Relief Efforts: Sorting through the vultures
Vulture wins are a function of opportunity, both in being the pitcher of record when a team takes the lead and of the team's ability to take that lead. While there's an element of luck involved -- being in the right place at the right time -- there's also an element dependent on having enough talent to merit a manager's faith to take the mound in potential vulture situations. Typically, the league leaders in vultures will have depended more on talent than luck to get their wins, and the king vulture, or league leader in vulture wins, will be around the 10-win mark by season's end.
Let's take a look at the pitchers in both leagues that have the most vulture wins:
Seeing Justin Duchscherer at the top of the list is no surprise, and he is usually drafted in deeper leagues as a "don't pay for saves" option. However, note that Duchscherer hasn't been 100 percent healthy all year and his ERA is his highest in five seasons with the A's. He is likely to see more vulture wins, but I wouldn't drop anyone useful for him.
Also note that a closer such as Chris Ray getting a lot of vulture wins could be a function of his team's ability to come back late in a game, but is more likely caused by his own blown saves, which is not a good sign.
Two names that jump out off this list are Aaron Fultz and Tom Mastny, both with the Indians. This could be an indication that Cleveland has a strong team that can come back from late-inning deficits, but rarely are there enough vulture wins to go around. In other words, I wouldn't expect both to end with 10-12 wins, but more likely one to be around 10 and the other to be around six. So which one should you choose? I would go with Mastny because of his better K/9 and K/BB rates. Also, 11 of Fultz's 21 appearances were less than an inning, but for Mastny, 11 of his 17 appearances lasted at least three outs. Being in a game longer increases the probability of being the pitcher of record in a vulture situation.
Other pitchers of note in the AL are: Minnesota's Pat Neshek (2-0, 1.35 ERA, 20.0 IP, 24 K, 7 BB) and Juan Rincon (2-0, 2.76 ERA, 16.1 IP, 16 K, 11 BB); Seattle's Brandon Morrow (2-0, 2.25 ERA, 16.0 IP, 17 K, 12 BB); Baltimore's Jamie Walker (1-0, 3.86 ERA, 16.1 IP, 17 K, 5 BB); Boston's Kyle Snyder (1-0, 1.72 ERA, 15.2 IP, 11 K, 6 BB); New York's Brian Bruney (1-1, 1.69 ERA, 21.1 IP, 22 K, 13 BB); and Toronto's Scott Downs (1-0, 1.72 ERA, 15.2 IP, 21 K, 9 BB).
And if I had to pick anyone out that list, I'd go with Neshek, Bruney, Downs and Morrow, in that order.
Aaron Heilman may deserve a chance to start, but he's made the most of his bullpen role, and his four wins are more than Greg Maddux, Barry Zito or Brandon Webb has. He should have value throughout the season, but keep in mind that the king vulture usually doesn't get more than 10 wins.
I've stated before that Chad Qualls may be the best option for the closer role in Houston, even ahead of Dan Wheeler. I still believe he has the talent to fulfill that role -- even if he doesn't get the chance this year -- which likely means he sees lots of late-inning work and more vulture wins.
The two names that jump out off of this list are Carlos Villanueva and Brandon Lyon (sorry, Jesus Colome, close but no cigar). Villanueva created a lot of buzz with his spring training numbers and was picked up in most NL-only leagues and some deeper mixed leagues. Villanueva likely sees the starting rotation at some point this season, but until then, he's a trusted arm off the bench. Two of his three wins were in long relief, and that's probably how he sees most of his vulture opportunities until he starts. As for Lyon, he's the closer-in-waiting for the Diamondbacks and probably sees five to eight saves this year, which gives him value in some leagues. However, if I had to bet on the vulture king for Arizona, I'd likely go with Doug Slaten.
Other relief pitchers in the NL of note are: San Diego's Doug Brocail (2-0, 0.89 ERA, 20.1 IP, 13 K, 2 BB), Scott Linebrink (1-1, 2.61 ERA, 20.2 IP, 12 K, 5 BB) and Heath Bell (0-2, 1.42 ERA, 25.1 IP, 26 K, 5 BB); Arizona's Juan Cruz (2-0, 1.84 ERA, 14.2 IP, 18 K, 5 BB), Tony Pena (2-1, 2.19 ERA, 24.2 IP, 15 K, 7 BB) and Doug Slaten (2-0, 1.59 ERA, 11.1 IP, 12 K, 3 BB); Atlanta's Mike Gonzalez (2-0, 1.59 ERA, 17.0 IP, 13 K, 8 BB) and Rafael Soriano (1-0, 2.61 ERA, 20.2 IP, 19 K, 5 BB); Los Angeles' Jonathan Broxton (2-1, 1.13 ERA, 24.0 IP, 25 K, 9 BB); St. Louis' Ryan Franklin (1-0, 0.95 ERA, 19.0 IP, 10 K, 2 BB) and Randy Flores (1-0, 2.30 ERA, 15.2 IP, 15 K, 3 BB); and the Mets' Joe Smith (1-0, 1.45 ERA, 18.2 IP, 21 K, 7 BB).
Even though Bell does not have a vulture win yet, his other numbers cannot be ignored. Expect him to see some soon. Soriano is likely taken for his saves potential, but don't forget about Gonzalez. Arizona is the perfect team for vulture wins, because it has trouble scoring runs but can keep the opposition close. The bullpen is full of vulture arms, but I'd stick with Slaten. Cruz has broken our hearts too many times, and Pena just doesn't quite get enough strikeouts.
My top picks would be Soriano, Broxton, Bell, Smith and Slaten.
David Young is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at MrSnappy@TalentedMrRoto.com