One thing fantasy owners can count on is the adage that pitching always comes into the league. Tim Lincecum, Andrew Miller, Yovani Gallardo, Dustin McGowan and Matt Garza are all helping teams right now and were all in the minor leagues when the 2007 season began. Chad Billingsley, Jeremy Guthrie and Shaun Marcum didn't technically "come into the league," as they began the year in their teams' bullpens, but all three burst onto the fantasy scene once they joined the rotation.
The old adage isn't entirely about starters, however. Saves always appear midyear as well, as formerly obscure relievers become household fantasy names, courtesy of a new role. This week, "Are You For Real" examines three freshly-anointed closers still not owned in a significant number of ESPN leagues. And since low-salaried save sources are among the most highly prized commodities in keeper leagues, we'll examine these stoppers' future prognosis as well.
Will: For Real. Baez doesn't truly have closer skills, and is therefore unlikely to be helpful in the long term. His strikeout rate has been in decline since 2003, but his problem is command, and at nearly 30 he's unlikely to improve. He's still capable of decent numbers, however, and likely will last the season as the primary ninth-inning option on an Orioles team that isn't going anywhere. That will give him considerable value for the rest of 2007, but those in keeper leagues shouldn't be afraid to trade him.
Adam: For Real. Over a three-year span from 2003-05, Baez saved 96 games. That history, and not his performance, is what is more important as it gives him more job security than he rightly should have. It might not be particularly pretty, as Baez's numbers have definitely been horrible, but as long as he can convert two- and three-run saves, his job should be relatively safe, and guys like Rocky Biddle and Shawn Chacon have proven that anything is possible. Ray wasn't that much better, but used strictly as a one-inning closer still converted 16-of-20 saves. Keeper leaguers shouldn't look past this year, but for the next two months, saves are saves, regardless of what other numbers are attached.
Alan Embree, RP, Athletics: Embree, 37, has been the left-handed member of a closing committee, but never his team's primary stopper. Not expected to survive in the role when Huston Street returned, Embree received a vote of confidence from manager Bob Geren this week. How long can he fend off Street?
Will: Unreal. Like Baez, I don't expect Embree to be a closer in 2008. Unlike Baez, Embree is currently displaying the skills to maintain the job for the remainder of the season, yet is less likely to do so. The problem is not with the way Embree has been pitching. His strikeout rate is healthy, and he's not allowing too many walks or home runs. Embree's command is usually solid, and when he's had bad years it has usually been due to surrendering too many long balls. This year he's pitching really well, and there's no reason to think that will change. So why is he more likely to lose his job than Baez? Better competition. The A's are more likely to want their long-term closer, Street, back in the role as soon as possible. Don't expect Embree to implode, but do expect him to step aside for Street by the end of August regardless.
Adam: Unreal. The difference between Baez's situation and Embree's situation is that the Orioles more likely will be looking for any reason to keep Baez in the closer's role despite mediocre performance, but the A's are looking for the slightest of reasons to reinsert Street into his normal role. The Athletics are more wont to use their closer in more than just one-inning stints to convert the save; before this season, Street had pitched more than one inning 31 times, which represents nearly a quarter of his outings. Embree, more of a left-handed platoon specialist, has more use as a situational pitcher with more flexibility, which a closer does not offer. In a couple of weeks the job should be Street's.
C.J. Wilson, RP, Rangers: Most observers expected Joaquin Benoit to get the chance to close games in August while Akinori Otsuka recovers from a forearm injury, but it's Wilson who has saved all four Rangers victories since the Eric Gagne trade. What's the outlook?
Will: Unreal. Wilson's overall numbers are excellent. He's been a little fortunate on balls in play, but his command is good and he gets a lot of grounders. The problem for Wilson is that while he's outstanding against left-handers, he's pretty average against right-handers. Righties have hit .293/.384/.439 off Wilson in his career, and when the platoon splits catch up with him he'll be viewed as a lefty specialist, not a closer. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, but Wilson easily could end up sharing duties with the right-handed Benoit before long, and chances are that Otsuka will resume closing when he comes back.
Adam: For Real. Wilson's competition is stout, as Benoit is definitely in the mold of a power-pitcher closer who intuitively makes more sense for the role. The Rangers can't remove Wilson from the closer role while he is pitching so spectacularly though, and he hasn't allowed a run in 13 2/3 innings since the All-Star break. While it's true Wilson has severe splits against righties, he has held them to a .672 OPS this season, which, while not amazing, isn't likely to be enough of a detriment to cost him his job. Wilson has bought himself a fair bit of job security, and Otsuka has a real chance of not making it back this season, furthering Wilson's potential for the rest of the summer.
Will Harris and Adam Madison are fantasy baseball analysts for TalentedMrRoto.com. Will can be contacted at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com and Adam at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com.