September 2, 2010
Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
When I started doing research for this week's column, one name that never even crossed my mind at first was Aroldis Chapman, because he seemed far too obvious. Has he not been the lead of every sports highlight over the last two days, throwing 103 MPH fastballs that seem to literally have smoke trailing from them?
Yet, as of this writing, he's available in nearly 80% of ESPN leagues, and I have no idea how that's possible. Still, I'll take my good fortune and say that you ought to be jumping on him immediately, if not sooner. Chapman has thrown just 19 pitches in the big leagues, but he's shown that the hype thus far was not overblown; in his two perfect innings he's struck out three and induced three groundballs.
Yesterday, I looked at Chapman as part of a piece on September 1 callups who might have an impact - of course, even I never thought the impact would come this quick. If you're looking at his minor league stats and wondering why they don't seem as dominating as you'd expect, here's what I said about that yesterday:
"Chapman's overall stats are nice enough, but not really indicative of the pitcher he is now. In the first half of the season, Chapman was not only acclimating to life in America, he was also a starting pitcher. In 20 first-half games (13 starts) he struck out 90 in 75 IP, but he also walked 47, just over 4.5/9. Yet in 19 second-half games, all in relief, he's managed to rein in the walks to post a tidy 35/5 K/BB ratio, allowing opponents to hit just .137."
Chapman may or may not end up as a starter in the future, if he can work on improving his control in that role, but he's clearly not going to be doing any of that for the rest of this year. He's also unlikely to step right in to steal save opportunities from Francisco Cordero, who has settled down after an up-and-down year. That said, the Reds didn't bring Chapman up to stash him away for garbage time or low-leverage situations - even though the Reds won 6-1 yesterday, it was a one-run game when he entered - so he'll be in a good position to vulture wins and holds, along with ridiculous strikeout totals.
I can't say I fully trust Juan Gutierrez, but you can't ignore that he's grabbed each of the last three Arizona save opportunities, including in each of the last two days. If you remember, Gutierrez was on this list back in April when Chad Qualls began to implode, and at the time I said there was a lot to like, based on the way he ended 2009: "Tapped as the Arizona closer for the final month after Qualls went down, Gutierrez sparkled in accumulating 8 saves and a win in 12 games through the end of the season - allowing just a .528 OPS in that time." Of course, it didn't work out so well, largely due to a completely ridiculous 2.64 HR/9 rate fueled in large part by a nine game streak in May and June where he allowed eight homers.
Gutierrez has managed to do a better job keeping the ball in the park; it's now been nearly six weeks since allowing his last longball. In 12 games since then, he's allowed just four hits in ten innings. More importantly, he looks to have gained the trust of Kirk Gibson, since he's finished the game in each of his last nine times out.
To our returning pitchers...
Koji Uehara: I'm giving myself a pat on the back for this one. Uehara's last five games have all ended in saves, allowing just one run without issuing a walk - and he's still available in 75% of ESPN leagues. Finally healthy, Uehara is thriving in his new role, which could make him an interesting proposition on the free agent market this winter. For now, he's certainly someone you should be taking a look at in September, especially as Buck Showalter's troops are showing improvement.
Hisanori Takahashi: The new Mets closer picked up one save since last week's column; that's more due to the fact that the Mets were only able to take one game into the 9th with a lead that would qualify for a save. How's this for consistency, though: he has exactly one strikeout in seven straight games. It's hard to say that he'll get a ton of opportunities as the Mets' season spirals downward, but he is worth the roster spot.
Joel Hanrahan: Last week, we discussed how Evan Meek had picked up a save, casting doubt on Hanrahan's hold on the role. That hasn't been as much of an issue in the last few days, as Meek has been out with an injured hand after being hit with a line drive. Like the Mets, the woeful Pirates (losers of five of six) aren't giving any reliever much of a chance to close a lead in the 9th; should that ever happen again, the smart money is still on Hanrahan, who's struck out five over his last two appearances and hasn't had an appearance where he didn't strike out at least one since July.
Wilton Lopez: When Lopez joined the list, he'd stolen a save from Brandon Lyon, and with a streak of 18 straight scoreless outings and Matt Lindstrom on the DL, it seemed he might be in position to at least take a share of the 9th inning role. That never materalized, however, as Lyon was effective, and Lindstrom is now back in the fold. Lopez has allowed runs in two of his last four appearances anyway; look elsewhere.
If you're really, truly, deeply desperate, keep an eye on Florida, where Leo Nunez' grip on the closing job seems to loosen with each outing. Manager Edwin Rodriguez admitted that he would have turned to other options if he had any, and Nunez was used with a huge lead last night. Likely call-up Jose Ceda (42/18 K/BB in AA) or current Marlin Clay Hensley (9.8 K/9) are the likely alternatives, should Rodriguez make the move.