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Fantasy Relief: Bottom falling out for Valverde?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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Perhaps it's time for Jose Valverde to tone down his on-the-mound celebrations and focus on getting back to being a shutdown arm. The eccentric Tigers' closer has had a rocky first two months, and if he is not careful, calls for his job might not be too far off.

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Valverde was arguably the majors' most efficient closer in 2011, going a perfect 49 for 49 in save chances during the regular season. Unfortunately, he suffered his first blown save of the season in the opener against the Red Sox and suffered his third blown save of the season Saturday against the Yankees. Luckily for Valverde, he has won twice in blown-save situations, but something isn't right with the hefty closer nicknamed Papa Grande.

Valverde has relied heavily on his four-seam fastball again, throwing it 79.5 percent of the time. Sadly, he continues to lose velocity on that pitch. He is averaging 93.6 miles per hour, which is the third straight season it has been in decline. Valverde is also losing velocity on his second-most popular pitch -- split-finger fastball -- averaging just 84.4 mph. He was averaging 85.9 on that pitch last year.

But the drop in velocity isn't as alarming as the lack of movement Valverde is seeing on his four-seam fastball and his ability to fool hitters.

Valverde's horizontal movement on his four-seamer in 2011 was -7.03. In 2012, that number is -5.99. In 2011, Valverde was getting batters to whiff at a 9.8 percent rate and swing at a 46.4 percent clip on his four-seam fastball. In 2012, those numbers have dropped to 7.6 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Batters are making contact on 80.1 percent of Valverde's offerings, which is a career-worst, and swinging and missing just 8.4 percent of the time, which is also a career-low.

The key revelation here is that batters are being a little more patient with Valverde. But is that the only thing plaguing him?

He has a career-worst 6.3 walks-per-nine-innings rate this season. That number has only been over 5.0 once in Valverde's career and that was in 2004. Why's that significant? Because that season after taking the closer's job from Matt Mantei in May, Valverde would eventually lose the closer's job to Scott Service. Manager Bob Brenly eventually handed the job back to Valverde, but the then-26-year-old reliever would make his final appearance of the season on June 13, missing the rest of the year with shoulder and forearm problems. Perhaps Valverde is dealing with durability issues again in 2012.

The question beckons -- where does Valverde go from here? If you are a FIP and xFIP convert, then a rocky road lies ahead for Valverde. His ERA through 21 1/3 innings is 4.64, but his FIP is 5.02 and xFIP is 5.54, which indicates that his ERA should be higher than what it actually is.

Valverde missed some time in mid-May with a lower back strain. At that time, manager Jim Leyland tabbed Joaquin Benoit as his temporary closer, with Phil Coke as his backup option. In a year where closer instability has been the talk of the majors, Leyland might want to keep his contingency plan in place just in case his burly closer can't right the ship.

Closing Time

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

N.Y. Yankees: CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman is reporting the Yankees are expected to keep Rafael Soriano in the closer's role once David Robertson comes off the disabled list in mid-June. It's not a shocking revelation and something we have been hinting at for weeks. Heyman got one scout to evaluate Robertson and said, "(Robertson) didn't look quite as comfortable closing games.'' Soriano is a perfect 7 for 7 in save situations and has the experience in the closer's role. Keeping Robertson as a dominant setup man is probably better for the Yankees' bullpen in the long run.

Top non-closers Week 9 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 65.5
2. Drew Hutchison, RP, Blue Jays 53
3. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 46.5
4. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 35
5. Michael Fiers, RP, Brewers 27.5
6. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 25.5
7. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 24.5
8. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 23
9. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 22.5
10. James Russell, RP, Cubs 20

Seattle: Remember when Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after removing Brandon League from the closer's role that everyone would be up for save chances except Hisashi Iwakuma? Well, you guessed right, Iwakuma has been the only Mariners reliever to record a save since League's demotion. However, it's not what you think. Iwakuma pitched the final three innings of a 21-8 win over Texas to record his first save and pitched the 12th inning of a 10-8 win against the White Sox after Wedge emptied out his bullpen. Tom Wihelmsen still seems like the ideal closer candidate, with Shawn Kelley perhaps emerging as a sleeper option down the road if he is able to regain his pre-elbow injury form. Another guy worth keeping tabs on is hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Pryor, who made his MLB debut on June 2. Pryor has experience closing in the minors and appears to have the arsenal to potentially close games. He did strike out 12.3 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career. Wedge has indicated he wants League back in the closer's role, but League continues to work through his problems in non-save outings, leaving the door open for other relievers to emerge with the job.

Chicago Cubs: Cubs manager Dale Sveum said over the weekend that the team is in no rush to get Carlos Marmol back in the closer's role despite Marmol's ability to finally throw strikes consistently since coming off the disabled list. Sveum also said he's not ready to put labels on his relievers, but it does seem as though James Russell is emerging as the leading candidate for saves. Russell recorded his first major-league save on May 29 against the Padres and returned the next day to pitch the ninth inning in a 6-6 game, eventually earning the win thanks to Darwin Barney's walk-off homer.

