Fantasy Baseball – Relief Pitchers

What would the New Year be without the CCO Fantasy Baseball Insider? The Major League Hot Stove continued it’s New Year’s Holiday on Monday and the only news was the Pirates interest in Sammy Sosa and Preston Wilson.

This week’s topic: I need some relief!

Lee Smith threw hard….really hard. I remember reading in the papers, as a kid, that he had hit 101mph on a couple of his pitches. In 1983, he had a sparkling ERA of 1.65, with 29 saves. He was saving games for such Cubbie greats as; Dickie Noles, Dick Ruthven, Steve Trout, Chuck Rainey, and Fergie Jenkins. Ok, maybe there is only one pitcher worth calling “great” there….Fergie. How sad is it that Fergie retired after 1983, just to miss the Cubs winning the division title in 1984?

Steve Trout had a 13 victory season in 1984, and his second-best season occurred earlier in 1979, when he pitched for the dreaded White Sox. There isn’t much to mention about the other 3 pitchers, except that I was present at a 1-hitter that Chuck Rainey threw that year (or was it 1982?)….Eddie Milner of the Reds hit a single in the 8th, I believe, to break up the no-hitter. I used to pattern my pitching style after Dick Ruthven, because he had this exaggerated sort of double-clutch pitching motion that was fun to imitate. Not surprisingly, I was the worst pitcher on my little league team.

What does it matter who the starting pitchers are, if you are a reliever? In theory, if your team is good, and gets a lot of wins, there should be more save opportunites. When the immortal duo of Kevin Tapani and Steve Trachsel combined for 34 wins in 1998, along with 13 victories from rookie sensation Kerry Wood, it helped Rod Beck save an amazing 51 games!

Just one year later, Tapani and Trachsel combined for 14 wins, along with 5 wins from a great and promising starting pitcher named Kyle Farnsworth. The saves leader for the Cubs that year was….you guessed it….Terry Adams! Who? Exactly. Tornado Terry Adams was less than stellar with 13 saves out of 18 attempts, which puts him right up there with LaTroy Hawkins in my eyes.

Relievers are often fickle, too, and their highs and lows can’t always be blamed on, or credited to, the starting staff they are closing for. Rod Beck followed his 51 save effort with 10 saves the next year. Randy Myers had 53 saves for the Cubs Faithful in 1993, and followed that with 21 the next year. ***Note: if you, like me, were in college in the early to mid 90s, and you weren’t able to follow the Cubs that much, don’t worry….you didn’t miss much. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the names of some of the starting pitchers on the 1994 team: Banks, Young, Bullinger, Boskie, Foster….ugghh.***

The point to take away here is that relievers come and go, and their success is hard to judge from year to year. The rare exceptions are: Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and until last year, Troy Percival. These guys all did it over long periods of time, and were fairly consistent as well.

Who saved the most games in 2005?

Chad Cordero 47, Nationals
Francisco Rodriguez 45, Angels
Bob Wickman 45, Indians
Trevor Hoffman 43, Padres
Joe Nathan 43, Twins
Mariano Rivera 43, Yankees
Brad Lidge 42, Astros
Danny Baez 41, Devil Rays
Todd Jones 40, Marlins
Jason Isringhausen 39, Cardinals
Derrick Turnbow 39, Brewers
Billy Wagner 38, Phillies
Francisco Cordero 37, Rangers
Eddie Guardado 36, Mariners
B.J. Ryan 36, Orioles
Dustin Hermanson 34, White Sox
Ryan Dempster 33, Cubs
Miguel Batista 31, Blue Jays
Brian Fuentes 31, Rockies
Braden Looper 28, Mets
Jose Mesa 27, Pirates
Huston Street 23, A’s

Usually I would just list the top 5 or 10, but I wanted to point out that there are, from year to year, a ton of relievers that put up good save numbers. This makes the insane money that was given to B.J. Ryan look, well….insane.

What guys may be on their last leg?
Trevor Hoffman will probably have a good year, but eventually he will fall apart like Troy Percival did, due to age. The same goes for Jose Mesa, and even Mariano Rivera may eventually succumb to injuries/age from being such a workhorse over the years for the Yankees.

