Position Primer: Relief pitcher

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
RELIEF PITCHER TIERS
Jonathan Papelbon (44.1)
J.J. Putz (51.8)
Francisco Rodriguez (64.4)
Joe Nathan (56.0)


Billy Wagner (93.5)
Jose Valverde (86.3)
Mariano Rivera (101.1)
Takashi Saito (75.4)


Rafael Soriano (145.7)
J. Chamberlain (155.9)
Brett Myers (110.6)
Bobby Jenks (95.6)
Francisco Cordero (91.2)
Huston Street (121.2)
Trevor Hoffman (114.4)
Manny Corpas (126.7)
Matt Capps (150.4)
Chad Billingsley (149.8)
Chad Cordero (133.1)


Brad Lidge (163.0)
Joakim Soria (159.1)
J. Isringhausen (147.1)
Carlos Marmol (165.9)


Kevin Gregg (176.7)
Brandon Lyon (189.8)
B.J. Ryan (203.5)
Joe Borowski (179.9)
Todd Jones (192.3)
J. Broxton (219.4)
Eric Gagne (193.3)


Pat Neshek (293.6)
C.J. Wilson (222.2)
Zack Greinke (244.9)
Brian Wilson (223.2)
Troy Percival (211.3)
Jeremy Accardo (243.7)
Heath Bell (257.1)
George Sherrill (235.3)
Kerry Wood (309.5)
Tony Pena (282.0)
R. Betancourt (287.7)
Tom Gordon (291.5)
Hideki Okajima (267.7)
Scot Shields (326.1)

Note: #'s denote latest ADP values from MockDraftCentral

More Position Primers: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | 3B | OF | SP

His opinions on health care reform couldn't spur ambivalent feelings in the hearts and minds of American voters like Hillary Clinton's. And his stance on stem cell research couldn't drive a wedge between neighbors like George W. Bush's.

But in the context of virtual baseball, Joe Borowski is a polarizing figure.

Fantasy owners either love or loathe Borowski. There is no middle ground. But regardless of whether you find the Polish Prince of stoppers refreshing or revolting, one thing is certain: his AL-leading 45 saves last season were remarkable.

In 2006, Borowski was reborn in Miami. The well-traveled closer converted 36 of 43 save opportunities, posted a respectable 3.75 ERA and tallied an 8.27 K/9 in 69.2 innings. However, despite being the presumed stopper for the Indians heading into the '07 season, most owners, fearful of his wild unpredictability and 4.26 BB/9 as a Marlin, abstained from selecting the journeyman closer in drafts. On average in 12-team mixed league drafts he was selected at pick 230, equivalent to the 20th round.

Talk about a Major League bargain.

Sure, Borowski owners suffered from severe cases of nausea, paranoia and hyperhidrosis every time Eric Wedge called No. 47, but the dude got the job done.

Because of his abhorrent 5.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP Joe-Bo is once again wasting away on the fantasy clearance rack. According to MockDraftCentral, the embattled closer is going around pick 180 or in Round 15 of 12-team mixed league drafts.

Yes, he will again likely be the poster-child of adventurous saves, but Borowski – alongside proven, yet undervalued, door-slammers Todd Jones, Eric Gagne and B.J. Ryan – is exactly why you don't snap tendons for a closer.

Because of injuries, ineffectiveness and managerial chess games, values at relief pitcher are endless. It's senseless to spend an early-round selection on such a volatile position. As discussed in Ron Shandler's "Baseball Forecaster," since 2002, an average of 12 closers or roughly 41.7 percent of those drafted in 12-team mixed leagues have failed each year. Their misadventures fostered an annual average of 11.2 new sources of saves. This means you can invest peanuts in closers and survive. Even if your late-round stoppers tank, inevitably the waiver wire will churn out a saves saint, or 10.

Of course, top-tiered beasts like Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and Joe Nathan stand on firmer ground than shakier options like the aforementioned Borowski, but even mediocre closers can keep you competitive in saves. And for those that play in 5x5 leagues, that's the point of pitching – to remain competitive.

