconsistency concerns me, Valverde's overall skills depict someone perfectly prepared to close in the majors. Other than a mild concern regarding the Diamondbacks' general willingness to change closers without notice, Valverde merits bids to $20 or higher in the vast majority of leagues.


12.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Jose Mesa2274.761.5437266156.2
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:R    B:R1191.11.1

Once again Mesa defied expectations, remaining a closer for another season despite unimpressive skills, although the Pirates begin sharing save opps. with Salomon Torres and Mike Gonzalez in September. Of course, Mesa's sixteen-save drop, combined with his ERA and WHIP spikes, harshly reduced his overall fantasy value, and his move to the Rockies this winter completely drops him from the list of viable pitchers to own. Only in the event of an injury to Brian Fuentes will Mesa possess any roto utility.


13.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
Tyler Walker6234.231.5454276861.2
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R11105.25.2

Armando Benitez's injury resulted in Walker's promotion to closer in mid-May. He immediately emerged as a roto powerhouse, saving six games in just over a week before generally regressing toward expected levels by year's end. Yet he still registered nearly two-dozen saves, so despite his inconsistent spring, the general uncertainty regarding Benitez means that you should keep Walker anywhere you own him at a minimal salary.


14.WSERAWHIPKBBHIP
David Weathers7153.941.2961297177.2
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 36P:R    B:R1099.49.4

Stormy's fifteen saves last summer exceeded his total saves from his fourteen years in the majors prior to 2005. Danny Graves' departure thrust the veteran right-handed into the closer's role, and he acquitted himself adequately despite not exactly dominating opponents. He enters 2006 in a similar role, although Weathers could struggle in the short term after undergoing a couple of minor off-season procedures on his knee and right index finger. Of course, I don't recommend spending too much on Weathers given his limited upside, so if you plan to ante the $10-15 likely necessary for his services, backstop him with Todd Coffey with the expectation that the youngster should start seeing save opps. by the second half.


National League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.


Today's Fantasy Rx: The respective performances of Ryan Dempster and Derrick Turnbow in the second half make these two pitchers our preferred choices in most NL leagues, though depending on how your draft develops, both Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman appear surprisingly safe investments. Rostering at least one of this quartet for less than $25 should insure you a solid finish in saves, especially if you supplement that purchase with a couple of solid middle relievers or a second unheralded closer.


Click here to read the previous article.

Please e-mail your comments to tim@rotohelp.com.
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