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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
Alex Wilson to close for Tigers, Blaine Hardy to go against lefties
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:52 pm ET) The Tigers will use Alex Wilson as closer for the forseeable future, manager Brad Ausmus said, per MLive.com, with Blaine Hardy also getting situational opportunities to close.

"I'll probably use Wilson at the back end, maybe Hardy at the back end if there are lefties," Ausmus said. The team dealt closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh on Thursday. 

Wilson is 1-3 with a 1.79 ERA. He picked up his first career save on Thursday night. Hardy is 3-2 with a 2.56 ERA


Athletics could shut down SP Jesse Hahn for 2015
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Athletics starter Jesse Hahn, who has been sidelined for a month with a forearm strain has yet to resume throwing and could be shut down for the year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The team is avoiding rushing him back considering he has already undergone Tommy John surgery.

If Hahn is indeed done, he will end the season 6-6 with a 3.35 ERA.


Cubs designate Yoervis Medina for assignment
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) The Cubs designated pitcher Yoervis Medina for assignment on Sunday, per the Tacoma News Tribune.

Medina had a 7.00 ERA in five relief appearances for the Cubs. He'd been optioned to Triple-A earlier in the week, but the DFA move takes him off of the Cubs' 40-man roster. 


Indians 2B Jason Kipnis (shoulder) might be headed to DL
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) Terry Francona has declared that Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis could land on the disabled list with right shoulder soreness that forced him to have an MRI on Sunday, per MLB.com.

Francona added that he wanted to talk the situation over with the medical staff and general manager Chris Antonetti before a decision is made.

Kipnis was on one of his many hot streaks this season until arriving for the team's current series in Oakland. He is 1-for-12 against the Athletics, but still boasts a slash line of .326/.401/.477 on the year.


Padres 2B Cory Spangenberg to launch rehab Monday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) Padres second baseman Cory Spangenberg will begin a rehab assignment Monday for Double-A San Antonio, per U-T San Diego. He has been on the disabled list for five weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Spangenberg will return with a slash line of .254/.304/.356 and 44 strikeouts in just 177 at-bats.


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett will decline surgery if recommended
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:18 pm ET) Surgery is not an option for Pirates starter A.J. Burnett even if doctors tell him he has torn elbow ligament. He would rather pitch through it than undergo a season-ending procedure.

He went on the disabled list Friday with what was described as right elbow inflammation, but an MRI scheduled for Monday could reveal it to be worse.

"I'm prepared for (being told) it just needs some rest and if it's ... the worst (outcome)," Burnett told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's a matter of doing enough treatment and building up some pain tolerance so I can stay on mound in the stretch run."

That might be difficult considering how poorly Burnett has performed since the All-Star break. He has surrendered 18 runs on 32 hits in 16 innings and has lost his last two decisions.


Next start for Orioles P Chris Tillman slated for Friday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:07 pm ET) An ankle issue has the next start for Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman pushed back to Friday against the host Angels, per MASNSports.com.

Tillman was scheduled to pitch Monday.

He hopes to perform as well Friday as he has in his last four outings, during which he has allowed just three earned runs in 29 2/3 innings to drop his ERA to 4.35, its lowest point since his second start of the year.


Back issue keeps Giants 2B Joe Panik out of Sunday's lineup
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:59 pm ET) Giants second baseman Joe Panik was held out of Sunday's lineup at Texas because of an ongoing back issue, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

Panik missed time last week because of the back issue, but he is considered day to day. Panik will undergo tests Monday if the issue persists.


Indians RF Lonnie Chisenhall in leadoff spot for first time Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:31 pm ET) The absence of Jason Kipnis in the Sunday lineup for the Indians in Oakland has hot-hitting right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall in the unfamiliar leadoff spot for the first time in his major league career.

Chisenhall homered Saturday for the team's lone run. He is 4-for-11 since his recall from Triple-A Columbus.


Indians 2B Jason Kipnis out of lineup Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:29 pm ET) Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who has been used three times as a designated hitter in the last five games, is out of the lineup Sunday in Oakland.

There has been no revelation of an injury to the team's best hitter. But he has struggled in the series with just one hit in 12 at-bats.


 
 
 
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