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July 7, 2011

Value Picks

Relievers for 7/7/11

by Mike Petriello

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I spent my holiday weekend in the middle of the country, mainly driving from Ohio through Indiana to southern Illinois. If nothing else, I learned this: 80 percent of radio stations in that part of the country are, at any given time, carrying a St. Louis Cardinals game.Nothing at all wrong with that.
 

Joining the party

Glen Perkins, Twins (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 2.7%, CBS 5%)

I first talked about Perkins as a deep league sleeper about a month ago, before he had even come off the disabled list for a strained oblique, since Matt Capps was teetering on the edge of losing his job. Capps seemingly straightened things out, and so after a few weeks Perkins dropped off the list. Well, the topic came up once again over the weekend after Capps allowed four runs on five hits in blowing a Saturday game to Milwaukee. The next night, he entered the 9th with a two-run lead, and after allowing two of the first three hitters to reach base, he was yanked in favor of Perkins. The lefty struck out Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee to end the game for his first career save. It got worse for Capps; on Tuesday, he entered a non-save situation against Tampa and allowed three of the five men he faced to reach (including a B.J. Upton homer) before once again being replaced by Perkins, who ended the threat.

Manager Ron Gardenhire hasn’t officially yanked Capps from the job yet, though he did acknowledge Capps would probably not be used in the role for a few days. That would put Perkins, with a 10/2 K/BB since his return from injury, in a prime position to vulture some save opportunities over the next few days. There’s also the possibility of a job share with Joe Nathan, though since he’s seen just five outings since returning from a month-long DL stint of his own due to arm problems, there’s a decent enough chance they may prefer to let him work back to form in the 8th inning for now. Either way, there’s opportunity coming in Minnesota, so watch this closely.

Sergio Romo, Giants (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 3.8%, CBS 9%)

Romo’s situation is a little different from Perkins’ in that the Giants aren’t very likely to make a change in the 9th inning, despite the recent troubles of Brian Wilson. Still, it’s worth noting here that Wilson hasn’t exactly been the same bearded superhero that he was in San Francisco over the last few seasons. His strikeouts are down considerably as his walk rate is up by two per nine over last season, and the resulting 1.64 K/BB mark is not only less than half of 2010’s, but it would also be his lowest since his rookie season of 2006. His troubles have only been getting worse; he blew a save last Thursday by allowing Aramis Ramirez to hit a game-tying homer in the 9th–in a game that the Giants lost in 13 innings–and then allowed four of the five men he faced to reach in Detroit on July 1 before being replaced by Jeremy Affeldt. Entering  Wednesday, he hadn’t pitched since.

It’s going to take more than lousy peripherals and a few bad outings to cost Wilson his job, but Romo has been so effective that he can provide value even without the saves. In 26 2/3 innings, he’s got a K/BB mark of 38/4. That’s no typo, and yes, it does mean he’s striking out more than nine times as many as he’s walking.  Romo has quietly been one of the most effective relievers in the National League for several seasons now, and as he’s become Wilson’s primary setup man so far, he’s likely first in line should anything happen to the incumbent. Even if not, those peripherals are worth a roster spot.

David Robertson, Yankees (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 5.9%, CBS 13%)

Mariano Rivera has allowed more hits per nine innings this year than he has since 1997, and he cost the Yankees a win on Sunday by failing to retire three Mets in a row after getting two outs in the 9th, but that’s not why Robertson is here. He’s here because Rivera is 41 years old and is nursing a sore right triceps, an injury which will keep him out at least through Wednesday night and possibly beyond that. Rivera’s job security is unparalleled in baseball, and the Yankees are doing the right thing by playing it safe with their elderly (by baseball standards) closer.

Thanks to the injuries to Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, Robertson is the clear backup with Rivera unavailable, and he’s someone who we’ve discussed here before due to his great strikeout stuff (he’s up to 14.4 K/9 entering Wednesday). For a while, his inability to control the ball threatened to make his high strikeout rates immaterial, but he’s managed to figure that out by putting up a 17/4 K/BB, with just one earned run allowed, over the last month. Like Romo, don’t expect a ton of saves here, but focus on the strikeouts and the tiny imperfections in the veterans in front of them.
 

