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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
Rays pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser tosses one inning in Class A rehab
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Rays pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser tossed one scoreless inning of action on Sunday for Class A Charlotte, his first appearance as a part of his rehab assignment.

Riefenhauser, who is currently on the 15-day DL with a shoulder injury, walked two batters and struck out one, but did not allow a hit. Riefenhauser has made two appearances this season, allowing three runs in 1 1/3 innings of work, but has not pitched since April 23 when the injury occurred.


Rays infielder Ryan Brett begins Class A rehab assignment Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Rays infielder Ryan Brett went 2 for 3 in his first Class A rehab game for Charlotte on Sunday. Brett had a double and two runs scored before getting taken out of the game.

Brett, who is currently on the 15-day DL with a shoulder injury, has played in just three games for Tampa Bay this season and has been out of action since April 22.


Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday collects three RBI on Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday went 1 for 3 at the plate in Detroit's 10-8 loss to the Astros on Sunday.

Holaday did his damage in the first inning when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Holaday ripped a doubled to left field off of Roberto Hernandez, scoring all three runs and doubling his RBI total for the season.

Holaday is now hitting .308 in 13 at-bats this season.


Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera blasts 11th home run of the season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera went 2 for 5 at the plate in Detroit's 10-8 loss to the Astros on Sunday.

Cabrera did his damage in the ninth inning when he crushed the first pitch he saw from Luke Gregerson over the left center field wall for a solo home run, his 11th of the season.

Cabrera is now hitting .344 with 32 RBI in 163 at-bats this season.


Astros DH Evan Gattis blasts ninth home run of the season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:18 am ET) Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis went 3 for 4 at the plate in Houston's 10-8 win over the Tigers on Sunday.

Gattis got things going in the first inning when he ripped a triple to right field, scoring two runs, his second of the season. Then in the sixth, Gattis blasted a solo shot off of Anibal Sanchez to left center field, his ninth of the season. 

Gattis, who also drew one walk, is now hitting .201 with 28 RBI in 154 at-bats this season.


Pirates 3B Josh Harrison on a tear at the plate of late
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison has turned things around at the plate. On May 10, general manager Neal Huntington suggested Harrison was pressing too much to prove his worth. Harrison is hitting .468 (22 for 47) in 11 games since those remarks and Huntington is estatic for him, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"It looks like a guy that's having fun playing the game again," Huntington said Sunday. "Just showing up with energy every day and trying to do everything in his power to help a club win versus trying to justify. It’s fun to watch him get back out there and be the guy he is."

Harrison extended his hitting streak to 11 on Sunday and noted his contract may have factored into his early struggles.

"The contract could have played a little into it," he said. "It's no secret I knew I was a contract guy. But that doesn't make me approach the game any different. It's just a matter of, you know, I got off to a rough start."

Harrison is now hitting .261 with 14 RBI in 157 at-bats this season.


Mets pitcher Dillon Gee unclear of role when activated from DL
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Mets pitcher Dillon Gee was baffled on Sunday for multiple reasons. After losing his luggage, Gee was told he will head back to make a third rehab start this week. He is also unclear of what his role will be in the starting rotation when he is able to return, according to the New York Daily News.

"I don't know what to think about it," Gee said. "I kind of raised that, I felt like I am just wasting bullets trying to get over 100 pitches in a minor league rehab game. I am doing what they want me to do.

"Obviously you wondered what the roles will be, because all the roles are all filled," Gee said. "He's (Syndergaard) pitched really well, so he deserves to be here as well. I wonder the same thing as most of you... what’s going to happen."

Gee is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 30 1/3 innings of work this season.


Giants pitcher Jean Machi preserves bullpen on Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:08 am ET) Giants pitcher Jean Machi allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits in 2 2/3 innings of work in San Francisco's 11-2 loss to the Rockies on Sunday.

Machi was called on early when starter Tim Hudson struggled to find the zone and was knocked around. He helped to keep San Francisco was digging deeper into the bullpen, manager Bruce Bochy said per CSN Bay Area.

"Machi saved us," Bochy said. "I thought he had some of his best stuff, too. He should feel good about that and the fact that he did give us those innings."

Machi now has a 4.63 ERA in 23 1/3 innings of work this season.


Rangers DH Prince Fielder continues hot hitting with two RBI
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder went 3 for 5 at the plate in Texas' 5-2 win over the Yankees on Sunday.

Fielder, who also singled twice, did his damage in the first when he doubled to deep center field, driving home a run. Fielder singkled to right in the seventh to collect his second RBI. Fielder is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting a blistering .358 with 32 RBI in 176 at-bats this season.


Yankees catcher Brian McCann leaves with foot injury on Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/24/2015) Yankees catcher Brian McCann was forced to leave Sunday's game against the Rangers with a cramp in his foot/calf, according to MLB.com. 

Manager Joe Girardi said he was a little concerned with the injury, but won't know more about it until Monday. McCann went 1 for 4 with two RBI in Sunday's game before exiting. He said after the game he is planning on playing in Monday's game against the Royals.


 
 
 
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