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NL Relievers: Day Two
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.

Yhency Brazoban4215.331.4061327072.2
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R98-3.6-3.6

After emerging in the second half of 2004, Brazoban broke camp as the Dodgers' closer following Eric Gagne's injury. Returning to a set-up role seemingly destroyed his confidence, and Jim Tracy removed him from late-inning work in mid-August. Now Gagne's return again relegates Brazoban to middle relief, leaving him a particularly risky bet after reporting shoulder discomfort earlier this spring following extended action in the Dominican Winter League. The addition of Danys Baez also provides Los Angeles with an automatic alternative should Gagne encounter further injury issues, so I see no reason to treat Brazoban as more than potential roster filler for now

Chris Reitsma3153.931.2742147973.1
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R9799

While Reistma certainly lacks the strikeout rates normally associated with closers, his performance at the back end of the Braves' bullpen remains quite impressive. Yes, he ceded most of the late-season save opportunities to Kyle Farnsworth, but Farnsworth's surprising departure for New York again leaves Reitsma the best option for saves in Atlanta. My only concern here is that Bobby Cox appears less than enamored with Reitsma, so bidding much into the teens seems a poor allocation of your resources.

Aaron Heilman553.171.151063787108
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R9923.426.3

New York ostensibly dealt Kris Benson and Jae Seo just to clear a rotation slot for Heilman even after the Mets watched him continually struggle when starting in the majors during each of the past three seasons. The move also leaves a yawning gap in the bullpen where Heilman emerged as New York's best reliever last summer. However, his skills scarcely changed despite his vastly different roles, and given his 34:13 K:BB in 42 IP with 38 H and 5 HR over 7 GS last year, Heilman finally appears ready to fulfill the promise that prompted the Mets to select him eighteenth overall in 2001

Jorge Sosa1302.551.398564122134
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:S8839.142.8

Traded to the Braves at the end of spring training last year for Nick Green, Sosa split the season between the rotation and bullpen. Interestingly, he remained quite successful in both roles despite demonstrating very poor skills, posting a 2.62 ERA on a 68:45 K:BB in 107.2 over 20 GS and a 2.31 ERA on a 17:19 K:BB in 27.1 IP over 24 G in relief. Considering those marks and his .81 G-F, I find absolutely no justification to trust Sosa's continue effectiveness in 2006. I highly recommend you avoid him anywhere he costs you more than an end-round gamble since his upside just isn't worth the risk of owning someone with command this bad.

Hector Carrasco522.041.1075385988.1
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35P:R    B:R8831.433.8

Carrasco rewarded the Nationals' faith by delivering five solid months of relief work capped by five shockingly good starts, an amazing performance given he started just one of his 498 big league appearances prior to 2005. His 2.03 ERA on a 27:13 K:BB in 27.2 IP with 16 H and 1 HR over 5 GS earned him $6.1 over two years with the Angels, a surprising move given his failure to reach the majors in 2002 and 2004. Of course, Los Angeles then wisely spent their leftover free agent cash on Jeff Weaver, shifting Carrasco directly to the long relief and spot starter role. Expect a weak echo of these stats in his third AL tour. Although his skills appear fairly strong, his uncertain schedule should lead to final results far closer to his 3.94 career ERA than his 2005 mark.

Armando Benitez2194.501.3723162530
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:R871.61.6

Benitez badly tore his hamstring while covering first during a game in late April, losing nearly three months to the DL before returning in mid-August. Tyler Walker performed adequately as his replacement, but Benitez looked solid down the stretch and should reemerge as a very reliable option this summer. Bid to $20 or more in any league given his strong shot at thirty or more saves.

Scott Linebrink811.831.0670235573.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R81028.128.1

Possibly the most reliable set-up man in the majors, Linebrink's combination of outstanding skills and the forgiving PETCO environment makes him a supremely safe bet anywhere under $5. Any injury to Trevor Hoffman immediately quadruples Linebrink's value given his upside as a closer. Reduced workloads over the past two years merely increased his success, and barring a dramatic role change or injury, Linebrink appears one of the few locks to earn positive value among all non-closing relievers.

Al Reyes432.150.9367203862.2
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34P:R    B:R7721.423.1

Tearing an elbow ligament in his last regular season game cost Reyes untold millions in free agency. He required immediate Tommy John surgery, and although he signed a minor league deal with Tampa, Reyes appears highly unlikely to pitch in the majors until 2007.