San Diego: The Dale Thayer experiment is coming to a close in San Diego. Huston Street has finally recovered from his lat injury and has resumed closer duties for the Padres. Thayer did well in the closer's role, converting all five of his save chances. Manager Bud Black now has a go-to reliever in case the oft-injured Street finds himself on the shelf again or perhaps is traded later this summer.

San Francisco: Another Giants closer is injured. After losing Brian Wilson for the season because of elbow problems, new closer Santiago Casilla is now day to day with a bruised right knee. It's unfortunate timing for Fantasy owners because the Giants had three save opportunities over the weekend. Javier Lopez closed out Friday's win after Casilla was hurt in the ninth inning, while Sergio Romo had consecutive saves Saturday and Sunday. However, it really seems as though Bochy doesn't want to make Romo a full-time closer, even if Casilla needs a DL stint. Lopez pitched to the first two batters in the ninth Saturday before Romo recorded a one-out save. Romo then came back Sunday to record a two-out save after Barry Zito couldn't go the distance in a 2-0 victory. Romo has emerged as one of the best relievers in the NL and it doesn't seem Bochy wants to pigeonhole him into using him exclusively in save situations. Romo mostly pitches as an eighth-inning setup man regardless, but it appears Bochy wants to be able to call on him at any moment and not have him unavailable because a save situation might arise later in a game. Romo is still probably the next in line for most save chances, even if they come in the one-out variety, but for now there is no talk of a DL stint for Casilla.

Top non-closers Week 9 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners 32
2. Clay Hensley, RP, Giants 41
3. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 42
4. Matt Belisle, RP, Rockies 43
5. James Russell, RP, Cubs 48
6. Nate Jones, RP, White Sox 53
7. Luis Marte, RP, Tigers 54
8. Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies 47
9. Glen Perkins, RP, Twins 48
10. Jeremy Accardo, RP, Indians 50

Arizona: David Hernandez had to fill in during a save situation last Wednesday because closer J.J. Putzwas out with a stiff neck. Bryan Shaw earned some saves for Arizona earlier this season, but Hernandez is the guy manager Kirk Gibson will likely turn to in the event Putz ever misses extended time. Hernandez had 11 saves last year for Arizona and has been locked in lately, posting a 1.96 ERA in his last 20 games (18 1/3 innings).

Call to the 'pen

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

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday he's trying to keep Brian Duensing out of the rotation, despite the team's need for starters. Duensing has thrived in a relief role this year and Gardenhire doesn't want to go searching for another quality left-handed reliever, which would happen if he moved Duensing into the rotation … Don't be too shocked that the Tigers have had Luis Marte toss at least three innings in each of his first two outings since coming off the disabled list. Marte is a former minor-league starter, so while he might no longer be conditioned to start, he still has the ability to fill in as another long reliever for Detroit. Marte could emerge as a viable Rotisserie Fantasy arm, especially if he ends up as a wins vulture and keeps up his current strikeout rate (8.1 K/9) … All the attention in the White Sox bullpen this season has been focused on the ever-changing closer situation, which for the time being seems settled on Addison Reed. But that distraction has overshadowed the work of rookie reliever Nate Jones, who is 3-0 with two holds, a 1.61 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 19 relief outings. He also has 28 strikeouts in 28 innings. Jones also is a former minor-league starter turned reliever, so he's probably most valuable to Chicago in a middle-relief role. But Jones did get some closer experience in 2011 for Double-A Birmingham, recording 11 saves, so perhaps his name might one day emerge if the closer situation remains unsettled in the Windy City … I should be Brad Brach's agent for as much publicity as I give the 26-year-old hurler, but I think he might also emerge as a closer candidate later in his career. He is still having some control problems in 2012, but Brach is finally starting to settle down and is becoming a strikeout machine for San Diego. He has recorded 22 strikeouts in his last 13 2/3 innings. If you are looking for strikeouts in a Rotisserie format, then consider adding Brach to your roster … Indians reliever Jeremy Accardo -- who's rediscovered his splitter -- has turned him into a very effective major-league reliever again. Accardo has produced a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in eight appearances since his mid-May promotion from the minors. He also has struck out 12 batters in 10 2/3 innings. Accardo has mostly pitched in losses, but if he continues on his current path, Cleveland might find some hold situations for him. Don't forget: Accardo closed 30 games for Toronto in 2007 … I remember the days when Troy Patton was a promising starting pitcher prospect, but then his career was derailed because of injuries. Now that Patton is healthy, he has carved out a role in the Orioles' bullpen and is starting to show why he was a top prospect once upon a time. Patton has struck out 20 batters in his last 12 2/3 innings.

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
Dodgers' Friedman on Juan Jaime: 'He can really miss bats'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:46 am ET) Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spoke Wednesday about pitcher Juan Jaime, who was acquired from the Braves along with three others players in a six-man deal earlier in the day and assigned to extended spring training, MLB.com reports.

