April 29, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
Continuing last week's theme, we'll be saying goodbye to two relievers, yet for different reasons. Kevin Gregg's deal with the devil hasn't run out just yet, since a month into the season he's allowed just one earned run and issued just one walk. I still don't think it will last, but as he's unlikely to still be available in any serious league, he's no longer a value deal. In Baltimore, Jim Johnson got the first crack at taking Mike Gonzalez' closer job, which made him worth keeping an eye on. However, he just hasn't been able to capitalize. Each of his last three outings have come in the 8th inning, including allowing 5 hits and 2 runs in 2.0 innings against Boston on Sunday (though somehow picking up a win), while Cla Meredith and Alfredo Simon have each picked up a save. Simon may be a sleeper among the group, but the Orioles are so bad and the bullpen situation so unsettled that it's hard to recommend picking up anyone from that mess just yet.
Moving on to relievers worth taking a look at, it's really hard to ignore the complete flame-out in Milwaukee we're seeing from Trevor Hoffman. The future Hall of Famer has allowed 3 homers in just the last 2 days while blowing 2 saves against the lowly Pirates. Hoffman's now got more blown saves (4) than converted saves (3) on the season, and though a player with a stature such as his gets a pretty long leash, that only lasts so long when you've been as bad as Hoffman's been, especially in terms of allowing the long ball. In 54 innings last season, Hoffman allowed only 2 homers. He's now allowed 5 in just 8 innings this year, and the concern is that he's having trouble with his trademark changeup, thus forcing him to throw more mediocre fastballs. Pitchers, especially ones who've been around as long as Hoffman, don't usually change their repertoire so drastically for no good reason, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if there's a DL stint coming.
Milwaukee manager Ken Macha has been predictably non-commital when it comes to Hoffman's future, though he did admit that if there's a save opportunity on Thursday night, "perhaps it will be somebody else at the end." That "somebody else" looks like it could be LaTroy Hawkins, who may not be the best option in the Brewer pen (Carlos Villanueva and Todd Coffey are each arguably outperforming him), but who Macha likely would turn to first. He was quite good as a late-season closer in Houston last year, garnering 11 saves with a 2.13 ERA and 1.200 WHIP, and while his lousy ERA is largely colored by 2 disastrous back-to-back outings several weeks ago in which he allowed 7 earned runs, he's put up shutout innings in 7 of his other 8 appearances. Hawkins picked up 4 holds in a row to start the year, and picked up a 5th with a scoreless 8th inning yesterday before Hoffman imploded again. If he does get the chances, he won't be a star, but he could be a cheap (owned in less than 1% of ESPN leagues) way to grab some quick saves.
In Oakland, the situation is quite different, as the A's bullpen has been outstanding. It's almost unfair to think they could get better, but they're close to welcoming back the injured Michael Wuertz, who was arguably the best setup man in the majors in 2009. He finished 5th among relievers in K/9 rate while putting up 23 holds, 6 wins, and 4 saves. The strikeout rate is no joke - in 78.2 innings, he set down 102 by way of the K. His PECOTA forecast for 2010 is even better, getting that K/9 rate up to 13.5/9. Yet since he's missed the first few weeks of the season with shoulder tendonitis, he's owned in just 0.4% of ESPN leagues, and therefore you can have him for the low, low price of a waiver claim. (Well, you can. He's already taken in my league, thanks to the Caine-Hackman Theory.) Wuertz has already put up five scoreless rehab innings, including one last night. That being the case, he could be back in the bigs as soon as this weekend, and you'd do well to be the one in your league who grabs him now and stashes him on the disabled list until you're forced to activate him.
Finally, a quick recap of those who remain on the list - in Arizona, Chad Qualls has improved slightly, converting 3 saves in a row, but he did put on 3 baserunners while allowing a run in the most recent one, so it hasn't been all roses just yet. Gutierrez got the save on Wednesday and has been perfect in 3 of his last 4 outings, so he's worth keeping on an eye on should Qualls falter again - plus, despite his misleading ERA, has just a 1.000 WHIP. In addition, Perry or Affeldt have combined for just one earned run allowed in the last week and each picked up a hold, so if you're lacking in that category they're in good situations to help you out and vulture a win here and there.