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Fantasy Relief: Will Holland provide for your team?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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For years, the Kansas City Royals have tortured their fan base with dismal showings year after year in the American League Central standings. On Tuesday, they reached a new level of disappointment by crushing some Fantasy owners' dreams of a championship.

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By trading closer Jonathan Broxton to the Reds, the Royals stripped owners of a reliable source of saves as now Broxton becomes a setup man for Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman. And if those Broxton owners weren't fortunate enough to nab his replacement, Greg Holland, they could be in for a world of hurt.

For those owners who put in a flier for Holland, while he has the potential to be a great late-season addition, how many times have we seen first-time closers fail? Then again, how many times have we seen veteran closers falter?

Holland, a 2007 10th-round pick, first appeared on the major-league scene in 2010 and struggled like many rookie pitchers. But the light at the end of the tunnel was Holland's 23 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings that season.

The right-handed reliever then came back in 2011 to be one of the breakout arms of the season, going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 46 outings (60 innings). He put the league on notice as a force to be reckoned with, which is why when he got off to a slow start in 2012 it was such a huge letdown. But we would soon find out that Holland was battling a rib injury, which likely contributed to his poor early season numbers.

Holland returned in mid-May and quickly re-established himself as a dominant arm. Before recording his first save Wednesday, Holland had posted a 4-1 record, 2.16 ERA, .220 opponents' batting average and nine holds in 34 outings from May 12-July 29. Oh yeah, he also struck out 46 batters in 33 1/3 innings during that span.

Unlike most relievers, Holland can throw four pitches -- four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. Holland, who relies mostly on his fastball and slider, has thrown his fastball, slider and curveball for strikes 63.3 percent of the time or better this season, according to PitchFX data compiled by TexasLeaguers.com. He also has managed a 16.5 percent or better whiff rate on his curveball and slider. Those two pitches seem to set up nicely thanks to Holland averaging 95.8 mph on his fastball.

Top non-closers Week 17 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Scott Feldman, RP, Rangers 55
2. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 48
3. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 32.5
4. Brian Duensing, RP, Twins 32
5. Mike Fiers, RP, Brewers 26.5
6. Samuel Deduno, RP, Twins 26
7. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 25
8. Michael Schwimer, RP, Phillies 22.5
9. James Russell, RP, Cubs 22
10. Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins 19.5

Holland is striking out a career-high 12.4 batters per nine innings, which drowns out his .376 BABIP. That just goes to show when hitters make contact, they are getting hits at a high rate, but Holland has done a very good job of sneaking pitches past the opposition.

His FIP (2.34) and xFIP (2.97) suggest his ERA (3.54) should come down.

Aside from his high walk rate (5.1 BB/9), one stat that really jumps off the page is Holland's throwing first-pitch strikes just 48.1 percent of the time, which is well below the norm (59 percent) and well below his career average (55.7). It's also the second-worst rate among relievers. That number is usually a strong indicator of failure among relievers, but some players defy the odds. Case in point is Ryan Cook, Carlos Marmol and Rafael Betancourt. They are all relievers who have terrible first-pitch strike percentages and high strikeout rates, yet manage to keep their closer jobs. Perhaps Holland will follow suit.

Royals manager Ned Yost said Holland was the "obvious" choice to succeed Broxton as closer. Let's hope he is right.

Closing Time

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

Houston: Apparently Francisco Cordero has forgotten how to be a closer. First, he lost the closer's job with Toronto earlier this season. Now he has been stripped of the role with Houston just a few appearances after being acquired in a trade. I wrote last week I didn't expect much from Cordero, but I expected he would be a suitable enough option to keep the closer's job. How wrong that turned out to be. For now, Astros manager Brad Mills said Wilton Lopez will be given the opportunity to close out games, but Mills said he still might use him in the seventh or eighth innings if needed. That obviously leaves the door open for a committee approach, but if you are looking for saves in deeper formats, then Lopez is the Astros reliever to own.

Milwaukee: Speaking of closer committees, that is the Brewers' latest approach after Francisco Rodriguez did his best Francisco Cordero impersonation and had a complete meltdown in the closer's role after supplanting John Axford. Manager Ron Roenicke hinted Livan Hernandez might see some save chances, but Axford got the team's first save Monday since the change. However, he did record a blown save Sunday against the Nationals, but Roenicke going back to Axford Monday could be a very telling sign that his confidence is rising with the former closer. I've been saying for weeks to stash Axford because the team always expected to give him a chance to regain the closer's role. It seems that could be happening in the coming weeks -- if not sooner.

L.A. Angels: Scott Downs landed on the disabled list Tuesday with a shoulder strain, clearing the path for Ernesto Frieri to be the team's sole closer while Downs is sidelined. It's only fitting that Frieri then suffered his first blown save of the season Wednesday, yielding two homers in one inning of work after allowing three homers in his first 43 appearances this season. It's far from time to hit the panic button. It's true he has a 10.50 ERA in his last seven appearances, but it could just be a market correction after Frieri's first-half ERA (0.71) was outstanding. But if something happened to Frieri while Downs is out, then Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins would likely be the top candidates to close games over former closer Jordan Walden.

