As Week 6 draws to a close, I’ll choose to sing the praises of waiver wire protege and current success story Scott Kazmir, who slammed the door on Oakland in a 10-strikeout performance yesterday. Obviously, he’s already starting to gain traction in mixed leagues, as is Dee Gordon, who was hitting above .300 since his call-up last week. Meanwhile, I’ll choose to look down at the ground and rub my neck as I mention the likes of Lucas Harrell and Jose Quintana, neither of whom have impressed all that much since making cameo appearances on the wire. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how Jack Weiland, my waiver wire wingman, somewhat courageously suggested that John Lackey could once again be useful in mixed leagues, evidenced by three decent starts entering Thursday’s action.
Today, we’ll take a look at two troubled bullpens in Boston and Arizona as we mine for fantasy gold. In both cases, my column is a couple of days behind the ball, but surely some of these guys are still available in enough leagues as we near the beginning of Week 7, so let’s get started.
Junichi Tazawa | RP | Boston Red Sox | 50 percent Yahoo ownership; 55.8 percent ESPN; 35 percent CBS
YTD: 15.1 IP / 2.98 FIP / 11.15 K/9 / 1.76 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 78 IP / 3.45 FIP / 9.19 K/9 / 2.91 BB/9
Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan hit the DL this week within three days of each other, plunging the Red Sox’ rotation into a crisis. The bullpen’s depth zapped, the Red Sox have deployed Tazawa, 26, as the team’s closer, a role he’ll retain at least heading into the upcoming week.
Bailey, 28, who excelled in the role in his brief time at the closer’s helm, is ailing from sore right biceps he suffered late last month, and on Monday, he was retroactively placed on the DL. Meanwhile, Hanrahan hit the disabled list on Wednesday with a forearm strain after he “just couldn’t take it anymore” two days earlier in a blown save against the Twins. Although an early MRI showed no structural damage in Hanrahan’s elbow, the team moved him to the 60-day DL yesterday, and even if he doesn’t undergo surgery, it’s clear that his fantasy value has been nuked for much of 2013, making him droppable across the board.
From a fantasy perspective, it’s a bit unfortunate that Tazawa is stuck behind two established closers in the Red Sox’ bullpen, because his credentials at the age of 26 are nice to look at: 8.31 K/9 and a 1.87 walk rate, a career 3.23 FIP in 86.2 innings and a strong ability to strand runners. This year, he’s off to an even better start, and has seen his average fastball velocity tick up to 93 mph, though he does have two blown saves among his 16 appearances.
Unless Bailey’s injury is more catastrophic than was originally let on, there’s no chance we’re looking at a new long-term closer change right now, despite Tazawa’s appeal. Heck, Bailey is due to come back on Tuesday, so Tazawa might not even have that much value for owners in weekly leagues looking to pick up some cheap saves in Week 7. We’ll keep an eye on Bailey’s progress (and whether he’ll need a rehab assignment early next week), and with Hanrahan gone, Tazawa is now the logical No. 2 man in Boston’s bullpen. Considering the Jersey boy’s own vulnerability, a future scenario where Tazawa gets another chance to step up in 2013 is not inconceivable.
Recommendation: Green light in all leagues until Bailey’s return.
Heath Bell | Arizona Diamondbacks | RP | 40 percent Yahoo ownership; 35.8 percent ESPN; 31 percent CBS
YTD: 14.1 IP / 2.64 FIP / 12.56 K/9 / 1.88 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 62.3 IP / 3.10 FIP / 9.67 K/9 / 2.89 BB/9
David Hernandez | Arizona Diamondbacks | RP | 19 percent Yahoo ownership; 11.5 percent ESPN; 18 percent CBS
YTD: 15.2 IP / 5.79 FIP / 9.19 K/9 / 4.60 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 68.2 IP / 3.70 FIP / 10.75 K/9 / 3.93 BB/9
It’s been a good run in Arizona for J.J. Putz, who’s been a top fantasy earner for the past two seasons. But those days seem to be quickly nearing an end, as the right-hander is plagued by a right elbow strain. For a guy who’s gotten positively abused so far in 2013 (four blown saves in nine chances and a 1.58 WHIP), this news sounds not the least bit ominous, and Putz owners need to untangle themselves from the 36-year-old’s immediate future right away.
That could set up a classic closer battle in Arizona, featuring an experienced name player in Bell and a top set up man in Hernandez, both of whom are qualified for the job.
We’ll start with Bell, whom manager Kirk Gibson said on Wednesday would get first dibs at the ninth inning, proving it by letting him earn the save that night against the Dodgers. Still, despite averaging 38 saves over the past four seasons and being considered a top reliever on the free agent market just 18 months ago, Bell hardly steps up immediately as a set-him-and-forget-him closer option, not after he was demoted by the Marlins last year following a nightmarish first half. In 2013, Bell’s slightly diminished fastball velocity might be responsible for what’s been a bad 29.7 percent line drive rate, which in turn is manifested in an unsightly .417 BABIP. At the same time, however, I’m encouraged by a 9.2 swinging strike rate and the 12.56 K/9 it’s produced, especially in contrast to a 1.88 BB/9, even if it’s necessary to acknowledge what’s just a 15-appearance sample size.
But since we won’t know for a while if Bell can fully regain the magic of his Padres days, we might as well familiarize himself with Hernandez, Arizona’s eighth-inning guardian. With a combined a 2.94 ERA, 11.4 K/9 and 1.08 WHIP between 2011 and 2012, Hernandez, who turns 28 on Monday, established himself as one of the National League’s best setup men entering the year. But it’s been a rough start to 2013 for him so far, and with Gibson clearly preferring Bell’s experience, Hernandez is merely a handcuff option in fantasy until the ex-Padre falters.
Recommendation: Add Bell across the board while keeping an eye on Hernandez.
Kelly Johnson | Tampa Bay Rays | 2B | 24 percent Yahoo ownership; 33 percent ESPN; 44 percent CBS
YTD: 105 PA / .283 / .362 / .489 with 5 HR and 4 SB
ZiPS updated: 559 PA / .239 / .325 / .409 with 19 HR and 14 SB
Back in the good old days of early 2011, Johnson ranked among the top second basemen to target in fantasy, coming off a .866 OPS season that was padded with 26 homers and 13 steals. Unfortunately, the batting average took a nosedive in the next two seasons, and by the time 2013 dawned, the 31-year-old had dipped below the radar screens of many mixed league owners.
But as we embark to enter Week 7, we applaud Johnson’s .283 average and 138 wRC+, because not only are those numbers solid, but they’re even more valuable as a middle infielder. Too bad they’re largely the byproduct of a BABIP surge (.339 entering Thursday’s action) and a generous HR/FB rate that is out of character for an eight-year veteran. It’d be nice to believe that Johnson’s bat has suddenly been invigorated with some kind of magic power, but a 15 percent line drive rate is nothing to write home about, especially as his strikeout rate remains stuck at nearly 25 percent.
Obviously, a second baseman with pop will find a home in large pockets of fantasy baseball, and in Johnson’s case, his outfield eligibility will make him even more attractive. But his value will take a dive once his batting average comes back down to earth, and with hurlers like Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen lined up in Week 7, that decline might get started in the very near future.
Recommendation: I’m passing in mixed leagues unless someone I care about gets hurt.