So this year, live by the Rule of Borowski. Instead of overpaying for J.J. Putz in Round 5, chase more conscious commodities like Eric Byrnes (51.3 ADP), Corey Hart (57.9) or Carlos Pena (58.4) and lean on upstarts Rafael Soriano (145.7), Matt Capps (150.4) or Brian Wilson (223.2) for saves after pick 120.

Oh and for those that do end up drafting fantasy baseball's Hillary, make sure to have a stack of super-absorbent towels within arms reach this summer – excessive brow dampness will be a regular occurrence.

Here is a preview of the risers, fallers and baby crawlers trotting in from the bullpen this season:

RNK = Y! experts composite ranking
ADP = Average draft position as of Mar. 4 from MockDraftCentral
RD = Equivalent 12-team mixed league round value based on ADP

2008 Relief Pitchers: On the Rise
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Rafael Soriano
RP 8 145.7 12.1
Lowdown: Soriano is the best bargain closer in drafts this year. Acquired by the Braves in December '06, the Dominican dandy is primed to enter '08 as the Braves' primary ninth-inning stopper. A flame-throwing strikeout machine (8.75 K/9 in '07), Soriano's signature pitch is a blinding 95-98 mph fastball. His secondary pitch, a hard-biting high-80s slider, isn't too shabby either. The 28-year-old's pinpoint control (1.88 BB/9 in '07) and invaluable experience in pressure-packed situations last year (9-for-12 in save opps) will benefit him greatly this season. However, despite his positive attributes, Soriano is long-ball challenged. In 72 innings last year, he yielded an unsightly 1.50 HR/9 and 50.5 FB% (fly-ball percentage). Still, with little competition, and suiting up for a Braves club that seemingly vies for an NL East title annually, Soriano will yield an enormous profit. That is, if he doesn't serve up too many fat fastballs. For those in NL-only formats, he recently commanded a winning bid ($18) equal to Jose Valverde and Manny Corpas in a prominent expert's auction.
Fearless Forecast: 69 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 75 K, 4 W, 37 S
Joakim Soria
RP 21 159.1 13.2
Lowdown: Affectionately known to his Royals teammates as "Boso Chulo" – Spanish for "Sweet Moustache" – Soria is a late-inning Pancho Villa. Converted from starter to bullpen hand, the former Rule 5 pick performed brilliantly last season. Although his control was dodgy at times (2.48 BB/9), the Mexican marvel notched terrific peripheral numbers – 9.78 K/9, 39.2 GB% (groundball percentage), 40.4 FB% and 0.39 HR/9. Equipped with a hard-breaking split fastball and plus slider, Soria has often been described by scouts as a younger version of Mariano Rivera. Sure, Kansas City will likely again wade in the cesspool of the AL Central, but even on a team that will struggle to reach 70 wins, any closer has excellent odds of eclipsing 30 saves. Only 23, Soria will show occasional growing pains, but without a viable candidate to push him for opportunities, his position as closer is static.
Fearless Forecast: 63 IP, 3.11 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 64 K, 3 W, 30 S
Matt Capps
RP 17 150.4 12.5
