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June 3, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers

by Mike Petriello

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games '10
Relievers Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Jason Frasor RH 2 3 21.1 26 1 5.06 1.730 10.2 4.7 0.4 8.78 3.73 0.8 0 24
John Axford RH 1 3 9.2 6 0 2.79 1.030 13.7 3.9 0.0 9.87 5.80 0.8 0 8
Will Ohman LH 0 0 16.2 12 2 1.08 1.200 9.7 4.3 1.1 7.5 4.20 0.9 0 26
Matt Thornton LH 2 2 22.2 11 0 1.59 0.706 12.7 2.0 0.0 11.3 2.50 1.2 0 21
Evan Meek RH 3 1 30.1 21 1 0.89 0.956 9.2 2.4 0.3 8.50 5.56 0.9 0 24
Carlos Villanueva RH 0 1 27.1 24 2 3.62 1.320 12.2 3.9 0.6 8.41 3.32 1.2 0 26
Drew Storen RH 1 0 6.2 4 0 2.70 1.200 6.8 5.4 0.0 8.22 3.32 1.2 0 7
Michael Wuertz RH 2 0 8.2 10 1 7.27 1.731 6.2 5.2 1.0 13.5 3.50 1.0 0 10
  2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
  2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Milwaukee keeps trying to give Trevor Hoffman chances to get his job back, and he keeps making a bad situation even worse when he does things like allow three runs in an inning to the Marlins, costing the Brewers the game. His advanced state of "being toast" brings us to the first teammate swap on the Value Picks board, as we say goodbye to Carlos Villanueva and say hello to John Axford. Villanueva didn't actually pitch that poorly while he was on the board, picking up a save the day he was added and two holds since while maintaining a high K rate, but Ken Macha clearly prefers to keep him in his set-up role and has started to give the opportunities to Axford. If you haven't jumped on him yet, now is the time, since he's picked up three saves and a win in his last four outings and is starting to gain attention in the fantasy world.

Axford's story is an interesting one, especially considering the pedigree of the man he's (currently) replacing. The 27-year-old mustachioed Canadian rookie was drafted in the 42nd round by the Reds in 2005, but didn't sign and played independent ball north of the border. He was then picked up as an amateur free agent by the Yankees for 2007, where he was so impressive that he was... released right after the season. The Brewers picked him up for 2008, and while a 4.55 ERA, 1.674 WHIP, and 6.9 BB/9 (!!) rate in High-A ball that year isn't much to speak of on its own, it's even less so when you realize he was 25, quite old for that level. Still, the Brewers must have seen something they liked, because they brought him back for 2009 and something clicked right away. A return engagement in Broward County was complete domination, striking out 14 per 9, and good work at both AA and AAA as the year progressed got him an MLB cup of coffee late in the year, where he captured his first save - a stunning rise considering where he'd been in 2008.

Back in AAA to start this season, Axford struck out nearly 13 per 9 before being recalled in mid-May, working in middle relief until his recent promotion to the closer's role, where he's maintained that K rate in the short time he's been up. Unlike the changeup artistry of Hoffman and Villanueva, Axford deals in pure heat, averaging over 95 MPH on his fastball. That said, the Brewers seem to want Hoffman to work his way back into the role so badly that there's always the danger the future Hall of Famer could steal some opportunities if he puts some clean outings together, but with the Brewers featuring the second-worst bullpen in baseball, they'd do well to go with the hot hand, and right now that's John Axford. Whether or not he sticks long-term, he's almost certainly going to get the save opportunities right now.

In Toronto, a funny thing has happened, and that's that Kevin Gregg has seemingly remembered that he's Kevin Gregg. An outstanding April (0.82 ERA, 0.636 WHIP) gave way to a lousy May (5.11 ERA, 1.946 WHIP) and a total nightmare to start June - walking five while allowing a double and four earned runs against the Rays, getting ejected on his way out for good measure. It may be too soon to definitively say he's out of a job, but if this trend keeps up, it can't be far off, so it's not premature to look for alternatives, and that means Scott Downs or Jason Frasor. Downs did notch nine saves last year as the occasional fill-in closer, but he also allowed a grand slam last night as the Blue Jays melted down for the second night in a row. Since Frasor opened the year as the closer and is the only one of the three to not be a disaster lately, the feeling here is that he'll be first in line to reclaim his old job.

Frasor has more than "former closer" on his resume going for him, though, because his season has been the inverse of Gregg's. Frasor lost his job thanks to a brutal start to his 2010, as after ten games he'd blown two saves with a 9.35 ERA and a 1.051 OPS against. With Gregg pitching as well as he did in April, it's no surprise the switch was made. In the thirteen games after that, he was a new man, allowing just a 1.42 ERA and cutting his OPS allowed in half, to .522. Since Cito Gaston showed no hesitation in going from the struggling Frasor to the hot Gregg in April, there's no reason to think he wouldn't do the same now that the roles are reversed - especially with what we've seen over the last two nights.

As for who's remaining....

Will Ohman: If he hasn't picked up any saves since joining this list last week, well, that would be because the dreadful Orioles have lost seven in a row and haven't had any leads to actually save. Each of the last two games he's entered was to finish out the game, so he's still the best bet to get save chances in Baltimore, should the Orioles actually ever see themselves in that position again.