Baltimore: Much like Frieri, Orioles closer Jim Johnson has been awful post-All-Star break. After posting a 1.21 ERA in the first half, Johnson has a 15.95 ERA and two blown saves in his first nine second-half appearances (7 1/3 innings). There's no talk of a change in Baltimore, but Fantasy owners need to be aware of Johnson's recent shortcomings. Pedro Strop continues to be a very solid reliever for Baltimore and showed earlier this season he could handle the pressures of being a closer.

San Francisco: The Giants bolstered their lineup at the non-waiver trade deadline by acquiring outfielder Hunter Pence, but failed to bring in a reliever, which temporarily means good news for closer Santiago Casilla. I say temporarily because now it's up to Casilla to keep the job since he has been given a second life. Casilla has really struggled since June, posting a 6.89 ERA and five blown saves in his last 21 outings (15 2/3 innings). Manager Bruce Bochy leaned on Jeremy Affeldt for a two-inning save Tuesday against the Mets, so that could be a telling sign he will either make a change at closer or go to a committee approach if Casilla continues to labor. The Giants can't afford many mishaps in a playoff chase.

Top non-closers Week 17 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Michael Schwimer, RP, Phillies 23
2. James Russell, RP, Cubs 27
3. David Phelps, RP, Yankees 41
4. Carlos Torres, RP, Rockies 53
5. Brandon Lyon, RP, Blue Jays 59
6. Sean Marshall, RP, Reds 68
7. Tony Watson, RP, Pirates 70
8. Kevin Jepsen, RP, Angels 73
9. Joe Smith, RP, Indians 74
10. Jerry Blevins, RP, A's 75

Boston: Andrew Bailey took one step closer to making his 2012 debut by pitching in his first rehab game Wednesday. Bailey estimates he will need 5-6 rehab appearances, which could span 10-14 days, before coming off the disabled list. At that time the Red Sox finally have to answer questions about Bailey's bullpen role, but as we suspect, Alfredo Aceves should keep the job and Bailey will likely end up in a setup role. It's worth holding onto Bailey in deep formats for the off chance he is given the role he was acquired for prior to hurting his thumb this spring.

N.Y. Mets: Frank Francisco (oblique) is set to rejoin the major-league roster this weekend. The Mets opted not to trade for relief help as their playoff hopes dwindled while Francisco was out, so the erratic reliever should remain New York's closer the rest of the season. That might not have been the case had Bobby Parnell ran away with the closer's role while Francisco was sidelined, but he continues to prove he is much more reliable pitching in other scenarios.

Call to the 'pen

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

Former Mariners closer Brandon League was dealt as expected prior to Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline. Unfortunately, he didn't go to a situation where he could return to being a closer immediately. League was acquired by the Dodgers, who have said he will share setup duties with Ronald Belisario now that Josh Lindblom is with the Phillies … Had Chris Perez been traded, then Vinnie Pestano would have been the likely choice to replace him as the Indians closer. Alas, Perez stays put and so does Pestano in his setup role. However, he continues to be outstanding in that role. Through Wednesday, Pestano has tossed 14 straight scoreless outings (14 innings), recording 11 holds and 18 strikeouts in that span. He has 29 holds on the season and is one of the most valuable non-closer relievers in Fantasy … David Phelps has been on fire since returning from the minors July 18. Phelps was demoted to stretch out as a starter after the Yankees rotation was hit hard by injury. Phelps did quite well in the minors, going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in four starts between Class A, Double-A and Triple-A. But upon his return, the Yankees had no need for him to start, so he has been back in the bullpen and thriving. Phelps has tossed nine scoreless innings in his last five outings, striking out 13 and allowing just two hits and one walk. Phelps has certainly become a nice Rotisserie reliever thanks to his recent surge, but owners in the deepest of Fantasy formats might want to stash Phelps on your bench. It seems he could be the first candidate to enter the rotation if needed … In Oakland, most of the attention and acclaim when it comes to pitching goes to the rotation and closer Ryan Cook, but it's time folks start to recognize the work of left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins. The A's certainly do since Blevins has emerged with a significant role after pitching in mostly losses through the first two months of the season. Since June 1, Blevins is 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA and five holds in 21 outings (22 innings). He is just not a lefty specialist either. In those 21 outings, Blevins has recorded more than three outs six times and he has recorded less than three outs just seven times. Not only has Blevins been a wins vulture, but his holds total is on the rise, making him a viable Fantasy option in Rotisserie formats and leagues that reward for holds.

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
Angels pitcher Mike Morin tagged for three-run homer Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) Angels pitcher Mike Morin lasted just 1/3 of an inning Saturday in Los Angeles' 4-0 loss to the Astros. Morin served up a three-run home run to Robbie Grossman on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh, leading to the Angels' loss.

"We know the dimensions of the ballpark," Morin said. "I didn't execute the pitch -- bottom line."

Morin has posted a 4.91 ERA in 3 2/3 innings this season and may be fighting for a role with his struggles.

"I trust Sosh completely," said Morin. "It has nothing to do with that. I'll be ready day in and day out, whether it's the second inning or the 10th or the seventh. It's not weighing on my mind at all."