Lowdown: On the hill, the 24-year-old Bucco's closer has the physical appearance and personality of an incensed Steelers linebacker. Aggressive and fearless, Capps attacks hitters with a remarkably accurate mid-90s fastball (1.82 BB/9 in '07). After permanently seizing end-game duties in early June, the Steel City bulldog blew only two saves over the remainder of the season, finishing the year 17-for-21 in save opportunities. His 50.2 FB% from '07 is rather unattractive, but he yielded only 0.57 HR/9, a stark improvement from '06 (1.34 HR/9). Like the Royals, the Pirates' expected ineptitude will limit Capps' opportunities, but his ERA, WHIP and K contributions and likely 28-32 saves will prove invaluable for fantasy owners. Don't be shocked if he finishes with better end-season totals than Francisco Cordero, Manny Corpas and Huston Street. NL-only owners should expect to slap the wallet for $15-$18 to acquire his services.
Fearless Forecast: 74 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 70 K, 4 W, 31 S
George Sherrill
RP 40 235.3 19.6
Lowdown: Available in the murky waters of mixed-league drafts, Sherrill is a potential end-game leviathan. Acquired from Seattle in the Erik Bedard deal in February, the southpaw door slammer is the leading candidate to emerge from Baltimore's throng of potential stoppers. Sherrill perplexes hitters with his deceptive delivery, low-90s fastball and plus slider. In 45.2 innings last season, he compiled a sensational 11.04 K/9. Unmistakably, he has the stuff to thrive in the closer's role, but his inconsistent control (3.35 BB/9 in '07) and propensity for surrendering too many fly-balls (54.9 FB%) are concerns. If Sherrill can hone his accuracy and generate more groundball outs, he will shed his "lefty specialist" label and develop into a legitimate No. 3 closer in shallow mixed leagues. Keep his name tucked underneath your cap.
Fearless Forecast: 67 IP, 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 79 K, 3 W, 24 S
Kerry Wood
RP 39 308.5 25.8
Lowdown: Wood has been more fragile than Britney Spears' psyche since exploding onto the scene in 1998. Now entering into his 30s, the haggard veteran once known as "Kid K" is hopeful his new career path will be paved with prosperity. In a setup role late last season, Wood's electric stuff – mid-90s fastball, off-the-table slider and wicked curve – resurfaced. In 24.1 innings, he tallied an 8.88 K/9 and didn't yield a single home run. However, as has been the case his entire career, his control was wildly inconsistent at times (4.81 BB/9) and his 48.4 FB% was unsettling. If Wood can resolve those issues this spring, his demeanor and lethal arsenal could transform him from once cherished starter to dominating reliever. Wood's first spring outing on Mar. 2 was rocky (3 ER, 4 H in 1.0 IP), but once he regains his command, he has a healthy chance of leapfrogging current frontrunner Carlos Marmol on the Cubs' closer depth chart. Because you don't have to invest much in his services, he's the ultimate low-risk, high-reward reliever this drafting season.
Fearless Forecast: 59 IP, 3.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 63 K, 3 W, 17 S

