Sleeper saves. Who doesn't love getting saves on the cheap? If you’re short on saves and have a bench spot or two available to stash a reliever – keep reading. If you want to get ahead of your league mates to have some names in mind as the season wears on so you’re ready to pounce when the opportunity knocks – you too should keep reading. Today we’ll take a look at a few 9th inning situations to keep an eye on as the season wears on.
Jonathan Papelbon is the guy for the Phillies in the 9th inning role. But what happens when the trade deadline comes and goes and this club is still below .500 and 5th in the NL East? They’ll go into selling mode and Papelbon is a prime candidate to be dealt.
Antonio Bastardo may be the guy that comes to mind as the next guy up in Philly, but he lacks the elite put-away stuff many teams look for in a closer. He will likely get the first crack at the job, but I don’t think he has what it takes to hold it down. There are 2 guys in the Phillies’ bullpen that have live arms and could get the next opportunity if Bastardo gets passed over or falters. Jake Diekman (27 years old) and Ken Giles (23 years old).
Diekman is the guy I’m targeting. In fact, I’ve already picked him up in a couple deep leagues. He’s racking up the Ks (11.9 K/9) and is keeping his walks in check (3.4 BB/9). His 4.41 ERA is not indicative of his skills – his xFIP is 2.72, driven mostly by his 66% strand rate and .321 BABIP against. Diekman has great stuff (98 mph sinker) and has huge upside if he can work his way into the closer’s role. Keep a close eye on this situation. He has legitimate top 10 closer potential.
San Diego Padres
This situation isn’t much different than what’s going on in Philadelphia right now. The Padres are 12 games below .500 and sit 4th in the NL West. With Will Venable, Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley performing well below expectations, and Andrew Cashner having more arm problems, they will likely be looking to sell at the deadline. Huston Street is having a great year, and Joakim Benoit is no slouch either. Both are players that just about any contending team will be targeting to bolster the back end of a bullpen.
I wrote about Alex Torres back in February as a guy to keep an eye on. He has great stuff and is pitching well for the Friars. His walks are up slightly (5.1 BB/9) and his ERA is currently a run and a half better than his FIP (2.10 vs. 3.72) – aided by a nice strand rate (81.3%). But, he’s a left hander who can hold runners on well and his career LOB% is 80%… so it’s really nothing out of the ordinary for Torres. Torres has great stuff and the Padres brought him over by giving up a nice player (Logan Forsythe) in the offseason deal. I expect him to get a shot at the 9th inning job, and he could run away with the opportunity. Kevin Quakenbush is another guy to keep an eye on, but target Torres as the guy to stash there should Street and Benoit both find themselves in another uniform come the end of July.
- I’ve never been a believer that Rafael Soriano is a guy to rely on as a fantasy baseball manager. However, he’s been quite good the last couple years for the Nats and as long as he continues what he’s doing, the job is his. Tyler Clippard is waiting in the wings, and has the arsenal and mindset to take over if Soriano goes down with an injury or loses his grip on the job. Keep an eye on this situation and be ready to add Clippard if something happens.
- Drew Storen is also having a heck of a year, sporting a 1.16 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, which is great to see after he endured a really rough 2013 season. Clippard will get the first chance for the Nationals if something happens with Soriano, but Storen is a guy that could be dangled at the trade deadline as well to a team that needs bullpen help. He could step into the closer’s role again if that does play out.
- Don’t forget about Pedro Strop in Chicago. Coming into the year, just about everyone I talked to expected him to have the role once Jose Veras inevitably imploded. But he blew his chance early on to run away with the job, with an injury derailing his opportunity to win it back in the short term. That being said, he’s been very good since getting healthy and could easily slide back into the 9th inning role if he keeps this up.
- Like in Chicago, LaTroy Hawkins wasn’t expected to hold down the fort with Rex Brothers (having a down year) lurking behind him. However, Hawkins has performed quite well and is currently their guy in the 9th inning. The numbers show he’s been fairly fortunate this year, with a 4.42 xFIP and .256 BABIP helping his 2.77 ERA. He also can barely strike guys out (11 Ks in 26 IP this year). Once his luck catches up with him, I don’t expect him to hold off his peers (Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, Adam Ottavino or maybe even Chad Bettis). This situation is one to keep an eye on as well, but it’s a bit of a crapshoot as there is no clear-cut must-add here yet.