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Saturday, February 15, 2014

FANTASY BASEBALL CLOSING ISSUES: HANDICAPPING THE WHITE SOX CLOSER BATTLE

                                                      

As always the closer volatility has been in its usual form from the 2013 season to 2014 with as high rate of turnover.  Free agent signings and trades have done its job once again to shake up the closer rankings and add some new names to the closer pool.  There are however only a few closer spring training battles going on with perhaps the most interesting being in Chicago with the White Sox.  There are currently three relievers in contention for the right to replace the traded Addison Reed and each one on the surface has their own case to be the guy.  So without further delay let's handicap the race as camp gets started. 

Nate Jones:  The 28-year-old Jones has only been in the major leagues for two seasons but during that short time he has emerged as a trusted setup man for the White Sox who possesses the desired high K rate for the job as evidenced by his 154 K's in 149.2 career innings.  What is interesting about Jones however is that his ERA went from 2.39 as a rookie to 4.15 in 2013 while the WHIP went from a shaky 1.38 to a solid 1.22.  The big problem with Jones is his penchant for issuing walks which is a big no-no in the ninth inning.  Also he has zero career saves so inexperience is also a red flag.  However as I noted earlier Jones has the K rate to be very good in the role and as long as his early glute injury doesn't hold him back much, has interesting upside. 

Matt Lindstrom:  Yes this guy again.  Lindstrom has been there and done that when it comes to closing and he hasn't done it very well at any of his five previous MLB stops with the Marlins, Astros,Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Rockies.  The 34-year-old certainly has the experience edge over Jones and Daniel Webb but this is also a guy with a horrible career 1.42 WHIP.  Also for as hard as Lindstrom throws (he has hit 100 on more than a few occasions), his fastball is dead straight which doesn't lead to the strikeouts one would think he would be capable of producing.  It also has gotten him hit hard in the past as well and cost him his chances to close.  However in fairness Lindstrom's three best MLB seasons have come in the last three years as he never pitched to an ERA over 3.12 in that span.  Despite a 3.12 ERA last season however, Lindstrom added a 1.43 WHIP which continues to speak to how many baserunners he puts on.  Really the one thing Lindstrom can lean on as far as claiming the closer role in his experience as he has 45 career saves.  However his last save came in 2011 and he doesn't have any of the upside and dynamic ability that the other two guys possess.

Daniel Webb:  The youngest of the threesome is Webb who is only 25 and comes off a brief look in 2013 where he pitched in 9 games and compiled a 3.12 ERA and 10 K's in 11.1 innings.  Webb has the top notch fastball and K rate to get the job done like Jones and in actuality he has the highest upside of the group.  The problem is that Webb is incredibly raw and lacks almost any MLB experience.  However that didn't stop the White Sox in the past from putting Addison Reed into the fire and so Webb could be the next in line to go down that route.  If Web lights it up in the spring, than he very well could end up with the job.

Verdict:  I said from the moment that Reed was traded that Nate Jones was my pick to claim the closing job from the rest of the White Sox reliever candidates.  He has the right combination of experience, upside, and the stuff to make a nice transition into the gig.  Webb is a wild card but ultimately Jones should be the one to win out.  Pick him over the others if you have only one spot to use.

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