December 12, 2012
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 12/12/12
Greg Holland | Royals
Greg Holland has arguably been the Royals’ best reliever the past two seasons, and although he finally got a chance to close in the second-half of 2012, a couple major dominos had to fall for that to come to fruition. First, Joakim Soria was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery during spring training. Then, Soria’s replacement, Jonathan Broxton, was dealt to the Reds in a July trade. Finally, Holland became the man, and he handled the promotion with aplomb, presumably setting himself up nicely for first dibs on the ninth inning in 2013.
It may seem counterintuitive to place much faith in a reliever who was his team’s third choice to close only a year ago, but with Holland having made his bones in the second-half last season (as well as in a cameo appearance as the Royals’ closer late in 2011) and his path to the ninth inning unimpeded in 2013, he has the makings of a stopper who will reward owners who invest in him. Though his occasional bouts of wildness are worth noting, Holland is a high-strikeout pitcher who induces an average number of ground balls and is generally tough for batters to square up. In 145 2/3 career innings, he’s allowed 118 hits, only eight of which were homers.
Holland may not be among the first pitchers who come to mind when you think of closers as keeper candidates, but that may well change in a year’s time. Now is the chance to get in at the ground floor.
Ernesto Frieri | Angels
The always exclusive “Closer Club” can expel you just as quickly as it embraces you, as Ernesto Frieri is learning. Owners were tripping over themselves to add Ernasty and his gaudy strikeout numbers last May and June, when he came out of nowhere to grab closing duties for the Halos after being acquired from the Padres in a seemingly ho-hum early-season trade. Things weren’t as rosy for the right-hander from there, however. In the second-half, Frieri’s bullpen-mates, most notably lefty Scott Downs, vultured a handful of save chances, and Frieri’s own performance “slipped” from ungodly to merely respectable.
Now, with the Angels’ signing of former Phillies stopper Ryan Madson, Frieri’s chance of closing in 2013 is further complicated. Madson, in his introductory news conference, hinted strongly that he’d like to close, and if the Halos didn’t sign him to plug him into that role—they haven’t explicitly said so, although his games-finished escalators certainly suggest as much—they must have at least been aware of his preference. Whether Madson will be healthy enough to pitch effectively is another matter entirely, but in the meantime, Frieri’s role has to be considered undefined, thereby rendering him a non-play in most formats for now.
There’s a silver lining, though, for those in holds leagues, especially those in AL-only holds leagues (yes, they exist). Frieri is a justifiable keeper in those leagues, where he will most definitely be owned this season as a top setup man who has a better-than-outside chance of tapping into his latent value as a next-in-line closer should Madson be injured or ineffective as a result of his surgery.
Jonathan Papelbon | Phillies
Every spring there are countless pieces written from all corners of our beloved Internet on the subject of “paying for saves”—i.e. whether an owner can justifiably spend a single-digit-round draft pick on a closer. In the great majority of these articles, owners are urged not to do it, and yet in almost every league I’ve ever been in, at least a couple high-end closers are selected in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Clearly there’s a disconnect somewhere.
While the strategy is debatable, there’s no arguing that Papelbon should be a prime target for those who are willing to pay top dollar—or, in this case, spend a keeper pick—on a closer. He’s about as dependable as stoppers come, averaging nearly 37 saves over the past seven seasons to go along with a career 2.34 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and a penchant for staying off the DL. Entering only his age-32 season, there’s reason to think Pap is still at least a couple years away from major decline, and his sizable contract should ensure that he’ll get every opportunity to keep his job even if he should falter.
Sergio Romo | Giants
I’m a Romo fan as much as the next guy—what’s not to love about a great pitcher who wears this t-shirt to a World Series parade?—but there are enough concerns here for me to be conservative in touting him for 2013. Though the era of The Beard is all but over in San Francisco—meaning Romo should and will be considered the favorite to receive the bulk of the Giants’ save chances next season—manager Bruce Bochy has already said that he will turn to others on occasion, presumably to both find rest for the slight and slider-reliant Romo and to exploit certain matchups.
How that will break down, exactly, I cannot say. My guess is that if Giants relievers tally 50 saves next year (they’ve averaged 54 the past three seasons), roughly 25-30 will go to Romo, with maybe 10-15 going to Javier Lopez and the rest being tossed over to Santiago Casilla and/or Jeremy Affeldt. That would still make Romo a valuable closer with excellent strikeout contributions and sharp ratios, but the partial platoon caps his upside.