Maybe it always seems this way at this time of year, but no matter what type of league you're playing, more owners than usual are scrambling to find saves.
Perhaps it's because in the leagues I'm seeing, in single-league formats, there are more teams than ever with zero saves, while in mixed leagues, there are more teams with no closers or one shaky closer. There were a number of teams with uncertain closing situations in the preseason, and many owners just plain guessed wrong. The flip side is that those owners who have closers, especially ones who are not the top-tier guys, are hoping desperately their pitchers can hang on to the job and give them one less thing to worry about.
Our own Eric Karabell does a great job of keeping you ahead of the curve with his weekly Relief Efforts column, which gives you the latest news and depth charts as it relates to the saves game, and it is a must-read each week.
However, I'm going to offer just a few scouting thoughts on some closers who had some question marks entering the season.
• If you saw Brandon Morrow against the Tigers on Friday, you were left with one thought: He was back in the role where he belonged, and boy, was he back.
I wrote in early March that you wanted to own Morrow in all formats, because it was going to be a no-lose situation. If he didn't work out as a starter, he would still have value because he would close for the M's. After battling forearm issues during the spring, the switch was made. Also, such a move could help the diabetic Morrow better manage his energy level.
On Friday, we saw the power of a fully armed and operational Morrow, as he retired the Tigers on 12 pitches (11 of them strikes) to earn his third save. He legitimately hit 100 mph twice, and was 97 mph on the low end. The one ball was an 89 mph splitter that had sick break and dropped off the table, and Curtis Granderson just managed to hold up on it. This was the Morrow who posted a 1.47 ERA, a WHIP under 1 and 47 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings as a reliever last season.
Side note: Too often, I see owners overreacting without looking at the circumstances of how a player got his stats. Cases in point were the crazy FAAB bids I've seen over the past two weeks on both David Aardsma and Jason Frasor from teams looking for saves. The bidding was as if each had won the closer's job. Yes, Aardsma has two saves thus far, but it was only because Morrow was unavailable on each night due to his pitch count from the evening before, as he gradually gets back up to speed. Yes, Frasor got a save on April 11 to bail out B.J. Ryan, but it was only because Scott Downs had already pitched in a set-up role in the eighth. If the Blue Jays ever make a switch with their closer, you can bet it will be Downs, not Frasor, getting the opportunity.
Don't just look at the results; examine the situations that led to the result. I know this seems obvious to some, but the extent of overbidding that I saw in multiple leagues surprised me, so I thought it worth mentioning.
• Troy Percival was a cheap closer play on draft day, and so far we're seeing why. He has seemingly been trying to pitch himself out of trouble since Opening Day, and the prognosis for the future is not good. The hope was that after offseason back surgery, Percival could get back to being the stopper who was so useful to both the Rays and fantasy owners in the first half last season.
The 39-year-old righty had seemingly found the fountain of youth, saving 19 of 21 games with a 0.96 WHIP, 3.54 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in the first half. Yes, he was very lucky with his average on balls in play, but fly-ball pitchers have a tendency to have lower BABIP numbers.
I put him on my roster in a couple of AL auction leagues because he was generally going for $9-$10 in most non-keeper leagues, and that was a price where there seemed to be a good chance for a profit on the investment even if he didn't hold on to the job all season. (For example, George Sherill went for about that price last year, and his owners definitely got their money's worth.) The way I looked at it, there was the potential for 20-plus saves, and even if he got only a dozen or so, I still got a decent return since he cost less than half of the top names.
The way he's pitched thus far, I must admit to feeling some trepidation that he may not get even that.
Vintage Percival threw 95-96 mph fastballs 80 percent of the time, and even though he hasn't been that pitcher since his Angels days, he was still bringing it around 91-93 mph in recent years. However, there's been continued erosion of his velocity over the past two seasons, and now he struggles to get the ball over 89-90 mph. Perhaps this will change the further removed from back surgery he gets, but this could also be what he is now. He has to throw curves and a lot more changeups, mixing in a slider now and then to try to get by. However, he's still throwing a lot of fastballs -- more than he should considering what his velocity is now-- and even the ones that are turning into outs thus far have been getting hit hard right at people.
If there's another owner desperate for saves and you have the opportunity to move Percival in a decent deal before the bottom falls out, I'd certainly consider it. You can make the pitch to the other owner that Percival is still getting back up to speed, is on a good team, and that manager Joe Maddon doesn't like closer-by-committee arrangements if he can help it. Sure, we may be overreacting to a couple of bad weeks and kicking ourselves later, but it's a calculated risk because there's certainly a plausible scenario where his trade value is zero in a month.
Given that the other late-inning options in the Rays' bullpen (Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour) have had their own issues the first few games, Percival could hang on to the role by default while posting one of those ugly Jose Mesa-type statistical seasons while getting saves, making you wonder if it's even worth it. He did save nine games in 11 chances even while getting pounded in the second half last year.
Or as Eric has noted, we may have to start watching the "stealth" saves candidate in that 'pen, Joe Nelson, to see if he starts moving up a bit in the pecking order if he continues to pitch well.
More from Grey
Jason Grey has more on Carlos Quentin and Andre Ethier. To see his scouting reports on these young sluggers, log in to ESPN Insider.
• As long as we're talking about closers who battled back problems last season, let's focus on Bobby Jenks, who, despite being money in the bank the last three seasons, went for a relatively discounted rate this draft season due to the decline in his strikeouts. Over the past three years, despite racking up the saves and posting solid ERA and WHIP numbers, Jenks' strikeout rate has progressively gotten worse, from over 10 per nine in 2006, to under 8 per nine in 2007, to just 5.5 per nine last year.
However, I'd be willing to bet the back issues that Jenks pitched through for at least half the season (and probably more) were part of the reason for the decline. While he's not going to be that strikeout-per-inning guy anymore, he has come to the realization a few seasons ago that "less is more," so he made the exchange of lighting up the radar gun for better control and sink. Jenks' velocity is still solidly in 93-95 mph range, as it should be, and the bite is a little better on his slider.
Unlike Percival, Jenks is a ground-ball pitcher, so by getting good sink on his fastball, he can keep the ball in the park and the save total lofty even in the absence of swings-and-misses. He should post a strikeout rate somewhere in the range of 6-8 per nine, which will be just fine given his ability to induce ground balls. For example, he recently entered a bases-loaded, no-out situation against the Twins and got out of it with a strikeout and double play, just like you'd script it.
If you're looking to add saves to your team via trade, Jenks should continue to be a solid and relatively undervalued play, and come a bit cheaper if you don't want to pay the going rate for one of the top closers.
For scouting reports on Carlos Quentin and Andre Ethier, log in to ESPN Insider.