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Relief Efforts: Chamberlain remains valuable in current role

The Yankees always seem to be in the news, but this week's unnecessary item occurred when team co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner rambled to The New York Times about how Joba Chamberlain is being used incorrectly. Justification can be given for both sides of the "controversial" issue of starting or relieving, but the next day Steinbrenner was backtracking and sounding like a team guy again. The 22-year-old with the 100 mph fastball will eventually move to the New York rotation, just not anytime soon. Be patient.

Here in Relief Efforts we mainly discuss closers because, among the relief pitcher set, they are more valuable in fantasy. There's little question about this, even if it makes the sketchy 2007 campaign Joe Borowski put up a lot more valuable than the sheer dominance of his set-up man, Rafael Betancourt. That's life. The best don't always win, or in this case, save. However, our dependence on highlighting those who save games shouldn't be taken as a slight to those who hold the leads and lead the league in holds. Carlos Marmol is pretty darn valuable without saves! So is this Chamberlain fella.

Ultimately Chamberlain has not been moved from the bullpen to the rotation yet, and closely monitoring his season innings is only one of the reasons. The other one, and certainly viable, is the large gaping hole that would be left in the New York seventh and eighth innings. Chamberlain is dominating in that role. The run he allowed Sunday in Baltimore, when Guillermo Quiroz doubled and eventually scored on a Brian Roberts sacrifice fly, was merely the second earned run he's allowed in a regular-season game, now covering 32 career innings. Only the Cleveland gnats have been able to slow Chamberlain down.

As I noted in Monday's column, I'm a bit skeptical about the immediate dominance Chamberlain will have as a starting pitcher, but there's no questioning what he does setting up Mariano Rivera. To me, Chamberlain is worth owning in pretty much every league not only for the projected numbers as a starter -- which would help fantasy owners more than what he's doing now -- but for what he's doing in nonclosing relief. Whether your league counts holds or not, and even with little chance of accruing saves, enjoy Chamberlain. In August when he's pitching every fifth day, I have to tell you, you're going to miss him in that role.

Each week in this space I rank the relief pitchers in terms of fantasy value in a chart to the right, and since there are only 30 teams, but 40 pitchers listed, there will be 10 nonclosers showing up on the list. You might be wondering what those rankings are based on. Well, it's simple: This is projecting their final Player Rater rank. We've got a Player Rater, it looks pretty good to me, and obviously for these purposes it takes into account the five standard pitching categories and assigns a value to each player. Chamberlain could be a top-five reliever if he got saves, or if he won 10 games in the role, but he can't get there just doing what he's doing now. He helps us, but doesn't carry us. Honestly, it's anyone's guess when he actually shifts to the rotation, if it happens at all. I've given up trying to figure the Yankees out.

So you're saddened Chamberlain will remain in the bullpen? Own him anyway. The fact Chamberlain makes our top-40 list each week is a testament to how good he is in the role, and how he can help a fantasy team. In honor of Chamberlain, let's highlight middle relievers this week.

Taking saves out of the equation, and not thinking about who will get the most holds, I think the top middle relievers -- fantasy or real life -- are the ones who pile on the innings, strike everyone out and deliver strong peripherals in ERA and WHIP. The Cubs' Marmol was the top middle reliever in the rankings a week ago. He should be. His stuff is outstanding, as are his numbers. If Kerry Wood gets hurt, Marmol becomes Francisco Rodriguez. He already is that good, but doesn't have the saves next to his name.

Some of the middle relievers I ranked last week wouldn't crack my top 10, though. They have to be ranked there for the save potential. Mark Lowe and Manny Acosta jump to mind. Are they better than Jonathan Broxton or Manny Delcarmen? I don't think so, but the chance of saves gives them more value in standard leagues. So let's remove Player Rater value for a minute and rank the top 20 middle relievers overall whom you should think about in fantasy if you just need good, safe statistics. Again, we can't place Betancourt on this list, nor Jon Rauch. They are closers, at least for now.

