August 11, 2011
Relievers for 8/11/11
I was noodling around on the invaluable Baseball-Reference recently, and I saw that there are 32 pitchers so far this year with at least 10 saves. (Oakland and Toronto are the two teams who have doubled up, assuming you count Francisco Rodriguez as a Met.) I also noticed this statistical oddity, however: in each of the previous three years, that number was 37 on the nose. Can we get five more relievers this year to hit double-digits to make it 37 for four years in a row? There’s currently seven guys who have between five and nine saves; David Hernandez (9), Joe Nathan (8), and Jason Isringhausen (6) seem like decent bets, but I wouldn’t expect much from Jonathan Broxton (7), Jose Contreras (5), or Eduardo Sanchez (5).
Joining the Party
Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 2%, CBS 5%)
For a team with an established closer who has 29 saves and a K/BB north of six, we’ve certainly talked about the Colorado bullpen more than you’d think this season. Of course, since Huston Street is allowing home runs at a rate of nearly two per nine innings, that tends to open the door somewhat, fancy peripherals aside. We looked at Matt Lindstrom early in the season when concerns over Street’s workload mounted and, more recently, hotshot young rookie Rex Brothers as an NL-only pick.
Now that Lindstrom has landed on the disabled list with a strained lat and Brothers is dealing with recent longball issues of his own, we turn to the elder statesman of the Colorado bullpen: 36-year-old Rafael Betancourt. After recording a save on Monday, Street was unavailable Tuesday with a lat issue of his own, so Betancourt stepped in to record the save. Street is unlikely to join Lindstrom on the disabled list, though he could be out for a few days, and that makes Betancourt valuable, if only for a short time.
Betancourt didn’t make his MLB debut until 28 and seems to fly under the radar, but he’s quietly been one of the most effective non-closing relievers for years, particularly as he’s cut his walk rate since arriving in Colorado midway through 2009. While he’s never really been a “closer”, he’s grabbed at least one save in each year since 2003, and if you believe, as I do, that nearly any effective reliever can survive in the 9th, Betancourt could make the most of this short opportunity.
Vinnie Pestano, Indians (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 4%)
I know we talked about Pestano earlier this season, but I just can’t get past how awful Chris Perez has been, despite the fact that he’s still racking up saves. While Perez pitched a scoreless 10th in Tuesday night’s marathon against Detroit, he has had a brutal last 30 days, allowing nine runs on 12 hits (including three homers) with a 6/5 K/BB in 9 1/3 innings. Somehow, he’s blown only three saves all year, though one was on a game-tying Josh Hamilton homer just last Friday. While his walk rate is consistent with his career average, he’s missing fewer bats than ever, and it’s becoming a problem.
Pestano probably won’t get a chance to ascend into the 9th until Perez completely self-destructs, though it’s hard to see Perez keeping it together for too much longer pitching like this. Pestano has struck out more than double the opposing hitters as Perez in nearly the same amount of innings; in the same 30-day span we just looked at for Perez, Pestano has an 18/3 K/BB with just three earned runs allowed. Pestano may not be the closer, but he’s clearly the better pitcher right now.
Bobby Parnell, Mets (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 2%, CBS 16%)
“300”. That’s the magic number here, and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Bobby Parnell slaying enemies in some cartoon-fueled fantasy (which would, admittedly, be more entertaining than your average Mets game).That’s the number many believe is responsible, in large part, for Jason Isringhausen’s role as primary closer; he currently sits at 299 career saves. It’s not exactly a milestone like “714”, “56”, or “61” that will go down in the annals of history, but it’s something, and it’ll be interesting to see if he keeps the job after he gets the mark since he clearly doesn’t have much of a long-term future in New York. Parnell was to be the man on Wednesday night since Isringhausen had pitched the previous two days, though it would be in his best interests to pitch to his full talents as well if he’d like the job in the future.
David Robertson, Yankees (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 5%, CBS 13%)
I keep saying that I won’t keep Robertson on the list forever, and he keeps giving me reasons not to remove him. He’s allowed just two earned runs in the last month, both in the same game, and has a 15/3 K/BB ratio in that time. It doesn’t hurt that Mariano Rivera blew a game against the Angels on Tuesday night, though it’s not like the great Rivera’s job is in trouble any time soon.
Koji Uehara, Rangers (Yahoo! 25%, ESPN 7%, CBS 18%)
My affinity for Uehara is well known, and in leagues where saves are the only metric that matters, he’s still probably worth an add. He’s third—at best—in the Texas pecking order right now, so he probably won’t get too many save opportunities.
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%)
You may have noticed that I’ve written little about the mess that’s been the Toronto bullpen this season, and that’s partially because Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco are already owned in plenty of leagues. While they’ve gone back and forth with the job, neither has done so without also bringing along a good deal of heartburn, and they’re both impending free agents at the end of the season. With Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor each shipped out in the Colby Rasmus deal, there’s an uncertain future in the back of the Toronto bullpen, and the team could do worse than to give a long look to Janssen, a former starter who has fought back from injuries to have a solid year.
Actually, compared to the daily comedy routine of Rauch and Francisco, Janssen’s year has been more than solid, with a 32/9 K/BB mark entering Wednesday. He still has one year of arbitration left, and it would behoove Toronto to maximize his value while they can.
Joshua Spence, Padres (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 1%)
Okay, this is a pretty deep one, because even though Mike Adams left San Diego, Heath Bell and Luke Gregerson did not, so don’t expect much in the way of save chances here. The 23-year-old Australian is so far under the radar that as best as I can tell, this is the first mention of him in Baseball Prospectus history. Still, in his third professional season, the rookie lefty has allowed all of one run in 24 games, which came on a homer to Andre Ethier, who isn’t exactly chopped liver.
After striking out 84 in 71 1/3 minor league innings, Spence has continued that trend by striking out 27 in 21 MLB innings, allowing just seven hits. Soft-tossing lefties who rely on their sliders don’t generally project as future closers, of course, so keep those expectations in check. Still, performance like that should be noted.
Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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