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Houston, We Have a (9th Inning) Problem

So Mark Melancon is gone and now fantasy owners are left with a mess in the Astros ‘pen. Who’s the closer? Is Brandon Lyon still playing baseball? What, he’s still in consideration for the role? Should we care? Are the ‘Stros going to win more than 10 games all year? The names of the candidates are some of the most “who the heck is he?” group of characters I have seen fighting for the role of closer in years. This should be one exciting battle, so let’s get to the analyzation…

First, new general manager Jeff Luhnow reminds us that yes, Brandon Lyon is indeed still active and gosh, a possibility for the all-important role of stopper:

“We need to have a strong bullpen,” Luhnow said. “Lyon has experience and a lot of the closer role really is about having experience in those pressure situations. No matter what, whether it’s the ninth, eighth or seventh inning, he will play an important role because of his veteran presence.”

That vital veteran presence and closer role experience rearing its ugly head once again! Who cares if you are actually any good, as long as you are a veteran and have closed in the past, that is enough for the Astros front office. As you may recall, Lyon’s right biceps detached from his body and his labrum was torn as both parts flew off chasing the fourth home run he allowed in just 13.1 innings. It is still to be determined whether these parts eventually caught up with the ball, but rumor is that Lyon does now have them back on his body. Phew, now he can close!

Okay, so before last season’s injury-shortened season, Lyon had posted some decent results in the past, though his skills were never more than mediocre. Only twice was his SIERA even below 4.00 and his xFIP never dipped below that mark. Given the major surgeries he is recovering from, it is highly unlikely he would be successful enough in the role to keep it for very long.

We then move on to our next candidate, Wilton Lopez. Lopez is not your prototypical closer option, as he doesn’t even average 92.0 miles per hour with his fastball. Of course, Lyon isn’t either so clearly the Astros don’t require a fireballer in the ninth. Lopez, though, has been pretty darn good the last two seasons, exhibiting sterling control and inducing ground balls as if he wanted every worm that calls the infield home to die. Last year, Lopez ranked below only Lyon and Melancon in gmLI (Leverage Index when the pitcher enters the game), so Brad Mills trusted him in pretty tight ball games. If given the opportunity, I think he could be good enough to hold the job all year.

Moving on, we find Fernando Rodriguez, a starter for some of his minor league career, but now a full-time bullpenner. He has shown some excellent strikeout rates in the past, though those rates have been inconsistent, but control has been an issue. He was also a fly ball pitcher last year, and fly balls and walks don’t mix well in the ninth unless you’re Carlos Marmol and strike out 11+ per 9 each season (and even he has had his share of problems). I doubt he is first or even second in line.

Next is David Carpenter. He has only thrown 33.0 innings above the High-A level, but has posted a 38/9 K:BB ratio in those innings at least. He did manage to pitch 27.2 innings of solid ball for the Astros last season, but it would be a surprise if he was given a closing opportunity with such little experience. And it’s not like his skills are so elite that he may force his way into the role either.

Rotoworld mentioned a couple more candidates that don’t make much sense, such as Henry Sosa and Rhiner Cruz, while MLBDepthCharts.com oddly lists Juan Abreu as the closer. I don’t see how any of these pitchers have a shot ahead of those mentioned above, so throw them to the bottom of the pecking order.

If I were drafting today, I would put my money on Lopez, though it is possible we get the dreaded spring-training competition. Of course, that is sometimes welcome news for us savvy fantasy players, as we know who the most highly skilled pitcher is, so all the competition does is lower his cost and increase his profit potential.