The Astros have their plan for the ninth inning. Now it's time to worry about the other eight frames.
Manager Brad Mills made it official Tuesday: Brett Myers will be the Houston closer this year. Myers has cut his teeth in the ninth inning before; he was an effective closer for the 2007 Phillies (21 saves in 24 chances). He's been a starter for the Astros over the last two years (67 appearances, 439.2 innings). If he immediately qualified for the Yahoo! relief pitcher ranks (he doesn't), I'd slot him somewhere in the high 20s.
The value of this news depends on your league specs, of course. In any medium or deeper mixed league, every save has a value. In shallow mixers, there might be some closers on the waiver wire. The Astros look like the NL's worst team on paper, sure, but even bad teams win a few close games now and then. Houston as a team collected 25 saves last year, and every other club in baseball had at least 32.
Don't be fooled by the surface stats Myers posted last year (4.46 ERA, 1.31 WHIP). He had a problem with the gopher ball in 2011, but his other key indicators were in normal territory. He trimmed his walk rate slightly and he lost a few strikeouts from 2010, and his xFIP was similar in both of his Houston seasons (3.75 last season, 3.67 the prior year). Working just one inning is almost guaranteed to push his ratio stats downward; he can go all-out in every appearance, and will never have to face a hitter more than once.
Mills did the roto public one favor with this news: he cleaned up a potentially-ugly bullpen. If you're in an NL-only league, perhaps you can talk yourself into Juan Abreu or Wilton Lopez as a hedge or sleeper. We'll ignore them in mixers now. Brandon Lyon is out of our lives either way.
The team's rationale for the move is a little more cloudy. Perhaps the Astros want to give another starting slot to a young pitcher (Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland and Henry Sosa are in the mix); after the top three of Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and JA Happ, nothing is set in stone. This is going to be a development season, after all. Maybe the team feels Myers would be easier to deal mid-year if he has a pretty save total next to his name, though his 2013 option automatically vests if he finishes a specific number of games. The revamped front office in Houston has a modern and SABR-friendly lean, so you can be sure this wasn't a random decision.
While we have saves on the mind, we should also mention the Cleveland leftover from the weekend. Chris Perez is dealing with an oblique injury and will be down for 4-6 weeks. Manager Manny Acta made it clear that Vinnie Pestano is the second in command in the Tribe's bullpen; if Perez doesn't heal quickly, Pestano is the handshake man.
Pestano was the team's best real-life reliever by a considerable margin last year. He piled up 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings (Perez's rate was half of that) and he also walked less batters than Perez did. This doesn't mean Pestano should be closing, of course — a creative manager (or organization) might feel that the ace reliever in the bullpen should be free to work when a game hits a critical point. Don't let the definition of the save rule determine your management style.
Here's my bottom line with Cleveland's save chase: I'm not taking Perez in any league unless he's given to me for next to nothing. And Pestano is one of my favorite save-speculation plays.
And speaking of midwest closers, the White Sox probably won't be anointing anyone for a while. Here's what pitching coach Don Cooper told the Chicago Sun-Times: ''The closer thing, we haven't had a game yet; we haven't had BP yet. We'll figure out who that guy is. It won't be Feb. 27; it will be more like March 27. So hold on to that question.'' Veteran lefty Matt Thornton and buzzy prospect Addison Reed are the two front-runners there.