Finding undervalued closers is one of the most potent weapons any fantasy baseball player can have at his or her disposal. Closers can be extremely volatile – relievers themselves can fluctuate wildly from year to year, and closers need save situations in order to get a save. Furthermore, closers depend on a manager’s usage more than any other player.
However, the astute fantasy player need not pay top dollar for guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan (who, although they are awesome, tend to be overvalued). Rather, if you know where to look, you can get tremendous value on your closers.
With that in mind, I will periodically take a look at various closer situations around the league in an effort to find undervalued closers (or potential closers). Today, I want to look at my favorite team growing up: the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are an extremely smart, progressive organization, that seemingly understands how to properly deploy its relievers – namely, that the closer need not be the best reliever in the pen. This is why Bob Wickman held down the job for several years, and why Joe Borowski was the closer until recently. Although both men caused Indians fan to have more than a few heart attacks along the way, they generally got the job done, and allowed better relievers like Rafael Betancourt to be used in more important, higher leverage situations.
That being said, the Indians are currently looking for a closer for 2009. They may very well obtain a reliever via trade or on the free agent market, but keep a close eye on home-grown Jensen Lewis.
Lewis held down the job at the end of 2008 and pitched admirably in the closer’s role, notching 13 saves. Of course, saves are much more about opportunity and usage, rather than a pitcher’s actual ability. And I think that Lewis fits the mold of what the Indians are looking for in a closer: namely, he’s not that good.
Bear with me here – Jensen Lewis is a pretty good pitcher. But he’s not an amazing pitcher; rather, he’s a solid guy who can go out there and get three outs rather consistently. He pounds the strike zone but isn’t as stingy with the free pass as Rafael Betancourt (a healthy Betancourt, not the 2008-version that was plagued with back issues). He gets his share of strikeouts, but isn’t a strikeout-machine. He doesn’t have extreme platoon splits, and he doesn’t get a ton of ground balls.
In other words, Lewis is perfectly suited to be brought into a game when there is no one on base. He’s not a guy you want to bring in when you need a double play, or when you absolutely can’t issue a walk, or when a strikeout is more valuable than any other out. And the Indians have shown in the past that this is the type of pitcher that they look to use in the closer’s role, while saving “better” pitchers – like Betancourt or Rafael Perez – for more important situations.
Thus, while many moves may still be made before now and the beginning of next season, my money is on Jensen Lewis being the Indians closer in 2009. If so, he has the potential to be a big steal on draft day: he’s not the biggest name, he won’t get the most strikeouts, but if he is named the closer he will rack up the saves for a good Indians team that will likely give him many opportunities.