Dan Wheeler232.210.9869195373.1
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R7724.526.5

Stolen from the Mets for minor leaguer Adam Seuss in August of 2004, Wheeler emerged as Houston's set-up man that fall and essentially remained in that role throughout last season. His superior dominance gives him an edge on Chad Qualls for any save chances, and while we generally avoid Astros' pitchers due to Minute Maid, Wheeler's all-around outstanding skills make him a must-own in all NL leagues. Anyone seeking middle relievers likely to save a couple of games should bid a couple bucks on Wheeler, particularly if seeking insurance for Brad Lidge.

Salomon Torres532.761.1855367694.2
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:R    B:R7625.325.3

Few pitchers' resurgence appears more surprising than Torres' comeback following his disastrous beginning in the majors almost a decade ago. After a year as a swingman, the Pirates properly shifted him to the bullpen in 2004, and Torres rewarded his benefactors with two outstanding campaigns as one of the best middle relievers in baseball. Of course, relievers that amass upward of ninety innings often appear on the DL in subsequent years, so after two such campaigns, Torres appears an obvious risk, especially given his skill erosion in 2005. The addition of Roberto Hernandez similarly limits his chance for save opportunities, rendering Torres no more than a Dollar Days' gamble in the vast majority of leagues.

Roberto Hernandez842.581.2261285769.2
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 40P:R    B:R7620.120.1

The seemingly ancient ex-closer reemerged from a couple of unimpressive campaigns to post his best stats in nearly a decade, surprisingly solidifying the Mets' bullpen. However, New York allowed him to leave rather than pay him the $2.75M the Pirates anted for a one-year deal, and given the change in parks and defenses, Hernandez appears highly unlikely to receive a similar offer next winter due to his almost certain downturn in performance. Counting on this 41-year-old as more than roster filler looks like an unnecessary risk to me unless seeking Mike Gonzalez insurance in very deep leagues.

Aaron Fultz402.240.9754234772.1
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:L    B:L6623.923.9

The journeyman southpaw emerged as the Phillies' most reliable left-handed option, so the club's pick-up of Arthur Rhodes certainly surprised me given the presence of Fultz and Rheal Cormier. However, given Fultz's lack of dominance, significant qualitative regression seems likely, possibly even eliminating all his fantasy value. I see no reason to invest in Fultz in any league.

Duaner Sanchez483.731.3571367582
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R651212

Although Sanchez essentially ceded the closer's job to Yhency Brazoban for much of the year, he registered superior skills in 2005 and could emerge as Billy Wagner's primary set-up man after the Mets acquired Sanchez and Steve Schmoll for Jae Seo and Tim Hamulack. Shea Stadium offers an even more forgiving environment than Dodger Stadium, so even if Sanchez doesn't receive more save opps., he'll easily return a small profit on any late-round investment.

Luis Ayala812.661.2540147571
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R5419.819.8

After pitching over 230 innings over the past three years, Ayala's bout with elbow soreness this spring doesn't surprise me. His service as Mexico's closer during the WBC easily could aggravate his problem, so even if Ayala doesn't suffer a recurrence of either his soreness or the bone spur that required surgery in October, his effectiveness should decrease this summer. Consider him than no more as a decent late-round insurance for Chad Cordero rather than someone to target outright in NL leagues.

Matt Wise413.360.9662253764.1
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R5412.414.1

Wise's continued emergence as the Brewers' most reliable middle reliever earned him a two-year contract this off-season. While I anticipate some rise in his ERA after this stunningly low hit rate, his overall skill set makes him one of the safest targets for any club seeking roster filler, especially since he appears unlikely to close in Milwaukee any time soon. Feel free to add Wise whenever you need additional qualitative stability on your roster.

National League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: I understand your possible hesitation regarding Chris Reitsma and Armando Benitez after their inconsistent 2005 performances. Both pitchers appear prepared to succeed this summer, but for risk-averse owners, spending half of that $15-20 to secure top set-up men like Scott Linebrink, Dan Wheeler, and Duaner Sanchez offers far more upside, giving you a great chance at those same thirty saves while distributing your risk over three roster spots and improving your qualitative base.

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