2008 Relief Pitchers: On the Decline
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Mariano Rivera
RP 7 101.1 8.4
Lowdown: Last April was filled with torrential thunderstorms, not showers, for the future Hall of Famer. Repeatedly tattooed in April – he posted a 10.57 ERA – many thought father time had finally caught up to the then 37-year-old Rivera. However, once the calendar flipped to May, the unstoppable finisher returned. Over the remainder of the season he notched a 2.26 ERA and finished with 30 saves for the tenth time in 11 years. More amazing, Rivera's 9.34 K/9 was his highest mark since 1996. He still generates ample groundball outs (53.0 GB%) and was largely unlucky last season (.335 BABIP), but his advanced age is worrisome. The Scorpion could very easily surpass 30 saves again this season, but, at 38, there are more trustworthy options available later in drafts. Bypass Rivera for lumberjacks like Jeff Francoeur (ADP: 101.7), Dan Uggla (105.3) or Delmon Young (108.5) in Round 9 and stalk younger, safer closers in unchallenged positions (e.g. Capps) some 50 picks later.
Fearless Forecast: 75 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 63 K, 4 W, 29 S
Takashi Saito
RP 8 75.5 6.3
Lowdown: Saito is a human GPS. More elusive than blazing, his pinpoint location (1.82 BB/9) and ability to generate abundant groundball outs (46.0 GB%) has made him one of the premiere closers in fantasy. However, at 38, there are several signs of an impending demise. Last season, he saw a near two-point decline in K/9 ('06: 12.29, '07: 10.91). Meanwhile, his HR/FB% skyrocketed (3.7, 8.9) and his 92.9 LOB% (left on base) was disturbingly high. To complicate matters, Saito's advanced age also enhances his risk for injury. In '07, he missed 10 games because of shoulder and hamstring soreness. With flamethrower Jonathan Broxton waiting in the wings, the chances of Saito having a sharp downward decline in value is more plausible than you might think. The Japanese import will undoubtedly begin the season as the closer, but his hefty seventh-round price-tag in 12-team mixed league drafts is almost comical. Like Rivera, circumvent Saito in the early rounds and sip from the closer fantasy of youth later on.
Fearless Forecast: 57 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 60 K, 3 W, 27 S
Brad Lidge
RP 20 163.0 13.5
Lowdown: In life, there are certain things to avoid: 1) Dracula's castle after sundown, 2) Dating women who use Chihuahuas as fashion accessories and 3) Closers with an unstable mental history. The Albert Pujols demons may have been discarded in Houston, but Lidge is still untrustworthy. In a tumultuous 2007, the disparaged Lidge was removed from the closer's job in the first week of the season. Determined to iron out the kinks, he worked in middle relief for two months, ultimately returning to ninth-inning duties in June. Still, his inconsistent command (4.03 BB/9 in '07) and long-ball susceptibility (1.21 HR/9) caused him to blow five of his final 24 save chances. Factor in that his K/9 has declined in three straight seasons and that he's currently recuperating from knee surgery and Lidge suddenly becomes completely avoidable. Reports out of Florida have noted that the 31-year-old has started a long-tossing program and could be ready by Opening Day. However, given his mental baggage and penchant for massive meltdowns, it's unwise to trust such a derelict reliever. Metamucil endorser Tom Gordon would be the primary end-game option if Lidge falters.
Fearless Forecast: 55 IP, 3.87 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 72 K, 2 W, 19 S
Trevor Hoffman
RP 15 114.5 9.5
Lowdown: Baseball's Hoff is a handful of blown saves away from voraciously consuming hamburgers off a floor while shirtless and inebriated. The signs of the San Diego stegosaurus' imminent extinction are everywhere. His K/9 has declined in three straight seasons, bottoming out to a career-low 6.91 mark last season. His 2.35 BB/9 in '07 was his highest tally since 2003. And his FB% soared from 45.4 in '06 to 51.4 last year. Toss in seven blown saves last year, including a memorable meltdown against Colorado in the wild card tiebreaker, and you have a recipe for disaster. The 38-year-ancient Hoffman is determined to keep the "Hells Bells" ninth-inning anthem alive, but given his downward spiraling peripherals a different Bell could toll. Heath Bell, going some 140-plus picks after Hoffman, just might log more second-half saves than the Pads' incumbent.
Fearless Forecast: 59 IP, 3.36 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 43 K, 3 W, 26 S
Troy Percival
RP 35 211.3 17.6
Lowdown: Through his Denny McLain-inspired spectacles, Tampa manager Joe Maddon sees something most pundits don't: value in a brittle 38-year-old reliever. Last year, Percival, like so many antiquated players before him, experienced a rebirth in St. Louis. In 40 innings, he compiled an eye-catching 8.10 K/9 and posted the best BB/9 of his career (2.25). However, his dramatic disparity in GB% (33.0) and FB% (55.3) last season is disconcerting. Tagged the Rays stopper in early February, Percival has plenty of experience, but hasn't registered 30 saves in a season since 2004. Given his sensitivity to elbow injuries and ancient age, Percival, like many on the decline list, isn't a reliever for the faint of heart. Despite posting a 5.86 ERA after the All-Star break, Al Reyes, who was 26-for-30 in save opportunities last season, would likely grip the stitches in the ninth if Percival fizzles.
Fearless Forecast: 57 IP, 3.88 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 49 K, 2 W, 16 S

