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Fantasy Relief: Getting comfortable with closers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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The National League Central held a "Welcome Back Party" for Francisco Cordero over the weekend as the veteran reliever made a return trip to the Senior Circuit after the Astros acquired him in a 10-player deal with the Blue Jays.

Unfortunately, Cordero didn't get much time to settle in before he was thrust into the limelight. One day after the deal, Cordero was named the Astros' closer following Brett Myers being dealt to the White Sox.

The NL Central is quite familiar with Cordero. He first brought his craft to the division in a July 2006 trade that landed him in Milwaukee. A few years later, Cordero made the move to Cincinnati, where he held the closer's role from 2008-11.

The Astros know Cordero's talents all too well. The 37-year-old reliever owns a 1.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 24 saves in 46 career appearances (48 2/3 innings) against Houston. Entering Monday, he also had a 1.59 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and was striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings in his career (20 games) at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.

While Cordero has a strong history in the NL and at his new home ballpark, we still have to ponder what kind of closer will Cordero be down the stretch?

Remember, he was given the opportunity to close games for the Blue Jays earlier this season, but he faltered and eventually lost the job to Casey Janssen. Will Cordero suffer a similar fate in Houston?

He has been an improved pitcher since losing the closer gig with the Jays. Before Monday's blown save against the Reds, he posted a 3.75 ERA in his previous 30 appearances (24 innings), which isn't too far off from his ERA (3.10) during his tenure in the NL Central from 2006-11.

Top non-closers Week 16 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 45.5
2. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 31
3. Mike Fiers, RP, Brewers 29
4. Josh Collmenter, RP, Diamondbacks 28.5
5. Aaron Laffey, RP, Blue Jays 25
6. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 24
7. Garrett Richards, RP, Angels 24
8. Jose Quintana, RP, White Sox 23
9. Carlos Villanueva, RP, Blue Jays 22.5
10. Samuel Deduno, RP, Twins 22.5

A closer look at Cordero's early season numbers show he relied heavily on his changeup, according to PitchFX data compiled by TexasLeaguers.com. Cordero threw the pitch 30.7 percent of the time over a 12-game period from April 5-May 8, during which Cordero compiled a 9.53 ERA and three blown saves. In his last 30 appearances, Cordero has thrown his changeup 26.4 percent of the time, relying more on his four-seam fastball (40.1 percent) and slider (27.6 percent), which have always been his bread-and-butter pitches. Cordero really didn't start to throw his changeup heavily until last season.

Cordero's most effective pitch remains his slider, which has resulted in a 17 percent whiff rate in 2012. Although, it's concerning to look at Cordero's numbers on his four-seamer. His average velocity on the pitch this season is 92.7 mph and his whiff rate is 5.4 percent. From 2002, when he recorded his first MLB save, through last season, Cordero averaged 94.3 mph and had a 6.5 percent whiff rate on his four-seamer, which is the pitch he throws most often.

The numbers show Cordero isn't fooling hitters this year. His hits (12.2) and home run per nine inning (1.8) rates are the highest they have been in his career. He also has a career-worst .357 BABIP, which is well above his career norm (.298).

I do feel Cordero will remain effective enough to maintain the role as Astros closer the remainder of the season. However, keep expectations low. It seems Father Time is catching up with Cordero, and the save chances might also be scarce seeing how the Astros continue to rebuild and have won just twice in July.

Closing Time

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

Chicago White Sox: The acquisition of Brett Myers puts pressure on rookie closer Addison Reed. The White Sox obviously had to back Reed as the team's closer over the weekend, but Myers was added as insurance in case the 23-year-old buckles under the pressure of a pennant race. Since recording his first save of the season May 5, Reed has posted a 5.47 ERA. He also has three blown saves, with two of them coming in his last five appearances. It's definitely Reed's job to lose, but now he has a reason to look over his shoulder.

Milwaukee: John Axford's demotion out of the closer's role might not last too long. Francisco Rodriguez has been awful since taking over, allowing the tying run to reach third base in all three appearances since the change. On Monday, he allowed six of the eight batters he faced to reach base. You also have to think the K-Rod trade market has soured due to his recent struggles. In the meantime, Axford has tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings over four appearances, recording a win and a hold. I told you last week I still believed in a second-half bounce back for Axford and to hold onto him in deep formats.

N.Y. Mets: Frank Francisco can't catch a break. He had to postpone a rehab assignment for the second time Monday after he felt discomfort in his knee following a bullpen session. Francisco was slated to make the first rehab appearance Tuesday for Class A Brooklyn. Luckily, this latest setback won't be as long as his last one, when his oblique was still grabbing. Francisco is finally expected to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday. The only good news for Francisco is the Mets have struggled mightily in his absence, which could mean the team won't upgrade at the trade deadline and Francisco has a good chance to keep his closer's role once he returns. It's worth stashing Francisco is deep Fantasy formats.

