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Fantasy Relief: Position of attrition

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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I miss the days when relievers weren't just specialists. The days when you would see closers like Lee Smith, Dennis Ecksersley and Rollie Fingers toe the rubber for more than an inning and hardly struggle to record three outs.

I chose now to reminisce after what seemed like a very crazy month for relievers. And it was.

There were 88 blown saves in the first month of the season and only a 66 percent conversion rate for saves. I had to go back to 2008 to find a lower percentage, when relievers finished the year converting 64 percent of save chances.

But maybe it's a trend we just have to deal with. Get this -- the last time the majors had a save conversion rate of at least 70 percent was 1992. Can you guess who led the majors in saves that year? Eckersley had an MLB-best 51 saves and 94 percent conversion rate, while Smith was second in the majors and led the National League with 43 saves.

Also adding to the mayhem in April was a rash of injuries to closers. Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria and Brian Wilson are all lost for the season. Joining them on the disabled list were the likes of Sergio Santos, Kyle Farnsworth, Andrew Bailey and Drew Storen.

A new month brings a clean slate. They will always be blown saves, but here's hoping that May will provide a little less suspense and a little more stability in bullpens around the majors.

Top non-closer RPs Week 4 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Daniel Bard, RP, Red Sox 33
2. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 28.5
3. Pedro Strop, RP, Orioles 26
4. Rafael Dolis, RP, Cubs 26
5. Ramon Ramirez, RP, Mets 25.5
6. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 21.5
7. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 21.5
8. Cory Luebke, RP, Padres 20.5
9. Logan Ondrusek, RP, Reds 20
10. Darren O'Day, RP, Orioles 19.5

Closing Time

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

L.A. Dodgers: It was a tough Fantasy Week 4 (April 23-29) for Javy Guerra. He suffered a loss, a blown save and liner off his jaw. Luckily, the latter incident didn't land him on the disabled list. Guerra allowed five runs on nine hits and one walk in three outings (two innings) last week. Still, manager Don Mattingly is tired of fielding questions about the closer's role. He stands behind Guerra despite Kenley Jansen recording saves on Friday and Saturday. There's no denying Jansen's career 15.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate would play well in the closer's role. Owners still have to roll with Guerra as the option for saves, but stashing Jansen wouldn't be a terrible plan either.

L.A. Angels: While Mattingly is remaining patient with his closer, the same can't be said for his crosstown counterpart Mike Scioscia, who replaced Jordan Walden with Scott Downs in the closer's role. As of now, however, Scioscia has said Walden will get the chance to reclaim the closer's role. The team just wants him to pitch in low-profile situations to work on getting better command of his slider and more confidence in throwing his changeup. Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher believes Walden's problems can be a quick fix. If you can afford the roster spot in deep Fantasy formats, then it might be worth holding onto Walden. Although, I'm not sure how much I'm buying the Angels backing Walden when they have been linked to trade rumors involving Oakland's Grant Balfour, Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan and Seattle's Brandon League.

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Oakland: Speaking of Balfour, he's hit some rough waters with two blown saves in his last three outings. It's not surprising that his numbers are starting to rise since he owns a .125 BABIP in his first 13 appearances. His career BABIP is .272. If Balfour is eventually traded or something else happens that removes him from the closer's role in Oakland, the obvious choice to replace him would be Brian Fuentes, who has a wealth of experience as a closer and has the team's only other save chance this year. But I wouldn't sleep on Ryan Cook, who leads Oakland with six holds and is pitching in high-pressure situations. Hitters are making contact on 72.5 percent of Cook's offerings, which is well below the norm, and Cook is getting hitters to swing and miss at a 13.1 percent rate, which is also comfortably above the norm.

Miami: Heath Bell led the majors with three blown saves in April. Not exactly the stat the Marlins wanted to see after dishing out the dough to bring the three-time All-Star to Miami. Bell has said mechanically nothing is amiss. He did say he has created bad habits this year and needs to do a better job of attacking the strike zone. That's obviously evident by issuing 10.8 walks per nine innings. Some other alarming stats are that batters are making contact on 88.1 percent of Bell's pitches and batters are missing on just 4.2 percent of Bell's offerings. The Marlins aren't indicating a change at closer is coming, but with Juan Oviedo still away from the team, you have to figure Edward Mujica would step into the closer's role if something happens with Bell.

