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July 28, 2011

Value Picks

Relievers for 7/28/11

by Mike Petriello

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Quite a boring day we had yesterday, right? Ervin Santana tosses a no-hitter, Carlos Beltran is a Giant, Colby Rasmus is a Blue Jay, and the Cardinals come away with a mixed bag of relievers who in no way add up to Rasmus. The craziness is only going to get more pronounced as we head into Sunday’s deadline, particularly in the relief world. I don’t need to tell you to pick up Mike Adams, right? I’ll be following the excitement on Twitter, so feel free to hit me up there as well as in the comments.

Joining the party
Kyle McClellan, Cardinals (Yahoo! 23%, ESPN 13.3%, CBS 41%)
In addition to adding Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepcynzki, the Cardinal bullpen welcomed another new member on Wednesday: converted starter McClellan, who moved to the rotation to replace the injured Adam Wainwright earlier in the year and now gets bumped back to his old home by Edwin Jackson. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Tony LaRussa claimed it would be an “important role", and that he “could be used as closer, as a carrot for the move out of rotation.”

The timing works out, since Fernando Salas suffered two walk-off homers on the last road trip, though he’s generally been very effective. While he’s not likely to lose his job just yet, LaRussa has certainly shown no hesitation to play around in the 9th inning—hey, remember when we all cared about Mitchell Boggs and Eduardo Sanchez? —and if he is included to reward his former starter, as Goold says, then we could see McClellan getting a chance here and there. As we’ve seen countless times with other pitchers, McClellan was a more effective reliever than starter, and so a return to the bullpen ought to increase his strikeout rate while helping cut down on extra-base hits.

Of course, the Cardinal bullpen situation has been one of the most muddled all year long, and Tony LaRussa can never be trusted to be in any way predictable. Salas is still the man for now, but watch closely. And if Heath Bell does end up in St. Louis at some point after this is published, blow the entire thing up.

Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 2.1%, CBS 10%)
Speaking of teams with troubled bullpens, the Dodger relief corps has been among the biggest messes of the season. I’ve mentioned Jansen a few times, and though he’s probably the best Dodger reliever, we’re not talking about him today because he’s suddenly in line for saves; Javy Guerra seems to have nailed that role down.

No, Jansen is here again because he’s been essentially unhittable since he returned from the disabled list in June. No, really: since his June 18 return, he’s tossed 16 scoreless innings, striking out 26 against just seven walks and three harmless singles. That’s a line of .059/.172/.059, which is almost unfathomable. This isn’t just a recent development, however, as earlier in the season he ran off 10 consecutive scoreless outings before getting hit hard in two games that sent him to the DL. Saves or not (the one he got on Tuesday was with Guerra unavailable), that’s a performance which can’t be ignored. Besides, I’ve long felt that Guerra’s act can’t last that long, so Jansen could see more regular 9th inning time sooner than later anyway.

All that being said, Jansen ended up in the hospital for an irregular heartbeat after Tuesday night’s save. Reportedly, it’s not expected to be serious, and he could end up back on the mound as soon as Saturday. As the linked story mentions, former Dodger Joe Beimel had a similar issue several years ago and pitched again just two days later, so until we hear otherwise, this isn’t enough to scare me off of Jansen, though it’s certainly worrying.

Sticking around
David Robertson, Yankees (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 4.3%, CBS 12%)
Do you know how long it’s been since Robertson appeared in a game and didn’t get at least one strikeout? June 9—a span of nearly two months. Before that, it was May 14. That’s how you strike out 65 in 41 innings, and as Rafael Soriano’s return keeps getting pushed back, Robertson’s role as setup man keeps getting more secure. We’ll probably say goodbye to Robinson next week just because there’s not much more to say about him unless Mariano Rivera gets hurt; for now, his whiffing ways make him worth the roster spot.
 

Saying goodbye
Jason Isringhausen, Mets (Yahoo! 34%, ESPN 59.5%, CBS 34%)
After the departure of Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets chose Izzy as their new closer. Somewhat surprisingly, he’s responded well. Isringhausen has converted all three of his save chances, striking out nine in three innings, after seemingly striking out a total of nine in the previous three months combined. It’s possible that this resurgence increases the chances that he gets moved this week, in which case Bobby Parnell becomes a must-add, though I doubt the Mets will be sufficiently blown away by offers to make it happen.

Sean Marshall, Cubs (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 7.4%, CBS 15%)
The great Carlos Marmol freakout of 2011 appears to have been a bit overblown, right? Marshall snagged two saves but never really seemed to officially take the job over, and now that Marmol has tossed four consecutive scoreless outings, the job is all but his once again. Marshall is still having an excellent season, of course, so those in deeper NL-only leagues would do well to hang onto him; in more standard leagues, he’s probably not worth the roster spot.

Sergio Romo, Giants (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 5.5%, CBS 9%)
That’s now seven consecutive saves and six straight scoreless outings for Brian Wilson after his slump, and while I’m not completely convinced (he’s still not missing any bats), it’s clear he’s finding a way to get the job done for the moment. Romo’s season is still outstanding—yes, he is striking out more than twelve times as many as he’s walking—so dropping him off the list is much less an indictment of him than it is a realization that Wilson isn’t going to lose his job any time soon.


AL-only VP
Joe Smith, Indians (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%)
We have noticed how bad Chris Perez has been lately, right? Three strikeouts in his last nine games and at least one run scored on him in four out of five? He’s somehow managed to avoid the massive implosion, which is why he still has his job, though that’s not a trend he can keep up for long. If and when a change comes, I’ll admit it’s probably not going to be Joe Smith who moves into the 9th. That said, I’ve already talked about Vinnie Pestano here a few times, and I want to highlight the unsung contributions of Smith, who has been unscored upon in—wait for it—32 of his last 33 appearances. As a groundball specialist, strikeouts aren’t his game, but that’s fine when you’re not giving up runs and rarely giving up hits. Deep AL-only leaguers can use that sort of reliability, with the small possibility of more if and when Perez steps aside.
 

NL-only VP
Rex Brothers, Rockies (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 2%)
The rare first-round pitcher who didn’t even attempt to be a starter in the minors, Brothers has been so impressive in his short time up (26 K in 18 2/3 innings) that Rockies beat writers are already wondering when he might get a chance to close out games. That’s unlikely to happen so long as Huston Street is getting the job done, and there’s the small matter of Matt Lindstrom to worry about, but the mere mention is praise enough. Six of Brothers’s last seven appearances had come in the 8th inning, so it’s clear that he’s gaining the confidence of manager Jim Tracy. With the Rockies falling out of the race, it’s not completely unfathomable that Street is on the market, but don’t hold your breath on that; for now, enjoy the strikeouts and think towards the 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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