Fantasy Baseball

Closers continue to fall

Some stars shine so bright they burn out before their time.
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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Note: All stats are prior to games on Thursday.

POWER RANKINGS

See if your favorite team is pointed in the right direction this week.

We start this week’s column with a reader email:

“I’ve lost Mariano (Rivera), (Grant) Balfour and Jordan Walden. I traded for David Robertson, who then goes down. And now (Sean) Marshall’s out. I’m so desperate for closers that I picked up Tom Wilhelmsen and Wilton Lopez praying for injuries. Should we start treating bullpens like defenses in football and just draft an entire unit from a team?” – Rick, East Chicago

First, thanks for killing the better part of my afternoon, as I did not know an “East Chicago” existed, leading to an hour’s worth of investigation on the subject. Not only is East Chicago the hometown of sports legends Gregg Popovich and Kenny Lofton, but the city boasts the third-largest high school gym in the world (the John A. Baratto Athletic Center, which seats over 8,000 patrons). Also, despite the Chicago surname, the settlement is located in Indiana, not Illinois. Who knew? (Well, besides me, obviously).

But you’re preaching to the choir, my friend. Endorsing backfields to be picked like defenses remains the priority of my fantasy amendment list, but bullpens are certainly in the dialogue as well. This season of demotions and debilitating injuries has changed the theory of “Never pay for saves” into law. But this year has bordered on the ridiculous, turning the relief forum into a crapshoot. My only advice to fellow owners desperate for closing arms: don’t overpay in barter for a fireman. Instead, monitor the waiver wire like a hawk if/when the reliever roulette wheel spins again.

Start ‘Em

C: A.J. Ellis, Dodgers
Few have been swinging the stick better than Ellis as of late, hitting .400 with two homers and nine RBI in his past 11 games. Logging around 200 big-league at bats under his belt before this season, owners may wonder if Ellis can continue this barrage over the dog days of summer. While his .398 BABIP does suggest regression is imminent, Ellis did hit .300 or higher in three of his past four seasons in the minors. With a lack of offensive options available at the position, Ellis, owned in 19.9 of FOXSports.com leagues, is an entity obtainable in most formats.

1B: Carlos Lee, Astros
The power may be absent, but Lee is quietly putting together a strong effort in May, boasting a line of .338/.384/.475 with two blasts, eight RBI and 13 runs. The Houston first baseman has been especially proficient at the plate in the past week, sporting a .419 average and .457 OBP in his last 11 games. Also impressive has been a substantial reduction in strikeouts, whiffing on a career-low 5.2 percent. The lack of long balls may prohibit Lee from a starting spot in mixed leagues, but in NL-only formats or deeper divisions, Lee is certainly worth the gander.

2B: Tyler Greene, Cardinals
The former first-round selection is finally coming to fruition for the Redbirds, hitting .280 in May with three jacks, seven ribbies, eight runs and five swipes in 55 plate appearances. More importantly, Greene has seemingly locked down the starting gig at second for St. Louis, equating to enough opportunities to make a consistent impact in the fantasy realm. Greene’s penchant for punch-outs (a gargantuan 25.3 strikeout rate) is disconcerting given his warning-track power, yet his speed, run production and position versatility (eligibility at second, shortstop and outfield) makes the 28-year-old a rotisserie commodity.

3B: Yan Gomes, Blue Jays
Pickings are slim at hot corner this week, so we’re going off the beaten path with our nomination of Gomes, who became the first player born in Brazil to make the majors. Called up during the suspension of Brett Lawrie, Gomes has wielded a mighty hammer in his abbreviated appearance, going 5-for-17 with two round-trippers, five RBI and four runs. Toronto manager John Farrell has stated he seeks to give Gomes plenty of time once Lawrie returns, employing the rookie at third, first, catcher and DH. For now, Gomes is strictly an AL-only option, yet if he replicates his minor-league production (.359/.391/.565 line in 33 games in Triple-A Las Vegas this season) an early investment could pay dividends for owners.

SS: Mike Aviles, Red Sox
Aviles has alternated from opposite ends of the offensive spectrum so often we might as well refer to him as “Icy Hot.” Before an o-fer against Baltimore on Tuesday, Aviles was batting .313 over his last 16 games with three home runs, nine RBI and eight runs. Despite the extreme surges from the Boston shortstop, Aviles is just two homers away from matching his career-best 10 dingers from 2008, and has a reasonable shot at crossing the 100 RBI and runs plateaus this year.

OF: Dayan Viciedo, White Sox
Am I listing Viciedo for his burgeoning bomb rush (four homers in a six-game span last week) and improved execution with the lumber (a .281 average in May), or for his simple-yet-authoritative nickname (The Tank)? Yes, yes I am.

Viciedo’s patience is nonexistent, evidenced by his .257 OBP, and as late as May 13 the left fielder was under the Mendoza Line. Still, it’s hard to find a player on most waiver wires that pack the punch that’s in Viciedo’s arsenal. If you can swallow the blow to your squad’s cumulative average, the Cuban outfielder has 30-homer potential.

