Ah, Memorial Day. A time for hot dogs, patriotism, and yes, the realization that the baseball season is blooming right before our eyes. With a third of the season over, this is the time of the year where hot streaks begin to reveal breakout performances and cold snaps foreshadow an arduous road ahead for the fantasy few who ultimately will be busts in 2013.
Last week, I talked up Rick Porcello, only to watch in horror as he got pushed around by the Twins seemingly 15 minutes after I submitted my column/love letter. (He also pitched last night as this piece was headed to the editors, and so help me God, he better pitch at least mildly well or else I’ll be forced to attack his Twitter feed.)
Yesterday, Jack surveyed the catcher situation in deep leagues and eyeballed Yasmani Grandal and Jason Castro, two players who, had he not pounced on them when he did, probably would have been fodder for my writing. So as a way of matching him shot for shot, I’m going to look at two bullpens recently plunged into crisis due to the loss of their closers.
Bryan Shaw | Cleveland Indians | RP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; .6 percent ESPN; 8 percent CBS
YTD: 25 IP / 1.80 ERA / 9 K/9 / 2.9 BB/9 with 0 saves
ZiPS updated: 69 IP / 3.24 ERA / 7.9 K/9 / 3.1 BB/9
Cody Allen | Cleveland Indians | RP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; 3.2 percent ESPN; 4 percent CBS
YTD: 23.1 IP / 2.31 ERA / 11.8 K/9 / 2.7 BB/9 with 1 save
ZiPS updated: 69 IP / 3.48 ERA / 9.95 K/9 / 3.5 BB/9
In the past couple of seasons, the sight of Chris Perez walking off the mound with a shoulder injury wouldn’t have required a great intellectual bound to realize that his setup man, Vinnie Pestano, was the rightful heir to the ninth-inning throne. Pestano, after all, put together two straight years as one of the best eighth-inning men in baseball, compiling a scrumptious 10.9 K/9 over those seasons and finishing second in the majors in holds last year.
But in the topsy-turvy world of relief pitching, one season does not quite a top fireman make, Pestano has struggled so far this year, and there’s some doubt as to whether he’ll emerge as Cleveland’s closer going forward.
What do I mean by struggled? Try a 5.25 ERA (5.19 xFIP) on for size; two blown saves in six save situations; an ugly walk rate; and, most disturbing, a slight drop in average fastball velocity that, FanGraphs tells us, continues a trend dating back to 2010.
Is Pestano hurt? He went on the disabled list earlier this month with right elbow tendinitis, and since returning on May 16, he has gotten absolutely torched in four appearances, coughing up two saves opportunities and getting knocked around to the tune of a 1.047 opponents’ OPS.
On Sunday, right after a poisonous blown save/loss against the Red Sox, Pestano, defending a fastball that was topping out at just 88 mph, insisted that the time off earlier in the month had left him rusty, and while that may be the case, I think a fantasy owner is well within his rights to be a bit skeptical.
To modify a line from Yogi Berra, Pestano, who’s working with the Indians’ coaching staff to fix possible mechanical issues, is the closer until he’s not the closer, so we’ll leave it at that. But for those looking ahead, now is the time to familiarize yourself with Shaw and Allen—who sort of sound like a vaudeville duo when mentioned together—two right-handers who are the likely candidates to succeed Pestano if he breaks down.
We’ll start with Shaw, whom Peter Gammons believes has the edge over Allen long-term. Traded from Arizona in the blockbuster D’backs/Reds/Indians trade over the offseason, Shaw, 25, finished with decent numbers in the desert after two years but has really turned it on in Cleveland, putting up a welcome strikeout-per-inning rate while keeping the walks in check.
Glaringly, he’s benefited from a 3.4 percent HR/FBe rat, which is not comforting given that he currently has a 44 percent flyball rate, but a nice 11.3 swinging strike percentage suggests his whiff ability is closer to this year’s level than 2012’s mediocre 6.22 K/9.