2008 Relief Pitchers: Prospects to Watch
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Joba Chamberlain
RP, SP 10 155.9 12.9
Lowdown: Ask any fantasy pundit and they'll tell you, Joba the Hutt's stock is hotter than super-sized posters of Princess Leia in a golden metal bikini at a Star Wars geek fest. The bazooka-armed 22-year-old possesses a legendary arsenal – high-90s fastball, nasty slider, deceptive curve and a plus change. His meteoric rise through the Yankees system last year proved his electric combination of power and polish was far beyond his years. Prior to being recalled on Aug. 6, Chamberlain posted an otherworldly 13.8 K/9 mark in 88.1 innings between High-A and Triple-A. Exclusively used as a reliever for the senior club, the robust righty allowed only one earned run, issued six walks and notched an equally dominant 12.8 K/9 in 30.1 innings. Still relatively green, occasional bumps and a 140-150 innings cap are forecasted in '08. But given his dual eligibility, enormous strikeout upside and expected superb ERA/WHIP totals, he's money well spent anytime after Round 10.
Fearless Forecast: 142 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 161 K, 9 W, 1 S
Masahide Kobayashi
RP 40+ 333.6 27.8
Lowdown: The Indians are optimistic the imported setup man will devour hitters like his Japanese namesake does frankfurters. As the primary closer for the Chiba Lotte Marines during his seven-year Pacific League tenure, the converted starter saved 227 games, notching 20-plus door slams each season since '01. At 33, Kobayashi is hardly a spring chicken, but he consistently nails his intended targets with three productive pitches: a 90-94 mph fastball, late-action slider and forkball. His experience in pressure-packed situations shows that he has the poise and gumption to be a big league closer. If Joe Borowski stumbles this season, Rafael Betancourt and Kobayashi would likely duke it out for end game rights. Given his invaluable closer experience, Kobayashi would likely have the advantage. Those in deep mixed and AL-only leagues desperate to harvest late-draft saves should keep the Rising Sun sensation in mind.
Fearless Forecast: 53 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 46 K, 5 W, 6 S
Max Scherzer
SP, RP 40+ 335.0+ 28.0+
Lowdown: Mad Max could take fantasy owners "Beyond the Thunderdome" by midseason. The D'backs first pick in the 2006 draft, Scherzer is a dark-horse closer candidate whose name needs to be back pocketed in NL-only leagues. Working as a starter between High-A and Double-A last season, Scherzer's command was fugitive at times, indicative of his 4.89 BB/9 in 90.2 innings. However, his 9.58 K/9 was nothing to scoff at and points to his attractive fantasy upside. During Arizona Fall League action, the Missouri product pitched exclusively out of the pen, overpowering hitters with a blinding mid-90s sinking fastball and biting slider. Pitching for the Scottsdale Scorpions, he struck out an eye-catching 18 batters in 12.2 innings (13.2 K/9). Bob Melvin has been impressed with Scherzer's work ethic and competitiveness so far this spring, but it appears the 23 year-old fire-hose will start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Tucson. He could force his way into the D-Backs rotation or bullpen by July.
Fearless Forecast: 57 IP, 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4 W, 52 K
Chris Perez
RP 40+ 335.0+ 28.0+
Lowdown: Perez has respectable odds of becoming this year's Manny Corpas. In 2007, the 22-year-old future end-game stud accumulated 36 saves and a dynamite 11.6 K/9 over 84 innings in three minor league stops. Perez's high-90s gas and catastrophic slider generate a plethora of whiffs, but his untamed control is inhibiting his growth. His horrific 6.42 BB/9 last season exudes rawness and recklessness. This spring, Perez is experimenting with a curve, but really he should be spending every waking moment polishing his command. Current Cards closer Jason Isringhausen has been prone to nagging injuries in his career and if he is felled by a significant setback at any point this season, Perez would likely be the prime replacement candidate. The former "U" standout is an ideal dollar diamond-in-the-rough for NL-only owners. Expect the rocket-armed youngster to begin the season at Triple-A Louisville, but an early season promotion is likely.
Fearless Forecast: 32 IP, 4.08 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 40 K, 1 W, 2 S
Henry Owens
RP 40+ 335.0+ 28.0+
Lowdown: At the start of the '07 season, many experts pegged Owens, not Kevin Gregg, to be the primary closer in South Florida when the Jorge Julio revitalization project inevitably bombed. When Julio flopped in early April, Owens was handed the ninth-inning reigns by Fredi Gonzalez, successfully shutting the door in four of five games. But his role as stopper was short-lived. In early May, Owens succumbed to elbow and shoulder woes, eventually having surgery on the latter in late August. Prior to the injury setbacks, Owens showcased electric stuff, regularly touching the high-90s with his heater. Undoubtedly, Gregg, who was 32-for-36 in save opportunities last year, would have to log substantial DL time to relinquish his role as closer. If Owens, who is not expected to return to the Florida pen until at least mid-May, can rebound quickly, he has reasonable odds of becoming the Marlins' No. 2 by midseason. He could develop into an impact middle reliever in very deep mixed and NL-only formats after the All-Star break.
Fearless Forecast: 34 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 33 K, 2 W, 2 S