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NL Relievers: Day Three
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

NL Relievers: Day Three

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.

Rudy Seanez702.691.1884224960.1
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 36P:R    B:R4516.616.6

Another product of the San Diego Academy for Veteran Pitchers, Seanez his career-best marks of 60.1 IP, 84 K, and a 2.69 ERA. Unfortunately, I don't expect his skill set to transfer that nicely to his new home in Boston, although given that all the new Red Sox relievers essentially leave Seanez as no more than a right-handed specialist, a 3.75 ERA in 40+ IP seems a realistic possibility. Those potential stats just provide little to fantasy owners other than low-risk roster filler.

Chad Qualls603.281.2160237379.2
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R4416.218.3

Qualls followed on Brad Lidge's footsteps, leaping from the Astros' AA rotation to the back end of the bullpen in less than two years. While Qualls doesn't register particularly high strikeout totals, his all-around solid skills make him a good fit in Houston, and if Brad Lidge's playoff problems resurface during the year, Qualls could steal several save opps. Consider him a solid late-round choice in any standard league.

Scott Eyre202.631.0865264868.1
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:L    B:L4419.319.3

The veteran southpaw landed one of the first big contracts of the winter, signing a three-year deal for $11M with the Cubs after four seasons in San Francisco. While Chicago certainly overspent for someone best used as a lefty specialist, Eyre's skill development suggests he at least provides a short-term band-aid for the Cubs' bullpen. He won't hurt you if needed as roster filler at any point this summer.

Brad Thompson412.951.1129154655
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:R    B:R4313.414.9

Slotted in middle relief despite plenty of previous minor league success as a starter, Thompson reached the majors in May and quickly emerged as one of Tony LaRussa's key relievers. While he struck out surprisingly few hitters, his 2.40 G-F took full advantage of the Cardinals' excellent infield. Perhaps he'll return to the rotation at some point, but Thompson enters this year as one of the primary middlemen in St. Louis, albeit not someone with sufficiently demonstrated upside to warrant more than an end-round pick.

Eric Gagne182.700.982231013.1
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R323.73.7

The clearest high-risk/high-reward player in the game, Gagne battled through elbow problems until mid-June before landing on the DL with an injury that eventually required his second Tommy John surgery. While he appears mostly healthy at the moment, the sudden onset of his health issues last year scares me, especially since he underwent surgery only nine months ago. Exercise extreme caution here, and although his upside probably warrants bids to $20, you stand far better chance of seeing a profit by spending about $5 on Danys Baez as Gagne's insurance than by actually acquiring the former Cy Young winner.

Gary Majewski412.931.3650378086
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R3321.121.1

Swiped from the White Sox with Jon Rauch for Carl Everett in 2004, Majewski earned a call-up in April and quickly emerged as one of the Nationals' key relievers. However, he didn't post particularly good skills and hasn't pitched well after his surprise inclusion on the U.S. WBC squad. Rather than viewing him as a possible closer, instead consider Majewski merely as a decent middle reliever readily employable whenever you need roster filler.

Juan Padilla311.491.0217132436.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R3215.415.4

Signed to a minor league deal prior to last season, Padilla posted a stunning 1.42 ERA on a 59:9 K:BB in 63.1 IP for AAA Norfolk(IL), earning a promotion at the All-Star break. He spend the second half as one of the Mets' best relievers, but after experiencing elbow discomfort during the run-up to the WBC, further exploration discovered that Padilla needs Tommy John surgery. He'll miss the entire 2006 campaign.

Clay Hensley101.701.0528173347.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R3218.920.2

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: San Diego for my comments on Hensley.

Julian Tavarez243.431.3247196865.2
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:L3312.112.1

A nicely balanced skill set and little obvious downside normally offset Tavarez's volatile temperament, but I expect his relative tranquility with the Cardinals could vanish in the harsher spotlight offered by Boston. Of course, I still recommend Tavarez, especially since he appears set to vulture several wins. He just requires slightly more patience than most similarly skilled pitchers.

Kent Mercker343.651.3545196461.2
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:L    B:L329.79.7

Mercker's two-year deal with the Reds surprisingly resulted in a stretch as co-closer for the journeyman. While David Weathers and Todd Coffey should take most of Cincinnati's save opportunities this season, Mecker at least shouldn't hurt you if needed as short-term roster filler. However, given his normally limited upside, I also see little reason to roster him in the vast majority of leagues.

Chris Hammond503.841.1134145158.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:L    B:L327.87.8

Returning to the NL unsurprisingly resulted in continued success for Hammond, who posted nearly identical stats to his 2004 marks other than a doubling of his homer rate that increased his ERA buy more than a run. Signing a one-year deal with the Reds should lead to bigger problems for the veteran, who lacks the dominance normally necessary to succeed outside of the specialist role. While he should share left-handed duties with Kent Mercker and possibly Brian Shackelford, I trust few pitchers in the GAB, and given Hammond's low strikeout and walk rates, those extra balls-in-play could translate into very poor qualitative stats.

Ryan Madson604.141.2579258487
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:L338.48.4

Despite plenty of long-term upside as a starter, Madson remained stuck in the Phillies' bullpen for a second season. However, the Vicente Padilla trade cleared a rotation slot, virtually assuring that Madson will spend this year in his old role. The problem is that after two years of short outings, Madson may struggle in longer appearances, making him a very risky option in most leagues. Bidding more than a few bucks on him seems an unnecessary gamble given the wealth of young starters available in most leagues this spring.

Rick Helling302.391.1642183949
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34P:R    B:R3215.316.6

With his career seemingly winding down after a decade of relatively consistent middle-of-the-rotation work, Helling headed to AAA Nashville(PCL) last year to reestablish his starting credentials. He managed a respectable 9-3 record and 4.13 ERA on a 105:50 K:BB in 130.2 IP with 128 H, 12 HR, and a .89 G-F, earning a mid-season promotion to Milwaukee. While he pitched passably well in several relief appearances, he unexpectedly reemerged as a shockingly effective starter, compiling a miniscule 2.18 ERA on a 35:15 K:BB in 41.1 IP with 31 H and 2 HR down the stretch. Helling smartly re-signed with the Brewers and should spend the season as their sixth starter, filling in whenever Sheets misses time or one of the youngsters struggles. You shouldn't expect a repeat of this performance, but if looking for a half-dozen wins and eighty innings of league-average qualitative stats, consider spending a buck on Helling during Dollar Days.

Brandon Lyon0146.441.8417104429.1
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R31-5.5-5.5

After missing most of 2004 with elbow troubles following his inclusion in the Curt Schilling deal, Lyon emerged as Arizona's unexpected closer during spring training. He led the majors in saves heading into May, but then he landed on the DL with elbow tendonitis later that month, missing three full months dealing witht eh injury, and then badly struggled upon his return. While he avoided further surgery this winter, Jose Valverde appears reasonably entrenched as the Diamondbacks' closer, leaving Lyon as more than a decent set-up man for now. With his high groundball rate fitting nicely with the club's rehabbed infield defense, I expect significant qualitative improvement, albeit not to the level where he'll reemerge as more than solid roster filler on fantasy teams.

National League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Although several of today's pitchers might emerge as solid fantasy picks, only Clay Hensley appears a particularly safe buy at more than a buck or two. CB Park limits Ryan Madson's value, Brad Thompson seems stuck in the Cardinals' pen, and none of the middle relievers possess clear shots at save opportunities. Of course, you could gamble a tenth of your budget on Gagne (and Danys Baez as insurance), but I generally view most of these guys as either overpriced in most leagues or viable as little more than roster filler on competitive fantasy teams.

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