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May 24, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Save Opps

by Craig Brown

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Bobby Jenks isn’t having a good year as the closer for the Chicago White Sox.  Yes, he has 20 strikeouts in 15 innings, but he’s become frustratingly hittable—opponents are blistering him for a line of .323/.389/.492 and he owns a 1.87 WHIP.  Since White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen made the announcement back on May 11th that he would use his ninth inning pitcher based on the match-ups presented, alternative closer Matt Thornton has gotten into exactly two games and faced a grand total of three batters.  The Sox were being careful as Thornton reported a sore elbow after closing out a game (and picking up the save) on May 15.  It’s not as if the Sox are flush with save opportunities—there have been only two in their last 10 games.

Thornton, like Jenks, is getting a ton of punch-outs—he’s whiffed 26 in 17 innings this year which follows back to back seasons of a strikeout rate better than 10.0 K/9.  Unlike Jenks, hitters aren’t touching him at all.  Thornton is limiting the opposition to a slash line of .155/.222/.241 with a WHIP of 0.77.

Quite a difference, although you have to wonder if their manager truly sees it that way.  Both Jenks and Thornton have virtually identical Leverage Indexes—Jenks owns a 1.85 LEV, while Thornton checks in at 1.81.  

There haven’t been a ton of left-handed closers, but there’s no reason to think Thornton couldn’t serve with distinction.  Certainly, he excels at getting left-handed batters out, but he does equally well against hitters from the right side as shown by his splits covering 2008 to 2010:

Vs RHB - .215/.272/.372, 23.9% K, 6.9% BB
Vs LHB - .185/.248/.265, 39.6% K, 7% BB

Thornton has been the most productive reliever on the South Side this year with a 0.765 WXRL.  Jenks currently owns a -0.25 WXRL and J.J. Putz —Guillen’s reliever with the third highest Leverage Index at 1.14—checks in with a -0.791 WXRL—last in the Chicago bullpen.  All three relievers own identical strand rates of 71.4%.

Reports say Thornton has “fully recovered from the soreness in his elbow.”  With Jenks (and Putz) being featured in trade rumors, now is the time to jump on the Thornton train.  He’s currently owned in 17% of ESPN leagues.  If anything, he’ll pick you up a few cheap saves here and there while helping you maintain your ERA and WHIP.  If you’re really mining for saves in a deep league, take a look at Sergio Santos as a dark horse.  Santos is second on the team with a 0.744 WXRL and has been just as unhittable as Thornton.  If Guillen decides to stay with a closer by committee and Jenks does in fact get dealt, Santos could benefit as the right side of a two-headed ninth inning monster.

While the White Sox have some better options in their bullpen than their current closer, that's not necessarily the case in Arizona where the struggling Chad Qualls picked up a pair of one-out saves last week before being called upon for a full inning of work to protect a three-run lead on Saturday.  That gave him three relatively easy saves in as many appearances.  At any rate, it’s a welcome change of pace because Qualls has already blown three save opportunities on the year and owns a 6.32 ERA and 1.85 WHIP.  

With a 3.60 SO/BB ratio, Qualls still has his control and is punching out hitters at the best rate of his career (10.3 K/9), but is getting pounded for a .348 BA against.  Opponents own a .449 BABIP against Qualls through his first 16 innings of work.  Certainly, that number has to drop.  In the meantime, his -1.212 WXRL is the second-worst in the Arizona bullpen.  We’ll get to the worst in a moment.

Collectively, Arizona relievers have a 7.61 ERA and 1.78 WHIP while allowing a league-high 52% of all inherited runners to score.  Not good.  Aaron Heilman has been their most consistent reliever and leads the team with a 0.131 WXRL.  With a 3.44 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, he’s the only member of the bullpen to have an ERA less than 4.90 and a WHIP under 1.5.  After a rough patch in mid-April where he let a pair of leads slip away in the seventh inning, Heilman has been solid, throwing 11 innings and allowing just one run on six hits while striking out 12.  