Washington: Already down Storen, the Nationals had to put co-closer Brad Lidge on the disabled list because of hernia surgery. That means Henry Rodriguez is expected to be the team's sole closer for at least the next few weeks. And unlike Bell, Rodriguez is doing a good job of getting batters to swing and miss. Batters are missing on 14.1 percent of Rodriguez's offerings and that has resulted in Rodriguez striking out 12.0 batters per nine innings.

Top non-closers Week 4 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Daniel Bard, RP, Red Sox 16
2. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 26
3. Logan Ondrusek, RP, Reds 28
4. Darren O'Day, RP, Orioles 30
5. Jose Arredondo, RP, Reds 34
6. Matt Reynolds, RP, Rockies 35
7. Rafael Dolis, RP, Cubs 36
8. Pedro Strop, RP, Orioles 40
9. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers 44
10. Ramon Ramirez, RP, Mets 47

Baltimore: Jim Johnson has returned to action for the Orioles after missing a week due to an illness. Manager Buck Showalter has already put Johnson back in the closer's role despite Pedro Strop stepping up in his absence. Strop recorded two saves and one win in three outings last week. While Johnson had a great April, recording zero saves and posting an unblemished ERA in 8 2/3 innings, you might want to hold onto Strop in larger Fantasy formats. Johnson had a .231 BABIP and walked 4.2 batters per nine innings last month. He also only got batters to swing and miss on 5.4 percent of his offerings. Johnson does pitch to contact, but the last three seasons his strikes on swing percent was 9.0 or better, which is above the norm. Time will tell if Johnson is the real deal or his April numbers were an aberration.

Call to the 'pen

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

After his second blown save of the season on April 24, Rockies manager Jim Tracy decided to remove Rex Brothers temporarily from his role as primary setup man to closer Rafael Betancourt. Brothers, whose ERA rose to 4.76 at the time, said his issues were mental and not mechanical. The move has seemed to work for Brothers, who has allowed no runs on two hits in his last four outings (3 1/3 innings). He also has eight strikeouts in that span and recorded a hold in his last outing Monday against the Dodgers. Brothers is re-emerging as a reliable non-closer option in Fantasy. ... Brewers setup man Francisco Rodriguez hasn't exactly been lights out the last few weeks. Aside from four holds in his last nine outings (7 2/3 innings), K-Rod is 0-2 with one blown save, an 8.22 ERA, five walks and .281 opponents in that span. His biggest problem during that stretch is getting hitters to miss. Batters have swung and missed on just 6 percent of K-Rod's offerings during that span. ... Marlins reliever Mike Dunn, who was a key piece in the Dan Uggla trade with the Braves in 2010, was optioned to the minors after his latest meltdown Sunday against the Diamondbacks. Dunn hasn't done a good job of fooling hitters in 2012. Opponents are batting .320 and made contact 82.6 percent of the time against the left-handed reliever. ... Joining Dunn in the minors is former Pirates setup man Evan Meek, who was demoted to work on improving his fastball location. Meek's career has been in disarray since suffering a shoulder injury last year. ... The Cubs remains hopeful that oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood (shoulder) will come off the disabled list Thursday. Wood should return to a setup role once active. ... The Rays are showing interest in free agent reliever Mike Gonzalez, who is working his way back from offseason knee surgery. Gonzalez has experience as a closer, but once he signs with a team, he will likely start out as just a left-handed reliever. ... Franklin Morales has emerged as a left-handed setup man for Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves. He is tied with five other relievers with a league-leading six holds. Morales has managed three holds since April 25. ... Sean Burnett has also locked down the lefty setup role for the Nationals. He has four holds through nine appearances and hasn't allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings this season. ... Octavio Dotel is pitching like he's 28 and not 38 years old. He hasn't allowed a run in his first 8 2/3 innings, striking out 10, recording three holds and holding opponents to a .138 average. ... Wade Davis finally seems settled as the Rays' long reliever. He's allowed just one run in his last 10 innings (0.90), while striking out 11 and holding opponents to a .225 average in that span.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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