Rockies surprising 2B LeMahieu cranks first homer Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu had his nine-game hitting streak to start the season snapped Friday night. He apparently didn't take too kindly to it.

LeMahieu, a hot hitter on a hot-hitting team, provided most of the offense in a loss to the Dodgers with a two-run homer in the seventh inning off standout right-hander Zack Greinke. The RBI give him eight on the year and the performance improved his slash line to an impressive .463/.476/.585.


Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis thriving early this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis has ripped through the first two weeks of the season with a bang, hitting .333 in 45 at-bats. Manager John Gibbons loves the way the rookie is playing this season.

"He's got the complete game, he really does," Gibbons said. "He was such a good hitter in spring training I thought to myself: 'This kid will hit some home runs in his career.' But he's shown a lot more power than I expected."

Gibbons is handling things at the plate like an old veteran, according to Gibbons.

"One thing he's got that's advanced for a young guy is he's got a great approach at the plate, he doesn't chase out of the zone much. He's got the ability to foul off tough pitches to stay alive and a lot of guys can't do that. And he handles breaking balls, at least fouls them off, and that's a big part of it. He stays alive and if they make a mistake he doesn't miss it. He's been very productive."


Blue Jays manager just fine with Kevin Pillar's aggressive style of play
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has no issue with how outfielder Kevin Pillar attacks the game head on, reports the Toronto Sun. He will deal with the slight issues that comes with his aggressiveness.

"I love the fact that he's aggressive, he can pull off some catches that a lot of guys don't make," Gibbons said. "It depends on the situation, some balls you can't get to, them back off. But he's always had that mindset (to go get it) and that's what allows him to be so good and make those plays. A lot of guys don't. But he's smart enough too to know there's certain times he's got to back off too."

Pillar doesn't think he's overly aggressive.

"He believes he's going to make it, that's why he makes a lot of them," Gibbons added. "There's no hesitation with him at all. He's got a ton of confidence when he's playing that outfield, really in his whole game. When he's on the bases he's a confident kid too."


Adrian Gonzalez drives in three more for Dodgers on Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) The 2015 RBI Machine, otherwise known as Adrian Gonzalez, was at it again Saturday night.

The Dodgers slugger not only boasts a ridiculous batting average of .523, which actually went down in the game but he added three RBI to his total, giving him 14 in 11 games. He brought home a run with a fielder's choice in the third and singled in two in the fifth. Gonzalez owns an eye-popping slugging percentage of 1.045.

He has struck out just three times in 44 at-bats on the year.


Dodgers closer Peralta overcomes pain in neck to be pain in neck to Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) For a guy considered questionable to pitch with a neck issue, Dodgers closer Joel Peralta was certainly impressive Saturday night.

Peralta was a pain in the neck to the Rockies. He closed them down with a shutout inning, yielding only a walk along the way to notch his third save.

The right-hander has yet to surrender a run in six outings as he holds down the role for the injured Kenley Jansen.


Rockies starter Lyles can't compete against Greinke in defeat
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Opposing pitchers must be sharp when matched up against Dodgers stud Zack Greinke. Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles was not sharp Saturday night. The result was his first loss of the season.

Lyles walked five in six innings. He also gave up five hits and four earned runs. He was hanging in there until a two-run single by Adrian Gonazalez in the fifth stretched the Los Angeles lead to 4-1.

His ERA jumped more than a point to 3.50, but he will have a chance to lower it Thursday against San Diego.


Mariners catcher Mike Zunino rips first home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino went 1 for 3 at the plate in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday. Zunino did his damage in the fifth when he smacked the first pitch he saw from Colby Lewis over the left center field wall for a solo home run, his first of the year.

Zunino, who also struck out twice, boosted his average to .139 in 36 at-bats this season.


Dodgers RHP Greinke good enough for second win Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Good was good enough Saturday night for Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke.

Greinke was dominant in his first two starts this season. He was merely good against the hot-hitting Rockies and that earned him his second win.

Only a two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu in the seventh inning really marred his performance. He finished having yielded three earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 inning with one walk and three strikeouts. His ERA nearly doubled to a still-wonderful 1.83.

Greinke has now allowed just 12 hits and two walks in 19 2/3 innings. He will try to continue his fine start Thursday in San Francisco.


Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis knocked around for 10 hits in loss
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis allowed three runs on 10 hits in Texas' 3-1 loss to the Mariners Saturday. 

Lewis worked efficiently through the first three innings before running into issues in the fourth. Lewis allowed a sacrifice fly to Seth Smith, allowing Robinson Cano to score. Then in the fifth, Lewis surrendered a leadoff home run to Mike Zunino.

"I thought he settled in nicely and pitched a heckuva game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said to MLB.com. "He made pitches and he mixed pitches. I felt good with the way Colby was throwing."

Brad Miller then tripled in the sixth, driving in Kyle Seager, before getting pulled.

"There wasn't one inning that was easy," Lewis said. "I didn't get any quick innings. I was always working out of the stretch. I was just trying to keep it close like I always do."

Lewis, now 1-1, boasts a 3.79 ERA and will look to get back on track Saturday against the Angels.


 
 
 
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