May 20, 2010
Hot Spot: Relief Pitchers
Smell You Later: What with it being graduation season and all, we're going to start with those departing the Value Picks list. So say goodbye to Alfredo Simon and Jose Contreras, as they've continued to gain notoriety in the fantasy world and can no longer be considered 'hidden gems'. When Simon joined this list on May 6, he'd pitched in just four games and was owned in less than 10% of ESPN leagues. Since then, he's racked up three more saves plus a win in six games. He had one terrible outing in between, accounting for some inflated stats, but it's also the only game of the ten he's entered in which he's allowed an earned run. Simon's now owned in nearly 40% of ESPN leagues, so by this point you've likely already made your decision on him.
The story is much the same for Contreras, who's been picked up in an astounding 46.7% of leagues in the last week alone. He joined the list the same week as Simon, and and at the time was available in over 99% of leagues. Since then, all he's done is rip off five consecutive scoreless outings, allowing just two hits. With Brad Lidge's health still in question, Contreras will get his chances, though you certainly already know that by now.
Welcome to the Jungle: You've noticed the train wreck going on with Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee, right? The stats are so absurd that they barely seem realistic, especially for a certain Hall of Famer. What stands out the most? Is it the 13.15 ERA? The insane 4.8/9 HR ratio? Or that he's allowed three or more earned runs in three of his last seven outings? The point is, whatever's wrong with Hoffman isn't getting better, and he's taking at least a few days off while he tries to get himself corrected. The bet here is that it doesn't happen any time soon, if ever, so the Brewers are going to need a replacement. Of course, with LaTroy Hawkins on the DL and Manny Parra forced to make a start, the choices in the bullpen are slim. That being the case, it appears the first crack is going to go to one of the only Brewer pitchers throwing effectively: Carlos Villanueva. Manager Ken Macha said as much yesterday, noting that Villanueva "is the guy who has thrown the ball the most consistently down there." Besides, as BrewCrewBall points out, he's been effective against both lefties and righties, which is more than most of his teammates in the Milwaukee pen can say.
Villanueva's an interesting case, since he's seemingly turned himself into a different pitcher this season, his fifth with the Brewers, but the first in which he hasn't been used as a spot starter and swingman. In his first few seasons, he relied heavily on his fastball, which averaged about 88 MPH, but this year, we've seen two decided changes in his offerings. First, his fastball velocity has increased to 90.2 MPH, which is consistent with other pitchers we've seen who no longer have to worry about starting (just like Jose Contreras last week). Yet as his fastball has shown more bite, he's used it less, just 27.7% of the time so far this year, down from 38.9% last year and 48.7% in his rookie year. He's instead begun using his already-effective changeup even more, over 30% of the time. That extra difference between the fastball and changeup could be just what he needed to fool more batters. It's still early, but it's hard not to notice that his strikeout rate, which had been unbelievably consistent in years past (7.79, 7.73, and 7.78 the last three years; seriously, that's not consistency, that's just creepy) has skyrocketed to 11.76. That's the kind of skill which only needs opportunity, and with the total meltdown in Wisconsin, he just might get it. Villanueva's still available in 98.2% of ESPN leagues, and as a kicker he's eligible as a starting pitcher, which gives you some roster flexibility.
For our other addition to the crew this week, we're going in a slightly different direction. Drew Storen, called up to make his major league debut this week, is - like Villanueva - available in 98.2% of ESPN leagues. No, he's not going to come up and immediately unseat Matt Capps at closer or Tyler Clippard as setup man, mind you, so he may not be the right fit for your team right now. (Unless you're in a keeper league, in which case you should definitely snap him up.) Yet while normally a middle reliever wouldn't really be worth keeping an eye on, Storen could be the exception. He's well-known as the Nat's "other" first round pick from 2009, but just because he's not you-know-who doesn't mean he's chopped liver.
Storen was quite effective in the minors, striking out five times as many as he walked this year while allowing just two earned runs in 16.2 innings, but there's more to the story than just that. Think about the timing of the recall; Washington could have saved themselves millions had they kept Storen down just a few more weeks and pushed back his service time start date, just like they're doing with Strasburg. Yet as they hover in contention in the NL East, they chose not to do that, seemingly saying that they're more interested in having him help in big spots right now. That's precisely what's happened; in his first appearance, he came into a two-run game with a man on in the 7th inning against some quality St. Louis hitters - Felipe Lopez, Ryan Ludwick, and Matt Holliday. He saw his second chance last night, this time coming into a tie game with a man on second against Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo, retiring both to earn the win. If the platitudes offered by management that he'd be eased into games were really true, he'd have at least had one shot at coming in to start an inning in a blowout, no?
So while Storen may not be very likely to pile up saves behind Capps and his career year in 2010, don't discount his chances to sneak in some timely wins and holds. The Nationals clearly have no reluctance to insert him into high-leverage situations, and while Clippard is a fantasy darling this year because of the wins he's piling up, let's not forget that several of them were from his own blown leads - he's overrated. Storen's worth taking a look at, even if you don't have the open roster spot right now.
Should I Stay or Should I Go: I discussed Corpas at length last week, saying he could be useful in the short stint he'd have between taking over for the injured Franklin Morales and the return of the the injured Huston Street. Since then, Street suffered a groin injury while rehabbing his arm, so he'll miss a few more weeks than expected - plus, Corpas has had four perfect appearances in a row, notching two saves. In Chicago, Bobby Jenks went a full week between appearances, so it's hard to say he's regained Ozzie Guillen's confidence. Meanwhile, Thornton has a save and a hold in his last two outings, and this job share looks like it may stick around for a while. For the Pirates, Evan Meek has had five scoreless outings in a row. When the Buccos finally give up on the season and trade Octavio Dotel, he's likely going to get a shot for some real save opportunities. Finally, Wuertz is slowly working his way back into the swing of things, and hasn't yet allowed a walk or a run.
And some parting thoughts: I'm not going to add Chris Perez to the list because he's owned in too many leagues to be a "value", but you may want to check out if he's free in yours. Kerry Wood got his first save opportunity of the year last night, and promptly allowed five runs on four hits and two walks, so this experiment may not last long. At the other end of the scale, the Arizona bullpen is on a historically bad pace, and the only guy not getting totally destroyed is Aaron Heilman, of all people. He'll need to keep it up and/or start getting some save opportunities before I officially add him, but if you really want to get a head start, keep an eye on the desert.