July 14, 2011
Relievers for 7/14/11
When I realized my column this week landed on the final day of the All-Star break, my first thought was, “Hooray! No worrying that some closer will get bombed or hurt out in Seattle or San Diego at 2am ET, long after I’ve submitted the article.” That was quickly followed by, “Argh, there probably won’t be much news after four days of inactivity.” Well, so much for that, because the news of Francisco Rodriguez’ trade to Milwaukee was a bombshell. Neither Rodriguez nor John Axford are eligible for inclusion here since they’re owned in nearly every league, but I’ll still weigh in with my two cents: unless Brewers GM Doug Melvin has completely lost his mind, Axford should still be the closer. He’s simply been a better pitcher, and the Brewers won’t want to be on the hook for the $17.5m option Rodriguez will be in line for if he closes enough games.
Joining the party
Bobby Parnell (Y! 20%, ESPN 14.3%, CBS 23%) & Jason Isringhausen, Mets (Y! 12%, ESPN 2.3%, CBS 10%)
With Rodriguez out of the picture, there’s massive opportunity in the back of the New York bullpen, and all indications are that it will be either Parnell or Isringhausen. GM Sandy Alderson deftly avoided the question when asked on Wednesday, saying that either one could get chances. Back in June, I listed Parnell as my NL-only Deep Value Pick, saying:
I’ve seen, in more than a few places, references to Jason Isringhausen being the next-in-line if Francisco Rodriguez 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.
I wrote that on June 23. Since then, Parnell has a 7/1 K/BB in 7 2/3 innings while Isringhausen has no strikeouts against three walks (and two earned runs) in 4.1 innings. Over the last month, Isringhausen has exactly two strikeouts. I get that whiffs aren’t everything, but if you’re not missing any bats at all, you’re not fooling anyone. From a baseball sense, how exactly is there a question here?
Of course, there’s always more to it than just on-the-field concerns (that’s why Rodriguez is a Brewer right now, isn’t it?). If the Mets are serious about trying to trade the 38-year-old Isringhausen, then attempting to pump up his trade value by letting him pick up a few saves might be a viable play. For my money, though, Parnell is a must-add.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds (Yahoo! 40%, ESPN 16.8%, CBS 36%)
I spent much of the first two months of the season claiming that veteran Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero was headed for imminent disaster, figuring that only a low BABIP was propping up his long downward trends as far as velocity and strikeouts go. Cordero, for his part, spent most of the first two months making me look bad: after shutting down Cleveland on July 3, he had 17 saves against just two blown, and a shiny 1.69 ERA.
Then, on July 6, he blew a save in St. Louis, allowing Jon Jay to hit a game-tying solo homer in the 9th. Chapman picked up the save–more on that in a second–but it would only get worse for Cordero as the Reds headed into Milwaukee. On the 8th, he blew a save by allowing five baserunners in 2/3 of an inning. The next day, he gave up a run on two hits in a non-save situation. Called upon for the third day in a row on the 10th, he blew another save by allowing two more runs in 2/3 of an inning. His total for the nightmarish four-game stretch? 22 batters faced, eight hits, four walks, seven runs, one strikeout, and three blown saves.
Meanwhile, Chapman has returned from early-season wildness and a six-week stint in the minors with a vengeance. Since rebooting his season on June 25, he’s allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out 17 over 8 2/3 innings. It’s unlikely that Dusty Baker is ready to make a change just yet, and it’s possible that the break has put some life back into Cordero’s aging arm. I’m not a believer, however, and Chapman should be added in all leagues, even if he isn’t getting saves.
Javy Guerra, Dodgers (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 16.4%, CBS 14%)
Guerra absolutely terrifies me. Sure, he did pick up two saves in the final three games before the break, and it does seem that he has taken over the closer’s role in Los Angeles, but he loaded the bases with none out in the first game and then put the first two men on in the second game. Credit must be given for getting out of those messes of course, though I’d prefer a reliever who doesn’t create those sorts of problems in the first place. Javy Guerra: good for saves and not much else.
Glen Perkins, Twins (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 4.7%, CBS 6%)
The whole “Perkins or Joe Nathan” question was somewhat short-circuited by the fact that Matt Capps was able to come back and convert two saves without lighting himself on fire. That made three consecutive scoreless innings to end the first half for Capps, so it may be that neither Perkins nor Nathan sees the opportunity here we once thought. Watch closely, however, because Capps can never be counted upon.
Sergio Romo, Giants (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 4.5%, CBS 9%)
When I wrote about Romo and Brian Wilson last week, it was through the games of July 6. The Bearded One wasn’t able to escape further trouble before the break; after converting a save on the 7th, he took a loss on the 8th by allowing Scott Hairston to hit a go-ahead homer before being replaced by Jeremy Affeldt. On Sunday night, he nailed down the Mets for the save but only after allowing a run on two hits. Despite all the bluster, this is not the same Wilson we’re used to. Romo, meanwhile, has struck out 11 since he last walked a man back on June 14, exactly a month ago.
David Robertson, Yankees (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 6.6%, CBS 12%)
Since Mariano Rivera managed to appear in a game before the break and then bowed out of the Arizona festivities, the assumption here is that he’ll be fully healed from his triceps injury and ready to go when play resumes today. We’ll leave Robertson and his high-strikeout ways around for one more week just to be sure, though.
Daniel Bard, Red Sox (Yahoo! 39%, ESPN 18.6%, CBS 24%)
Bard is still pitching well (five strikeouts in four clean appearances over the last week), but Jonathan Papelbon has still only blown one save this year despite indications that he may be on the verge of struggle. We’ve beat this horse enough for now, I think, though I would be surprised if this was the last we spoke of Bard.
Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 0.7%, CBS 4%)
It does feel weird to claim that a reliever who signed a three year, $16.5m contract last winter represents any sort of deep value, but the numbers above don’t lie: he’s available in nearly every league. I believe that’s blowback on both the shocking size of his contract and his early-season struggles, including allowing 14 earned runs in just five innings in late April and early May. What people don’t seem to have realized is that since that disastrous stretch, he’s been excellent: 20/5 K/BB and just three earned runs allowed in 19 1/3 innings since. Benoit has regained his role as Jose Valverde’s primary setup man, and while he’s probably never going to earn that salary, he is at least providing on-field value.
Michael Dunn, Marlins (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 3%)
Leo Nunez is starting to become a hot name as the trading deadline sneaks up on us since the Marlins are unlikely to want to pay him going forward. With Clay Hensley (last season’s fill-in) headed to the rotation, that means there’s the possibility of save opportunity opening up in Miami. But who will get them? Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, and even Steve Cishek have all provided Florida with quality work this season. It could be some combination, but my first guess would be Dunn, who is leading the entire bullpen in strikeouts. He’s also leading the crew in walks and homers too, however, so tread carefully.
Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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