Top non-closers Week 16 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 17
2. Greg Holland, RP, Royals 24
3. Casey Fien, RP, Twins 37
4. Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers 42
5. Dale Thayer, RP, Padres 45
6. Carlos Torres, RP, Rockies 57
7. Rex Brothers, RP, Rockies 58
8. David Phelps, RP, Yankees 62
9. Vicente Padilla, RP, Red Sox 68
10. Alfredo Simon, RP, Reds 70

San Francisco: The Giants reportedly have interest in Indians closer Chris Perez. It's not surprising given Santiago Casilla's recent struggles. Entering Monday, Casilla had five blown saves and a 9.35 ERA in his last 11 appearances. Sergio Romo would likely be a viable replacement for Casilla, but he might be too good as a setup man to remove him from that role. The Giants might be better off finding an upgrade via a trade for a proven closer like Perez or Jonathan Broxton. Casilla owners need to be put on notice because there's a chance he gets ousted from the closer's role as the July 31 trade deadline nears.

Boston: Andrew Bailey, who has been sidelined all season recovering from thumb surgery, is expected to begin a rehab assignment early next week. It could be a lengthy process because of how long Bailey has been sidelined. When he does finally join the Boston bullpen, it could be a situation similar to what happened in Washington with Drew Storen. The Red Sox could look to ease Bailey back into action and leave Alfredo Aceves in the closer's role, especially since he hasn't done anything lately to lose his job. Aceves has just one blown save in his last 25 appearances. If you can afford to stash Bailey in deep formats, then it's worth holding onto him. But it's far from guaranteed that he will see save opportunities once active.

San Diego: The Padres might not be sellers at the trade deadline after all. After locking up outfielder Carlos Quentin, it is reported the Padres are now set on signing closer Huston Street to a contract extension. That's good news for Street owners, especially the ones in NL-only Fantasy formats who could have lost eligibility had Street been traded to the AL, but bad news for owners stashing Dale Thayer, who likely would be the top candidate to ascend to the closer's role if Street is dealt.

Call to the 'pen

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

Bryan Shaw's fall from grace concluded Sunday when was optioned to Triple-A. Shaw was an early season surprise when he recorded two saves by April 15 and could have been considered an option for the closer's role had something happened to J.J. Putz. But major-league hitters began to adjust to Shaw and manager Kirk Gibson called him a "one-pitch pitcher right now" after optioning him to the minors. Feel free to cut Shaw in all Fantasy formats … Sean Doolittle is a remarkable story. Once considered one of Oakland's top position player prospects, durability issues deterred Doolittle's progress and the 2007 supplemental first-round pick eventually converted to pitching. The A's brought Doolittle to the majors in early June and has quickly ascended to a late-inning role for the team, recording his first career save Saturday against the Yankees. Doolittle has posted a 1.86 ERA and three holds in 15 appearances. He also has 29 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. He is getting setup work in front of closer Ryan Cook, so Doolittle has emerged as a viable Fantasy option in leagues that reward for holds … Kevin Jepsen returned from a two-month, minor-league banishment in early July, but it seems his time down on the farm has been beneficial. Jepsen has tossed eight scoreless innings since his return, recording eight strikeouts, one save, one win and two holds. His last three appearances have come in either the seventh or eighth innings of victories, meaning manager Mike Scioscia is starting to trust Jepsen in high-leverage situations. Jepsen is emerging as a viable Fantasy option in leagues that reward heavily for middle relievers … Darren Oliver continues to defy Father Time and remains an excellent left-handed reliever at the ripe age of 41. Oliver has a 1.23 ERA and 36 strikeouts through 36 2/3 innings, and he's proving to be more than just a lefty specialist. He has worked the eighth inning in all but two his last 22 appearances dating back to late May. Oliver also is 2-0 with one save and six holds in his last 15 appearances since June 15. Oliver has emerged as a viable source for holds and could be considered a nice flier in Rotisserie formats … Alfredo Simon is no longer in a Pitch-22. After being claimed off waivers in early April by the Reds, Simon -- who bounced between the bullpen and rotation in Baltimore -- has settled into a role as a long reliever for Cincinnati. The results have been spectacular. Simon is 2-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 22 appearances (37 innings). He is yielding a career-low 8.8 hits and 0.2 home runs per nine innings. He is also striking out a career-high 8.5 batters per nine innings. Simon doesn't have much Fantasy value without regular save or hold chances, but he could be a candidate to vulture wins, which could give him value in the deepest Rotisserie formats.

