Relief Efforts: The Replacements

Updated: April 24, 2007, 4:56 PM ET
By David Young | Special to ESPN.com

The problem with writing a weekly column about daily subject matter is that I have to sit on the sideline and watch events unfurl without the forum to voice an opinion. Case in point is B.J. Ryan blowing another save and going on the disabled list, causing the Blue Jays to identify a stand-in. Last week -- before Ryan's blown save -- I listed closers who were prime candidates for losing save opportunities (if not their jobs), and even though I didn't foresee Ryan losing his job within the next two days, I had him listed as one to watch because of his first blown save. The column was posted Friday, Ryan blew the save Saturday, and by Sunday morning, closer candidates such as Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo were flying off the waiver-wire shelves.

Proponents of the "don't pay for saves" (DPFS) philosophy see this is as an argument in their favor, because Ryan was likely one of the first 10 -- in some cases, first five -- closers selected, and the injury makes that a wasted pick. Of course, unless a guy has a long, recent history of injuries, like Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, predicting an injury is difficult and, in some respects, impossible. So saying Ryan's injury is an argument for DPFS is like saying Chone Figgins' broken finger this year is a good argument for "don't pay for steals" or Gary Sheffield's injuries last year proved the "don't pay for power" maxim. You take a health risk with every ballplayer you draft, and that risk increases in magnitude the earlier you take him.

If you don't buy that, think about trying to pick up Frasor this past weekend. Was he there? For 8-10 percent of you, that answer was likely yes, but for the rest of us, it was not. Look, I do this for a living, and I was still unable to get Frasor in any of my leagues. I was going to use an actual number for my leagues to make a point, but I don't think I know that answer without some serious research. Regardless, I agree you can find saves during the year, but with all those vultures out there trying to implement DPFS, I'm not convinced it's any easier to secure them than paying $22 for Jonathan Papelbon and $10 for Ryan Dempster in March.

Being the decider

So who got the save Sunday for the Blue Jays? Shaun Marcum, of course. Before you freak out, the closer is likely Frasor, but he had thrown 30 pitches against the Tigers the day before. I'm guessing that Marcum save was credited to less than .1 percent of all fantasy teams out there. But hey, if you got it, good for you. But next time, I say it's Frasor.

The real question here is, "Who gets the call if a closer goes down on any team?" In the past few weeks, I've thrown out the names of non-closing relievers I thought were best-positioned to get saves without giving you the statistical analysis (Curse my word count!). This week, let's run through some of those numbers real pitching coaches use in their decision-making processes and see what relievers look best-suited for saves later in the year.

Before I do, three provisos. First, we're still early in the season, and the data reflects a small sample. In this column, we'll run through the process so we know how to do it in the future, but we'll revisit the numbers throughout the year as more data is available. Second, pitching ability best described with phrases such as "He misses a lot of bats"; "He has filthy stuff"; or "He's ahead of the batters" is part of the review calculus and as important as the stats. I have no illusions that the on-paper (or on-monitor, I suppose) statistics are the end of the discussion, and neither should you. Finally, a reliever might have good numbers based on our criteria, but that could mean he's headed toward the rotation rather than the ninth inning. We'll have to use common sense for those.

We've got your number

As mentioned above, we're early in the season, and the data is limited. As of the writing of this column, the American League leader in innings pitched in a relief capacity is David Aardsma with 10.0, and in the National League it's Mark Hendrickson with 11.0. So I'll say 4.0 innings or more is meaningful at this point, and I won't look at relievers with less than 4.0 innings. Knowing that, the stats we'll focus on are:

K/9: Nothing stops a rally better than a strikeout. With only a few notable exceptions such as Dan Kolb in 2004 (39 SV, 21 K, 57.1 IP), closers are pitchers who can strike out batters and keep baserunners from reaching home. Criterion: 8.0 or higher.

K/BB: The closer must not only strike out batters but must do so with control and not put potential tying runs on base. Anyone who watched Salomon Torres do everything he could to lose Ian Snell's lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night knows what I'm talking about. Criterion: 2.5 or higher.

ERA: Because of the difference in rules for relievers and starters for ERA (namely that earned runs from inherited baserunners are credited to the pitcher who put them on base), this stat is misleading. However, a high ERA is a deal-breaker. Criterion: 3.50 or lower.

Holds: A hold is a save with training wheels. Pitchers who are put into a position to get a hold eventually might graduate to saves. There are those who would argue -- myself included -- that the eighth-inning hold is more difficult than the ninth-inning save, as closers are usually given a clean set of bases. Until we get more data, holds will not decide whether a pitcher is on our list, but they will be a plus factor for determining who could be in line for saves. Note that the current holds leaders are Manny Corpas and Matt Capps, with five each.

The List

American League

RELIEVERTEAMIPK/9K/BBERAHLDCOMMENTS
John ParrishBAL6.216.21203Viable Ray replacement.
Jamie WalkerBAL61281.54Ditto for Walker.
Fernando CabreraCLE4.215.4400Second-half improvement last year.
Rafael BetancourtCLE4.18.342.082Keeps flunking the audition.
David AardsmaCWS1013.53.80.91As long as I don't have to suggest MacDougal.
Mike MacDougalCWS510.831.84Oops, hope Mike didn't hear that.
Joel ZumayaDET982.712Gets closer job by Jones' 53rd birthday.
Ryan BraunKC892.71.130That's a busy bullpen, but watch him.
Scot ShieldsLAA8.111.93.73.243Uber-middle reliever is K-Rod insurance.
Pat NeshekMIN4.110.42.500Steadily climbing in Twins 'pen.
Brian BruneyNYY714.13.71.290With Rivera troubles, worth a pickup.
Joaquin BenoitTEX4.213.571.932Third in line in Texas, but moving up in AL.
Jason FrasorTOR613.54.51.53Holds are all that distinguish him from Marcum.
Shaun MarcumTOR813.543.380New closer-in-waiting to Frasor.

National League

RELIEVERTEAMIPK/9K/BBERAHLDCOMMENTS
Derrick TurnbowMIL616.51104Still a viable option.
Doug SlatenARI4.29.6inf.01Not in the running, but could be.
Oscar VillarrealATL613.5inf.1.50Crowded bullpen; value if traded.
Neal CottsCHC4.29.6inf.00See "Oscar Villarreal."
Angel GuzmanCHC7.19.882.450Just sent down, but he'll back soon.
Michael WuertzCHC5.113.5400See "Oscar Villarreal."
Manny CorpasCOL6.29.43.51.355Fuentes insurance; closer in 2008?
Chad QuallsHOU6.11072.842Better than Wheeler.
Jonathan BroxtonLAD6.29.4inf.04Still waiting.
Mark HendricksonLAD119111.640Likely a starter this year.
Clay CondreyPHI411.3inf.2.250DFA by Phillies? Uh, why?
Damaso MartePIT512.63.501Still say it's Capps.
Heath BellSD6.29.4inf.00Still my pick for Hoffman insurance.
Cla MeredithSD6.110702Continuing 2006's success.

Again, the limited number of innings so far means some pitchers will be on this list a month from now and some on the list now might not be later. And just how stringent are these criteria? Only four current closers -- Francisco Rodriguez, Francisco Cordero, Takashi Saito and Dempster -- would have made our list. So store these names away, and we'll check back in a week.

David Young is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. E-mail him at MrSnappy@TalentedMrRoto.com

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