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Bullpen Report: You can start these relievers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Two weeks ago, we introduced the term "SPARP" to the Fantasy playing masses. It was basically an easier way to describe the fine/shady/impure art form of using a starting pitcher in a relief pitcher spot. I personally hate the practice -- it skews the value of closers and gives pitchers like Freddy Garcia value where there should be none. But I don't make the games. And it's foolish to stubbornly refuse to use the SPARP strategy in a league where it's legal, because you'll most likely lose a few games to teams streaming two-start SPARPs ("TSSPARPs") [Note: the "T" is silent] where closers should normally be.

Still, this is a strategy that plenty of Fantasy players embrace, so I figured the time has come for a bizarro Bullpen Report, where we begrudgingly give some sort of value to the various SPARPs out there.

This is against everything I stand for, but I live to serve.

Must-start SPARPs

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Shelby Miller, Cardinals
Kris Medlen, Braves

How dominant has Iwakuma been this year? He currently has 44 more points than Jason Grilli, who has 25 saves, a 1.10 ERA, and 14.9 K/9. Ignore the little blue "cold" icon next to Iwakuma's name. He is a stud as a starter and borderline otherworldly as a SPARP.

In spring training, Shelby Miller was locked in a battle for the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation. Now he's the third-best relief pitcher in Head-to-Head points formats, trailing Grilli -- who, remember, is having essentially the same season as the guy who finished eighth in MVP voting last year (Craig Kimbrel) -- by just six points.

SPARPs you can start ... as starters!

David Phelps, Yankees
Hector Santiago, White Sox
Andrew Cashner, Padres

Of this group, Cashner is probably the most stable of this group in terms of staying power. There will eventually be a crunch when Michael Pineda and Jake Peavy return from injuries for Phelps and Santiago, respectively. But Cashner may be the least intriguing of this second tier of SPARPs, at least until his strikeouts come back.

Phelps' overall numbers won't blow anyone away, but of his nine starts this season, five of them have featured Phelps allowing two or fewer runs. And if you discount his first stretch-out start (four earned runs) as well as the two late May starts where he was struck in the arm by a line drive (four earned runs) and the following start where he may have still been feeling the effects of getting beaned (four earned runs), Phelps looks even better. [Note: Yes, I sweat Phelps, but he needs at least two more normal starts allowing four earned runs before I give up on this extenuating circumstances excuse-making exercise]. In his minor league career, Phelps started 90 of the 91 games he appeared in, producing a 2.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a solid 7.6 K/9. I think the more he starts, the better his numbers will be.

Santiago, meanwhile, requires far fewer contextual explanations for his case as being used in non-SPARP situations. As a starter, Santiago has a 3.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and a 10.4 K/9. His ERA, WHIP, K/9 and pretty much every other measurable statistic are better when he's starting (as opposed to RPARPing). And his sample size gets a little bigger when you consider Santiago's four-start run at the end of 2012, when he put together a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four starts. His value may come from being RP eligible, but Santiago can be started in most formats as an actual starter and should deliver decent value back to his owners.

Two-start SPARPs

Kyle Kendrick, Phillies
Wade Davis, Royals
Alexi Ogando, Rangers (injured)
Nick Tepesch, Rangers

After a nice start to the season -- one that vaulted him to the 13th spot (currently) among RPs -- Kyle Kendrick has seen things take a somewhat ugly turn. In his last seven starts, Kendrick has a 4.91 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. I suppose you can stream him depending on the opponent, but I'm leaning more toward the "leave him on the wire" side of things, as this latest version of Kendrick seems more in line with what we've seen through his career.

Wade Davis, meanwhile, is a pitcher I would drop Kendrick for. I've heard all the arguments against Davis -- his velocity is down as a starter, he found his niche in the bullpen last year, he generally just isn't that good -- but I like Davis. Maybe it took him some time to adjust to starting, maybe he just had some kinks to work out early on. But in his last three games, Davis has a 2.04 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. He has six games of six or more strikeouts in his 14 starts this season, a surprisingly high number considering his drop in velocity. Davis is a former top 20 prospect who never really struck a lot of batters out but had the potential to deliver low ERA and WHIP. As a regular starter, he's got some trust issues. But as a SPARP who could replace a shaky Jose Valverde for an owner in a Head-to-Head points league, he's worth the gamble. Over the last 14 days, Davis is the 10th-best reliever.