"He can really miss bats," Friedman said. "The limiting factor with him is the control. So we'll send him to Camelback and really attack the problem. If he can harness that even a little bit, we feel like we've added a really good player."

Jaime has posted a 5.93 ERA and 19:13 K:BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings with the Braves over two seasons. He has also walked nine batters in 5 1/3 innings in the minors this season after dishing out 36 walks in 41 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2014.


Angels' Collin Cowgill likely headed to disabled list Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:39 am ET) Angels outfielder Collin Cowgill is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Cowgill is dealing with a joint sprain in his hand after sustaining an injury during batting practice on Sunday and a subsequent MRI. He has hit .180/.231/.295 with one home run, two RBI and one stolen base in 61 at-bats. The Angels added a replacement bench outfielder in a trade Wednesday, acquiring Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets.


Angels option Marc Krauss to Triple-A
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) The Angels optioned first baseman Marc Krauss to Triple-A Salt Lake after Wednesday's loss to the Padres, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Krauss loses his 25-man roster spot to outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who was added in a trade earlier in the day. The first baseman was just 5 for 35 with one home run and five RBI with the Angels. He returns to a .281/.405/.458 line with two home runs and 17 RBI in 96 at-bats with Salt Lake.


Diamondbacks' Brad Ziegler blows save, takes loss Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:33 am ET) Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler was saddled with his second blown save and first loss of the season on Wednesday, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning in his team's 4-3 loss to the Cardinals.

Ziegler entered the ninth inning looking to protect a one-run lead but opened the frame by serving up a game-tying home run. He gave up a single before recording the first out of the inning, then walked two batters (one intentionally) to bring up Jhonny Peralta. The shortstop grounded into a fielder's choice, with the lead runner getting thrown out at home, but a throwing error by the catcher trying to record a double play brought the winning run home.

Ziegler owns a 1.25 ERA and 14:8 K:BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings.


Dodgers' Alex Guerrero knocks ninth home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Dodgers left fielder Alex Guerrero went 1 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-2 loss to the Braves on Wedensday.

Guerrero was hitless on the day before connecting on a ninth-inning homer off closer Jason Grilli, but his shot only reduced the lead to one run before the Dodgers eventually fell. It's the third home run in four games for Guerrero, who has hit .310/.344/.701 with nine homers and 21 RBI in 87 at-bats.


Braves' Cameron Maybin slugs fifth home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:18 am ET) Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin went 2 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday.

Maybin put his team up 1-0 with his homer to center field in the third inning, his first home run since May 2. He has hit .261/.361/.435 with five home runs, 19 RBI and six stolen bases in 115 at-bats.


Braves' Jason Grilli surrenders homer, earns 14th save
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:16 am ET) Braves closer Jason Grilli served up a homer on Wednesday but was able to record his 14th save in his team's 3-2 win over the Dodgers.

Grilli needed 24 pitches to escape the outing, getting a quick out before surrendering a solo home run to cut his team's lead to one run. He then gave up a single and recorded another out to bring pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, making his Dodger debut after opening the season with the Braves, to the plate. The closer got Callaspo to fly out to end the game.

Grilli owns a 4.41 ERA and 23:7 K:BB ratio in 16 1/3 innings.


Angels' Matt Joyce slugs second homer Wednesday vs. Padres
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:12 am ET) Angels left fielder Matt Joyce went 1 for 3 with a walk and a solo home run in his team's 5-4 loss to the Padres on Wednesday.

Joyce was able to tie the game with his sixth-inning homer, though the Angels would immediately fall back in a hole by giving up two runs in the top of the seventh. The outfielder has hit .176/.253/.282 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 131 at-bats.


Cardinals' Matt Holliday reaches base in 43rd consecutive game
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday reached base in his 43rd game played in a row during Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks. 

Holliday hit a single in the fifth inning, which vaulted him ahead of Albert Pujols for the club's record of consecutive games reaching base to start a season.

It also set a National League record in the same category, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Yeah, that’s cool," Holliday said. "A lot of players have played in the National League. That’s pretty good, I guess."

Only five players have started a season reaching base in more consecutive games — Derek Jeter (Yankees, 53, 1999), Frank Thomas (White Sox, 52, 1996), Mark McGwire (Athletics, 48, 1996), Alvin Davis (Mariners, 47, 1984), Harry Heilmann (Tigers, 44, 1923). 


Dodgers' Zack Greinke strikes out nine in no-decision vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke wasn't a factor in the decision on Wednesday, allowing one earned run on three hits and two walks in six innings while striking out nine in his team's 3-2 loss to the Braves.

Greinke, whose only run allowed came on a third-inning homer by Cameron Maybin, also went 1 for 2 at the plate and stole a base for the first time this season and the fourth time in 244 career at-bats. He has yet to be caught on the basepaths.

Greinke owns a 1.48 ERA and 58:14 K:BB ratio in 67 innings. Although he's allowed just one run in each of his last four outings, he hasn't recorded a win since May 5. Greinke's next start is slated for Tuesday against the Rockies in Colorado.


 
 
 
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