Sticking around

Javy Guerra, Dodgers (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 9.5%, CBS 10%)

As I said last week, Guerra is here begrudgingly as the presumed Dodger closer, though entering Wednesday he’d pitched just once since June 25 and hasn’t had a save since June 19. Of course, that’s not just on him–the Dodgers’ combination of quality starting pitching and non-existent offense has led to a team that rarely ends up in save situations. I still favor Kenley Jansen, though since Don Mattingly doesn’t, Guerra is the man here, despite being a closer with poor peripherals who doesn’t get saves.

Daniel Bard, Red Sox (Yahoo! 38%, ESPN 19.6%, CBS 25%)

Every week I say it’s the last week for Bard, and then every week he gives me a reason to keep him around. This week, it’s because he’s extended his scoreless innings streak to 16 2/3, dating back to late May, and because Jonathan Papelbon had another tough outing in Toronto on Tuesday, despite getting the save. Papelbon gets somewhat of a pass there because the homer he allowed came off the bat of Jose Bautista, which is barely even a demerit at this point, though Bard continues to excel.
 

Saying goodbye

We say goodbye to no less than four relievers this week…

Antonio Bastardo, Phillies (Yahoo! 53%, ESPN 79.8%, CBS 49%)

As expected, Bastardo was a one-week wonder here as his ownership levels have shot through the roof. I’m glad to see that, not because I have any particular affinity for the Phillies–though I do vaguely remember seeing him pitch a few times for Low-A Lakewood back in 2007 when he went 9-0–but because of my long-held view that nearly any talented pitcher, given the opportunity, can be an effective closer. Bastardo needed just ten batters to get through his first three saves, two coming against AL East teams in Boston and Toronto, and he’s staking a claim to continue to see chances even when the other injured Phillies return.

David Hernandez, Diamondbacks (Yahoo! 31%, ESPN 33.6%, CBS 31%)

Last week, I noted how atrocious J.J. Putz had been in June after two solid months to start the year, and I remarked that “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.” As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened–Putz landed on the disabled listthis week with what’s being termed “right elbow tendonitis”.

That has allowed Hernandez, who we’ve often discussed over the life of this column, the opportunity to jump in, and he responded by collecting three perfect saves in four days over the holiday weekend. That also helped pump up his ownership levels, and that’s why he’s no longer featured on our list. The latest news on Putz is that he is hoping to not only return within the minimum 15 days but also to avoid a minor-league rehab stint, so Hernandez’s reign as Diamondbacks closer may be short; of course, Putz’s return to health is far from a sure thing until we see it.

Al Alburquerque, Tigers (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2.1%, CBS 4%)

Alburquerque was humming along with a fine under-the-radar season for Detroit, right up until he was placed on the disabled list with right elbow soreness on July 1. As the link notes, that’s to be expected when you have a guy with a history of arm trouble throwing sliders 60 percent of the time. Still, he’s reportedly hoping to be back after the All-Star Break, so don’t forget his name just yet–as if you could.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 13.8%, CBS 8%)

As I said above for Guerra, it’s impossible to nail down the Dodger bullpen situation, and it’s somewhat irrelevant since the team isn’t getting saves anyway. Kuo will still be a factor if healthy and effective, but let’s let him prove that is he is first.
 

AL-only VP

Louis Coleman, Royals (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 0%)

We’ve talked about a few different Royals in this space this season, but here’s a good way to get noticed: be a rookie reliever with a 15/3 K/BB over your last 7 games. On the season, Coleman is at 34/14, and he’s holding opponents to a .173/.289/.388 line. Coleman wasn’t a highly-touted prospect coming into the season, though his K/BB was 4.27 in parts of three minor league seasons, so there’s some chance he can be a valuable major leaguer. He’s not in any way close to getting saves, though.


NL-only VP

Wilton Lopez, Astros (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 3%)

Unlike Romo, who provides value even if he isn’t collecting saves, Lopez is pretty much only worthwhile if he’s going to be the guy in the 9th inning. We’re not there–yet–but it’s hard not to notice that after a solid start in replacing Brandon Lyon, Mark Melancon has allowed runs in four of his last five games. That includes an absolutely disastrous night against Tampa where he allowed six hits and five runs, blowing the game. Lopez, like Guerra, won’t do much for you in terms of peripherals, but may be in line for the 9th if Melancon’s recent struggles continue.

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:  Mark Melancon,  The Who,  Espn,  Glen Perkins,  Peripherals

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