Which relievers will have the biggest dropoff?
Hermanson is a good bet here, as he lost his job to that fat young guy (Bobby Jenks) from the White Sox, at the end of the year. Jenks could stay good, or he could bomb….so that is a situation to be careful of. The Mets signed Billy Wagner, so Braden Looper went to the Cardinals, where he won’t get save opportunities behind Isringhausen. The Marlins became a minor league franchise in the off-season, so Todd Jones wouldn’t be saving a lot of games for them, even if he was still on the team.

How do I pick relievers for my Fantasy team?
Try and get the consistent guys, if possible, and also look for rebound years from guys that were injured. Eric Gagne should revert back to form (unless his meteoric rise from obscurity had something to do with performance enhancing drugs….) so keep him high on your list. Gagne saved 52, 55, and 45 games from 2002-2004, but was hurt the majority of last year. In a fantasy league, you will usually be able to have slots available for more than just 1 reliever, so you want to have a couple of good players to help pad your save totals. You may want to go for some of the high profile guys early on, and then you will have to do a little research, and also keep track of injuries throughout the year. Since I like to follow Billy Beane and the A’s as my adopted AL club, I was able to take my knowledge of Huston Street (a rookie closer) and pick him up when no one else really knew about him. He turned out to be a great find. I also got lucky, since I knew about Chicago baseball, and when Shingo Takatsu of the White Sox started having a bad year, and the Sox went to Hermanson, I was able to capitalize on it and put him on my team. This was important because I did not put a lot of emphasis on relievers in my draft, and I saved all the high picks for starting pitchers or position players. Because Dusty had Dempster starting in the beginning of the year, I couldn’t take a chance on him, and I wound up going with Borowski. By the time Dempster had taken over the role of reliever, someone else had already picked him up.

Who should I pick for my team?
Again, you may not want to waste high draft picks/rankings on relievers, and if that is the case, you will likely not get Gagne or Mariano Rivera, as they will be taken high in the draft. But here is my list of who I would try to take:

F. Rodriguez

Those are probably the guys I will look for. You want relievers that exist in a situation where, ideally, there is no “closer by committee”. All of these eight would qualify as being the only closer on their team. While the Cubs are wildly popular, Dempster is still not quite as well known, and you may be able to get him further down in the draft than some other relievers. Since you are a Cubs fan, you will be able to keep a close eye on the save situation for the Cubs all year….so use that to your advantage.

All of these 8 relievers are also established, except for Street. I include Street in there, because I know Billy Beane wants to get the most out of a young player as he can, while they are cheap, so I expect he will get a lot more save chances this year. The Mets, on paper, should be pretty good, so that bodes well for Wagner to have a good year. Rodriguez pitches for the Angels, and they are usually good every year as well. The Dodgers, likewise, are improved, but Gagne was already a stud, it just remains to be seen if he will be the same when he returns….it is worth the gamble though, and he will likely be the 1st or 2nd reliever taken in your Fantasy league.

There are plenty of relievers to choose from, and a lot of your success in the saves category will be due to luck/injuries, as there are always about 5-6 relievers every year who come out of the blue and get a bunch of saves. The keys for you will be:

1. Watch the news for injuries on relievers throughout the league, and try to pick up their likely replacement.
2. Keep an eye on the saves stats in the first week or two of the season, and look for any surprises, like a Huston Street, or a starter being converted into a reliever.
3. Look at teams that lost their main reliever in the off-season, like Philadelphia, and see if there is a replacement worth grabbing.
4. Pick up Dempster, and pray for a 60 save season!

Any Cubs’ news and rumors?
Except for the ongoing Tejada/Prior saga, I haven’t been hearing much of anything….which is similar to last year, when we went into Spring Training with Hollandsworth/DuBois as starters, and no leadoff man. What a sell job we were given last year! Hopefully Hendry and the Cubs brass know that they need to give us something to cheer for in 2006, and we enter Spring training with a set lineup and a set rotation, and we aren’t hoping and praying for career years from Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston, Glendon Rusch, and Jerome Williams….yikes!

Keep the faith, Cubs fans! I believe there are still more deals to be made yet, and it seems likely we will improve on 2005. I hope everyone had a great time this past weekend, and we should all be optimistic for a great 2006 for our families, ourselves, and our beloved Cubbies!

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt