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Thursday, December 11, 2008

J.J. Putz, Aaron Heilman, and Brandon Morrow: The Anatomy of a Trade... Fantasy Style

Before we get ready to Rock-and-Roll, let me throw a few good articles about this story your way:
  • The ESPN crew chronicles the path if this deal from Wednesday night into Thursday morning, here.
  • The NY Daily News' Adam Rubin, too, follows the development of this deal on his blog.
  • Finally we have our old reliable(s): John Heyman and Ken Rosenthal.
Now that you have the news about how vastly improved the Mets' bullpen is, let's get down to the fantasy values of these players:

J.J. Putz's value is non-existent in most mainstream leagues.  I played in a Roto-League last year that gave a decent amount of weight to the holds category.  To be honest, I used a few Mets (Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith) during the course of the season and they all did a more-than serviceable job during their respective tenures on my team.  In a league like the one I'm speaking of, Putz would be a GREAT catch, and here's why:

2006: 2.30 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 1.33 K/IP
2007: 1.38 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 1.14 K/IP
2008: 3.88 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 1.22 K/IP

Look at that strike-out to innings pitched ratio!  That's ridiculous!  This is a guy who, as Ken Rosenthal says (in the above link), wants to be a closer... and deserves to be.  However, he's going to have to suck it up and enjoy his lack of fantasy value this season while he sets up for K-Rod and the Mets.  That all said, the second K-Rod goes down with an elbow, shoulder, or fore-arm injury... dive onto Putz head-first... because he's that good.  Fantasy Diagnosis: Pass... but monitor K-Rod's health throughout the season.

Aaron Heilman's wish has finally been fulfilled; he's now a starting pitcher!  After finding his "home in a relief role" in 2007, Heilman faced eviction in 2008 (Ron Shandler's 2008 Baseball Forecaster).  In 2005, 2006 and 2007, despite Mets' fans' hatred of Heilman's attitude and relief pitching, he put up decent... and improving numbers:

2005: 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47.4 GB%
2006: 3.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 47.6 GB%
2007: 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 48.1 GB%

Then... 2008 happened:

2008: 5.21 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 24.3 GB% (thanks to MetsGeek for the stats help).

So, Mets' fans were finally justified for their hatred of Aaron Heilman... but was 2008 a fluke or a sign of things to come in Seattle?  My best guess is that 2008 was a fluke.  My reasoning is based less on numbers and more on history.  Heilman's age (30) is not the typical age of decline in major league players.  In fact, this is considered the prime of his baseball life (the time in his career when he puts up his best numbers).  Second, the most successful relief pitcher conversions have been predominantly ground ball pitchers.  Examples of this include Miguel Batista, Adam Wainwright, Derek Lowe, and Braden Looper.

In the end, I think Heilman will have good success in Seattle as a starter and is definitely someone I would consider drafting in the back-end of my fantasy baseball draft (if not someone I follow on waivers for a good portion of the first month of the season).  Fantasy Diagnosis:  Draft and hold in the later rounds.  He has the potential to be a surprising sleeper candidate.

Brandon Morrow is best known for filling for J.J. Putz for a majority of his injury plagued 2008.  He finished the year with 10 saves for Seattle en route to a 3.34 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.  However, that's not the Brandon Morrow that sticks out in my mind...  the Brandon Morrow I remember from 2008 is Brandon Morrow, "The Starter," who nearly No-Hit the New York Yankees in his first major league start (broken up in the 8th, box score here).

Fantasy baseballers generally felt that Morrow was going to be 2009's Joba Chamberlain, a guy who would have value no matter what role he fulfilled.  With J.J. Putz's departure, however, Morrow's role becomes somewhat more solidified as the closer for the Seattle Mariners.  Morrow's not thrilled about this, as he wants to be a starter in the majors, but the arrival of Heilman and trade of Putz leave him with the role (unless Seattle trades/signs another closer... which is not going to happen... they're clearly in rebuilding mode right now).

Personally, I'm with Morrow.  After I saw him physically handicap the Yankees last September, I was excited to see more of what this kid had to offer from a starter's perspective.  As it stands now, he'll have to settle for being a great closer on a bad team.  Fantasy Diagnosis: As a closer, Morrow has value, but his true worth comes as a starter.  If you're in a deep keeper league draft and hold Morrow for the future.  Otherwise, 2009 may not be the year you truly see Morrow shine his brightest.

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