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Fantasy Baseball Advice: NL West Closer Situations in Flux

A couple of closers hit the shelf Saturday night in what shouldn't be considered shocking news. But what is somewhat surprising is that we haven't yet seen significant transaction trends to add their replacements.  Regardless of the cause for this delayed reaction, an opportunity exists for alert fantasy owners to capitalize in 75-80% of leagues. although my advice may deviate slightly from the popular vote.

Rex Brothers 49 Pitching SetFirst, there was Rafael Betancourt who had been dealing with a groin injury for the past several days. Betancourt was off to a good start but had struggled as of late, allowing 4 runs in his last 3 appearances. Given the timing of the injury and the downturn in his performance, it appears quite likely there was a connection, so I think Betancourt’s job should be safe when he returns. Groin injuries can be tricky though (unfortunately, I know from experience) as evidenced by the that fact he tried to pitch through it without success. In his absence, Rex Brothers will assume ninth-inning duties. When you look at Brothers’s season, the 0.36 ERA will probably jump out, but the underlying numbers aren't quite as impressive. His BABIP is quite reasonable at .295, but his strand rate sits at 96.7%, and he’s yet to give up a HR. His career HR/FB rate is 8.5%, and he also pitches at Coors so the question isn’t if but how many HRs are in his future. His K/9 is okay for closer standards (9.12) but is by no means dominant, and he also carries a 4.38 BB/9 which is not attractive. Both of these stats give me added concern around his strand rate. Although his swinging strike rate has always been good (it’s 11.8% this year), he doesn’t do anything special getting batters to swing outside the zone. None of this changes the recommendation to pick Brothers up, but it should serve as notice that you aren’t picking up the next Aroldis Chapman breakout candidate and some regression should be coming.

The second closer to be placed on the shelf was former Rockies’ and current Padres’ closer Huston Street. Again, this wasn't an if but when question as the knock on Street has always been durability and not talent; however, the Street’s performance while healthy this year has been dreadful. Amazingly, he’s 11-for-12 in save chances but carries a fortunate 4.43 ERA. His GB/FB numbers have flipped from 1.09 to 0.69, and these fly balls are leaving the park at an alarming rate (24.1% HR/FB). While that should normalize some, his 98.7% strand rate and .179 BABIP indicate he’s actually been quite lucky, and by all other metrics his ERA should be higher (7.44 FIP, 5.00 xFIP and 4.64 SIERA)! He’s also seen his BB/9 increase by a full walk while his K rate has been cut in half. The deeper you go, the story gets worse as his velocity is down and opposing batters have improved against him in just about every plate discipline category. So perhaps mercifully for him and his owners, Street is out of commission.

Luke Gregerson 01The replacement here isn’t as clear as in Colorado, but their “best” reliever this year has been Luke Gregerson. I say “best”, because it’s a relative term – no other Padre relief pitcher has a positive WAR. Like Brothers, Gregerson boasts a sub-1.00 ERA, but he has been living dangerously with Lady Luck, and I would expect his .117 BABIP, 80.9% strand rate and 5.6% HR/FB rate all to correct. His predictive metrics aren’t nearly as bad as Street’s, but 3.25 seems a lot more realistic than his current 0.76 ERA. He showed a rebound in his K rate last year (9.04 K/9), but it’s been declining since 2009 and sits at only 6.85 in 2013 which is atypical for a closer, especially these days. The other option who could inherit some save opportunities from the Street fallout is Dale Thayer, but as those of us who owned him last year know when he inherited the closer role, Mr. Thayer didn’t fare too well with ninth-inning duties converting at only a 70% clip including a couple blow-ups. His underlying numbers may actually be a bit better than Gregerson’s, but Gregerson did better in the limited opportunities in the role last year and remains my recommendation from the Padres’ bullpen.

So with this context, I’ll provide one last piece of advice. If you’re in the majority of leagues where Brothers or Gregerson are available and there aren’t plentiful saves just sitting on the waiver wire, each of these guys is clearly worth the pickup. Assuming your team isn’t in dire need of saves, I would take a look to see which owners are falling behind in the category and try to pick up and dump one of these newly anointed closers, pointing out their stellar ERAs and that the only thing that was preventing them from being elite was lack of opportunity which they now have. Maybe the Betancourt or Street owner is willing to pay a premium, too. Either way, I’m looking to sell now and especially once they have earned their first saves, because I think in each case, value is at or very near its peak.


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