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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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Player News
A's unable to cash in on seven scoreless innings from Scott Kazmir
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:15 am ET) Athletics starting pitcher Scott Kazmir tossed seven scoreless innings Friday against the Astros. However, he did not factor into the decision, as the game went to extra innings.

Kazmir was involved in quite the pitcher's duel with Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. While Kazmir went seven scoreless innings, Keuchel threw nine scoreless innings. Kazmir allowed five hits and three walks, while striking out seven.

The veteran left-hander lowered his ERA from 1.33 to 0.99. His next scheduled start is for Thursday against the Angels.


Astros RP Chad Qualls closes out extra-inning win at Oakland
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:10 am ET) Astros reliever Chad Qualls earned his second save of the season during Friday's 5-4 win in 11 innings at Oakland, after closer Luke Gregerson and reliever Pat Neshek both struggled to close out the win.

Gregerson blew his first save of the season in the 10th inning, allowing Oakland to tie the game at 2. Neshek then came on to open the bottom of the 11th inning, but he was gone after allowing two runs on three hits in two-thirds inning. 

Astros manager A.J. Hinch brought on Tony Sipp to face Sam Fuld for the final out, but Sipp walked Fuld to put two runners on base. Hinch then called on Qualls, who retired Brett Lawrie on a fly out to deep center to end the rally.


Astros' Gregerson earns first win after suffering first blown save
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:57 am ET) Astros closer Luke Gregerson earned his first relief win of the season Friday against the A's.

The right-hander entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning, with Houston ahead 2-0. Unfortunately, he could not hold the lead, as he allowed Oakland to tie the game on a two-out, two-RBI double by Josh Reddick.

He was charged with two runs on three hits and no walks, while striking out one in one inning of work. He suffered his first blown save Friday.

Gregerson (1-0) picked up the win as Houston won the game, 5-4, in the 11th inning. Friday was the first time all season Gregerson allowed a run. He had opened the season with seven scoreless innings.


Astros' Dallas Keuchel throws nine scoreless innings in no-decision
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:51 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel tossed nine scoreless innings Friday against the A's. Unfortunately, he did not get the win, as Friday's game was scoreless after nine innings and wasn't decided until the 11th inning.

Keuchel allowed just two hits -- both singles in the third inning. He also walked two and struck out four.

The left-hander, who is 2-0, has now allowed zero runs in three of four starts. He has a 0.62 ERA.

Keuchel will be back on the mound Wednesday at San Diego.


Dodgers reliever Yimi Garcia picks up first save of season
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(1:45 am ET) Dodgers reliever Yimi Garcia (S, 1) tossed a perfect ninth inning against the Padres on Friday to earn his first save of the season.

Garcia struck out two of the three batters he faced.

Garcia has now allowed just one run in 9 2/3 innings (0.93 ERA) this season.

Padres' Andrew Cashner tosses seven strong innings but takes loss
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(1:36 am ET) Padres starter Andrew Cashner (1-3) gave up two runs on six hits in seven innings on Friday but suffered the loss against the Dodgers.

Cashner gave up a home run to Carl Crawford, the left fielder's first of the season.

Cashner struck out six and walked one in the defeat.

Cashner's next start is scheduled for Wednesday against the Astros.

Dodgers SP Zack Greinke moves to 3-0 with seven shutout innings
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(1:32 am ET) Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke (3-0) gave up four hits and struck out seven while not allowing a run in seven innings on Friday to defeat the Padres.

Greinke lowered his ERA to 1.35 following Friday's performance.

Greinke will look to stay perfect in his next start set for Wednesday against the Giants.

Indians' Nick Swisher totals three hits in first rehab game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:31 am ET) Indians first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher (knees) began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus on Friday. Swisher had a pretty good game, going 3 for 5 with two runs and one RBI. He also struck out twice.

Swisher is expected to stay with Columbus through the weekend before the Indians re-evaluated his status early next week.


Nationals' Rendon doubles as he begins rehab assignment Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (knee) began a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday. He went 1 for 2 with one double before being lifted from the game.

Rendon is expected to play at least five days on a rehab assignment.


Angels closer Huston Street improves to 6 for 6 in save chances
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:13 am ET) Angels closer Huston Street ran into some trouble in the ninth inning Friday against the Rangers. However, he still successfully closed out the 3-2 win for his sixth save.

Street opened the inning with two quick outs. However, he then walked the next two batters. Luckily, both runners were stranded as Elvis Andrus grounded out to end the game.

Street had one strikeout. He has not allowed a run in six innings this season.


 
 
 
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