Brian Fuentes recently inked a contract with the Angels to replace Francisco Rodriguez as closer. And as weird as this may sound…the Angels may have upgraded.
I won’t argue the merits or drawbacks of Rodriguez (although I have in other places). However, Fuentes has quietly been very good over the last couple years.
Last season was particularly good. Fuentes struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings, while walking 3.16. He also allowed only three homers in 62 innings – although this is mainly due to an inordinately-low homer rate, as only 4.5% of his fly balls became homers. However, in his career, only 8.7% of his fly balls have become homers, so even though he tends to allow a lot of fly balls, he doesn’t allow too many homers.
Last season seems like it’s somewhat of an outlier in Fuentes’s career – but not by that much. His career strikeout rate is 10.24 per nine innings, and his career walk rate is 3.82. It’s fair to assume that Fuentes won’t quite approach last season’s peripherals or ERA, but it’s very reasonable to assume that Fuentes will strike out more than one batter per inning and will post an ERA in the 3.50 – 3.80 range (if that seems high, keep in mind that Fuentes will be moving to the more difficult league, even if he’s also leaving Coors Field in the process).
The key to Fuentes’s value in fantasy leagues is his situation. Fuentes signed a big-dollar deal to be The Closer for Los Angeles, a team which has thrived on having relievers in set roles. Therefore, Fuentes’s job is very safe – even if he pitches poorly in back to back outings, he’s unlikely to be relieved of his closer duties permanently. Furthermore, Fuentes has relatively little injury history, so even though he’s risky by definition (most relievers are fairly risky), he’s not a huge injury risk.
Additionally, although this may seem somewhat counterintuitive as a positive for Fuentes, the Angels aren’t going to be very good next year. Their offense overachieved in 2008 and they have lost Mark Teixeira and Garrett Anderson, leaving their offense as potentially one of the worst in the American League. This actually bodes well for Fuentes, because it means that the Angels aren’t going to blow many teams out. Rather, when they do win games, chances are the games are going to be close, leading to a lot of save opportunities for Fuentes. This is what allowed K-Rod to rack up so many saves last year, despite being no better than average at converting save opportunities into saves.
All in all, Brian Fuentes is a low-risk, above-average reliever who is likely to have a lot of save opportunities. Furthermore, he’s unlikely to be removed from the closer’s role if he struggles a little bit, and he should post solid numbers, even if they regress from last year’s numbers. Fuentes is likely to be available after the “top tier” of closers have been taken, and is the exact type of pitcher you should be targeting.