Fantasy fallout: Kerry Wood to close for Indians

Kerry Wood will be closing games for the Indians in 2009. Should he be on your fantasy team, though? (Icon/SMI)

This week, Kerry Wood officially signed with the Indians after passing his physicals and getting approval from the bigwigs in Cleveland. At this time last year, I think most fantasy owners were pulling for Carlos Marmol to take the ninth inning job for the Cubs. When we found out that it was Wood‘s job, those fantasy owners still drafted Marmol, speculating that Wood wouldn’t last long. Not only did Wood last, however, he put up a tremendous season. Check out his fantasy line:

| YEAR | AGE | IP      | W | ERA  | WHIP | K  | SV |
| 2008 |  30 | 66.3333 | 5 | 3.26 | 1.09 | 84 | 34 |

Even more impressive were his peripherals. Let’s check them out now and see how they’ll play in the American League and Jacobs Field.

Fallout: Wood

For sections that are divided, the left section shows his numbers with the Cubs and the right shows his league and park-adjusted numbers—essentially his numbers if he had pitched as an Indian.
Suggestions for improving the clarity of these tables are welcome.

| YEAR | IP   | ERA  | QERA      | K/9       | K/BB RI   | xGB%  | BABIP     | HR/FB   |
| 2007 | 24.3 | 3.33 | 4.66/4.88 |  8.9/ 8.5 | 0.29/0.13 | 34/35 | .286/.276 | 0.0/0.0 |
| 2008 | 66.3 | 3.26 | 2.72/2.83 | 11.4/11.1 | 1.38/1.26 | 39/41 | .319/.305 | 4.6/3.4 |

Note: I use QERA as opposed to the usual LIPS ERA because it is much easier to compute and is similar enough to LIPS for our purposes.

Overall, the league change doesn’t figure to impact Wood too badly. His QERA last year would have risen from an excellent 2.72 to a still-excellent 2.83. Furthermore, his actual ERA probably would have dropped because his BABIP and HR/FB both would have significantly improved. We found that moving to the AL actually helps HR/FB a tiny bit, and the park differences between Wrigley and Jacobs are quite large (22 percent for HR/FB!).

Wood will see his strikeout numbers dip just a bit (this year it would have been the difference between 84 Ks and roughly 81.5 Ks), but it’s nothing that should impact his fantasy value much. A K/9 above 11.0 is still incredibly valuable. His BBs will also rise just a tiny bit, but the decrease in BABIP should offset it for WHIP purposes (Wood posted a 1.06 DIPS WHIP this year, for those curious). To top things off, Wood should be able to induce a fair amount more ground balls.

While the league change figures to be much friendlier for Wood than it would be on most pitchers (due to the beneficial park effects), there are still two very big warnings that we need to take seriously:

(1) We’re looking at just one year of excellent data. Wood was pretty bad in 2007 (albeit in a very small sample), but that’s all we have of Wood-the-reliever over the past three years. In fact, we have just 44 innings combined between 2006 and 2007. Having to rely more heavily on data from before that (Wood was 27 years old and in his physical prime in 2005), Wood’s projections will be much less certain than other pitchers, especially since he was a starter for most of 2005 and for his entire career leading up to then.

I should note, however, that Wood’s PITCHf/x data this year looks quite promising. He showed an excellent fastball and a great curveball while relying much, much less on the mediocre (at best) slider he displayed in 2007.

2) Wood is still an injury risk. Sure, he had one relatively healthy year, but the guy missed the vast majority of both 2006 and 2007 and has a long history of injuries:

2004: Triceps tendinitis
2005: Strained right shoulder that required surgery
2006: Rotator cuff tear
2007: Shoulder stiffness

And these aren’t Ben Sheets, unrelated, fluky injuries; these are all arm-related injuries. While Wood had a healthy 2008, he is far from being out of the woods.

Overall, Wood had an excellent statistical 2008 and looked equally excellent stuff-wise. We are looking at a small sample, though, and he has a long, ugly injury history, so we need to be a little cautious with him.

Fallout: Indians bullpen

The guy who suffers most from this signing is Jensen Lewis. Had the Indians not been able to sign a closer, Lewis would have opened 2009 with the job and could have held it all year. His skills were a bit shaky in 2008 after a terrific 2007, but he still would have been a great end-game draft pick. He still makes a decent speculative pick given Wood’s injury history, but his value takes a serious nosedive.

Fallout: Cubs bullpen

The Cubs had already expressed their intention to let Wood leave, but this makes things official. Marmol should enter 2009 as closer, thrive, and be a mainstay for years to come.

Fallout: Closer market

With Francisco Rodriguez and now Wood off the market, Brian Fuentes is the last of the (perceived) Big Three closers left on the market. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be many big-market teams that will pay him off. The teams that still might consider a closer include the Tigers (who have said they really aren’t looking for one anymore), the Angels (who really don’t need one with Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo), the Dodgers (who really don’t need one with Jonathan Broxton), the Brewers (who probably aren’t willing to spend much), the Padres (who wouldn’t spend much either), the Mariners, the Cardinals and (maybe) the Rays.

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Overall, the Cardinals might be the most likely destination for Fuentes at this point, followed by the Angels and Dodgers. While it might not be apparent now, this current setup is very bad for Chris Perez’s value in St. Louis. Tony LaRussa‘s push for an “established” closer means he likely doesn’t trust Perez, and the lack of legitimate suitors for closers means there’s an excellent chance the Cards get someone, even if it isn’t Fuentes.

St. Louis would be a decent landing location for Fuentes, but then where do Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz, Jason Isringhausen and Takashi Saito go? Cruz, Saito, Lyon and Izzy might have to settle for setup roles if they sign quickly, though if things play out a certain way they might not have to.

As it stands right now, the Angels could feign interest in Fuentes and let the Cards eventually sign him. That would leave very few teams willing to spend money, and they could pick up Hoffman pretty cheap. That leaves the Dodgers and a whole bunch of teams without much money to spend. Those teams could simple pick away at the likes of Cruz, Saito, Lyon, Izzy and maybe a few others, give them short term deals, maybe even have them compete with their in-house options, and see what happens.

Just my musings on the subject, but these kinds of scenarios are what will determine the fantasy values of a number of potentially fantasy-important relievers. I’d surely take Saito or Cruz late in a draft if they were competing for a ninth-inning role, and for those drafting this early, knowing that Perez’s value has quietly plummeted is a very important bit of information.

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What is K/BB RI? Are those two separate stats or is that just a variation of K/BB?

Derek Carty
Derek Carty
Good question, Isaac.  I forgot to include my usual little note directing readers to our quick reference guide for stats that everyone might not be familiar with. K/BB RI is essentially a variation of K/BB, as you guessed, except it is much more accurate.  Think about it: is a K and a BB worth the same thing?  The answer is no, so weighting them equally will result in some players being underrated and some overrated. K/BB RI weights Ks and BBs appropriately, though the scale is different since it measures – as the name suggest – run impact.  You can… Read more »

What’s the closer situation in Arizona in ‘09?  Who do you think will get the job there?

Derek Carty
Derek Carty
Hey Bobby, My bet would have to Chad Qualls. When Brandon Lyon lost the job at the end of last year, Qualls stepped in and converted 7 of 7 save opportunities in the final three weeks of the season.  In addition, his leverage index was much higher than the other real candidate, Tony Pena (1.61 to 1.25).  Some of that is because he saved those games at the end of the year, but the difference is very large regardless. a In addition, Qualls has displayed far superior peripherals over the past few years and had far superior surface numbers in… Read more »