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NL Relievers: Day Four
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.

LaTroy Hawkins263.831.4643245856.1
Age: 32P:R    B:R227.57.5

With a small swap for Steve Kline placing Hawkins' somewhat untapped potential under the tutelage of Leo Mazzone, I won't be shocked if the veteran right-hander approaches $10 even without any saves. His struggles in Chicago fed directly from Dusty Baker's insistence that Hawkins deserved repeated chances to close, a situation compounded last year by elbow issues. Now he looks healthy and prepared to set-up for a young closer with plenty of potential, giving Hawkins a surprisingly strong chance to echo his dominant 2003 performance.

Mike Gonzalez132.701.3258313550
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:L    B:R2213.713.7

Knee problems bothered Gonzalez for much of the season, leading to a DL trip at the beginning of summer and contributing to nearly 350% increase in his walk rate. Yet Gonzalez remains effective due to a 10.4 K/9 and 1.40 G-F, so even if his control remains weak this season, he should succeed as a closer due to his overall dominance. Consider him a lock for $20 if he stays healthy, making him a solid sleeper in almost every league.

Brandon Medders401.781.0531112130.1
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R2211.712.6

Registering a 2.72 ERA on a 44:18 K:BB in 37.1 IP for AAA Tucson(PCL) last spring finally vaulted Medders to the majors, where he pitched as well as any Diamondbacks' reliever over the rest of the season despite. Of course, befitting Arizona's pitching luck, shoulder problems should push him to the DL to begin 2006, and with neither a clear return date nor any immediate chance to closer games, Medders shouldn't help fantasy teams until summer. Don't draft him now.

Mike Wuertz603.811.3289406075.2
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 78P:R    B:R2310.410.4

While Wuertz remained relatively effective, especially when compared to most Cubs' pitchers, his surprisingly high walk rate really dampens the immediate upside suggested by his 10.6 K/9. He also enters this season buried behind Ryan Dempster, Bobby Howry, Scott Williamson, and maybe even Kerry Wood in the bullpen, leaving him little chance of accruing much roto value. Don't employ him as more than roster filler.

Giovanni Carrara703.931.3656386575.2
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 37P:R    B:R229.39.3

Carrara historically succeeds despite great skills, so while I see better arms available for the Pirates, he should see plenty of time in the majors this year. Of course, his effectiveness over the past few years stems directly from pitching in two of baseball's best pitchers' parks, so his move to PNC should send his ERA into very unfriendly territory. I don't view him as a viable fantasy option in any league at this time.

Jay Witasick112.841.2973295363.1
Age: 33P:R    B:R2216.216.2

After watching him compile respectable skills in Colorado, we heartily endorsed acquiring Witasick as soon as Oakland added him with Joe Kennedy for Eric Byrnes and Omar Quintanilla. He rewarded us with a solid 3.25 ERA on a 33:17 K:BB in 28.2 IP with 26 H, 2 HR, and a 1.46 G-F, and if Witasick rediscovers his first-half rhythm in 2006, he could earn several dollars as an Athletics' middle reliever. Anyone searching for a very low-risk endgame option needs to target Witasick.

David Cortes224.101.1436105052.2
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R215.36.7

After a couple of cups-of-coffee in 1999 and then 2003, Cortes finally stuck in the majors, losing his rookie status while unsurprisingly emerging as an excellent option for the Rockies. His minimal chance to see any save opportunities obviously removes him from fantasy consideration in all save park-neutral leagues, but anyone with his level of control can mitigate the downside of a .71 G-F. Cortes isn't a future star by any means yet just might spend the rest of the decade in the majors, where he also probably deserved a job for the previous five years.

Randy Flores313.461.2043133741.2
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:L    B:L217.58.7

Another late-blooming reliever, Flores' emergence prompted St. Louis to deal Ray King. His return to the bullpen following years of service as a swingman jumpstarted his career, allowing Flores to post some of the best skills in the game. He definitely won't hurt you as roster filler as his specialist role will keep the Cardinals from exploiting against an abundant number of right-handed batters.

Kerry Wood304.231.1877265266
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R225.67.4

Eventually Wood's price will drop so low on draft day that you need to select him, and with shoulder surgery again delaying his start to the season, he just might cost about ten bucks in some leagues. Given that he enters his walk year with a virtual guarantee of receiving no offer from the Cubs nor receiving a needed change-of-scenery deal, I suspect he'll again lose a couple more months to the DL during the summer, return as a middle reliever, and then sign a swell deal somewhere like Arizona to close. Of course, both Houston and Texas should throw plenty of money to bring home a former heir to Clemens, thereby offering the necessary incentive both to continue starting and possibly destroy his value as a sleeper keeper. Only teams in desperate need of rebuilding should risk expending any significant cash on Wood given his extremely volatile current circumstances and surprisingly minimal immediate upside due to his usually unimpressive walk rate.

National League Reliever Reviews continue tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: With Gonzalez looking like a sleeper and yet potentially not a sleeper due to his relatively high previous profile as a middle reliever, LaTroy Hawkins remains the true likely bargain here. He should rebound wonderfully in Baltimore, perhaps racking several relief wins and even an accidental save or two, easily worth the two or three buck investment he'll require in most leagues.

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