Drew Storen: The pieces are falling into place for the Nationals rookie, and maybe quicker than we thought. Matt Capps isn't really in danger of losing his job, but it's also hard to ignore that after allowing a run in three of his first eighteen games, he's now done so in five of his last seven, blowing two saves along the way. Keep an eye on this situation, because while Capps has earned the right to recover from his struggles, the Nationals won't let him keep this up forever as they contend for the first time in years.

Matt Thornton: Bobby Jenks hasn't pitched since May 26 as he nurses a strained calf. Now, Ozzie Guillen says that Jenks is healthy and is his closer, but let's not forget that Jenks' last game nearly ended in disaster, as he allowed three runs. Meanwhile, Thornton hasn't allowed a run since April. So, Ozzie, you'll excuse me if I'd like to wait and see how Jenks does in his return before I give up on Thornton just yet.

Evan Meek: Meek picked up his third win against the Cubs on Memorial Day, so while we're waiting to see him get saves, he's at least contributing some wins and holds elsewhere. Each of his three outings in the last week were scoreless, so he's done nothing to hurt his standing in Pittsburgh once Octavio Dotel inevitably gets moved.

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

Related Content:  John Axford,  Kevin Gregg,  Evan Meek

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

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

Re: Toronto' closer situation. I was at Gregg's most recent melt-down and it got me thinking: his worst performances seem to come when pitching on zero rest. While he has an ERA of 4.50, his ERA when pitching his line is as follows: 6G, 5.3IP, 7H, 8R, 8ER, 10BB, 5K, 130 pitches thrown, 62 strikes. 2SV 3BSV. Small samples, yes, but telling samples.
Also, if slow-hand Cito makes a change again, I don;t think Frasor gets the job - he has not been that great either. My dark horse candidate would be Shawn Camp.

Jun 03, 2010 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

That's an interesting point, though I do think that the huge divergence in his April vs June is more that he just got onto a well-timed hot streak to start the year before reverting to the guy we'd seen with the Cubs and Marlins.

Jun 03, 2010 12:29 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Mike - again, I'm not sure. Of his 6 appearances with zero rest, only one occurred in April. 5 of his 14 appearances between May 1-June 1 were on zero rest.
With zero rest, Gregg pitched in 5 games. 4 IP, 6H, 8R, 8ER, 9BB, 4K. 0-2, 2SV, 3BSV. ERA-18.00
In the same time period, pitching when rested, Gregg pitched in 9 games. 9 IP, 10H, 3R, 3ER, 5BB, 11K. 0-0 6SV, 0BSV. ERA-3.00. More walks than you'd like, but still a decent pitcher, capable of "closing".

Jun 03, 2010 12:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I do agree with you that it's not to the point that he's lost his job - he will get some more chances. What worries me though is that, even if what you're saying is totally accurate, Cito Gaston has shown no inclination to be the kind of manager to manage a reliever's workload like that. It's especially frustrating considering that he does have some pretty good fill-in options like Downs, Frasor, and Camp to avoid overworking Gregg.

Jun 03, 2010 14:02 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Cito doesn't change anything ever. His lineup is set. The only changes he makes are injury-related.

Jun 03, 2010 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I would not put any stock into splits with such small sample sizes. Anything can happen. Gregg could just as easily have pitched better on zero rest and worse with more rest; there are a lot of factors that can affect the results in such a small sample of innings.

Jun 03, 2010 20:59 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

If he didn't also simply look tired while pitching on zero rest, with very different body language, I might have sided with that argument. I've been watching them pretty closely.

Jun 03, 2010 21:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

For what it's worth, Matt Lindstrom blew another save today. That's three in the last week. Something to keep an eye on in Houston...

Jun 03, 2010 14:03 PM
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

As did Matt Capps, in the same game. Ha!

Jun 03, 2010 14:10 PM
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I'm all about updates today: not a huge surprise, but Ken Macha confirmed that Trevor Hoffman isn't getting save opportunities any time soon.

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/brewers/95479074.html

What next for Trevor Hoffman?

Brewers manager Ken Macha knew the question was coming. That didn't mean he had an answer, however.

After Hoffman's latest setback Tuesday night, the only sure thing was that his next outing would not signal a return to the closer's role.

"Do you want me to get tarred and feathered?" Macha said.

Jun 03, 2010 14:42 PM
 
murphy654321

who's your pick in HOU to watch? Lyon?

Jun 03, 2010 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

Probably. I'm not a huge fan of Lyon, but the Astros didn't pay him all that money to not be the #2 option. Besides, he has actually done decently this season; his 1.092 WXRL is more than double the next best Astro, Chris Sampson.

Jun 04, 2010 06:01 AM
 
murphy654321

He has done decent, and with the money factored in i agree he's probably the first to get a shot. Sampson has been pretty horrendous by most stats. Wilton Lopez looks like he's been spot on this year, i guess i don't buy into a stat that tells me Chris Sampson and his 4.5 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 is the second best reliever on a team. Too bad Sammy Gervacio isn't healthy...

Jun 04, 2010 06:22 AM
rating: 0
 
murphy654321

Also just as an aside, I don't know if you're using your fancy WXRL stat on the the Drew Storen call, but if a GM hands the 9th inning to a guy with matching 5.6 K/9 and BB/9 he should be run out of town.

Jun 04, 2010 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
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Premium Article Checking the Numbers: ... (06/02)
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