- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Los Angeles Angels closer Brian Fuentes sports a 5.93 ERA and has allowed five home runs this season, numbers that Fernando Rodney owners point to as evidence a ninth-inning change should be made. Angels manager Mike Scioscia hears the calls, especially after Fuentes served up a Willie Bloomquist home run late last week, slicing a three-run lead to one. Fuentes still earned the save, but ... Willie Bloomquist? Really?
"Tito [Fuentes] would be the first one to say he's missing his spots right now," Scioscia told the Los Angeles Daily News on Friday. "But if we take him from the ninth [inning] to the eighth, it doesn't help -- you can lose a game in the eighth inning just as easily as in the ninth."
Well, that's heartening, Angels and fantasy fans. The truth is that the Angels need to get Fuentes corrected, but also that Rodney wasn't really any better than Fuentes in 2009, when these guys combined for 85 saves. Rodney's current numbers are misleading, making a pending change no more logical than leaving the situation alone. Fuentes has the better WHIP and strikeout rate. Rodney's 2.82 ERA is unlikely to stay there since he's walked more than he's struck out (17 to 15). Fuentes' main problem has been home run rate. One would think he'll correct it to some degree, or become more fortunate. The fact is both pitchers are flawed.
Of course, this hasn't stopped fantasy owners from dropping Fuentes and making Rodney one of the most popular setup men, even though he's not having a great year. Fuentes led baseball in saves last season and is available in nearly 10 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues. Rodney, who has a 1.43 WHIP, is owned in 28.8 percent of leagues. I'd argue Matt Belisle, Carlos Villanueva, Clay Hensley, Darren Oliver and most of the guys in the San Diego Padres' bullpen, among many others, can help a fantasy team more than Rodney, unless he's getting saves. He has the saves he does only because Fuentes served a DL stint with a sore back. Fuentes regained the job immediately.
I wouldn't call Fuentes a great investment, but I do think it's wise to buy low on him. Scioscia will be loyal, similar to how Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was with Brad Lidge last year, and like Lidge, Fuentes is not going to be much use to the team allowing home runs in a setup role, either. I think the key point here is that Rodney, while certainly next in line for saves, really isn't any safer an option should he claim the role, making owning him in fantasy leagues a bit dubious.
Here are a few other notes involving bullpens:
The last Baltimore Orioles save came on May 21, when Alfredo Simon closed out the Washington Nationals. The Orioles don't win much, but I think David Hernandez is someone to watch. Lefty Will Ohman was unscored upon until recently, but the bloom is off that rose; he's been hit hard in three of four outings. Hernandez was terrible as a starting pitcher, but in four relief outings recently he's fanned six in 6 1/3 innings, issued a walk in only one game and done all this against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. Mike Gonzalez and his sore shoulder keep having their pending return pushed back, and new manager Juan Samuel -- man, I loved watching him play as a child -- has said Simon will likely close when he comes off the DL. I'm not optimistic Simon will keep the role, so long-term I think Hernandez could get opportunity.
There's nothing wrong with Atlanta Braves closer Billy Wagner; in fact, I'd argue he has a really good shot of being a top-5 closer this season, as he's on pace for more than 90 strikeouts and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Top setup man Takashi Saito was forced to leave a recent game with a sore hamstring and landed on the DL, so future closer Craig Kimbrel was summoned from Triple-A Gwinnett. This is the guy to watch in dynasty leagues for 2011 saves, as Wagner claims he's retiring this winter.
Speaking of Lidge, he looked so good in two outings this past weekend, there's little need to own Jose Contreras any longer in shallow leagues. If you want good innings and need to protect a starts limit, keep him around, but it looks like the old Lidge is back, and he'll start piling on the saves once the Philadelphia Phillies' offense gets going.
Meanwhile, the all-time saves leader isn't looking any closer to regaining his closer role. Trevor Hoffman allowed two doubles and two walks to the Florida Marlins and currently sports an 11.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. Veteran minor leaguer John Axford has four saves and a strong strikeout rate, and is high up there on the ESPN most added list, and deservedly so. He might actually keep the closer role indefinitely.
Manuel Corpas continues to earn saves for the Colorado Rockies, but expect Huston Street and his sore shoulder back within two weeks. Street still hasn't pitched in the majors this season, which is hard to believe. He's sitting on free agency in 18 percent of ESPN standard leagues.