Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Ziegler, more

by Tim Heaney on July 19, 2013 @ 12:30:00 PDT

 

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KFFL.com'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.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Philadelphia Phillies
5
5
Jonathan Papelbon Antonio Bastardo Justin De Fratus
Michael Stutes DL
Phillippe Aumont M

The lack of regular-season action this week left us writers and fans speculating about potential trades, including some relief rumblings. Papelbon's availability, a matter of debate depending on which Philadelphia Phillies report you read, might not matter much for his fantasy value, because anyone willing to expend the cost to acquire him would, 99.9999 percent of the time, make him their stopper.

Before dropping the ball Sunday (one run on two hits), Papelbon had converted six consecutive chances following a run of three failures. Regardless of whether he ships to Boston, Detroit or wherever, or stays in Philly, he'll have to fix some things about his game. His sparkly 2.33 ERA hides some warning signs, notably his loss of 1.5 mph off his average four-seam velocity (PITCHf/x) and, from last year's 11.83, nearly four strikeouts from his per-nine rate (7.91, a career low).

Arizona Diamondbacks RP Brad Ziegler
Ziegler just gets down

He's hanging on because he's survived a 48.1 percent fly-ball frequency with a 7.7 percent HR/FB, and his walk allowance has also shriveled to match its 2011 level (1.40 per nine). His two-year trend of embracing the two-seamer partially explains his absurdly low .238 BAABIP (a natural decrease considering his frequent neck-turning). That puny rope allowance rate of 13.9 justifies it, too.

It doesn't save him completely. Despite a percentage of first-pitch strikes that rivals his career best, he's once again trying to get opponents to chase way more often because they're pelting him when he does hit the black. Nibbling can cripple a closer. Papelbon needs to establish confidence after he gets ahead 0-1, because with this sudden abundance of flies and inability to reach back, he could be in for a 2010-like drop-off if he can't recover after the break.

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Arizona Diamondbacks
1
5
  Brad Ziegler
J.J. Putz
David Hernandez
Heath Bell

Hernandez registered the Arizona Diamondbacks save Friday night in clean fashion with two K's. He's done the job before, so for this mess of a back end, he can't be written off as a possibility.

Maybe DH did the job only because Ziegler, who's registered three closures since July 3, had worked on each of the previous three days, including a closure on Thursday. That's especially noteworthy because Ziegler was called upon Saturday to wrap things up.

Ziegler, he who gases it up all the way to the mid-80s, has been a go-to guy with runners on, befitting the traditional profile of a Winston Wolf RP. But what if the next problem he must clean up happens to be the most glaring one in this 'pen?

In a perfect world, they'd probably like to use Putz; Bell might have fallen out of favor. But if Ziegler, who's hard to hit in an Edward Mujica type of way, can affix himself to the most desirable fantasy spot of this bullpen, he can be just as effective even if he doesn't blow it by folks. He'll simply pound the zone and induce weak contact with some of the most monstrous grounder percentages in recent memory.

Though possible, it doesn't seem like the competing Snakes will buy a closer type, either, merely because of the abundance of in-house options. They'd prefer to fix what they have. Kirk Gibson only cares about his closer throwing strikes and getting outs. It's how Bell earned the job previously, and there's only one RP who's doing that at the moment and could shore up ... not the most important spot, in many teams' eyes, but the proverbial "brain-splattered car."

Team
JS
HO
Closer
Understudy/Fill-in
Lurker(s)
Minnesota Twins
5
5
Glen Perkins Casey Fien Jared Burton

Perkins has drawn some interest. Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that an organization must overwhelm them with an offer to part with the highly skilled southpaw, who's under team control through 2015 with an option the next season.

Toronto Blue Jays SP Steve Delabar
Delabar great, but likely no threat

If they find a swap, filling Perkins' spot could be a mess, yet it probably wouldn't be a high priority for a team with so many holes. Burton, all things equal, is the best fit. He was recently demoted from his perch of top setup man, but he's logged six straight scoreless appearances, so he might be turning things around in time to latch onto the job should it open up.

Fien has jacked up his K's and has given up just one run since May ended, so he's a stealthy speculation should Burton already be owned. Many still might perceive Burton as the runaway backup. Michael Tonkin, who has closed 12 contests between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester this year, rode a quick shuttle last weekend and is an even deeper sleeper with long-term saves appeal. Plus, he owns a killer 'stache.

Mound meetings

It's been quite the year for Steve Delabar. Heck, it's been quite a life. The grassroots All-Star selection with the bionic elbow owns some of the best K punch of any reliever and has locked down the understudy role for the Toronto Blue Jays. Deep-mixed speculators shouldn't ignore him, if only for the extra whiffs he'll provide.

Casey Janssen, meanwhile, has endured some rough patches recently, including a spot last week when Delabar snuck in to pick up what was almost a lost save. Last Saturday, however, he came on with one out and runners on the corners in the ninth. The Jays' four-run advantage was in enough jeopardy that Janssen earned his 18th wrap-up of the season by fanning both hitters he stared down on nine tosses.

Those K's were his first in his last six outings. It's too soon to say he's fully recovered from his lack of juice, and it doesn't excuse you from eyeing Delabar. Still, Janssen is a smart pitcher, and it wouldn't surprise if this doesn't stand as the first step toward performance recovery.

***

Theo Epstein isn't one to ignore an opportunity to trade someone like Kevin Gregg from a rebuilding club. The Chicago Cubs probably will find a new home for the righty, in turn obliterating his mixed-league value because it's unlikely he'd close, definitely not full-time, for a contender.

Blake Parker and southpaw James Russell present the only rational alternatives. Parker has pitched almost exclusively in the eighth inning since arriving on June 1, so surface hierarchy would call him the logical replacement. Russell, on the other hand, would remain an option for matchup spots.

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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 LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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