Sep 4, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Rafael Soriano (29) celebrates pitching the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball: Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano a bust in 2014? Better draft Tyler Clippard

tyler clippard

If Rafael Soriano falters, Tyler Clippard would be next in line for save opportunties (Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

When nearing the end of your fantasy baseball draft, it’s always smart to scout for potential upside in places people may not be looking.

While other owners are picking up rookie second basemen or sixth outfielders, grabbing a relief pitcher with the potential to take over that team’s closer role could prove to be the better move.

Washington Nationals’ closer Rafael Soriano is a ticking time bomb, which gives setup man Tyler Clippard the potential to be much more valuable than his current ADP suggests.

» Tyler Clippard, RP (current ADP: #351):

Last season, the Washington Nationals inexplicably signed veteran reliever Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract.

It was a shocking amount of money to give up for a closer with just 114 career saves in 11 years of major league experience.

It’s easy to see where the Nats were coming from.  After all, the team had been going through closers like they were six packs of Coors Lights at a Kid Rock concert.

From 2007-2012, the Nationals had a different pitcher lead their team in saves every single year.  Who can forget such luminaries as Chad Cordero (37 saves in 2007), Jon Rauch (17 saves in 2008), Mike MacDougal (20 saves in 2009), and Matt Capps (26 saves in 2010)?

Current Nat Drew Storen saved 43 games for the team in 2011, but it was his blowup vs. the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series that prompted the team to splurge on Soriano.

Last year, despite saving 43 games, Soriano was a bust.

The 34-year-old blew six saves, gave up seven home runs, and allowed a career-worst 65 hits in 66.2 innings.  By comparison, the 6-foot-1 right-hander allowed only 53 hits in 75.2 IP in 2009, his first year closing with the Atlanta Braves.

Sure, his 3.11 ERA wasn’t terrible, and yes, his BABIP of .287 was much worse than his career norm (.254), but 23 of the 24 runs he allowed were still earned.

Soriano showed up to camp this spring boasting a slimmer figure, but the numbers haven’t translated.  He allowed 2 ER in his first outing, 5 ER in his second, and has given up two more since then.  9 ER in 4.2 IP is not where you want your closer to be with four days remaining till Opening Day.

Fantasy owners can’t be happy with those numbers either.

That’s why Tyler Clippard becomes relevant in fantasy drafts.

Clippard has been a stalwart in the Nats bullpen since coming over from the New York Yankees in 2008.

The 29-year-old from Kentucky has posted a solid 2.77 ERA with 448 K in an incredible 393.2 IP.  He even led the team with 32 saves in 2012.

Soriano may have the best “stuff” of all the Nats relievers, but he’s been getting wild and seems to be losing his grip on the role.  Maybe it’s mental or maybe he’s just lost his touch.  Either way, Clippard would be the next in line for ninth-inning duties should Soriano continue to falter.

At his current ADP of 351 and auction price of $1, Tyler Clippard is worth consideration near the end of your draft, especially if your league counts holds.  Clippard led the National League in holds in 2013 (33) and 2011 (38), and was fifth in 2010 (23).

2014 Projections: 6-3, 15 SV, 26 HD, 2.33 ERA, 80 K, 1.10 WHIP

» Missed any of my earlier picks?  Please click here for links to all the sleepers I’ve have covered from each team so far.

Tags: Fantasy Baseball Fantasy Baseball Sleepers Rafael Soriano Tyler Clippard Washington Nationals

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