Fantasy Relief: Let's be Frank about Francisco

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer

Mets closer Frank Francisco must be blackmailing manager Terry Collins because the veteran is somehow managing to keep his late-inning role amid his recent struggles.

After opening the year with a 0.00 ERA, three saves and seven strikeouts in his first four appearances (four innings), Francisco has amassed a 1-3 record, 11.81 ERA and two blown saves in his last 13 outings (10 2/3 innings).

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Although he recorded his ninth save Monday against the Brewers, Francisco allowed at least one run for a third straight outing, which orchestrated the rowdy Citi Field faithful to serenade Francisco with a chorus of boos.

"Yeah, I love it," Francisco said after Monday's game, according to the New York Daily News. "You know why? Because later on, they're going to clap for me. I promise you that. Seriously, I love a challenge. When you go through tough times, if you're a true player, you've got to fight. If you're in the hole, you've got to fight to get out of the hole. If you don't fight, you're going to live in the hole forever."

Collins came to Francisco's defense prior to Monday's game. He spoke with Francisco and offered his opinion that the veteran reliever has been tipping his pitches and needs to start throwing more breaking balls as well. The evidence supports Collins' claim seeing how opponents are batting .380 with a .680 slugging percentage, 1.138 OPS and 21 percent line-drive rate off Francisco in his last 13 appearances.

Collins did give thought to restructuring his bullpen this weekend, but he opted to stick with Francisco in the closer's role for the time being. But it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement Monday, prompting Fantasy owners to keep tabs on the situation in New York, with Jon Rauch or Bobby Parnell being the leading candidates to elevate to the ninth-inning role if a change is needed.

"This guy has a history of closing," Collins said of Francisco. "We brought him here for a reason. We talked about doing a couple things different today, and we'll see what the outcome is. Let’s see if this works with what we talked about today, and we'll make decisions as we go."

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

Washington: The Mets aren't the only NL East team with closer problems. Nationals manager Davey Johnson emphatically backed Henry Rodriguez as his closer Monday amid some control issues. Rodriguez has walked five batters in his last two games and even had to be removed from a save situation Monday against the Padres after walking the bases loaded. Sean Burnett bailed out Rodriguez, but Johnson said he has the "utmost confidence in Henry." Johnson doesn't want to remove Tyler Clippard from his setup role and Burnett seems too valuable to remove from his versatile role, so Johnson is eager to see how Rodriguez responds to adversity. Brad Lidge is out until at least early June and Drew Storen is out until at least July, so the opportunities will be there for Rodriguez as long as he can stop his regression.

Oakland: A's reliever Grant Balfour isn't happy manager Bob Melvin replaced him in the closer's role with veteran Brian Fuentes. Balfour let his manager know of his frustrations by telling reporters he was "pissed off" and he felt like he was put on a "short leash." Melvin did tell Balfour that he "absolutely" has the chance to reclaim his ninth-inning role, but added the caveat that, ""If Brian runs with this thing, we don't make a change just to make a change."

Top non-closer RPs Week 6 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers 47.5
2. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 41.5
3. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 37.5
4. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 27
5. Tony Watson, RP, Pirates 26
6. Wilton Lopez, RP, Astros 22
7. Drew Hutchison, RP, Blue Jays 22
8. Kris Medlen, RP, Braves 21
9. Marco Estrada, RP, Brewers 20.5
10. Tim Byrdak, RP, Mets 20.5

N.Y. Yankees: While replacing a legend is never easy, the cushion is a little softer when you are the Yankees. Losing Mariano Rivera for the season isn't ideal, but New York has capable replacements in David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Unfortunately, it might only be Soriano for the immediate future as Robertson is now shelved with a midsection injury that has him on the disabled list. Fantasy owners should be flocking to add Soriano, who is owned in 53 percent of leagues.

Chicago Cubs: Manager Dale Sveum said he would use James Russell and Rafael Dolis as the team's co-closers after removing Carlos Marmol from the role. However, Dolis has been the only Chicago reliever to record a save since Sveum made the change. Russell has been used in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings this month, recording three holds and no saves. Dolis (owned 30 percent of leagues) is worth a flier in deeper formats. Although, my confidence in his abilities isn't with a ton of conviction seeing how Dolis isn't getting ahead of hitters. He's getting first-pitch strikes just 47.1 percent of the time, which puts him near the bottom of the list among MLB relievers.

Chicago White Sox: For a while there it seemed as though manager Robin Ventura was picking names out of a hat trying to fill his team's closer role. The Chris Sale situation was extremely odd, but now that the left-hander is back in the rotation, Addison Reed seems to have surged into the closer's role. He has the team's only three saves since May 5, and Ventura showed his faith in the 23-year-old reliever by putting him back in a save situation Monday following Reed's six-run meltdown on Sunday. Everyone considered Reed the sleeper candidate to emerge with the closer's role this spring before being leapfrogged by Hector Santiago, but Reed has the long-term potential to be a ninth-inning pitcher. His numbers in the minors were insane -- 1.41 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Clearly, the White Sox closer situation remains in flux, but Reed has the makeup to thrive in that role. I'd put Reed near the top of the list of Fantasy relievers worth adding.

