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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
Juan Centeno making good impression on Brewers
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:01 pm ET) Catcher Juan Centeno signed with the Brewers after getting waived by the Mets in the offseason. There were some growing pains at first, but he's finally made a good impression with his new team. 

"He’s improving all the time from what we’ve seen," said manager Ron Roenicke, per Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel. "When he first came here, he maybe wasn’t comfortable. It’s hard when you change teams, and he’s trying to impress. He’s a nice player; will be a nice backup for us."

Centeno is hitting .400 for the Brewers this spring. 


Indians outfielder Michael Brantley working on opposite-field power
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is battling off injury issues this spring. But, the outfielder is still working to get better. And listening to his father, reports MLB.com.

"Hitting it over the left fielder's head -- not always in front," Michael Brantley said. "Making sure that we're catching the ball still out front, but still staying through it so we could stay behind the ball and drive the ball to left-center and over the left fielder's head this year."

His dad, Mickey Brantley is now a hitting coach and continues to give his son advice. Brantley wants to continue to be aggressive at the plate.

"That's not going to change. It worked OK," Brantley said with a laugh. "I don't want to change things that work. There's no set way of going about it, but you've got to be aggressive in this game. The pitching is getting too good to not be aggressive anymore."


Carlos Rodon likely to start season in minors for White Sox
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:42 pm ET) The White Sox will probably have pitcher Carlos Rodon start the season in the minors. 

The number two overall pick in last year's draft, Rodon still needs to work on his changeup, in the opinion of manager Robin Ventura. 

"Everybody has different opinions on him, but you don’t want to put him in there with one pitch or two pitches," Ventura said, per ESPN's Doug Padilla. "You want him to be armed with the things that make him successful and you don’t want him to come up here and be a flash in the pan, and he’s got to go down and work on stuff. He needs to be a complete product when he comes out of here."

Rodon has made progress with the changeup, so it may not be a long time before he's in Chicago to stay. 

"The changeup is getting much better every time he goes out there," Ventura said. 


Rough day on mound for White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:38 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija got batted around by his old team on Friday. The Cubs hit four home runs off Samardzija in six innings. 

Samrdzija gave up six runs on seven hits. He struck out nine batters in the game. 

Samardzija suffered the loss, dropping to 1-2 in the spring with a 7.79 ERA.


Astros 1B Jon Singleton working to simplify things at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) Astros first baseman Jon Singleton is continuing to progress as a hitter. Singleton has hit .244 so far this spring and manager A.J. Hinch is seeing him get better every day, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"He's working on things to simplify things at the plate, clear his head and take a good pass at the ball and swing at strikes," Hinch said Friday. "Get in a good body posture, making sure that his effort level is at the right consistent. He can swing ferociously with the best of them, and that's not always the best balance swing for him. I think he's trying to find a happy medium on how to try to take his best swing while staying under control. And I think that’s starting to translate into games."

Singleton is getting in the mindset of focusing more at the plate.

"A lot of it is thinking," Singleton said. "You got to get in the box and just let everything go. Let everything that you're working on go. Compete. I think that has a little bit to do with it. I also think it's still early, pitches that I'm missing now I don't think I'm going to miss in May or June. But it’s all a work in progress."


Indians pitcher Corey Kluber reaches seventh inning in start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:07 pm ET) Indians pitcher Corey Kluber threw 107 pitches Friday in his outing against the Diamondbacks. Kluber, the AL Cy Young award winner in 2014, reached the seventh inning, but was pulled before recording an out.

"I felt good," Kluber said to MLB.com. "I feel like I'm getting stronger each time out. I was able to get the pitch count up to where I wanted to today. For the most part, I executed pretty well."

Kluber allowed six hits with nine strikeouts in the outing.

"He wanted to get out there pretty good," manager Terry Francona said of Kluber's high pitch count. "So, the next outing, if he wanted, if he feels like scaling it back, he can. But, he feels like he's ready. I thought he did a really good job. He's in such good shape. Most guys, when they get out to that point, they're kind of pushing to get through it. He's strong."


MRI reveals no damage to Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Stites' elbow
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:02 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Stites does not have any structural damage in his right elbow after receiving a second MRI, reports MLB.com.

Stites' right arm locked up on him last Saturday and the initial MRI revealed inflammation in the elbow.

"What we heard is it looked good," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "They said this one was even cleaner. The MRI looked very clean, so they're going to figure out a plan of attack."

It is unclear when Stites will resume throwing again.


Royals' Alex Rios says thumb better, but problem will linger
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Rios said his thumb is doing better, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star.

Rios sat out two games after jamming the thumb, the same injury he suffered last season. 

Even though the thumb is improved, Rios said he'll likely have to manage the condition all season long. 


Rangers pitcher Anthony Ranaudo tosses six innings Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:41 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Anthony Ranaudo went six innings Friday against the Athletics, allowing just two runs.

Ranaudo, who is competing for a spot in the starting rotation, liked that he was able to get up to the six-inning plateau.

"This was a good day. It was the first time I got up six times (innings) and I felt good," Ranaudo said. "I was throwing my pitches for strikes and mixing my pitches well. It was a step in the right direction as far as getting ready for the season."

Ranaudo added three strikeouts and lowered his spring ERA to 5.02.


Cubs' Javier Baez shaken up after collision at second base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Cubs shortstop Javier Baez was in the middle of a nasty collision Friday at second base while trying to turn a double play. It looked bad enough manager Joe Maddon was a bit nervous Baez may have suffered a serious injury, reports MLB.com.

"I asked him when was the last time a Puerto Rican had played in the NFL, because he just felt it right there," Maddon said of the crash with the Angels' Kole Calhoun on a double play. "[Baez] got smoked. I didn't know what was wrong with him, but he got hammered. I loved it."

Baez remained in the game and turned the double play. It is unknown yet whether Baez will make the final roster for Opening Day.


 
 
 
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