Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Joaquin Benoit, Oliver Perez, more

by Tim Heaney on June 18, 2013 @ 12:46:49 PDT


Pages 1 | 2 | all's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series gives you no-nonsense ratings of performances, injuries and managerial decisions in MLB bullpens. Get your arm loose: Let's find fantasy baseball players in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league who'll get saves.

Job Security (JS):
1 (unstable)
5 (untouchable)
Health Outlook (HO):
1 (fragile)
5 (durable)
: Up
+: Added
INJ: Injured
: Down
M: Minors
DL: Disabled List

Detroit Tigers
Jose Valverde
Joaquin Benoit
Bruce Rondon M Phil Coke
Octavio Dotel DL

A few days after asserting that Valverde was still his closer, Jim Leyland didn't mince words before Monday's game when asked who would do the deed: "This is 'Days of our Lives.' We'll find out tonight." Fox Sports' Jon Morosi discerned that this Detroit Tigers soap opera will have a revolving cast, and Leyland started a cat fight by letting Drew Smyly log a three-inning save (a Jerome Holtzman special) last night.

Detroit Tigers RP Joaquin Benoit
Still a good pickup

Sometimes swingmen are called upon in such instances to give the entire bullpen a rest, and this might merely offer a solid push of the reset button for the strength of their arms and Leyland's approach. Leyland values having the starter remain with the parent club to eat frames. Having Smyly close would have numerous benefits, but it doesn't seem likely that, given the alternatives, Leyland would limit the versatile Smyly to ninth-inning specialization. Of course, the occasional SVO (once or twice a month) would be gravy for the useful bridge statistics he's provided deep leaguers, many of whom still hope for him to rejoin the rotation.

Backing up a bit reminds us of the more immediate challenger to Valverde's supremacy. Papa Grande's scoreless inning Friday night in non-save work didn't prevent skip from calling on Benoit to shut 'em down on Sunday. A 1-2-3 frame affirmed, at least for that day, Leyland's statement that he "felt [his] best option was Benoit because of the type of hitters that they had coming up. Today it worked out."

Leyland won't exile Valverde, but he'll extend the duties of his other RPs while infringing on the incumbent's territory. Benoit warrants a pick-up wherever possible. Rondon could factor in later on if this plan draws out into the summer. Of course, you'll read below that they might explore external options.

Seattle Mariners
Oliver Perez +
Tom Wilhelmsen
Carter Capps
Stephen Pryor DL
Yoervis Medina

On Friday, the M's announced that Wilhelmsen would be getting a break from the closer gig for "at least his next two or three outings," Geoff Baker reported, so the Seattle Mariners can have the right-hander work on his location. The initial report said they'd mix and match options in the role.

Many fantasy owners felt mixed up, indeed, when Perez, a long chided southpaw from his days as a starter, recorded his first career MLB closure later that night. Perez faced four batters (three right-handers). Disregard his past; he's revived his career as a setup man with a 1.11 ERA and 33 K's in 24 1/3 frames. The 4.4 walks per nine say he hasn't lost his wild instincts, but he's actually held righties to a lower clip (.170) than lefty sticks (.286) this year.

Seattle hasn't had a saves spot since Perez's moment, but on Sunday, Wilhelmsen put together a scoreless frame despite allowing a walk and a knock. He'll need to display more tidiness to reclaim his job, and that could take him until at least next week.

Capps, meanwhile, hasn't done himself any favors by giving up six runs over the past two days; he appeared in the eighth and sixth inning, respectively, when the club was losing big. Lefties still mash him too much for him to deserve a singular title. Medina seems to be an afterthought, as well. A healthy Pryor (lat) ... well, we don't know when Seattle will have one.

Wedge must hope that this break does for Wilhelmsen what it did in 2011 for then-Mariner Brandon League, who was suffocating after he was forced to refocus. As Larry Stone notes, it's safe to bet Wilhelmsen will have a shot to get the job back before any other RP has a chance to run away with it.

Perez looks like the closest active option to doing so, though. Hopefully you didn't commit a crippling FAAB percentage to him. At least he was probably already owned in most deep AL-only worlds.

New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera David Robertson Joba Chamberlain
Shawn Kelley

Rivera's farewell tour has gotten a bit bumpier lately. He held on for a rough save Sunday by striking out a fellow future Hall of Famer. Still, over his last eight outings, he's allowed 14 hits and four walks in 5 2/3 frames and given the New York Yankees more late-innings drama than they're used to with him on the bump. There've been plenty of soft singles that have plagued him, and many of these might be reflected as "line drives" in stats services.

Despite the varying tone of the ropes, however, the 30.3 percent rate at which Mo is allowing them is a career high and, to a degree, justifies the eye-popping .360 opponents' in-play clip. His slight decrease in infield flies yielded also shows he's more hittable. A noteworthy increase in first-strike percentage (an elite 71.0 this year) typically bodes well for a pitcher.

The bigger problem with Mo, however, is that he's not as dynamically overcoming his cutter's sputtering effectiveness. Its erratic horizontal movement leaves it more squarely over the black, breaking fewer bats and producing more drop-in hits. Maybe it's the ever-so-slight alteration in his release point.

This isn't to stir up panic over Rivera. The bionic back-ender could easily correct such malfunctions. He's blown just one SVO in 25 this year. It's a long shot that Joe Girardi even talks about having to think about the hint of considering a change while Rivera is healthy. As the closing of the old Yankee Stadium did in 2008, Rivera's mere presence -- in the ninth inning -- may be required to help placate the fans of what could be a non-playoff squad. No way an able-bodied Rivera is yanked for a long period of time.

Still, his stumbles remind us why he determined that he's hanging up his cleats this winter. His one dependable pitch is fading, and though it isn't broken, it's not breaking at the level it has in his prime. History can't always hide the problems of the present, however little they might be.

Mound meetings up next....

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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