What do you do when your 26-year-old closer in waiting gets the gig due to an injury to the incumbent and runs with the job, posting a 1.74 ERA while striking out 27.1 percent of betters and blowing just two saves in 21 opportunities?
Naturally, you go out and sign a 41-year-old to bump him back down the bullpen depth chart.
At least, that’s what you do if you’re the Colorado Rockies and you hate fantasy owners.
Yup, LaTroy Hawkins. The former Met (and Angel, Brewer, Astro, Yankee, Rockie, Oriole, Giant, Cub and Twin) was signed to a one-year, $2.25 million contract this offseason with a $2.25 million option for 2015, and reports indicate he was brought in to be the closer, not to work in support of Rex Brothers. Hawkins will join an elite class of relievers to have played in 20 seasons in the majors and, should he record at least one save, he’ll be just one of 199 relievers to do so in 10 or more different seasons. The guy has longevity, give him that.
And Hawkins has actually been really effective the past three seasons and for the most part since 2002. It feels a bit odd to think of him as a good reliever, but his ERA has only eclipsed 4.00 twice in the past 12 seasons (his FIP has only been higher than 4.00 three times, too). From a fantasy perspective, though, Hawkins largely offers empty saves – he hasn’t had a strikeout rate above 20 percent since 2004 (save for a 16-inning 2010) and his ERA and WHIP don’t promise to be elite for the position. He won’t kill your ratios unless he suddenly ceases inducing ground balls but he’s also not moving the needle anywhere but saves.
More importantly, his status as the closer keeps a more valuable fantasy commodity out of the chair.
The setup guys:
If Rex Brothers didn’t throw left-handed, the closer gig would be his. But he does, so his 29.1 percent career strikeout rate is only enjoyable in deep leagues or as a spec play. Brothers still hasn’t nailed down his control through three years in the league, which poses a WHIP problem for owners, but everything else is there. The walks haven’t hurt the team, really, either, as Brothers went 19-of-21 in save chances and had 30 shutdowns to seven meltdowns. Alas, he’s second in line.
Like Hawkins, Belisle doesn’t have traditional closer stuff but he strikes out enough batters to matter and keeps the ball on the ground, a necessity in Colorado. Perhaps most importantly for save speculation, he rarely walks anybody, keeping his FIP at 3.07 or lower for four straight seasons. Working against his candidacy would be that he’s been a workhorse the past four seasons and may be too valuable to use only in the traditional closer situations.
Adam Ottavino had a very impressive 2013, striking out 78 in 78.1 innings with a 2.64 ERA. He was a victim of the longball in 2012 but if he can keep that issue in check once again, he’s a dark horse for save chances given Belisle’s value elsewhere and Brothers’ control issues. Boone Logan has the highest price tag in the pen (three years, $16.5 million) but he was almost surely brought in to bring death to lefties in high-leverage situations, not to close. Wilton Lopez followed up three straight years of terrific performance with a down 2013 as his ability to punch batters out completely disappeared despite a double-digit swinging strike rate. If Franklin Morales doesn’t earn a starting nod, he’ll be a nondescript lefty in the middle innings, it seems.
Bettis may be the long-term answer in the closer’s chair, though it’s unclear what that timeline would look like. He really struggled as a starter with Colorado in 2013 but he had also only pitched 63 innings above High-A ball and is still just 24, so it’s not hard to see him improving with experience. It seems unlikely the franchise has given up on him as a starter but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
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