Relief Efforts: Do managerial changes affect closers?
Not that I was any big Willie Randolph fan, but I did find it a shame that his Monday night/Tuesday morning firing came in part because the Mets were playing poorly, and by poorly, some could imply Billy Wagner was at fault. Wagner did blow three consecutive outings last week, and a pair of Mets wins became Mets losses. Wagner allowed six hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings, walked a few hitters, permitted a few home runs -- it wasn't pretty.
The thing is, this wasn't Randolph's fault. He made the right moves with Wagner. He placed his closer in a position to save games, and the closer failed. The Mets have quite a few problems, but Wagner, with 373 saves to his credit, generally isn't one of them. New manager Jerry Manuel might foolishly get kudos for turning Wagner around when the hard-throwing lefty runs off a month of saves without any trouble, kind of like he did in April, but in reality, nothing will have changed.
I often am asked when there is a managerial change what effect it will have in the fantasy world, and the truth is, there normally is very little impact. Manuel might choose to make a lineup change or call up some hotshot prospect, but I don't see much he can do with the Mets. They are what they are, warts and all. Wagner really isn't one of those warts, although he probably should speak less to the media and throw more down and away fastballs to right-handers. Just my two cents.
Do managerial changes have much effect on closers? I argue no. In 2007, four managers lost their jobs during the regular season, and in none of those cases did things drastically change in the bullpen. The Mariners had J.J. Putz kicking you-know-what all year, with Mike Hargrove and John McLaren running things. The Orioles used Chris Ray to close games until his elbow exploded, and then a revolving door of relief pitchers worthy and not so worthy were given the chance to close games, from Jamie Walker to Danys Baez. Truth be told, there wasn't much to save the second half of the season. In Cincinnati, Pete Mackanin did the same thing Jerry Narron had done, giving the ball to David Weathers. He earned 33 of the team's 34 saves, ceding one in mid-September to Bill Bray. Houston's Phil Garner was relieved of his duties in late August, but by then, Brad Lidge had figured things out and there were no decisions to be made.
Wagner is all set, and no matter how I look at his stats, season-long or just recently, I can't call his hiccup last week anything more than that. In his two outings since, Wagner saved games against the Rangers and the Angels. Against Texas, it was a perfect inning. On Monday, the Angels' Chone Figgins drew a walk and Maicer Izturis singled, and Wagner appeared to be in some trouble. But Garret Anderson hit a rocket to Jose Reyes, which became a double play and meant Vladimir Guerrero didn't get to hit. Even if Guerrero had come to the plate, I think Wagner would have been fine. We can't forget that he permitted a grand total of one earned run in his first 24 2/3 innings. I don't think Wagner is hurt or struggling with mechanics. He just had a bad week, and unlike Brian Fuentes, who had a really bad week last season and coughed up the closer job to Manny Corpas, he has righted the ship.
Of course, now it is someone else's ship, but it doesn't matter. Manuel isn't about to see whether Pedro Feliciano or Joe Smith could do better. It should go without saying that if you can buy low on Wagner, you should do so.
Now, let's get to the rest of the ample fantasy news coming from major league bullpens.
Brandon Morrow's ranking remains a cautious one, but only for now.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
|1. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels (1)|
|2. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox (2)|
|3. Joe Nathan, Twins (3)|
|4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees (4)|
|5. Brad Lidge, Phillies (5)|
|6. Bobby Jenks, White Sox (7)|
|7. Joakim Soria, Royals (8)|
|8. Billy Wagner, Mets (6)|
|9. Kerry Wood, Cubs (9)|
|10. Takashi Saito, Dodgers (10)|
|11. Jose Valverde, Astros (11)|
|12. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays (12)|
|13. Brandon Lyon, Diamondbacks (13)|
|14. Huston Street, Athletics (15)|
|15. Francisco Cordero, Reds (14)|
|16. Matt Capps, Pirates (16)|
|17. George Sherrill, Orioles (17)|
|18. Kevin Gregg, Marlins (19)|
|19. Brian Wilson, Giants (21)|
|20. Jon Rauch, Nationals (20)|
|21. Trevor Hoffman, Padres (22)|
|22. C.J. Wilson, Rangers (23)|
|23. Brian Fuentes, Rockies (24)|
|24. Joe Borowski, Indians (25)|
|25. Troy Percival, Rays (30)|
|26. Carlos Marmol, Cubs (29)|
|27. Salomon Torres, Brewers (27)|
|28. Todd Jones, Tigers (28)|
|29. Brandon Morrow, Mariners (40)|
|30. Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals (32)|
|31. Ryan Franklin, Cardinals (31)|
|32. Mike Gonzalez, Braves (35)|
|33. Dan Wheeler, Rays (33)|
|34. Heath Bell, Padres (34)|
|35. Manny Acosta, Braves (39)|
|36. Octavio Dotel, White Sox (36)|
|37. J.J. Putz, Mariners (18)|
|38. Taylor Buchholz, Rockies (38)|
|39. Blaine Boyer, Braves (NR)|
|40. Eric Gagne, Brewers (37)|
Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals: Forgive me for trying to see a situation for what it really is, but here we have a good closer who ran into some tough times, mainly with command, blew too many saves and ended up on the DL when his rage caused him to hit something and bleed. Isringhausen was scheduled for bullpen sessions this past weekend, but they weren't needed. He was fine. His velocity was there, he wasn't wild and Tony LaRussa activated him from the DL early. I bet that if the next Cardinals save doesn't go to Izzy, it won't be long. Ryan Franklin did a fine job as closer, blowing only one save in the month he was closing, and Chris Perez will get his time in 2009, but Isringhausen isn't done yet. He is owned in 94 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which means some of you still can get a 30-save closer if you look for him. Izzy threw a perfect ninth inning Tuesday when the Cardinals were down 2-1, with nine of his 15 pitches going for strikes.