TOP MIDDLE RELIEVERS


1. Carlos Marmol, Cubs: On pace for 153 K's, 30 holds.
2. Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers: Strangely, only one hold so far.
3. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees: Give him 50 innings in relief.
4. Pat Neshek, Twins: A few hiccups so far, but WHIP of 1.
5. Hideki Okajima, Red Sox: Watch his innings be kept low.
6. Heath Bell, Padres: Last year's lone 100-K guy from relief.
7. Jared Burton, Reds: Largely unproven, but same K's as Marmol.
8. Blaine Boyer, Braves: See Burton. This guy gets holds, though.
9. Aaron Heilman, Mets: Is Duaner Sanchez taking his role?
10. Scot Shields, Angels: Seems safe again for vulture wins, holds.
11. Santiago Casilla, A's: Not walking anyone in Oakland.
12. Kyle McClellan, Cardinals: Gets nod over Ryan Franklin for K's.
13. Dan Wheeler, Rays: Next in line for Percival's job now.
14. Tony Pena, Diamondbacks: Probably next over Chad Qualls.
15. Rafael Perez, Indians: A few hiccups, but still can overpower.
16. Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks: Has to control the walks.
17. Leo Nunez, Royals:Too early to be totally sure on him.
18. Manny Delcarmen, Red Sox: Has the stuff to fan 70 hitters.
19. J.C. Romero, Phillies: Hard to explain, but durable, gets K's.
20. Doug Brocail, Astros: Lit up Tuesday, but still doing well.

Now, let's take a look at those "other" relief pitchers, the ones who do earn the saves, with the standard weekly categories, and whatever else we can think of.


Buying low

Jose Valverde, Diamondbacks: This is what the smart fantasy owners do. Valverde has an unsightly 10.80 ERA and 2.40 WHIP, and he earned those stats by getting torched in Philly, and a week earlier by the Cardinals. I'm not terribly worried, and don't think Houston is either. Doug Brocail is a nice story, but Valverde was acquired to close. I think it's a slow start. The Astros haven't helped matters by generating few save opportunities, but I also question Valverde's usage. Two days after a brutal blown save in Philly, he's pitching in an 8-1 game? In his first game of the season he was brought in for the eighth inning, on the road of a tied game. That's unusual for a closer. Anyway, I think he's got 35 saves in him, with an ERA in the 3 range, which means things will get better. Milwaukee's Eric Gagne would probably belong in this category as well, after ridiculously being used in four straight days recently and famously blowing the final game, but I have less confidence in him moving forward than Valverde. Both should be fine.

Selling high

Mariano Rivera, Yankees: Nothing looks flashier in trade talks than pointing out the pitcher you're dealing still hasn't allowed a run. Rivera also hasn't permitted a walk, nor any extra-base hits. I think Rivera is one of the safest closers there is, and rank him accordingly to the right, but the fact is he's still helping fantasy teams in generally one category, saves. The 35 saves Rivera ends up with will be worth exactly the same as the 35 the Giants' Brian Wilson accrues. Rivera should have a better ERA and WHIP, but consider what each of these closers is worth right now on the open market. It's a perfect time to sell Rivera for a big bat plus a lesser closer, especially with all this Chamberlain talk prevalent, and knowing that at some point this summer, the likes of Brian Bruney and Jonathan Albaladejo will be setting him up.

Who's next?

Justin Miller, Marlins: Those who drafted Matt Lindstrom on the premise he'd be next in line for saves should something befall Kevin Gregg might want to take another look. Miller is the one getting the holds, though he's generally been doing this by pitching the sixth and seventh innings, not the eighth. In the eighth inning the Marlins have been using left-handers Taylor Tankersley and Renyel Pinto. Regardless, Lindstrom has appeared in only one game that ended up with less than a four-run differential. A year ago Lindstrom earned 19 holds and fanned 62 hitters in 67 innings, compiling a 3.09 ERA. Now his WHIP is 1.57. Miller has four of the team's 13 holds, and four of the six accumulated by a right-handed pitcher. He's struck out 10 in 11 1/3 innings, and appears to have passed Lindstrom in the save hierarchy, though Gregg is doing nothing to lose the job.

Meaningless save of the week

Chan Ho Park, Dodgers: Remember when this guy won 18 games for the Dodgers, and twice struck out more than 200 hitters? Well, this isn't the same guy. He is, technically, but he's 34 now and doesn't throw nearly as hard. On Monday the Dodgers' long man took over from Brad Penny in a 9-1 game in the sixth and tossed three messy innings, allowing a pair of solo home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto and a pair of walks. Only the three-inning rule earned him a save. Park now has as many saves on the season as his team's closer, Takashi Saito. There shouldn't be more in his future.