SP: R.A. Dickey, Mets
How a ballplayer in the Big Apple goes unnoticed beats me, but despite his recent performances on the mound (4-0, 2.48 ERA, 36 strikeouts in his six outings) Dickey is owned in just 32 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. In truth, subtract an atrocious outing in Atlanta (4.1 innings, eight hits, two walks, eight runs) and Dickey rocks a shimmering 2.38 ERA in his eight other starts on the season. Facing a less than formidable foe in the Padres this weekend (San Diego has scored the second-fewest runs in baseball), Rickey has a pristine platform to prolong this craftsmanship.

RP: Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
Janssen was viewed as a temporary fix in the fireman role for the Blue Jays until Sergio Santos returned from a shoulder issue, but Santos likely won’t be back for another three weeks. For his part, Janssen has not surrendered a run in his last nine appearances, walking just one batter while striking out seven in that time frame.

Sit ‘Em

C: Mike Napoli, Rangers
May has not been kind to the Texas backstop, as Napoli is hitting .206 with zero homers and four RBI in 74 plate appearances. It’s been a particularly dry spell the past week, going 3-for-26 in his last nine games. Napoli had a breakout campaign for the Rangers in 2011, launching 30 homers and submitting a stellar line of .320/.414/.631. However, Napoli registered just 113 games last year. Perhaps the wear-and-tear of the everyday schedule is taking its toll on the Lone Star slugger.

1B: Freddie Freeman, Braves
Freeman sat atop the fantasy first baseman rankings when the first week of May concluded, yet the 22-year-old has fizzled with the wood since that juncture, “raking” at a buck sixty-four with one tater and six RBI in 15 games. Feasibly this slump is fallout from an eye injury the Braves basher suffered on May 15, yet it’s likely Freeman’s BABIP regression toward the league mean is the culprit for the number done on his batting mark.

2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
On the bright side, Hill’s walk rate has nearly doubled from last season’s mark, and he’s on pace to shatter 2011’s putrid homer total of eight with five four-baggers thus far. Alas, Hill’s average is sub-.250 for the third straight season, submarined by a 10-for-45 streak over the past 13 games, and the sabermetrics show no sign of imminent improvement. In NL-only leagues, Hill remains a low-end viable option, but the Diamondbacks second baseman has failed to demonstrate his worth for the majority of mixed formats.

3B: Robert Andino, Orioles
I’m just as amazed as the rest of the baseball world at the Fightin’ Showalters, though I do have a bone to pick with the man they call Buck. Sure, the Baltimore manager’s infectious “us against the world” attitude has done wonders in Camden Yards; nevertheless, I demand an answer for the constant lineup shuffling of Andino. I dig the premise of lefty-righty matchups against the opposing pitcher, yet no other player in the game suffers the extremities of batting leadoff to last like the Orioles uber-utility man. No wonder Andino is hitting .158 over his last 15 contests. I would initiate a social media #FreeAndino cry in protest, but as we’ve seen with the #FreeChapman, #LoseLiriano and #P.G.T.D.A.D.T.F.S.J.M.C. (that’s short for “Please get the Twins a DeLorean to alter the dimensions of Target Field to save Joe Mauer’s career” for those not in the loop) demonstrations, I don’t think baseball front offices pay too much attention to the Twitterverse.

SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
I’m a stoical soul. I worked for free as a temp for six months to get a crack at a career. I once waited two hours past the meeting time for a date (and no, she never showed up). I still believe Greg Oden can have a decent NBA career, and that Grady Sizemore can be great once again. Yet even by these lofty tolerance levels, Alexei Ramirez has tested my magnanimity like no entity before. I tried to rationalize his slow start by illustrating his past struggles in the spring, and his .234 BABIP indicates better days are ahead. Yet with June just a week away and the Cuban Missile sitting on the Mendoza Line, I think it’s time to pull the plug. And not just on a roster spot for Ramirez, but the “Cuban Missile” moniker as well. Since I abhor when nicknames are recycled or replicated, I think Aroldis Chapman’s dominance earns the Reds reliever the right to be bequeathed this cognomen.

OF: Alex Gordon, Royals
Gordon’s .283 BABIP is more than 70 points lower than last season’s output. In a related note, the Royals left fielder’s batting average is nearly 70 points lower than 2011’s figure. I’m no Will Hunting, but there seems to be an algebraic correlation between those two numbers. Without eligibility at third this season, Gordon’s worth was already drastically decreased. Although he’ll raise his average above .260 by season’s end, don’t expect anything near last year’s phenomenal output.

SP: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
The Arizona ace generally keeps the D-backs in games, holding adversaries to three runs or less in six of nine starts this season. Sadly, this has not been the case for Kennedy the past two weeks, conceding 15 runs (14 earned) in his last three starts. His .318 BABIP and 3.83 FIP illustrate he’s been the victim of bad luck, though don’t bank on a strong start from Kennedy when he takes on the Brewers this Friday.