With a Leverage Index of 1.91, Juan Gutierrez has been the reliever under the most pressure for the Diamondbacks.  Owning an 8.83 ERA and a 1.5 WHIP, he’s folded more often than not. Gutierrez filled the void for Arizona last year, picking up nine saves when Qualls went down with a knee injury and entered this season as the set-up man with an eye on the full-time closer role.  Gutierrez has allowed only 18 hits in 17 innings this year, but seven of those hits have left the yard.  Four of them have come with men on base and two of them were walk-offs.  That can’t help the confidence.  Overall, his -1.311 WXRL is the worst among all Diamondback relievers.

This month, Gutierrez has twice entered the game at the beginning of an inning with the score tied.  Both times he left with his team trailing.  Once, he entered with two runners on and was asked to protect a three-run lead.  He coughed up a three-run home run.   Whatever he had last summer, he's lost it.  Heilman figures to be next in line, but it appears the Diamondbacks will do everything in their power to build confidence in Qualls. Besides, once his elevated BABIP normalizes, he's their best option anyway.

Until then, the Arizona situation is a mess of epic proportions.  It’s advisable to stay far away.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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friel27

It has been said the Phillies have been scouting Jenks. I currently have Contreras, not high on him but cannot discredit what he has done. Do you see this happening and Thornton becoming closer? I feel like eventually he should take over duties at some point even if Jenks is not traded and feel like he is much better than Contreras. Also do you see Contreras losing his job to Lidge (hes making 11.5mil this year and signed till 2012). Where as Contreras is done after this year and is 38. Maybe even have a Jenks, Lidge, Contreras competition if they do make a trade.

May 24, 2010 20:46 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

Lidge definitely gets the closer job back. The Phillies are tapped out on their '10 budget, so they'd have to get some salary relief if they were to trade for Jenks... Plus, they know he's not an attractive option anyway. I think Lidge would have to have a setback (I put the odds at 60-40), Madson's return would have to be pushed way past the All-Star break (he's due back early July) and Contreras would have to crash. If Jenks moves, he's going somewhere else.

May 25, 2010 07:26 AM
 
murphy654321
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

In the world of fantasy sport, getting an informational edge is important.

Yet you just reported two situations that have been developing for most of the season.

"Hey, I have a tip for you guys, Trevor Hoffman has blown a few saves this year, keep an eye on that situation as it develops."

May 25, 2010 05:52 AM
rating: -4
 
HugeShoulderpad

Why should this get down-voted? I, for one, applaud your quality control work murphy654321...and he's right--while overall I've been loving the content of the fantasy blogs this year, this one didn't really tell me anything.

I don't see anything wrong with making a comment letting the authors know who their audience is...in the end this will keep the articles strong.

May 25, 2010 09:56 AM
rating: -1
 
pobothecat

So it's your position that Craig should no longer report on these evolving situations because you're already aware they exist?

First of all, the fact that Thornton's elbow issues have been pronounced not-serous IS news. As is, to me at least, the fact that the Sox have so lost faith in Jenks that they're seriously shopping him.

Then there's Arizona, where Hinch recently said the job was being "thrown open", then proceeded to give save opp's to the same old guy. Why? Well, maybe it's because, as is suggested here, Qualls' secondary numbers aren't as tragic and Heilman has become the the only useful 8th-inning alternative. This too qualifies as news in that it offers a better glimpse into Hinch's thinking than I've seen before.

Sheesh.

Should Craig no longer report on these evolving situations because you're already aware they exist?

May 25, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 1
 
bpars3

How should we view Santos? This is a guy that has been pitching for one year. How many guys have done what he is doing and have been successful doing it? It has been fun watching him pitch this year as he bring it, but I keep waiting for the shoe to drop.

May 25, 2010 11:17 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

I like his GB rate of around 44%, but his strand rate is that "shoe" you're waiting for. Currently, he's at 94% which is insane.

Still, he's mixing his pitches well and features a 95 mph fastball and a slider with some good bite. Over 23% of his strikes are swing and misses and of his 21 strikeouts - only 2 have been punched out looking.

He has the tools and the results... If you have space for a relief pitcher I'd grab him.

May 26, 2010 09:53 AM
 
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