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August 26, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
This is at least a mild surprise, since Gonzalez is the free-agent import who was paid specifically to be the O's closer, and he's actually pitched quite well since returning from injury in July: .472 OPS against, 2.08 ERA. Conversely, Uehara is a 35-year-old Japanese import who made 12 decent starts last year, but has spent most of his two years in Baltimore dealing with a variety of arm and hamstring injuries. He missed all of April this year, and pitched just once in June. Yet it's Uehara, not Gonzalez, Alfredo Simon, or anyone else, who has picked up the last two Baltimore saves. In each of his last three games, he's entered in the 9th inning with an Oriole lead, while Gonzalez' last four appearances have come either in the 8th inning or with Baltimore trailing.
While it may seem an odd choice, Uehara has been quite good since rejoining the team in early July. He's allowed just four earned runs in eighteen games in that span, holding batters to a .597 OPS and piling up an impressive 25/3 K/BB rate. Though he was primarily a starter in Japan, he did serve as Yomiuri's closer in 2007, picking up 32 saves with a mind-boggling 66/4 K/BB rate. At this point in the season, it's getting harder and harder to find new sources of save opportunities, so with Uehara owned in less than 4% of ESPN leagues, he's probably your best chance right now. Like many of my previous additions to this list, he's also eligible as a starter, which would give you some added roster flexibility.
Other than Gonzalez, we have two relievers who can no longer be considered "Value Picks":
Michael Wuertz: I hope you took advantage of Wuertz while you had the chance, since he contributed five saves over the last few weeks while Andrew Bailey was injured, and was quite good other than one poor outing against Toronto. Bailey is back now, and fantasy owners have noticed as Wuertz' ownership has been cut in half in the last week. If you're still holding on to him, it's time to move on, as Bailey is the undisputed closer in Oakland, and the A's have more than a few bullpen options.
Aaron Heilman: If there's one bullpen situation in baseball more unsettled than Baltimore's, it has to be Arizona's. With the exception of one disastrous game against the Reds, Heilman had been reasonably effective in collecting six saves over the last month-plus. Now, Juan Gutierrez is back from injury, and he's finished each of the four games he's been in, not yet allowing a run and picking up a save. It seems clear that there's just not going to be a good answer in the desert, and while Heilman provided some value while he was hot, it's hard to think he'll be worth a roster spot going forward.
And our returnees...
Hisanori Takahashi: Unfortunately for those who jumped on him, the Mets haven't had a save opportunity since Takahashi got his first, back on August 16. That's not a reflection on him, of course, as he hasn't allowed an earned run in any of his last four outings, entering in the 9th each time, and even picked up a win when the Mets walked off against Florida on the 24th. The Mets have no reason to make a change now.
Joel Hanrahan:Yes, Evan Meek did pick up a save in a game that Hanrahan entered in the 7th inning. But Meek's been terrible in August (7.71 ERA, .836 OPS against), and the very next night it was Hanrahan in the 9th after Meek in the 8th. This is probably still a bit of a job share, though if opportunities go to the hot hand, that favors Hanrahan, who's been unscored upon in five of his last six games.
Wilton Lopez: Lopez is probably a short-timer here, as Matt Lindstrom's stay on the DL looks like it will only be the minimum and Brandon Lyon has been effective in his stead. Lopez allowed his first homer since early May to Jimmy Rollins, which doesn't help his cause. He did pick up a win and a hold last week, and his 40/5 K/BB mark is still pretty impressive if you're desperate.