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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Closer calls

Last week, we mentioned how overrated stolen bases can be on draft day.

The same can be said for saves, but not because of the reason you might think. You can never go wrong with a stud closer, who will help you in strikeouts, ERA and (Austin Carr Master of the Obvious warning) saves.

Saves are overvalued only when the likes of Carlos Marmol, B.J. Ryan and Joel Hanrahan are selected much too early strictly because they are closers -- or in the case of Marmol, we thought they'd be closers (thanks, Lou Piniella).

In 5x5 category leagues, closers are even more valuable than stolen-base threats, but while we know the speed guys likely aren't going to hit for power, we can never be sure which closers are going to lose their jobs because of ineffectiveness or injuries.

By my rather unscientific count (I scanned the standings, then went through each team's schedule, looking at the saves recorded for each), 10 teams have switched closers this season. Seven were because of injuries -- Toronto (B.J. Ryan to Scott Downs), Kansas City (Joakim Soria to ...? More on that in a bit), Seattle (Brandon Morrow to David Aardsma and back to Morrow), Oakland (Brad Ziegler to Michael Wuertz and Andrew Bailey), Milwaukee (Carlos Villanueva to Todd Coffey to Trevor Hoffman), Houston (Jose Valderde to LaTroy Hawkins) and Pittsburgh (Matt Capps to, well, Capps; see below)

Two changed because of ineffectiveness -- St. Louis (Jason Motte to a committee to Ryan Franklin) and Colorado (Huston Street to Jason Grilli and Manny Corpas, and back to Street) -- and one (Atlanta, with Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) prefers to rotate.

All of which leads to a waiver-wire frenzy in category leagues whenever Player X gets A. Demoted, B. Injured, C. Doesn't lose his job, but Player Y sure seems to be getting a decent amount of opportunities.

All of which leaves us scratching our heads, throwing the hammer down (picking up Player Y) and getting that weak stuff out of here (Player X), a la Austin Carr (minus the head-scratching; we're the ones who do that when we hear the same four or five catchphrases throughout a Cavs broadcast).

Let's look at five of the recent closer developments and try to determine a method to this maddening position (and you thought Eric Wedge had problems).

Kansas City: Joakim Soria, who has saved 49 games in 52 opportunities since the start of last season, is on the disabled list because of shoulder soreness. A two-week waiver-wire gem could prove to be Juan Cruz, who has a 1.88 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings this season. Cruz was 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and a whopping 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks last season. Cruz is an effective source of strikeouts (he has 546 K's in 529 1/3 career innings) and the Royals (with a surprising 18 wins) should give him a decent amount of save opportunities.

Houston: Jose Valverde, who had a combined 91 saves in 2007 and '08) has been on the disabled list since April 28 because of a calf injury. He's expected to return in the third week of May. LaTroy Hawkins (four saves, 2.40 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 15 innings) has been productive when called upon, but he's had only three save chances (blowing one) since Valverde went down.

Pittsburgh: Capps, who is on the DL with an elbow injury, is expected to return Tuesday. In his place, the Pirates might as well have had one of the Tribe's gas cans at the back end of the 'pen. Pittsburgh hasn't had a save since Capps recorded his fifth on April 22.

Oakland: Ziegler hasn't had a save since April 25. Since, Wuertz has two and Bailey one. Until Ziegler recovers from recent flu and asthma ailments (he says he won't be 100 percent for a couple of weeks), it's probably better to avoid any of these players unless you're desperate. Of the three, Bailey (3-0, 1.27 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings) has been the best.

Washington (aka the Indians of the National League): Hanrahan lost his job to former Indian Julian Tavarez and former starter Kip Wells. The bullpen was so bad Wells was brought off the street and has been one of the Nationals' most effective relievers. His save Friday was the first of his career. Tavarez recorded his first save of the season April 29, lost the following night and has had only two holds since. For the time being, Hanrahan (who bailed out Wells on Saturday night, getting his third save in the process) might still be the best option. He's a good source of strikeouts (16 in 13 1/3 innings; 93 in 84 1/3 in 2008) and at 28, he's likely the future of Washington's bullpen. In deeper leagues, he's a risk, but the same can be said for almost anyone at the position.

Later this week, we'll have more Pick Three options, NFL draft leftovers, an audiocast on the News-Herald's Web site and a column in Saturday's editions and online. Until then, good luck and remember to thank Mom even when it's not technically her day.

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