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June 17, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother discussing the Orioles in this section. As Rob Neyer noted, the 2010 edition of this once-proud franchise has the same record through 66 games as the 1988 crew, who started 0-21 and finished up at 54-107. They've gone through about twenty closers, to the point that I wonder when Armando Benitez is going to surface, and that means that each week it seems to be someone new. This week, I'm going to hedge my bets and have two Oriole relievers on the list.
As expected, Alfredo Simon was activated from the disabled list and made his debut yesterday in a non-save situation, with the Orioles insisting all along that he'd be eased back into the to the closer's role upon his return. Nothing has caused us to think they'd deviate that plan, so Simon remains on the list. Yet with the Orioles being the Orioles, they could be forgiven for jumping at the first sign of life from anyone on the roster, and that's why we're adding David Hernandez this week as well. Hernandez wouldn't seem like a prime candidate for success, since the reason he's in the bullpen in the first place is that he lost his starting job after eight lousy starts in which he put up a 5.31 ERA and walked more (28) than he struck out (27). Yet he's allowed just one run in 8.2 relief innings since being converted, flashing his 93 MPH fastball and increasing his K rate from 5.7 as a starter to 7.3 as a reliever. He's picked up two saves, as well. While I still think Simon will get a chance to reclaim his job, it's not like he was that good, with a dangerously high walk rate. To be honest, I'd be surprised if either one of them claimed the job, with this looking very much like a "hot hand" situation for the few save opportunities the O's find themselves in. Keep an eye on this over the next few days to see how they play this, but gun to my head, I like Hernandez right now.
Speaking of terrible teams with atrocious bullpens, Arizona has finally decided it can stomach no more of Chad Qualls, with A.J. Hinch saying that Aaron Heilman will get most of the opportunities for now. I first mentioned Heilman in this space as far back as May 20, so hopefully this doesn't come as too much of a surprise to you. The funny thing is, Qualls isn't nearly as bad as his 8.46 ERA would have you believe, because his .474 BABIP is just criminal. That helps bring his xFIP down to 3.57, which is actually the second best on the team behind Dan Haren. Still, when Qualls blows up, he blows up hard, and it's difficult to justify that ERA to fans and the media, so Heilman it is. Now, let's be honest; Aaron Heilman is probably not the next great closer. Still, he hasn't allowed more than one earned run in his last 21 outings, which practically qualifies him for sainthood in the Dbacks bullpen right now. Keep an eye on newcomer Sam Demel, but he won't be thrown directly into the fire just yet. Heilman's freely available in most leagues and he'll get opportunities, so he's worth a pickup.
Our last addition couldn't be coming from a more different situation than those in Baltimore and Arizona, because Brandon Lyon's been surprisingly effective in Houston behind Matt Lindstrom, who's been somewhat of a surprise himself. Lindstrom got off to a rough start in June, blowing his first two saves before settling down for three in a row. But he hadn't pitched in over a week, sitting out since June 8 with back spasms while being called "day to day" until returning last night. In the meantime, Lyon picked up his first save of this season in Lindstrom's absence. Since the beginning of May, Lyon's piched in 18 games and allowed earned runs in just two, but what's really interesting here is how consistent he is in picking up fantasy stats. He has a win, save, or a hold in all of his last eight games and in 10 of his last 11. Back spasms tend to linger, so it'd be no surprise to see Lindstrom get some extra days off while Lyon steps in. That being the case, this may be a short-term pickup opportunity hoping for quick saves, but even then Lyon can help you in other ways.
As for who else is sticking around this week...
Fernando Rodney: Brian Fuentes has settled down, converting four saves in a row, but Rodney's been valuable as well despite a 1:1 K:BB ratio. Like Lyon, he's been a relief stat machine as he's racked up a hold or a win in seven of his last eight outings, single-handedly winning me the holds category last week. Since Fuentes is by no means the most reliable closer, Rodney's worth the spot for now.
Drew Storen: Storen's also a nice closer-in-waiting who's helping rack up some numbers, as he's been impressing in his short time in the bigs. Not only is his ERA under two, he's got five straight scoreless outings with three wins and a hold, and he's clearly a huge part of the Nationals future. He's a must-own in keeper leagues, and he's still contributing even in redraft leagues.
And we're saying goodbye to...
John Axford: Hey, Axford's been doing just fine. He's got three wins and four saves, without blowing a single one. He's also owned in about 50% of ESPN leagues right now, so he's not really a "value" anymore. But as far as mustaches go? Top 1%. Hell, it even has its own Facebook group.
Evan Meek: Like Axford, Meek hasn't really done anything wrong, per se. It's kind of hard to argue with a guy who has both his ERA and his WHIP below one. Still, I've been talking about him for weeks here, and I can only say "he's awesome, but the opportunities aren't there until Octavio Dotel gets traded" for so long. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he rejoins this list in a month as the trade deadline looms, though if you have the space it's far from a bad idea to stash him now.
Jason Frasor: I hesitate to say that Kevin Gregg is "back", because while he has converted his last two saves, he did allow two hits (including a homer) and a walk to Tampa in the first one. Frasor hasn't been a whole lot better though, having allowed runs in three appearances in a row before putting up a scoreless inning in a blowout loss at Colorado on Sunday. Crisis averted north of the border - for the moment.
Finally: I'm not yet ready to add Brandon League or Shawn Kelley to this list, but keep a close eye on what's going on in Seattle. David Aardsma has struggled all year and has really had a tough June, where he finally got his first strikeout last night, but has managed to allow five earned runs. Don Wakamatsu's under fire in the northwest, so you wouldn't think he'd give Aardsma too much more rope. It's a situation worth noting.