Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fantasy Bullpen Breakdowns - AL Central Closers, Setup Men & Sleeper Middle Relievers

Yesterday, we took a look at the bullpens of the AL East. In the second installment of our Bullpen Breakdowns series, we take a look at the AL Central teams focusing on who will be filling the roles of closer and setup man come opening day as well as sleeper middle relievers to keep an eye on.

Detroit Tigers

Closer - Todd Jones
Setup Man - Fernando Rodney
Top 7th Inning Guys - Jason Grilli & Bobby Seay
Dark Horse Holds Guy - Zach Miner
Injured MR - Joel Zumaya

FSE's Take - Todd Jones is by no means an elite closer and he won't help you much in ERA, WHIP or Ks. However, the man simply racks up the saves. Jones quietly saved 38 games last year following 40 and 37 save seasons in 2005 and 2006 respectively. He'll be 40 in April, but in an injury-ridden Detroit bullpen, he is the only option to close right now. Speaking of the Detroit walking wounded, setup man Fernando Rodney has yet to throw off a mound this spring and fireballer Joel Zumaya is out until July with a shoulder injury. Rodney is a solid holds option when healthy, but if he can't go expect the righty-lefty combo of Bobby Seay and Jason Grilli to share setup duties. Both put up 11 holds in 2007 and will be used regularly in the wake of all the injuries. Another guy to keep an eye on is 26 year old Zach Miner who had 9 holds and a respectable ERA of 3.02 last year. If the veterans in front of him struggle, expect Jim Leyland to hand over more 7th inning/setup responsibilities to Miner as Rodney recovers.

Cleveland Indians

Closer - Joe Borowski
Setup Man - Rafael Betancourt
Top 7th Inning Guys - Rafael Perez & Masa Kobayashi
Dark Horse Holds Guy - Jensen Lewis

FSE's Take - In the mold of the aforementioned Todd Jones, we present Cleveland Indians' closer Joe Borowski who despite a 5+ ERA and poor WHIP saved 45 games last season. Borowski will get more strikeouts then Jones' however, he will blow more saves and his job is less secure. The latter is due to the wealth of strong arms in the Indians' pen headed by setup man Rafael Betancourt who registered 31 holds to go along with a sparkling 1.47 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. Betancourt would be the top candidate to close should Borowski struggle or get hurt. Masa Kobayashi comes over from Japan where he was an excellent closer to work primarily in the 7th inning in Cleveland although he could be used to setup as well. Rafael Perez will continue to be used regularly in the 7th inning where thrived last season recording 12 holds and minuscule ERA (1.78) and WHIP (0.92!) numbers. He will quickly be elevated if injuries occur. 23 year old Jensen Lewis came on strong late last season after being called up from AAA in July. He finished the year with 5 holds and strong ERA, WHIP and K numbers and should be used a good amount in 2008.

Minnesota Twins

Closer - Joe Nathan
Setup Man - Juan Rincon
Top 7th Inning Guys - Pat Neshek & Matt Guerrier
Dark Horse Holds Guy - Jesse Crain

FSE's Take - The Twins consistently have one of the top bullpens in baseball anchored by top 5 fantasy closer Joe Nathan. Behind Nathan, we saw the rise of youngsters Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier in 2007. Neshek recorded 15 holds to go along with a 2.94 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while Guerrier had 14 holds with an ERA of 2.35 and 1.05 WHIP. Both are candidates to be the main setup man due to the fact Juan Rincon, the Twins primary 8th inning option the past 4 season struggled mightily in 2007. Rincon will try to rebound this season and we will tentatively list him as the opening day setup man; however, be aware that there are two able arms waiting in the wings to steal his job. One guy to keep an eye on is 26 year old Jesse Crain who is returning from a torn rotator cuff injury which ruined his 2007 campaign. Crain has been ineffective the last two years, but it was not long ago that he was one of the better middle relievers and holds options in baseball. He makes for a good injury risk sleeper entering 2008.

Chicago White Sox

Closer - Bobby Jenks
Setup Men - Octavio Dotel & Scott Linebrink
Top 7th Inning Guy - Mike MacDougal
Dark Horse Holds Guys -Matt Thornton

FSE's Take - The White Sox spent a lot of money to bolster their pen bringing in veterans Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink to setup for closer Bobby Jenks. The question however is how much did these moves actually improve the Chicago relief corps? Jenks is a stud and will be one of the first 5-10 closers off the board as he pitches for a big pay day; however, both Dotel and Linebrink struggled in 2007. Dotel got hurt after being dealt to Atlanta and saw his season ended early while Linebrink struggled in Milwaukee. Both guys should be in position to accumulate a good amount of holds at the back end of the White Sox but certainly come with a bit of risk attached. As for the remainder of the pen, Mike MacDougal also had his share of problems last year and looks to rebound to his once dominant KC form in 2008. Matt Thornton is a name going under the radar, he had 17 holds in 2007 and should get decent amount of work in the 7th inning.

Kansas City Royals

Closer - Joakim Soria
Setup Man - Yasuhiko Yabuta & Jimmy Gobble
Top 7th Inning Guy - Ron Mahay
Dark Horse Holds Guy - Joel Peralta

FSE's Take - The Royals were once a laughing stock but now they clearly are a team on the rise with a fairly formidable bullpen to boot. Joakim Soria emerged virtually out of nowhere to put up one of the more dominant season among MLB closers in 2007. The former Rule-5 pick registered 9 holds as the primary setup man before saving 17 games once Octavio Dotel was traded to Atlanta. Soria also put up an ERA of 2.47, sparkling 0.94 WHIP and averaged over a strikeout per inning. He will enter 2008 as the unquestioned closer in KC and is a solid pick once the top closers are off the board. Bridging the gap to Soria will be Japanese import Yasuhiko Yabuta who along with Jimmy Gobble will be the primary 8th inning options. Yabuta is a veteran with plenty of experience pitching in Japan while Gobble was strong in 2007 compiling 16 holds. Other options out of the KC pen include newly signed lefty specialist Ron Mahay and veteran Joel Peralta who will both have opportunities for holds working the 7th inning.

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