This past week was surely an active one for owners scrounging for saves, with changes coming in five bullpens. Manny Corpas was overtaken by Huston Street in Colorado, Jose Valverde and Brandon Morrow were placed on the disabled list, Trevor Hoffman returned from the DL, and Joel Hanrahan was removed in Washington.
While most of the replacements were obvious, the situation in Washington is still unsettled. We’ve yet to see a save opportunity come, so we’re still mostly just speculating who will be the favorite for the role. Manager Manny Acta said that he’ll go with a committee of Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, and Joe Beimel (once he comes off the DL, probably on Wednesday), but one of those guys will likely get the majority of the saves. Today, I’d like to speculate a bit on who it will be.
To do this, I’d like to reintroduce an old friend: Leverage Index (gmLI). I first talked about its uses for fantasy owners in this article last year. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. For those too lazy too, here’s a quick excerpt:
What I believe this will tell us is how much a manager trusts a particular reliever in important situations. This could be a conscious thing the manager is doing or an unconscious one; either way, it can give us valuable insights into how he views the various members of his bullpen…
Keep in mind that this is not absolute. Just because a player is used in more critical situations doesn’t mean he is automatically going to be the favorite for saves. We need to immerse ourselves in as much information as possible and try to make out what’s really going on. Remember that this is simply one such piece of information, albeit a potentially important one.
Let’s take a look at how gmLI would have predicted a couple of the other changes that occurred this week:
Seattle Mariners Closer
With Morrow hitting the DL, everyone pretty much knew that David Aardsma was next in line. gmLI nailed this one. Note for AL-only leaguers: Shawn Andrew Kelley is having a great year with terrific peripherals. He has a pretty good minor league track record as well, so he might be a nice ratio helper. Definitely worth a flier in deep leagues.
Houston Astros closer
As we know, with Valverde on the DL, LaTroy Hawkins will be closing games in Houston. He was second in Leverage Index to Tim Byrdak, whose number may be inflated as a lefty or who may have been passed over because he is a lefty. Doug Brocail was drafted in many leagues as Valverde’s backup, but he’s given up a lot of runs and clearly isn’t trusted as much as he was last year. Manager Cecil Cooper said that Chris Sampson (third in gmLI) and Brocail (fifth but probably with some residual trust) might also see some occasional saves.
Overall, gmLI was pretty solid.
Washington Nationals closer
Now for the Nats.
What we know so far is that Tavarez, Wells, and Beimel are the three candidates. Hinckley comes in No. 1 in gmLI, but as a lefty, perhaps he can be discounted.
Mock comes in above Beimel, but his number is influenced by early season trust. If you remember a couple of weeks ago, when Hanrahan’s job was first in jeopardy, he and Beimel were the two candidates discussed. He’s since been removed from contention.
Logan Kensing is the only other reliever on the 25-man roster, but he was recently acquired (and thus doesn’t have a gmLI yet) and his name hasn’t been discussed as a potential closer.
So that leaves us with an order of Tavarez, Wells, and Beimel (pre-injury number, naturally). Does that mean Tavarez is the best bet? Well, he and Wells are very close, yet Beimel was the only one being talked about two weeks ago. Overall, this is still a very murky situation.
So what else do we know? Wells has a 1.42 ERA, but his skills are the worst with an xFIP of 5.79 and a 2008 figure of 6.46. Even if he gets the first few save opportunities and wins the job, I just can’t see him keeping it for very long. It’s hard to imagine him posting an ERA under 5.00, and that just won’t fly.
Tavarez has solid skills but a 4.50 ERA. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher and has done well enough when restricted to a relief role (see: 2004, 2005, 2008). His 2004 and 2006 (a few starts mixed in) were pretty bad, however. Still, he posted an 8.4 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, and 53 percent GB% last year and is off to an even better start in 2009.
Beimel had a 1.23 ERA before his injury and hasn’t posted an ERA north of 4.00 since 2004 (with two years under 3.00). His xFIP’s have all been in the mid-to-high 4.00s, but there is a chance that he can control his HR/FB. It’s just 7.1 percent for his career (league average is 11 percent-ish), and he’s allowed just one homer since 2006 (123.2 IP).
So that leaves us with two legitimate candidates: Tavarez and Beimel. It’s close, but I’m putting my money on Tavarez. There is one big warning flag with Beimel that leads me to believe he just couldn’t last long as closer. He is awful against right-handed batters. Almost every year he walks more batters than he strikes out against RHB. That’s just not going to cut it for a closer.
If he comes back healthy (or, rather, appears healthy to Manny Acta), I imagine he’ll get the first couple save chances. It’s fine to pick him up and then try to deal him, but long-term, Tavarez is the only one of the three who I think has any chance of lasting.
Please caution, however: don’t sleep on Hanrahan. He’s mostly just been unlucky and is by far the best option of the bunch.
One final note: don’t discount the Nationals’ save situation because they’re a poor team. Poor teams close plenty of games.