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Three Up, Three Down - 2012 Relief Pitchers
Reggie | Tuesday February 7th, 2012
Jordan Walden's stock is on the rise in 2012. (Icon SMI)
Jordan Walden's stock is on the rise in 2012. (Icon SMI)
Baseball Press presents a returning miniseries entitled "Three Up, Three Down". We'll review player performances from last season and whether or not we feel they are capable of either improving upon last season's performance, or if the player had a "lucky" season in 2011.

There are many different strategies on building a fantasy baseball bullpen. Some owners chase saves, while others draft low-level relievers in later rounds to piece together a bullpen. No matter what your strategy is, here are six relievers to watch in 2012.

Three Up

Jordan Walden - Los Angeles Angels
Jordan Walden will open the 2012 season as the everyday closer for the Angels. After taking over the role during the early part of the 2011 season, he recorded 32 saves, but also had 10 blown saves. The 24-year-old right-hander has no issues striking hitters out, posting 10.7 strikeouts per 9 innings(K/9) in the big-leagues and 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings in the minor leagues. His walk totals might be worrisome for owners (26 BB in 60 1/3 IP) but his ability to strike batters out and keep the ball on the ground (48% career GB rate) offset the command problems.

Walden's sophomore season with the Halos should be around his 2011 level or better. The Angels improved their starting rotation and lineup over the off-season, adding an increased opportunity for Walden to pile on save numbers.

Kenley Jansen - Los Angeles Dodgers
With no defined closer in 2011, the Dodgers relied heavily on 25-year-old rookie Javy Guerra for most of the save opportunities. Although Guerra converted 21 of 23 save opportunities last season, he hardly has a lock on the closer job in 2012. Working behind Guerra in the seventh and eighth innings was 24-year-old Kenley Jansen. Jansen recorded 9 holds in 51 games last season, but more importantly, struck out just over 16 hitters per nine innings in 2011. However, while Jansen can post big strikeout numbers, his walk totals are concerning for owners. Across the big-leagues and minor leagues, he's walked over 5 batters per 9 innings (3 minor league seasons & 2 big league seasons).

The Dodgers will likely enter the 2012 season with an open audition between Guerra and the hard throwing righty Jansen. While it's anyone guess who will actually win the job, Jansen has to be the favorite due to his high velocity fastball and low-80s slider. Even if Guerra does win the closer job and run with it in 2012, Jansen should still be on every fantasy baseball roster due to his high strikeout totals and potential upside. The walk totals are concerning, but as long as Jansen can still rack up strikeouts, he's a keeper.

Ryan Madson - Cincinnati Reds
After filling in for injured veteran Brad Lidge in 2011 with Philadelphia, Ryan Madson found himself with a new one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Madson was "supposed" to sign a multi-year deal with the Phillies over the off-season, but the deal fell through, and Philadelphia signed free-agent Jonathan Papelbon to a long-term deal. Prior to 2011, there were concerns with Madson being the everyday closer because he lacked "stuff" and has struggled after converting from the starting rotation to the bullpen. However, Madson proved a lot of folks wrong (although it was one season) as he converted a career high 32 saves in 34 opportunities.

As our own Dan Port pointed out, Madson is a terrific value for fantasy owners on draft day. Although he doesn't have big closer strikeout numbers, he has a real shot at being a top-ten closer in 2012. The Reds, much like the Los Angeles Angels, upgraded their starting rotation and lineup in the off-season, so there should be little that holds Madson back from posting big numbers.

Three Down

Jose Valverde - Detroit Tigers
Although reliever Jose Valverde led all big-league pitchers in saves last season, his value is limited due to his peripheral numbers. Over the past three seasons, his strikeouts per nine innings have declined while his walk totals have increased. (source: FanGraphs)

Fantasy owners might get another ~40 save season from 33-year-old Valverde in 2012, but that's about it. He's in no danger of losing his ninth inning duties this season, but there are simply better options at cheaper prices on draft day.

Matt Thornton - Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox traded reliever Sergio Santos during the off-season, seemingly clearing the way for hard-throwing left-hander Matt Thornton to take over. New White Sox manager Robin Ventura has told the media that Thornton will enter spring training as the everyday closer, but that could change quickly. Thornton started the 2011 season on the wrong foot, blowing four save opportunities over a six day period. After a rocky month of April, the lefty was mostly used in hold situations in the seventh and eighth innings.

While Thornton may be the everyday closer entering spring training, I don't think the title will last beyond the All-Star break. Prospect Addison Reed had terrific numbers in the minor leagues last season and struck out 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings during his brief call-up last season. Instead of drafting Thornton as a closer, wait until the later rounds and draft Reed.

Matt Capps - Minnesota Twins
Longtime closer Joe Nathan is with the Texas Rangers now, giving full closing responsibilities to Matt Capps in 2012. However, just because Capps is the full time closer, it doesn't mean his overall value will be worth more. The 28-year-old righty blew 9 of his 24 save opportunities last season, but more importantly, posted the lowest strikeouts per 9 innings of his career (4.7 K/9) in 2011.

In addition to the low strikeout numbers last season, Capps also struggled with giving up home runs. In 2011, Capps allowed 1.4 homers per 9 innings (HR/9), which was a huge jump from his 0.7 HR/9 total in 2010. Serving up homers is ultimately what led to his dismissal from the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 2009 season. The advice is pretty simple for fantasy owners and Matt Capps - Look elsewhere for cheap saves.
ReggieReggie is a writer and the co-founder of Baseball Press. He enjoys fantasy baseball and hates when players bunt in baseball.