My month of December can best be summed up in three words: blurbs, projections, rankings. As the author of the Relief Pitcher section of the MLB.com 2013 Player Preview, which will come out in early-February, I covered 130 players, an exercise which will actually help me a great deal in my own draft preparation. Now that the project is finished, I thought I’d use this week’s column to talk about a few relievers who I think will be undervalued on draft day and a few who I can see being overvalued. So let’s get started!
Yeah, it’s always risky to invest heavily in a guy who is coming off Tommy John surgery, but in Madson’s case I’m willing to take the risk. The reality is that I don’t think his price will be all that steep. He’s ranked as the #19 RP on the latest ESPN rankings and CBS, for the time being, has him at #20. Should Madson prove to be 100 percent healthy in spring training, I’m sure his stock will go up, but I don’t think it will rise to the level that it should. A longtime dominant setup man, Madson finally overcame his closer demons in 2011, saving 32 games for the Phillies while posting a 2.37 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning, and the contending Angels are sure to provide him with plenty of save chances. He’s a borderline #1/high-end #2 mixed league closer who you might be able to grab for a mid to low #2 closer price. I would not be surprised if he finishes 2013 in the top-10 at the position. But if you draft him, it’s a good idea to also scoop up Ernesto Frieri in the late rounds for insurance purposes.
Although a small part of me kind of believes Bruce Bochy when he says that he will also give Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt a look in the ninth inning, a larger part of me doesn’t buy it. 2012 marked the second straight season in which Romo pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA and the third straight year that he posted a sub-1.00 WHIP. All Romo needed was the opportunity to close on a full-time basis, and towards the end of the year he got it and ran with it, going a combined 9-for-9 in save chances in August and September. Add in a career 10.68 K/9 rate and 5.77 K/BB ratio and I have little doubt that he can perform like a top-10 closer. And where is he being ranked? #18 by ESPN and outside of the top-20 by CBS. Go figure.
There’s no way around it. Axford was a major disappointment last season following a 2011 campaign that saw him join the elite class of closers. The Brewers’ stopper had trouble keeping the ball in the yard (1.30 HR/9) and often struggled with his control. There is reason for optimism, however, as his 12.07 K/9 rate represented a significant hike from his 2011 strikeout rate. Also, Axford did finish the year on a high note, registering a 3.65 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in September. Currently ranked outside of the top-20 by both ESPN and CBS, he could be a big-time bargain.
Rodney’s 2013 outlook will surely be a hot-button topic over the coming months, and for good reason. On one hand, any pitcher who puts together the kind of season Rodney did in 2012 deserves a ton of credit. But do you really feel comfortable drafting him as your #1 closer? I don’t. Keep in mind that this is a guy who was coming off five straight seasons of an ERA over 4.00 and had posted a combined 1.55 WHIP over his previous four seasons. I don’t think you will need to pay top dollar for him, as there are plenty of doubters out there, but I honestly don’t want him at all. Well, maybe for a buck. That’s not happening though. ESPN ranking him at #14 isn’t crazy. CBS slotting him in at #6 is flat-out ridiculous!
#6? Really? That’s where ESPN has Reed, and it baffles me to no end. To be fair, Reed has a number of things going for him. He’s only 24 and has the stuff to thrive in the closer role. But if you owned him last season, you’re probably still dizzy from the roller coaster ride, and his brutal September (8.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) might have cost you a league title. Although I won’t necessarily be avoiding Reed in drafts this year, there’s no way I’m taking him over, let’s see, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, J.J. Putz, Huston Street, the list goes on and on.
I’d be happy to own Storen this year…just not as my #1 closer. Elbow surgery postponed his 2012 debut until mid-July, but when Storen did return he was as dominant as ever, registering a sub-3.00 ERA for the second straight season while posting a career-best WHIP. Still, he was never quite able to re-claim the Nats’ closer job from Tyler Clippard, who pitched brilliantly for most of the season. Add in Storen’s NLDS meltdown and I’m uneasy about this whole situation. Storen will likely open 2013 as the Nats’ closer but he will have little margin for error with the proven Clippard waiting in the wings.