Fantasy fallout: Todd Jones retires

Todd Jones announced yesterday that he would be retiring from baseball. Since he’s been closing games for four years in a row, this announcement has some fantasy implications. Let’s first look at Jones’ numbers.


| YEAR | ERA  | LIPS ERA | DIPS WHIP | K/9   | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB%  | HR/FB | SV | SV% |
| 2005 | 2.10 |     2.96 |      1.08 |  7.64 | 1.73 |    0.59 | 53.50 |  3.77 | 40 |  89 |
| 2006 | 3.94 |     4.55 |      1.30 |  3.94 | 1.55 |   -0.35 | 51.58 |  6.15 | 37 |  86 |
| 2007 | 4.26 |     4.76 |      1.47 |  4.84 | 3.38 |   -0.49 | 46.83 |  4.48 | 38 |  86 |
| 2008 | 4.97 |     5.72 |      1.63 |  3.02 | 3.89 |   -1.07 | 45.81 |  9.80 | 18 |  86 |

Jones has clearly been in a free fall since 2005. Both his Strikeout/Walk Run Impact (K/BB RI) and his expected groundball rate (xGB%) have dropped every year since 2005. In 2008, he walked nearly one batter more per inning than he struck out. That is simply awful, yet he has managed to outperform his LIPS ERA each year.

This is due in large part to his HR/FB rates. Starting pitchers deviate very little from the league average of 11 percent, but some relievers seem to have an ability to keep it lower. Despite his poor peripheral skills, Jones seemed to be one of those guys. We see that in 2008, however, it was much closer to league average at just under 10 percent, finally causing Jones’ actual ERA to approach 5.00.

Still, Jones has consistently converted his save opportunities at an 86 percent clip, and it isn’t inconceivable that some team would have seen that Jones is a “proven” closer and given him another a chance to pitch the ninth. It’s possible Jones could have been closing again for the Tigers at some point in 2009. But because these are no longer options, let’s check out who has been affected by his decision.

Fallout: The Tigers

With Jones gone, here are the viable in-house closer options for the Tigers in 2009 (along with their 2008 stats for the team):

| LAST       | FIRST    | IP  | ERA   | LIPS ERA | DIPS WHIP | K/9   | BB/9  | K/BB RI | xGB% |
| Rodney     | Fernando |  37 |  5.11 |     4.40 |      1.57 | 10.46 |  6.81 |    0.30 |   45 |
| Zumaya     | Joel M   |  23 |  3.47 |     5.28 |      1.89 |  8.49 |  8.49 |   -0.56 |   40 |
| Farnsworth | Kyle     |  16 |  6.75 |     3.75 |      1.38 | 10.13 |  2.81 |    1.03 |   30 |
| Dolsi      | Freddy   |  47 |  3.83 |     5.46 |      1.66 |  5.17 |  5.17 |   -0.76 |   53 |
| Seay       | Bobby    |  54 |  4.17 |     3.94 |      1.31 |  9.00 |  3.67 |    0.55 |   40 |
| Lopez      | Aquilino |  75 |  3.60 |     4.34 |      1.35 |  6.84 |  2.64 |    0.19 |   29 |

Of the candidates listed above, Fernando Rodney looks to be the favorite to begin 2009 closing games. He is closing for the team now, although his control is atrocious and he’s converted only 11 of 17 saves thus far. The team has hesitated to let him close in the past, and the Tigers can’t be thrilled about the prospects of him closing in 2009.

Joel Zumaya is another option, though he has struggled mightily with injuries. Plus, he wasn’t very good even while healthy this year (though his ERA was lucky) with absolutely horrific control. The potential is there for him to be dominant, though, and the team would love for him to step up and solidify the role for years to come.

Kyle Farnsworth will be a free agent and might not return, but he showed the best skills of anyone in Detroit’s bullpen this year and might be the best option. He’s unfortunately gotten very unlucky, and the team’s decision to stick with Rodney this long might indicate either that the Tigers trust Rodney more or don’t intend to bring Farnsworth back. If they do bring him back, it seems unlikely they’d hand him the role over Rodney out of spring training.

Darkhorse options include Freddy Dolsi, Bobby Seay and Aquilino Lopez. Seay had the worst ERA but the best LIPS ERA of the group, although the team might be highest on Dolsi. Some beat writers this season have said that the team could view him as the closer of the future if Zumaya can’t get things together. He pitched just 20.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before jumping to the majors, and he didn’t dominate even at High-A, where he did get some innings. I wouldn’t be too excited about Dolsi, but keep him on your radar if the Tigers’ decision-makers like him.

The team also could look externally for a closer, but the Tigers currently have roughly $130 million tied up in player salaries next year, so spending big on a Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes seems very unlikely since the team will probably be trying to cut salary. It is possible, though, that Detroit could trade a player like Magglio Ordonez and receive a potential closer as part of the return.

One more option for the Tigers might be to sign someone like Brandon Lyon to a cheap, incentive-laden, one-year deal and hope that among him, Rodney and Zumaya, someone emerges as a healthy, viable candidate. If not, the Tigers would have Dolsi to fall back on.

Fallout: The market

We briefly discussed some teams that might be looking for closer a couple weeks ago, but now we know that Jones won’t be an option for any of them.

There’s also no longer a chance of the Tigers going into 2009 with Rodney as the closer, seeing him blow up, and going back to Jones in the middle of April because “Jones has done it before” and is “proven.” Now that they don’t have Jones to fall back on, it might force the Tigers to have a more solid plan for the ninth inning and better allow fantasy owners to prepare for a Tigers situation that they’ve gotten wrong a couple years in a row now.

Had Jones not retired, he would have fallen into the “Lyon group” mentioned earlier: guys who have previously enjoyed success but are either coming off bad seasons or have been plagued by injuries. This group might include guys like Lyon, Chad Cordero (if non-tendered), Jason Isringhausen, Luis Ayala, Damaso Marte, Bob Howry, Al Reyes and Joe Borowski.

That’s a pretty large group, and I probably missed a few, but Jones’ retirement makes it that much more likely we’ll be seeing one of these guys closing for someone come April, or at least competing for a job.

Teams that could consider going this low-cost route include Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas, Cleveland (as competitor for Jensen Lewis), Colorado (as competition/insurance for Manny Corpas) and Florida (as competition/insurance for Matt Lindstrom). Add Kansas City if Joakim Soria is converted to a starter, the Royals don’t splurge for a closer, and they don’t go in-house with Ramon Ramirez or Leo Nunez).

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