Single-League SPARPs

Justin Grimm, Rangers
Alfredo Figaro, Brewers
Chad Gaudin, Giants
Esmil Rogers, Blue Jays

Most Added Relievers (as of 6/21)
Player % change
1. Esmil Rogers, RP, Blue Jays 23
2. Joaquin Benoit, RP, Tigers 13
3. Junichi Tazawa, RP, Red Sox 9
4. Alfredo Figaro, RP, Brewers 9
5. Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins 7
6. Kevin Gregg, RP, Cubs 6
7. Greg Holland, RP, Royals 5
8. Oliver Perez, RP, Mariners 5
9. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers 4
10. Jose Veras, RP, Astros 4

First off, let's just address the obvious -- the Rangers have way too many SPARPs on their roster. It's at four right now (counting the injured Ogando and sometime-starter Josh Lindblom), but there's always the chance they stretch out Robbie Ross, who was a starter throughout the minors, at some point this season, too. The issue with the various options the Rangers offer is that none of them are can't-miss options in the RP slot. Alexi Ogando was close earlier in the season, but he's been battling shoulder issues and might slide back into the bullpen when he returns. Grimm and Tepesch have been too inconsistent for anything more than two-start consideration in deeper leagues, but only in weeks when they have solid matchups.

The interesting SPARP here is Chad Gaudin, who is currently sporting a 2.83 ERA over 47 2/3 innings pitched. In three June starts, though, he has a 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts in 17 innings. Of course, that was all before his start Thursday, during which he was hit by a line drive. We weren't sure of his status at the time this column was published. For what it's worth, though, in his career Gaudin has been a pretty pedestrian starter, according to the numbers -- a 4.70 ERA in 78 starts. But part of Gaudin's value is his swingman flexibility, and a good chunk of those starts came as a spot starter or getting stretched out. In the right situation and with the right pitching coach -- and in that spacious home park -- Gaudin might be a nice two-start SPARP in NL-only leagues for as long as he remains in the rotation. Just make sure to watch his injury status through the weekend.

SPARPs on the scrapheap

Freddy Garcia, Orioles
Tyler Lyons, Cardinals
Tom Koehler, Marlins
Jeremy Hefner, Mets

Tyler Lyons was a borderline candidate for the NL-only category because he's had flashes of good this year. But I had the opportunity to pick him up in a 24-team Head-to-Head points format, where starters are scarce, and I passed. The corresponding move would have been to release John Axford. That exercise was kind of telling in what I thought about Lyons. A few more uninspiring starts from Lyons and he could be sent down for Michael Wacha. Because of that, I'm not really willing to add him in even the deepest of Fantasy leagues.

Honorable Mention SPARPs

Tony Cingrani, Reds
Drew Smyly, Tigers

Cingrani and Smyly are currently relievers in starters' bodies. Both have been relegated to bullpen roles, but both seem like the obvious candidates for the next open rotation spot. While Cingrani is the more high-profile of the two, Smyly can offer a very low WHIP and some high strikeout totals. Why he's stuck in relief in favor of Jose Alvarez remains a mystery, but I have a hunch Alvarez will get a couple turns in place of the injured Anibal Sanchez while Smyly stretches out and gets ready to take over the spot. Owned in 24 percent of leagues, if you missed out on the Cingrani rush, Smyly makes for a stellar speculative alternative.

And let's not forget …

Dylan Bundy, Orioles
Brett Myers, Indians

I threw Bundy and Myers in here just because they, at one point, were considered top SPARP options, before injury struck and their futures became far more vague. Bundy now looks like another September call-up for the bullpen -- if he can overcome his forearm injury. Myers, meanwhile, has just started playing catch and doesn't have a timetable for a return. When he does make it back, he'll have to contend with an out-of-nowhere Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and possibly Trevor Bauer in order to reclaim a rotation spot. While they may have a bit of value in some formats, I think it's safe to drop both of these pitchers in single-season leagues.

There you go. SPARPs. We shall never speak of this again.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Alejandro De Aza on fire since joining Orioles
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:29 pm ET) Orioles outfelder Alejandro De Aza has sizzled since arriving from the White Sox and has started every game since Sept. 7.

De Aza has hit safely in 11 of 12 games and is 16 of 49 during that stretch with two home runs and nine RBI. He has fanned just seven times.


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(1:51 pm ET) Ballyhooed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is far from the only promotion from Triple-A Pawtucket made by the Red Sox on Wednesday. But he is certainly the most significant.

The team has also brought up left-hander Edwin Escobar, right-hander Heath Hembree, third baseman Garin Cecchini, outfielder Bryce Brentz and catcher Ryan Lavarnway.


