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Fantasy Sports

Matt Reynolds or David Hernandez to Replace J.J. Putz as Arizona Diamondbacks’ Closer?

Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA Today Sports

Could you just imagine if MLB managers announced who they’d send out in the next save situation? No, I know it’ll never happen and life will never be that easy, but can’t you just imagine? No? It’s too farfetched? Fine. Well, if they did, life would indeed be easier.

For one, we’d actually know who of J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Matt Reynolds gets the next save chance for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It’s a wonderful thing when you pick up a new closer on the waiver wire. You not only get a free source of 1/10 of your stat categories, but you get that “I found out before you and am therefore smarter than you” satisfaction. On the other hand, the owner of the pitcher who was replaced cries all night. You’ve been both guys.

Let’s look at which reliever will make you the satisfied and which will make you the lachrymose.

Putz, 36, began the season as the bona fide Diamondbacks closer. He combined his past two seasons to a total of 77 saves, 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, and 5.48 K/BB. He had a 90% success rate in save situations: 77/86. In other words, Putz earned himself a long leash as the Dbacks’ closer.

With Putz closing out the ninth and David Hernandez setting him up in the eight inning, Kirk Gibson must have felt good about his late-inning prospects going into 2013.

As the set-up guy the past two years, Hernandez, 26, was just as successful in his respective role. He pitched 137.2 innings to the tune of a 2.94 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, and 3.37 K/BB. He only converted nine of 15 save opportunities filling in for Putz over that span, but hey, that’s why Putz is the closer. It was a quintessential eight/ninth situation: Putz, with the better ratios, closed, while Hernandez set him up.

The match made in heaven is kind of drooping a bit in 2013, though. And a new name has been introduced via Putz’s struggles. Only converting five of nine save opportunities has a tendency to throw things a bit haywire. Putz’s first-pitch strike percentage is down 7% from his 61% career rate and his walk rate is more than double last year’s. Perhaps to compensate for his decrease in velocity (remember, he’s 36), he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more sliders.  He’s getting fewer hitters to chase pitches outside the zone — a problem associated with a decrease in pitch speed.

Of course, the season’s still young and there’s time for Putz to improve his control and velocity, but we aren’t just talking about keeping faith in Putz for your fantasy team. We’re talking about whether or not a player will retain his role on his real ballclub. In this sense, small samples and regression and averages and all that stuff don’t really matter. You could tell Gibson that he’ll bounce back and that his 20% HR/FB rate won’t sustain — which it won’t — but if Putz is ousted as closer, his value is zero. If that happens, I think it’s Matt Reynolds whose value explodes.

Rightfully so, the southpaw Reynolds is gaining Gibson’s favor. He’s thrown 13 shutout innings this season; he’s struck out eight and walked one. He already has two saves this season, and on Tuesday he entered the game as a stopgap after Putz allowed a two-run, go-ahead homer in the top of the ninth inning. Reynolds came in and got Gregor Blanco to fly out.

So did Gibson bring in Reynolds to alleviate Putz’s struggles? Or just because Blanco’s a lefty? Only time knows that answer (and, assuming sanity, Gibson too).

Putz will probably get the next save opportunity, but if he scuffles, you can expect Reynolds to come in and shut the door. If that happens, you can then safely assume Reynolds gets the next save opportunity. Hernandez is pitching well in the eighth and hasn’t pitched particularly well in save situations in the past, so Reynolds is the guy to have in case Putz loses his job.

Gibson’s expressed his desire for Putz to be the everyday closer, so even if Putz loses his job and is used in low-leverage situations to get back on track, Reynolds’ value won’t last forever.

If a Putz owner drops him, add him immediately. Regardless, both Reynolds and Hernandez are valuable in the near future, and I’d give Reynolds the slight edge.

Follow fantasy expert Nick Tom on Twitter @NickTomFB, or love him on Google Plus.