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
Hector Santiago lasts only five frames in loss to A's
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2:00 am ET) Angels pitcher Hector Santiago lasted five innings Friday against the Athletics.

Santiago allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked two during the outing. Santiago gave up his first run against the first batter he faced. Coco Crisp hit a leadoff home run out to left center off Santiago in the first inning. He was able to get through the next three innings unscathed, but ran into trouble again in the fifth. On a fielder’s choice, a run wound up coming around on a throwing error by shortstop Erick Aybar. Santiago was able to get out of the inning, but was replaced to start the sixth. Santiago threw 98 pitches.

With the loss, Santiago dropped to 3-8. He’ll take on the Marlins in his next start.

Sonny Gray nearly goes the distance for win No. 13
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:00 am ET) Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray nearly went the distance and still picked up his 13th win of the season Friday night against the Angels. The right-hander permitted three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over 8 1/3 innings of a 5-3 victory.

Over his last three starts covering 20 2/3 innings, Gray has allowed nine earned runs. He owns a 3.00 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 26 starts (171 innings). He will make his next start Wednesday at Houston.

Sean Doolittle picks up two-out save Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:59 am ET) Athletics closer Sean Doolittle allowed three runners on base but still managed to pick up a rare two-out save Friday night against the Angels. Doolittle struck out two, allowed two hits and a walk in two-thirds of a scoreless inning. He has converted 19 of 22 save chances, with a 2.32 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP over 54 1/3 innings of relief.

Hector Santiago goes five innings Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:06 am ET) Angels pitcher Hector Santiago lasted five innings Friday against the Athletics.

Santiago allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked two during the outing. Santiago gave up his first run against the first batter he faced. Coco Crisp hit a leadoff home run out to left center off Santiago in the first inning. He was able to get through the next three innings unscathed, but ran into trouble again in the fifth. On a fielder’s choice, a run wound up coming around on a throwing error by shortstop Erick Aybar. Santiago was able to get out of the inning, but was replaced to start the sixth. Santiago threw 98 pitches. 

With the loss, Santiago dropped to 3-8. He’ll take on the Marlins in his next start. 


Jonathon Niese sunk by an error Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:54 am ET) Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese was hurt by an error Friday against the Dodgers.

Niese allowed five runs, two earned, on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out four and walked three during the outing. Niese gave up his earned runs in the third and fifth innings. The seventh inning proved to be problematic. Niese recorded the first two out quickly via the strikeout. With two outs in the inning, Niese gave up a triple to Dee Gordon. After a Yasiel Puig walk, Adrian Gonzalez reached on a throwing error. Niese was pulled at that point. The two runs he left on base managed to score on a double. Both runs were charged to Niese, though they were unearned runs. 

With the loss, Niese dropped to 7-9. He’ll take on the Braves in his next start.


Dan Haren turns in solid start Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:53 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren turned in a solid start Friday against the Mets.

Haren allowed one run on three hits over seven innings. He struck out six and did not issue any walks. Haren’s only mistake came way back in the first inning. Haren allowed a solo home run against the lead off hitter. Despite the early struggles, Haren settled in. He erased a second inning single with a double-play, and did the same in the fourth after a runner reached on an error. 

With the win, Haren improved to 11-10. He’ll take on the Padres in his next start. 


Greg Holland saves No. 40
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Royals closer Greg Holland saved his 40th game Friday against the Rangers.

Holland entered with a three-run lead in the ninth. He immediately recorded two outs before issuing a walk. The Rangers threat ended there. Against the fourth batter in the inning, Holland got Elvis Andrus to pop out to end the game. 


Fernando Rodney picks up save No. 37
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:50 am ET) Mariners closer Fernando Rodney picked up his 37th save Friday against the Red Sox.

Rodney entered the game with a two-run lead. He immediately recorded the first two outs on a groudout and flyout. Rodney issued a walk with two outs, but was able to work out of it. Against the next hitter, Rodney inducing a game-ending flyout to right. 


Craig Kimbrel nails down a save Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:47 am ET) Braves closer Craig Kimbrel picked up a save Friday against the Reds.

Kimbrel entered with a two-run lead in the 12th inning. He struck out Jay Bruce to open the frame, and quickly got his second out on a lineout. With two outs, Kimbrel put one man on with a walk. He managed to shut the door against the fourth batter of the inning, striking out Skip Schumaker to end the game. It was Kimbrel's 38th save.


Jonathan Papelbon picks up 31st save Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 31st save Friday against the Cardinals.

Papelbon entered with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. He was perfect during his only inning of work, inducing a lineout, groundout and flyout. Papelbon threw 12 pitches, six of which were strikes. He's lowered his ERA to 1.52 following the outing. 


 
 
 
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