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by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:41 pm ET) Don Mattingly has claimed that Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez is feeling better Wednesday and could rejoin the lineup this weekend against the host Cubs.

Ramirez pinch-hit Tuesday and is not starting Wednesday in Colorado. He has been dealing with an elbow strain.


Michael Morse not ready for return Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:36 pm ET) Giants left fielder Michael Morse is still absent from the lineup Wednesday against the host Diamondbacks.

Morse has been out since Aug. 31 with a strained oblique, but is expected back soon. He will return with a stat line of .280/.338/.477.


Angel Pagan still a no-go Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) A back ailment continues to sideline Giants center fielder Angel Pagan in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon. He is out of the lineup.

Pagan has been sidelined since Sunday and has been limited to 95 games this season.


Wilmer Flores upping his stock for 2015
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Granted, if the Mets make a play for Starlin Castro or some other high-profile shortstop this offseason, all bets are off, but Wilmer Flores' two-homer performance Tuesday against the Marlins was just the latest indication that the 23-year-old is on the verge of turning the corner.

And that's an exciting prospect for Fantasy owners now that he's proven at least competent at the weakest position in the game.

In his last 18 games, he's batting .303 with five home runs and a .984 OPS. He has struck out just twice in 66 at-bats during that stretch. In 43 games since the All-Star break (or since his return from the minors, more accurately), he has struck out just nine times in 140 at-bats.

That was his calling card in the minors, where he never struck out even 80 times in a season and was typically between 60 and 70. The high contact rate often resulted in a .300 batting average -- particularly in the upper levels, when he began to develop the power to hit 15-plus homers and 30-plus doubles.

It's a skill set similar to the one Edgardo Alfonzo brought with him to the majors in the late 90s. If you were playing Fantasy then, you'll probably remember he had a few years when he was a pretty stellar option even at the height of the steroids era. And he wasn't even a shortstop during that time.

Sleeper alert?


Report: Twins contemplating shutting down Glen Perkins
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) The Twins could be considering shutting down closer Glen Perkins for the season, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Ron Gardenhire has admitted he's worried about the struggling veteran left-hander.

"Yes, I'm concerned," he said about Perkins' recent drop in velocity. "We're going to talk with him (Wednesday). There's a lot of frustration involved right now. We're going to definitely talk with him and see where we're at and see how he's feeling because he just came off that (neck/shoulder) thing and he's had a couple outings where we think the velocity is down. We just want him to be honest with us and not hurt himself."

Perkins has blown three of his last five save opportunities, including Tuesday night, when he surrendered a three-run homer to Detroit slugger J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning. He has allowed five homers in his last eight appearances and at least one hit in each of his last nine.


Jake Arrieta gives owners something to remember
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:32 pm ET) Just in case you were beginning to have some doubts about Jake Arrieta, noticing that he hasn't been quite as dominant in recent weeks with a 3-4 record, 3.67 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 12 starts since his breakthrough June, he made sure that line of thinking wouldn't haunt you in the offseason, regardless of how his final two starts go, with his performance Tuesday night.

Not only did he record his first complete game and shutout, but he threw a one-hitter, setting a career high with 13 strikeouts. It was a start even better than any of those he had in June, and he did against the same Reds team that beat him up for six earned runs in four inning back on Aug. 28 -- one of two ugly starts that served to inflate his ERA during that 12-start stretch.

The 28-year-old right-hander has maintained his velocity throughout and, apart from a trio of three-walk games at the beginning of July, hasn't encountered any of his past control issues. And for all his strikeouts, he has one of the lowest home run rates in the majors, making him the best of both worlds as far as quality pitchers -- a groundballer who won't give up a bunch of cheap singles pitching to contact.

In other words, he checks off every box on the list.

The one exception, of course, is durability. Until he goes 200 innings, you have reason to wonder if he can. But once all the established aces go off the board, Arrieta will rank as high as any pitcher in 2015. Top 25 seems like a lock.


Jake Lamb, David Peralta still out for Diamondbacks
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb (quad) and outfielder David Peralta (back) remain absent from the lineup Wednesday against visiting San Francisco.

Lamb has had just one at-bat since Friday after an encouraging 7-for-19 stretch. Peralta has been sidelined since Sept. 5.


Nolan Arenado down again Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is set to sit again Wednesday against the visiting Dodgers with a chest contusion. Rafael Ynoa has been tabbed to man the position.

Arenado was on a 1-for-13 slide before going down.


 
 
 
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