Holding on

Jamey Wright, Rangers: While the Cardinals' Ryan Franklin maintains the major league lead in holds, check out Texas, where right-hander Joaquin Benoit can't get anyone out and former starting pitcher Wright is picking up the holds. Wright has three of them in the past week, and for the season has struck out nine hitters in 11 innings, with a 0.82 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Alas, this happy story isn't likely to end so well, but then again, Franklin was a struggling, homer-prone starter before he became a holds machine, so maybe AL-only owners should take a look at Wright. The moral of this section is probably that Benoit can be let go, as he's sputtering along, while closer C.J. Wilson strengthens his hold on the role.

Whatever happened to?

Henry Owens, Marlins: One can always look to the Marlins for surprise closing names. Maybe Justin Miller is next. Remember Travis Bowyer, whom the team acquired in the 2006 offseason from the Twins? He had rotator cuff surgery and hasn't pitched since. Last year it was Owens, acquired along with Lindstrom from the Mets, who got his chance at saves and converted four of them, then ceded the role to Gregg when his shoulder began hurting. Owens had surgery last August, and is expected to miss at least half of this season, if not all of it. Unlike Bowyer, Owens should pitch again, but he has to start all over in line for saves. He's not worth stashing away for 2008.

Bullpen to watch

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Washington Nationals: Chad Cordero threw a scoreless inning against the Braves on Monday, but his velocity wasn't back to normal levels, and he says he heard a clicking sound coming from his shoulder. Now how can that be good? Do shoulders normally click? The result is Cordero is scheduled to meet with famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews this week, probably just to discuss politics and the state of the NHL playoffs. I'm sure the shoulder is just fine. Riiiiight. People, do the math and make sure Jon Rauch is owned in your league. Cordero could, in theory, be fine, but it sure looks as if this is only adding job security for Rauch. I own Rauch on a few teams, and watched in horror as Atlanta's Jorge Campillo and Chris Resop combined to allow five runs in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, thus making Rauch's perfect bottom of the ninth "just getting work" instead of save No. 4. If Rauch keeps on closing, then Luis Ayala, who earned his fifth hold on Tuesday by throwing one pitch, retains his eighth-inning value as well.


Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, the Mariners welcomed back closer J.J. Putz, just in time for him to save a win over the Orioles. Had Putz not been activated off the DL after missing a few weeks with rib inflammation, it was anyone's guess who would have saved the game. Mark Lowe was brutal in his last appearance, and the final three hitters Putz retired were right-handed, which would have negated the advantage lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith has. I think Brandon Morrow would have received the call. The Mariners seem committed to using him in relief for now, and don't be surprised if he instantly becomes the top set-up man for Putz. The Mariners didn't have either guy active a week ago, but now that bullpen, and those Carlos Silva leads, are looking better.

Briefly

Billy Wagner saved two games in the recent Phillies series, and still hasn't allowed a hit in seven innings over seven appearances. His lone blemish all year was a two-out walk to Chase Utley on April 10. He has a 0.14 WHIP. … Likewise, Rangers southpaw C.J. Wilson was cruising along at eight games and eight innings with only two hits allowed, then the Red Sox got to him over the weekend for two hits and three walks. Wilson's looking like a safe closer, even though Eddie Guardado is close to coming off the DL. … Who is next in line if Eric Gagne keeps faltering? Conventional wisdom would say Derrick Turnbow or David Riske, but Turnbow blew Monday's tie game, and Riske has allowed six hits and three runs in his last three outings. Guillermo Mota and Salomon Torres, meanwhile, over the past week have combined for eight shutout frames, and Mota has a third of the team's nine holds for the season. I just signed Mota in my 18-team auction league, just to make sure. … The Angels don't appear worried about Francisco Rodriguez anymore. He has saves in his last four appearances, which came in a five-day span. … B.J. Ryan has pitched three times, and each time with two full days in between outings. Jeremy Accardo picked up a random save over the weekend, and despite his struggles appears next in line. Ryan won't likely be used in back-to-back days until May. … Rafael Soriano tried to play catch over the weekend but had more elbow pain. He says he'll try again this week. If Manny Acosta remains available in your league, now would be a good time to secure him. In deep leagues, Blaine Boyer remains a threat. … Only four closers have yet to walk a hitter this season: Percival, Rivera, Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.