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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
Fernando Rodney breaks franchise mark for saves
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Mariners closer Fernando Rodney escaped a rough outing with the save Thursday night against the Angels in Anaheim.

Rodney allowed a solo home run to Hank Conger but struck out Tony Campana looking to end the game. He was charged with one run on one hit and no walks while striking out one in one inning of work, closing out a 3-1 victory. He now holds the franchise record with 46 saves on the year. He owns a 2.70 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP over 63 1/3 innings of work.

Wilin Rosario launches walkoff shot vs. D-Backs
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:16 am ET) Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario came up big at the plate Thursday night at home, launching a walkoff home run in the ninth to lift his team past the Diamondbacks.

Down one run, Rosaio took Addison Reed deep for a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth to end the game. Rosario also doubled in the second and added two singles. He finished 4 for 5 with a run scored and three RBI in a 7-6 victory. He is hitting .265 with 12 homers and 51 RBI over 359 at-bats.

Felix Hernandez fans 11 in a no-decision vs. Angels
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:04 am ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez put together another gem but didn't receive any run support in a no-decision Thursday night against the Angels. The right-hander permitted three hits and two walks while striking out 11 over seven innings of work.

Over his last four starts covering 28 innings, Hernandez has allowed only three earned runs. He owns a 2.07 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP over 32 starts (226 innings). His next start will come Tuesday at Toronto.

Wade LeBlanc gives five-plus scoreless innings in spot start
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:00 am ET) Angels starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc wasn't a factor into the decision in a spot start on Thursday at home against Seattle. The left-hander permitted three hits and no walks while striking out three over 5 1/3 scoreless innings of work.

LeBlanc owns a 5.24 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 22 1/3 innings of work. It remains to be seen if he'll be needed for another start this season.

Cody Allen closes out Astros
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Indians reliever Cody Allen struck out two and worked his way past a hit in a scoreless 13th inning for the save Thursday night against the Astros in Houston. He has converted 22 of 25 save chances, with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP over 66 2/3 innings of work.

Derek Jeter hits first home run of season at Yankee Stadium
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:48 am ET) Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter left the yard at home for the first time this season Thursday night against the Blue Jays.

Jeter took R.A. Dickey deep for a solo home run in the sixth inning inning, ending a streak of 158 at-bats without a home run. He finished 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI in a 3-2 victory. Jeter is hitting .250/.299/.303 with four homers and 41 RBI over 547 at-bats.

Robbie Erlin puts together solid outing vs. Phillies
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:41 am ET) Padres pitcher Robbie Erlin turned in a quality start in a win over the Phillies at home Thursday night, improving to 4-4 on the year. He permitted one run on five hits and no walks while striking out four over six innings of a 7-3 victory.

Erlin owns a 4.53 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings of work. If Tyson Ross is unable to make his next start, Erlin will like make another spot start on Tuesday against Colorado.

Kyle Kendrick issues five walks in loss to Padres
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:36 am ET) Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick had some command issues in a loss to the Padres in San Diego on Thursday, dropping to 9-13 on the year. He allowed three runs on six hits and five walks while striking out two over five innings of a 7-3 defeat.

Over his last three starts covering 18 1/3 innings, Kendrick has allowed nine earned runs. He owns a 4.73 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP over 31 starts (192 innings). His next start will come Wednesday in Miami.

Tsuyoshi Wada works through sore hammy in final start
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada worked through a sore hamstring in a no-decision Thursday night at home against the Dodgers, per ESPN Chicago. He allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out five over five innings of an 8-4 defeat.

Over his last four starts covering 18 2/3 innings, Wada has allowed 10 earned runs. He confirmed after the game that this was his final start of the season. He finishes his first big-league season 4-3 with a 3.22 ERA over 12 starts.

Zack Greinke takes step back in no-decision
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke took a step back in a no-decision to the Cubs in Chicago on Thursday. He coughed up four runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out five over five innings of work.

Over his last three starts covering 17 innings, Greinke has allowed six earned runs. He owns a 2.76 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 starts (189 1/3 innings). He will look to bounce back Tuesday at home against San Francisco.

 
 
 
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