RP: Sean Marshall, Reds
And another one bites the dust. After relinquishing four hits for two runs and getting just one batter out, Marshall was unceremoniously pulled in the ninth against the Yankees on May 19, nearly blowing a three-run Cincinnati lead. It was the second time in ten days Marshall was yanked in a game’s waning moments, and the outing inflated his ERA to 5.02. This leads us to our national public service notification of…

PEN-demic Update
Marshall and Washington’s Henry Rodriguez are the latest casualties of this pitching plague, and J.J. Putz might be headed for quarantine after blowing his third save of the season Tuesday night, sending his ERA skywards to a 7.20 tick in 15 innings. Yet there is reason for rejoicing, as Detroit’s Jose Valverde survived a scare (a lower back strain put him on the shelf for a week) to rejoin the Tigers bullpen, and the Nationals might get Drew Storen back sooner than expected. Maybe, just maybe, this outbreak is nearing an end.

Waivers Watch: Felipe Paulino, Royals
Since coming off the DL, Paulino has been lights-out for the Royals, giving up just four runs in four starts in May (25.1 innings) with 29 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP. Coming over from the Rockies this time last season, Paulino’s .341 BABIP and 3.69 FIP state he deserved a better fate than his 2011 4.46 ERA proclaims. Owned in less than five percent of FOXSports.com leagues, Paulino’s high strikeout rate (10.3 K/9) illustrates the ceiling the Kansas City starter maintains.

Trade Talk
With an alarming amount of injuries hitting position players as of late, now is the moment to utilize offensive depth you have accumulated as trade chips. A plethora of top-tier outfielders are on the mend, but still a few weeks away from returning. Parlaying a hot hitter in this position could prove fruitful, as not only will you shore up a squad’s weak link, but you can obtain a practical outfielder off the waiver wire in most mixed leagues.

Rookie Review: Matt Adams, Cardinals
An overabundance of injuries in St. Louie has paved the way for the highly-touted Adams to join the big-league ball club. Not to say Adams didn’t deserve the call-up on his own merit, hitting .340 with nine home runs and 27 RBI in 37 games for Triple-A Memphis this season. Lance Berkman will be sidelined for the better part of the summer, and Allen Craig hasn’t been a model of good health the past few seasons. If Adams makes the most of his opportunity, he could earn the everyday gig at first for the rest of the season.

Yardbarker

POWER STROKE

Giancarlo Stanton broke the Marlins' scoreboard with one of his monster home runs.

The Real Debate
Cole Hamels’ recent gem (eight innings, four hits, zero runs, eight strikeouts) has vaulted the Philly lefty into the Cy Young discussion, as the former World Series MVP flaunts a 7-1 record, 2.17 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in nine starts in the first quarter of the 2012 campaign. Yet the conversation should not center on Hamels’ excellence; rather, the Real Debate should be this: is there any borderline All-Star who hasn’t played out of their mind in a contract year? Tom Van Riper of Forbes once concluded that this necessarily wasn’t the case, yet his study seemed to include ballplayers all across the talent gamut. And yes, detractors will quickly point out Albert Pujols’ 2011 season despite the fact he hit 37 homers, drove in 99 runs and crossed the plate 105 times. Plus, Pujols was raging a war on another front with Father Time, and no man ever wins that battle (sorry, if that guy’s 32 than Danny Almonte was really a Little League player). All I’m saying is maybe the fantasy community needs to start equating contract years more into our forecast formula than currently employed.

This Week in Sam LeCure
LeCure hasn’t appeared in a game since May 13. Haters might point out the association between LeCure’s absence and Cincinnati’s success, as the Reds are 7-3 in this spell. Those cynics have clearly not seen Yosemite Sam’s contributions towards shaving-cream pies, showcasing the clubhouse chemistry the reliever brings to the table. Man can make a mean Gillette dessert.

Spit Your Tobacco at: Big spenders
The legendary poker player Doyle Brunson once said, “A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.” The top four payrolls in baseball – the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox and Angels – are proving evidence to this concept, as all four sit in the cellars of their respective divisions.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Kerry Wood, Cubs
Critics were quick to declare he never lived up to the billing of his 20-strikeout shutout from his rookie season, yet Wood finished his career ranked second all-time behind Randy Johnson for most punch-outs per nine innings with a 10.31 rate. Granted, he will undoubtedly be remembered for his numerous stints on the DL, but his two All-Star appearances and four postseason berths should not be brushed away. When he was healthy, few were as dominant on the mound as Kid K, and that’s a legacy worthy of a salute.

Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Royals, Yankees, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Carlos Lee, R.A. Dickey, Kerry Wood, Aaron Hill, Robert Andino, Sean Marshall, Casey Janssen, Mike Napoli, Alex Gordon, Felipe Paulino, Ian Kennedy, Alexei Ramirez, Mike Aviles, Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Greene, Freddie Freeman, A.J. Ellis, Sam LeCure

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