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June 23, 2011

Value Picks

Relievers

by Mike Petriello

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I feel like we’re overdue for an outright closer change, no? The continued mess in Los Angeles aside, I don’t think there’s been an “official” change since Aaron Crow took over for Joakim Soria in Kansas City weeks ago–and even then, Soria took the job back before Crow really even got a chance.  That should change in the next few weeks as the trade market heats up, hopefully.

Joining the party

Al Alburquerque, Tigers (Yahoo!  5%, ESPN 3.9%, CBS 3%)

I mentioned Alburquerque as an AL-only deep value pick a few weeks ago, noting that even though he was unlikely to be in line for saves, his propensity for strikeouts made him interesting. Thanks to the wonderful Baseball-Reference, we learn that he’s not just about the strikeouts: he’s “currently on pace to break Eric Gagne's records for batting average and slugging average allowed in a season of 50+ innings.”

This should come with a massive caveat, namely that there’s little in Alburquerque’s minor league track record to suggest that he’s capable of sustaining such feats. However, the splash he has made thus far has certainly earned him the opportunities he is receiving until he proves otherwise. Again, he’s useful more for his peripherals than for saves, though he did pick up a win against the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. For someone who is available in nearly every league, that might be enough.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers (Yahoo!  21%, ESPN 26.4%, CBS 13%)

If you thought the impending return of all the injured Dodger relievers would lend some clarity to the situation, think again. I’ve seen some people referring to Javy Guerra as the closer, but think again; two saves in a month hardly makes a closer, and his peripherals are poor enough that collecting saves is his only fantasy value. With Kuo & Kenley Jansen back, and Jonathan Broxton already making rehab appearances, the likelihood of Guerra seeing many more save chances is small.

When Broxton does return, Don Mattingly claims that he’ll again be his closer, though probably only after a few low-pressure innings first. Since Broxton isn’t likely to even be activated for at least another week, possibly longer, that means that the door is still open for the next 15 days or so, at a minimum. While I still like Jansen, it’s hard to ignore how dominant Kuo was last season, and Mattingly also noted that he would be “likely to use Kuo immediately in closer situations.” Kuo made it through his return from anxiety issues on Tuesday by putting down the Tigers on nine pitchers in a non-save situation, and should see a chance to close out a game soon. When he’s right, he’s effective enough that he’s worth owning even if the saves aren’t there.
 

Saying goodbye

Koji Uehara, Orioles (Yahoo!  21%, ESPN 2.9%, CBS 18%)

We say goodbye to Uehara not because Kevin Gregg is suddenly any good or because Uehara has stopped being effective but simply because I’m sick of writing the same thing about this situation every week–as you probably are of reading about it. We’ll certainly come back to the Baltimore situation the next time Gregg starts looking like his high-wire act can’t last.

Matt Thornton, White Sox (Yahoo!  33%, ESPN 20.1%, CBS 17%)

Much of what we do here is try to guess when an incumbent may stop getting every opportunity, and it was worth noting that Sergio Santos had begun to run into problems. Thornton has indeed turned it around since his April troubles, but so has Santos since his small slump. He’s struck out five without allowing a run over his last 2.1 innings, and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune described his “stuff as being as sharp as it was in April and early May.” That’s a pretty good reference, and as long as the results are there, Santos is safe.

Glen Perkins, Twins (Yahoo!  1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 1%)

After missing more than a week with a sore wrist, Matt Capps has put to rest fears about his health with three clean saves on three consecutive days. It wasn’t just the injury that made this a concern, of course, as Capps had seen his struggles from May last into June. But with few other alternatives in the Minnesota bullpen, Capps will be the man there until further notice.
 

Sticking around

Daniel Bard, Red Sox (Yahoo!  21%, ESPN 22.9%, CBS 25%)

Jonathan Papelbon has completed his suspension, which was part of the reason we had an interest in Bard. We’ll keep the young righty around, however; he hasn’t allowed an earned run in a month. The job is still Papelbon’s, of course, but his on-and-off struggles this year make this a situation that demands attention.
 

AL-only VP

David Pauley, Mariners (Yahoo!  21%, ESPN 2.9%, CBS 7%)

Remember Brandon League’s mid-May meltdown, in which he picked up four losses in a week by allowing ten runs in just three total innings? Of course you do, but what a lot of people may have missed is that he followed that nightmare by tossing out fourteen straight scoreless appearances. Unfortunately for him, Mike Morse lined a ball off his leg on Tuesday, forcing him out of the game and likely making him unavailable for several days (though he is expected to avoid the disabled list).

Pauley entered to relieve League, and immediately gave up a walkoff homer to Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. It’s not as bad as it sounds; Pauley hadn’t been warming and the injury forced him into the game unexpectedly. In recent weeks, Pauley has moved into the main setup role for Seattle, as his last nine appearances have all come in the eighth inning or later; that happened just six times in his first nineteen outings.  He’ll offer little in the way of peripheral value, but depending how long League is sidelined for, he may be in line for some cheap saves.
 

NL-only VP

Bobby Parnell, Mets(Yahoo!  0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%)

I’ve seen, in more than a few places, references to Jason Isringhausen being the next-in-line if Francisco Rodriquez is unavailable or traded. I see that, and I ask, “why?” Over the last 15 days (entering Wednesday), Isringhausen had accumulated nearly as many homers (two) as he’s had strikeouts (three). I get that his name carries weight, but he’s also 38 years old and clearly not what he once was. As the quote-unquote “setup man”, it’s possible that he’ll get a chance here or there, but I wouldn’t hold out high hopes for success.

Meanwhile, Parnell has returned from injury to become a valuable member of the bullpen. He’s been sent to the mound six times in June, spanning eight innings, and all he’s done in that time is have a 10/2 K/BB mark while allowing one earned run. Parnell may not have the history Isringhausen does, but he’s certainly got more of a future.

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

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