Itâ€™s happened every year since professional teams started using specialized relievers; Some sad sack closer gets taken out of the glory spot and relegated to mop up duty in the early part of every season. Relief pitching, by itâ€™s very nature, is a volatile business. Relief pitchers are usually either failed starters or failed closers. Itâ€™s the only position in sports based on failure (other than the manager of the Chicago Cubs).
Pitchers can have a solid year one year and blow up without warning the next. For example, letâ€™s look at the case of Matt Thornton.Â Thornton was a failed prospect who re-invented his career as a hard-throwing set up guy after getting dealt by Seattle for Joe Borchard. It was a case of â€œThis guy gives us a headache and your guy gives you a headache. Letâ€™s trade headaches.â€
Thornton managed to turn his career around in the bullpen and became wildly successful as a set up guy. From â€˜07 to â€˜10 Thornton posted K/9 ratios over 10.00 and sub 3.00 ERAs while setting up Bobby Jenks. Jenks wound up on the DL for the Red Sox and Thornton was suddenly thrust into the closerâ€™s job. Thornton found himself back in middle relief after a few Juan Pierre errors and a bad April.
The problem for fantasy owners is that a lot of supposed smart GMs pegged Thornton as an undervalued closer. Sure, he had never really closed before, but wow those Kâ€™s! Thornton slogged through a brutal April, netting three saves with gross ratios and was tossed back into middle relief.
We can’t predict exactly who is going to blow up and who is going to surprise, but we can make a few educated guesses…
GMs who draft Chris Perez could be in for some pain. Perez was voted Most Likely To Lose A Closing Job in 2012 when he was a senior at the Pendleton School in Bradenton, Florida. Perezâ€™ K/9 fell to a career low of 5.88 and he posted a 3.92 BB/9. Gross. Heâ€™s a fly ball pitcher (0.56 GB:FB ratio) and he was really lucky on fly balls in 2011 (5.7% HR:FB ratio). Perez could find himself getting pushed aside so Vinnie Pestano can see if he can handle the job on a full-time basis.
Javy Guerra is essentially the closer by default in Los Angeles. He was shoved into the closerâ€™s role because, well, everyone was hurt and he never did anything to really lose the job. Guerra is basically just a competent major league reliever who happened to fall into 21 saves in 2011. He posted an okay 7.33 K/9, but his BB/9 was a little high (3.47). He also posted an 83.3% strand rate. We donâ€™t really have enough data to go on, but to the naked eye it looks like Guerra was more than a little lucky in 2011. The bigger problem for Javy is the guy setting him up. Kenley Jansen might have been the best reliever in all of baseball last year and it certainly appears like itâ€™s only a matter of time before Kenley takes the closing job.
Itâ€™s probably best to stay away from the Baltimore bullpen if you have any illusions of contending. Jim Johnson has become the closer by attrition. Koji Uehara got dealt and Kevin Gregg suffers from being Kevin Gregg. Matt Lindstrom is lurking, but Johnson would have to struggle before Lindstrom gets a crack at saves. All this means is Lindstrom will probably be closing by early May. If Lindstrom is healthy and throwing 96 MPH+, he might have some upside at the very end of a draft.
Frank Francisco will likely have injured a quad muscle in the time it took you to read this sentence. Heâ€™s a headcase thatâ€™s been frustrating fantasy GMs for years. The guy who drafts Jon Rauch five rounds after Francisco will be the one fist pumping in July as Rauch is racking up his usual 10-15 while Francisco is getting a second opinion on his wrist.
Brian Wilson dropped this one via the San Jose Mercury Times: â€œWilson admitted to pitching with elbow pain throughout the 2011 season in addition having hip and back ailments.â€ Thanks for telling us now, Brian. There are red flags all over the place with Wilson and his fifteen minutes look like theyâ€™re just about up. His K/9 and velocity were both down and his walks were up. Let the guy who doesnâ€™t do pre-draft research take the chance on Wilson and snag Sergio Romo in the last round.