Phantasy Philes: Can Relievers Help?

In fantasy leagues, relief pitchers aren't exactly a hot commodity. They simply don't contribute enough to help in the standard pitching categories. However, all that changes when a reliever is given the job of closer. Then his ability to help in a single category, saves, propels his worth in many leagues, especially head to head. With that in mind, our main focus in this week's Philes will be the current reliever getting saves for the Phillies, as well as those that could in the future.

As we all know, the current closer for the Fightin's is Senor Smoke himself, Jose Mesa. Ranking eighth in the National League in saves to this point, Jose has done a pretty good job of getting it done in save situations. His ERA at 5.63 and WHIP at 1.71 are both way too high for the tastes of fantasy owners, but as long as he keeps getting those saves, it really doesn't matter all that much. But when it comes right down to it, the question is whether Mr. Table will continue to get those save opportunities. At 37 years old, age has to be somewhat of a concern, even though he has put together the first back to back 40 save seasons of his career in 2001 and 2002. Taking a closer look at Mesa's numbers reveals what looks to be a developing trend that could lead to his downfall in the not so distant future. You see, last season, Joey Table blew a career high nine saves, which was much higher than his previous personal worst of five. What heightens concern over his blown saves is the fact that his three so far this year puts him on pace for eight over the course of the season. Another negative this season for Jose is the fact that his strikeouts are lower than usual and his walks are higher than they should be. This is not a good combination.

So, what should a fantasy owner with Mesa on his team do? The only thing that owner can do right now is keep him where he is, as he continues to get those valuable saves. Unless Jose blows three or four games in a short span, it's unlikely that Bowa would remove him from the closer role, especially since there aren't many other guys in the pen with the ability and experience necessary to be more successful in the position. If that fantasy owner has some flexibility or depth, then he might be able to trade Jose to a leaguemate in desperate need of saves and doesn't care where they come from.

Let's say that our imaginary fantasy owner can't trade Jose because he needs the saves himself though. Now knowing that Mesa is at risk of possibly losing his job and worth at some point, this owner might want to get some insurance just incase the worst case scenario comes true. Luckily, Larry Bowa recently threw out a couple names that could serve as that insurance for Mesa.

The first guy that Larry mentioned is Turk Wendell. So far this season, Turk has done a great job out of the pen. His ERA and WHIP are both bellow 1.00, and although he has yet to get a win, he does have six holds. Wendell does have some experience closing out games, but with varied success. In 1996, while with the Cubbies, Turk compiled a career high 18 saves. Since then, he's managed just 14 more, and has totaled 19 blown saves (including one this year) over the course of his career. That makes 32 saves in 51 opportunities, which isn't too good. For a team that should end up being in a playoff hunt down the stretch, you really don't want to be left relying on a guy with a track record like this as your closer. Turk would still most likely be the front runner as Mesa's replacement, should it come to that. He has some experience in the role and is having a great season so far, so he would probably get a shot.

The other name that Bowa threw out was Rheal Cormier. Unlike Wendell, Rheal doesn't have much previous experience closing. One career save and 16 blown saves is not a very pretty ratio, so I don't really see why the Phils would consider him a candidate. Sure, he's having a nice season as well at 2-0 with a 1.99 ERA, but closing games is a different story. I wouldn't grab Cormier as insurance if/until Bowa starts to talk more seriously of the possibility of him taking over the job.

That's where the closer situation stands in Philly right now. If you ask me, Mesa will probably end up keeping his job all year, despite a number of bumps in the road, so don't get too excited about being able to grab a potential saves source off waivers by way of Wendell or Cormier. It's becoming clear that Jose's ERA and WHIP won't be nice at all this year, so his owners will just have to accept that fact and move on. Blowing nine or 10 more saves this season could result in Mesa coming in at less than 40 for the first time since he joined the Phillies, but I doubt he'll fall bellow 35 or so.

Depending on the strength of your league, it may be a little late to grab this week's non-Phillie, but we'll discuss him anyway. Morgan Ensberg, third baseman for the Astros, is coming off a seven day period where he hit .529 with three homers and 11 RBI and earned the NL Player of the Week honors. His fantastic play of late has brought his stat line up to .340/10/31/2 for the season, and that's in just 103 at bats! The only drawback that comes with Ensberg is that he's been platooning with Geoff Blum all season at third base, which explains the low at bat total. One has to assume that this recent outburst has to give Ensberg the edge on Blum, earning him a full time job for at least the short term. Since third base is a relatively thin position in fantasy baseball, I would recommend grabbing Ensberg if he's available for a quick boost in the power and batting average categories.

That'll do it for this week folks. If you have a fantasy baseball question you need answered, feel free to send it down to qwaz21@aol.com with "PBN" in the subject line and I'll do my best to help you out. Until next time, I'm out like Goldberg and the Mighty Ducks.


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