San Diego: Like clockwork, Padres closer Huston Street has made his annual trip to the disabled list, opening save chances at the back end of the San Diego bullpen. Surprisingly, manager Bud Black hasn't turned to Andrew Cashner, whose arsenal of pitches could be electric in the closer's role. Instead, journeyman Dale Thayer has been 3 for 3 in save chances with Street sidelined. Thayer was never considered a top pitching prospect, but perhaps we shouldn't be overlooking the 31-year-old right-hander. He did record 173 saves in the minors, while posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 483 games. Street will return to the closer's role once he's healthy, so Thayer remains a stopgap option in deep formats.

L.A. Angels: Jordan Walden has tossed five straight scoreless outings since being removed the closer's role. Manager Mike Scioscia said Walden has the chance to regain his closer's role and added the team is probably "better off in the long run that way." However, you have to think this is a situation similar to what Oakland manager Bob Melvin is dealing with. Scott Downs has been productive in the closer's role and Scioscia likely won't make a change unless it's warranted. For the foreseeable future, Downs is the team's closer and worth the add off waivers if you are in need of saves.

Top non-closers Week 6 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers 4
2. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 5
3. Tony Watson, RP, Pirates 7
4. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 12
5. Tim Byrdak, RP, Mets 18
6. Wilton Lopez, RP, Astros 22
7. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 24
8. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 37
9. Kris Medlen, RP, Braves 38
10. Jamey Wright, RP, Dodgers 54

Miami: Heath Bell has been given back his closer's role by manager Ozzie Guillen, but Fantasy owners in deep formats should keep Edward Mujica and Steve Cishek stashed because it's not like Bell is back to pitching lights out. Remember, he was the pitcher who gave the Mets a two-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday before Miami rallied for the win in the bottom of the inning.

Toronto: Casey Janssen hasn't had any hiccups since replacing Francisco Cordero in the closer's role for Toronto, recording saves on May 9 and 12. Sergio Santos began playing catch from 90 feet on Monday, but still has many hurdles left in his recovery. He is also expected to need a rehab assignment before being activated from the disabled list, so it appears Janssen could operate as the team's closer for a few more weeks. Consider him a viable stopgap option in larger formats.

Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

A's hurler Ryan Cook is turning into one of the majors' top relievers. The 24-year-old right-hander has opened the year with 17 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits, eight walks and striking out 17. The key to his success has been getting hitters to miss. Opponents have swung and missed on 12.6 percent of Cook's offerings, which is well above the norm of 8.5 percent. Although, I'm almost waiting for the bubble to burst because Cook is only throwing first-pitch strikes 46 percent of the time, which puts him near the bottom of the list of MLB relievers. Falling behind in counts could come back to hurt Cook down the line. ... Mets reliever Tim Byrdak has never recorded more than 11 holds in a season. He's about to crush that number since he's tied for second in the majors with nine holds. Byrdak's last eight appearances have also spanned just one out. He certainly has great value as a lefty specialist right now. ... Wilton Lopez is being used in multiple roles in the Astros' bullpen, but that's not hurting his Fantasy appeal. Lopez hasn't allowed a run in his last nine outings (nine innings), going 1-0 with a .185 opponents' batting average, three holds and 10 strikeouts. He's becoming very valuable in leagues that use middle men and reward for holds ... Pirates reliever Jason Grilli has had a career resurgence since missing the 2010 season with a torn right quadriceps. He's compiled a 2.51 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 43 outings since returning to the majors last season. More impressively, he has struck out 12.0 batters per nine innings in that span. How's he getting it done? By throwing strikes. Grilli has a career-high 65 percent first-strike rate in 2012 and is also getting batters to swing and miss on 17.2 percent of his pitches, which is also a career-high. Fantasy owners in Rotisserie leagues and formats that reward for holds should take a flier on the 35-year-old reliever. ... Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri hasn't missed a beat moving from the NL to the AL. In four appearances since his acquisition from San Diego, Frieri has posted a 0.00 ERA, two holds and nine strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. He has gotten opponents to swing and miss on 23 percent of his pitches in that span. Manager Mike Scioscia has even mentioned him as a candidate for saves in the event something happens to Downs. ... It's time for Fantasy owners to start paying attention to Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus. The 28-year-old hurler has kicked off his career with a 2.57 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 51 outings (49 innings). Mattheus isn't a great strikeout pitcher, but he has six holds this season, with three coming since May 3.

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