Francisco Rodriguez, Angels: First of all, every closer is tradable, even one who is on pace to set the major league record for saves, as K-Rod is. Yes, he's having a fine season, but every closer who has made a run at Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 in 1990 has fallen short. Just getting 57 chances is rare. Eric Gagne and John Smoltz each got to 55 saves, Mariano Rivera twice reached 50 and Trevor Hoffman did it once. The Angels are good but might be playing a bit over their collective heads if you judge them by run differential. They entered Tuesday having allowed more runs than they had scored. The Diamondbacks won a division in 2007 this way, so it can work, but I have doubts the Angels will continue to provide K-Rod with this many save chances. Maybe he will end up with about 50 saves, but there's bound to be someone in your league who thinks he can trade for him today and get 30 more saves. Get a hitter and mid-level closer for him, and smile.
Mike Gonzalez, Braves: This hasn't been a secret for awhile, and I have to admit, I was tempted to place this lefty in the sell-high category. Think about it: This team hasn't been able to keep its closers healthy, and the savior is a guy who had Tommy John surgery one calendar year ago? Really? Gonzalez has closer experience but certainly not in a pennant race, which the Braves hope to be in should they figure out how to win on the road and in tight games. I think Gonzalez has at least double-digit saves in his arm, but if I receive a strong offer for him in a trade, be it a safer, healthier closer or something else I need, I'm taking it. Yes, B.J. Ryan has managed to prove that one year is not too soon for certain pitchers to return, and Gonzalez has thrown hard and well on his rehab assignment. I just think expectations are a bit high. The corollary to this section is I think Blaine Boyer is one of those middle relievers I would handcuff to Gonzalez, but I don't think the Braves agree. The way Manny Acosta has pitched, you'd think the more effective Boyer would have passed him. Think again. The non-Gonzalez saves probably will be a lefty-righty thing with Will Ohman and Acosta over Boyer.
Craig Hansen, Red Sox: It was thought that as he was Boston's first-round draft pick in 2005, the St. John's product would be closing by now. Instead, Hansen hasn't been able to stick in the major league bullpen, although the fact that he was chosen to pitch the 10th inning and save a win over the Reds this weekend is a good sign. Jonathan Papelbon blew the save in the ninth, and Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen had pitched earlier, so Hansen retired Corey Patterson and Jay Bruce, and, after allowing a hit to Jolbert Cabrera and intentionally/unintentionally walking Ken Griffey Jr., induced a Brandon Phillips fly ball to right field to end the game. Hansen has a chance to stay with the team, and he's ahead of David Aardsma and struggling Mike Timlin for saves, but that still leaves him fourth in line for now. That's not so bad on the world champs, and he could move up quickly.
Keith Foulke, A's: Oakland still is winning more than it's losing, and Huston Street remains on the team, but will he be there in August? We've speculated in this space before that Joey Devine could be the next closer for this team, but what if a previous closer regains the job? Foulke is doing well. He earned a pair of holds over the weekend against the Giants, his first of June, but he's pitched well all season, even overcoming a neck problem that landed him on the DL for a month. Chad Gaudin also got holds in a pair of weekend games, and Alan Embree leads the team with 12 holds. This is a strong bullpen, whether Street is sent packing or not.
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Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
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