Ahhh, Opening Day! It was a lovely lunch break at work yesterday as I flipped on the Mets game and celebrated the first full day of baseball. While it was of little surprise that the Mets lost, there was no shortage of drama around the league. More specifically, it took all of half a day to remind fantasy owners how silly it is to invest too heavily in closers on draft day.
We start off on the south side of Chicago where it had been assumed all along that Nate Jones would replace Addison Reed as the White Sox closer. Presumed competitor for the job Matt Lindstrom battled a strained oblique for most of the spring and ended up pitching just three innings, while there hasn’t been a peep about rookie Daniel Webb potentially winning the job. So while no official announcement had been made, it seemed like Jones was pretty much a lock and he was drafted as such in leagues across the world.
Then as he has done in the past when he shocked us all by naming Hector Santiago the closer several years ago, manager Robin Ventura chose Lindstrom to handle the role. Who saw that coming? I sure didn’t and I’m still kicking myself for choosing to bid on Anthony Bass as a sleeper saves candidate in Houston instead of Lindstrom in AL Tout Wars.
So what’s a Jones owner to do and does Lindstrom have a chance at holding onto the job? Well, Lindstrom is a curious case as he throws gas, averaging 95 mph with his fastball, yet his strikeout rate sits below 20% for his career. He complements the fastball with a slider that only generates a slightly above average rate of whiffs. He induces lots of grounders though, so he seems somewhat similar to Jim Johnson. Essentially, he’s fine. A decent reliever and probably good enough to not blow a number of saves to lose him the job.
Sure, Jones is probably the better pitcher, but there’s more to choosing a closer than simply going with the best pitcher. At least that’s what managers are thinking. Lindstrom has the experience and although Jones’ underlying skills suggested much better, he did post a less than stellar 4.15 ERA last season. If you’re in a shallow league, it’s hard to justify holding onto Jones. It’s a much tougher decision in deeper leagues, but good middle relievers probably do still have value in such a league. So you might as well hold onto Jones and cross your fingers. But, I do think Lindstrom is capable of holding the job all year.
Perhaps in even more surprising is what happened in Milwaukee. Jim Henderson is coming off a fantastic 2013 campaign and entered the season as a high strikeout, middle tier closer. But who got the call to save the Brewers win instead? That pesky Francisco Rodriguez.
Word is that manager Ron Roenicke wasn’t happy with Henderson’s velocity, command and life on his pitches. So, in other words, Roenicke thinks that at this current moment, Henderson stinks. Until Henderson is able to regain his unstinky form, K-Rod will be the man in the cheese curd state.
This is a tougher situation to assess than the one in Chicago. What is wrong with Henderson? Is he hurt? Battling a dead arm phase? Rodriguez continues to flash strong skills and would have no problem holding the job on performance alone. One wonders what’s going to happen if and when Henderson’s stuff has returned if K-Rod has been dominating and converting all his save opportunities. For now, I’d hold onto Henderson in shallow leagues until we get a bit more color on his deal. But in a couple of weeks, it’s hard to reserve a precious bench spot for a middle reliever hoping he gets his closer job back.