Then there’s the 24-year-old Allen, a 2011 draftee who zoomed through the minors so quickly that he was facing major league batters by July last year. In 2013, he’s been bad news for hitters, vaporizing them at a 11.6 K/9 pace while flashing a fastball that averages nearly 95 mph.
While Shaw has made 14 of his 20 appearances in the seventh inning, Allen’s outings have been a bit more spread out in the later innings, perhaps as a result of manager Terry Francona’s desire to give the fireballer more shots at stranding runners. (Though it’s been to mixed success, as Allen has allowed 41 percent of inherited runners to score.)
Still, his xFIP (2.87) is nearly a full run lower than Shaw’s, he features a more favorable line-drive rate, and he’s thrown strikes at a significantly better clip (62 to 58 percent) despite facing nearly the same number of batters. For two guys who have had somewhat similar seasons, Allen is probably the better hurler.
All he needs now, fantasy-wise, is a ninth-inning gig, which may or may not come, since a healthy Pestano is fully qualified for the job. There’s also the matter of Perez’s shoulder injury. An MRI on Monday revealed no structural damage, though he won’t throw for at least a week. But it’s necessary to couple this DL stint with the month he missed earlier, proof that his shoulder has bothered him all year.
Regardless, I think Perez is out for at least a few weeks, Joe Smith is best saved for situational pitching, and I’m not confident that Pestano will hold up. Neither Shaw nor Allen seems to have an immediate inside track on being next in line, but both are worth watching and certainly adding for cheap short-term saves if Pestano can’t get it done.
Recommendation: Allen over Shaw, but neither has to be added immediately.
Francisco Rodriguez | Milwaukee Brewers | RP | 34 percent Yahoo ownership; 41.1 percent ESPN; 32 percent CBS
YTD: 4.1 IP / 0.00 ERA / 8.3 K/9 / 2.08 BB/9 with 1 save
ZiPS updated: 42 IP / 3.42 ERA / 9.8 K/9 / 3.5 BB/9
He’s baaaaack! Like a bad rash, K-Rod has flared up again on the fantasy baseball radar screen after the Brewers called him up earlier this month, and on Friday Rodriguez swooped in to rescue the Brewers in a 2-1 win over the Pirates when Jim Henderson left the game with a strained right hamstring.
Yes, we know K-Rod is the single-season saves leader and that, before he went to the Mets (and thus, like most players sentenced to
Rura Penthe Queens, had his pulsating life force drained out of him), he was one of the majors’ top closers. Of course, we also know he likes to punch his in-laws in the face, and at age 31, has a lot to prove before either the Brewers or fantasy owners trust him.
First things first. Although Henderson escaped an arm injury, the early word on his absence is that he’ll be out “a while,” a phrase which, while vague enough to inspire hope, certainly casts the impression that there’s a job opening in the Brewers’ ninth inning.
You’d think that by having John Axford, a guy who’s averaged 35 saves over the past three years, Milwaukee would have a replacement ready to go, but Axford has gotten bombed this year (1.78 WHIP, three blown saves), even though his fastball seems fine and a bad HR/FB rate has resulted in an xFIP under four.
But who cares what I think? Manager Ron Roenicke has indicated he wants to leave Axford in a setup role for the time being, and although he says he wants to use a closer committee, one wonders how long that will last if K-Rod continues to pitch well.
Of course, we’re talking about just five appearances entering Tuesday’s action, and although Rodriguez has yet to allow a hit in that span, I won’t blame you if you need to see a bigger sample size or believe that Axford is still the better option.
But at the risk of spitballing, I wonder if Rodriguez is a better option for the Brewers in the short-term. As unproven as he now is, he might be easier to pull—assuming a healthy Henderson comes back—as opposed to having to uproot Axford. That’s just speculation, but with a few good performances from Rodriguez so far, I think he’s already worth a flier until he starts blowing opportunities.
Recommendation: Need cheap saves? Rodriguez currently is Milwaukee’s best option.