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June 30, 2011

Value Picks

Relievers

by Mike Petriello

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Joining the party

Antonio Bastardo, Phillies (Yahoo! 29%, ESPN 24.5%, CBS 28%)

If you haven’t already jumped on Bastardo with Ryan Madson hitting the disabled list on Tuesday, it’s probably too late to get him in any serious league. Still, he’s worth mentioning here even if he’s almost certainly going to be on our list for just this week only. We’ve talked about Bastardo here briefly in the past, partially because the injury-plagued mess that is the Phillies bullpen has allowed him to sneak in a save here and there and partially because anyone who has allowed just three earned runs against 33 strikeouts is always going to be interesting.

Bastardo could be a good real-world example of my usual argument that “closers are made, not born” because few thought much of him headed into the season, and he was fourth in line (at best) to the throne behind Brad Lidge, Jose Conteras, and Madson (you could argue for Danys Baez and J.C. Romero as well).  Just managing to stay healthy as others dropped around him is nice enough, but he’s used his low-90s heat and a quality slider to rack up one of the higher swinging strike percentages of any reliever. In the ten appearances since he allowed his last run on May 27, he’s also allowed just a single hit. That sets him up nicely to succeed in the 9th and collect some saves, though Charlie Manuel hedged his bets by saying he might use Michael Stutes if the opposition is particularly right-heavy.

Don’t forget this, though: since Madson was on the shelf for so long before actually being placed on the disabled list, he’s eligible to return as soon as Monday, July 4. That doesn’t mean he’s coming back on Monday–I still haven’t seen a good idea on exactly how long he’ll be out–just that the 15-day clock doesn’t start now. If he’s feeling better, he could return at any time.

Javy Guerra, Dodgers (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 6.9%, CBS 10%)

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been doing my best to avoid installing Guerra here for the last few weeks, reasoning that Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo were back and Jonathan Broxton was expected to return as soon as this weekend against the Angels. Just like everything else around the Dodgers right now, this outlook as changed as well. Broxton felt discomfort in his right elbow and will be shut down for three weeks with Don Mattingly going so far as to say that he wasn’t sure Broxton would pitch again at all this year. Kuo has struggled in his return from anxiety issues, allowing the Angels to score twice on both Friday and Saturday last weekend.

That leaves Guerra and Jansen, and, well, I have to say I don’t really understand what Mattingly is doing here. Jansen has retained his historic strikeout levels since returning from a bout with shoulder inflammation, striking out nine against a single hit in six innings. However, each of those appearances have come in the 5th or 6th inning of games that the Dodgers would lose. Guerra, meanwhile, has seen most of the late-inning work yet has just a 9/5 K/BB in 15.1 innings through Wednesday.

If that’s the way it’s going to be, then until further notice, Guerra is your man for saves. Just don’t expect much in the way of peripherals to go along with them.

David Hernandez, Diamondbacks (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1.3%, CBS 8%)

J.J. Putz in May:  13 IP, 0 ER, 10/4 K/BB, 11 saves, 0 blown, 0 losses
J.J. Putz in June:  11.2 IP, 8 ER, 13/3 K/BB, 5 saves, 4 blown, 1 loss

Yikes. Despite actually doing a better job in the K/BB department, Putz has been hit hard all month and has allowed homers in each of his last two appearances against Cleveland. He was so good previously that I’m not convinced that the Diamondbacks are looking to make a change just yet, though with his history you always have to wonder if there’s an underlying health concern.

If a change is made, the Snakes will likely turn to Hernandez, who we’ve talked about here previously and who is in the midst of a very up-and-down season. I say that because he’s been unscored upon in 14 of his last 16 appearances, allowing just four hits. The problem is that when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad, because in those other two games, he’s allowed nine earned runs on seven hits. One of those disasters came on Sunday when he walked the leadoff man and then allowed three consecutive singles before being replaced. (It should be noted that Bryan Shaw, who came in next, didn’t help matters by then giving up two more hits of his own, adding two runs to Hernandez’ ledger.)

Even still, I’d rather have a guy who is effective most of the time and has a meltdown every once in a while than someone who contains the big inning while giving up single runs more often than not. Two bad outings aside, Hernandez’s June K/BB of 15/6 is his best of the season, so keep a close watch on Putz to see if his slump is a sign of something more.


Saying goodbye

No one leaves this week.


Sticking around

Daniel Bard, Red Sox (Yahoo!  38%, ESPN 21.8%, CBS 25%)

No change here; Bard is still one of the more valuable non-closing relievers, though being stuck behind Jonathan Papelbon isn’t helping. We’ll probably move on from him next week absent any news.

Al Alburquerque, Tigers (Yahoo!  10%, ESPN 9.1%, CBS 5%)

Alburquerque’s ESPN ownership has nearly doubled since last week, and I’d like to take some credit for that. I’m sure the two wins to go along with the six strikeouts (and yes, as usual, three walks) helped with that as well.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers (Yahoo!18%, ESPN 19.2%, CBS 9%)

I said most of what I needed to about Kuo in the Guerra section above, but don’t totally forget about him. He did strike out two in a scoreless inning against Minnesota on Monday and isn’t that far removed from being the most dominating lefty reliever in baseball.
 

AL-only VP

Scott Downs, Angels(Yahoo!  11%, ESPN 1.0%, CBS 6%)

Yes, I did write about Downs recently, noting that Jordan Walden had hit a bump in the road before seemingly regaining his standing. That was before this past week, though, when Walden blew three consecutive saves against the Marlins, Dodgers, and Nationals–hardly the cream of the offensive crop. Most concerning is that he didn’t strike out a single batter in any of the three games, though he did have 17 whiffs in his 12 previous innings. Though a change isn’t imminent, Downs is having another solid season and could easily step into the role if needed.


NL-only VP

Sean Marshall, Cubs(Yahoo!  16%, ESPN 0.8%, CBS 10%)

Quietly, Marshall has been one of the NL’s most effective relievers for the past few years, and with Kerry Wood on the disabled list, he’s moved into a primary setup role for Carlos Marmol. He’s more than just a heartbeat away from the presidency, because he’s also rocking an excellent 36/9 K/BB mark along with 13 holds, for those of you who care about such things. Don’t expect saves unless Marmol has another of his occasional meltdowns, though his proximity to the role plus the peripherals make him valuable in deeper leagues.

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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