The Brewers' closer discusses his path to the majors, film, and social networking.
When most baseball fans think of John Axford, they think of a hard-throwing right-hander who came out of nowhere to replace Trevor Hoffman as the Brewers’ closer last season. Many also look at him as the guy with the cool mustache, but there is far more to Axford than the 24 saves and the facial hair that is approaching cult status. A 27-year-old native and resident of Ontario, Canada, Axford teetered on the brink of baseball oblivion before making his mark in Milwaukee. He underwent Tommy John surgery while earning a film degree at Notre Dame, and subsequently found himself going from indie ball in western Canada to a minor-league stint with the Yankees, who released him after just one season. Signed off the scrapheap by the Brewers in 2008, he is now a bona fide big-leaguer and burgeoning online sensation.
Which relievers came out of nowhere to provide value this season? Find out here.
Last week, in which we looked back at relievers with high expectations, was kind of a bummer. Who wants to talk about disappointments when we can talk about unexpected surprises? That's today's task, as we round out the Value Picks season by looking at bullpen arms who performed far past what we thought they would, and seeing if they're good bets to keep it up in 2011.
Trevor Hoffman finally reaches 600 saves then apologizes to his teammates, along with other news and notes form around the major leagues.
Trevor Hoffman is likely in the final weeks of his career. Though the Brewers reliever says he won't make a decision about retiring until after the season ends, all signs point to the 42-year-old all-time saves leader bringing an end to his 18-year career that began with the expansion Marlins in 1993.
There's value in even the worst of situations, if you know where to look for it.
Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother discussing the Orioles in this section. As Rob Neyer noted, the 2010 edition of this once-proud franchise has the same record through 66 games as the 1988 crew, who started 0-21 and finished up at 54-107. They've gone through about twenty closers, to the point that I wonder when Armando Benitez is going to surface, and that means that each week it seems to be someone new. This week, I'm going to hedge my bets and have two Oriole relievers on the list.
As expected, Alfredo Simon was activated from the disabled list and made his debut yesterday in a non-save situation, with the Orioles insisting all along that he'd be eased back into the to the closer's role upon his return. Nothing has caused us to think they'd deviate that plan, so Simon remains on the list. Yet with the Orioles being the Orioles, they could be forgiven for jumping at the first sign of life from anyone on the roster, and that's why we're adding David Hernandez this week as well. Hernandez wouldn't seem like a prime candidate for success, since the reason he's in the bullpen in the first place is that he lost his starting job after eight lousy starts in which he put up a 5.31 ERA and walked more (28) than he struck out (27). Yet he's allowed just one run in 8.2 relief innings since being converted, flashing his 93 MPH fastball and increasing his K rate from 5.7 as a starter to 7.3 as a reliever. He's picked up two saves, as well. While I still think Simon will get a chance to reclaim his job, it's not like he was that good, with a dangerously high walk rate. To be honest, I'd be surprised if either one of them claimed the job, with this looking very much like a "hot hand" situation for the few save opportunities the O's find themselves in. Keep an eye on this over the next few days to see how they play this, but gun to my head, I like Hernandez right now.
It's time to look backwards in order to get value going forward.
Weird week here at the relievers outpost of Value Picks. As you can tell from the comments in last week's article, I'd expected that we'd be talking about possible closer changes in Houston and Washington, with Matt Lindstrom and Matt Capps having each blown three saves in four outings. Yet since then, Lindstrom's been perfect in converting three saves, and Capps has converted his chances as well, holding off the wolves at least for this week. Plus, two of the other teams we've been talking about - Toronto and Baltimore - haven't even been able to get far enough in games to have save opportunities. So as far as save-chasing goes this week, it's kind of a lean group, and with that in mind we're looking back at past values which could pay off in the near future.
We're welcoming back two previous Value Picks this week in Alfredo Simon and Fernando Rodney. Simon was one of the more successful value picks of the season, as he went from being a minor-league afterthought in April to converting six of seven save opportunities in May before being injured - a nice treat for savvy fantasy owners who were able to wring easy value out of him. Since he's been gone, the Orioles have been even more of a disaster than they were before, and though Will Ohman's been the nominal closer for over two weeks now, he hasn't notched a single save. Much of that is his fault, but not in the way you think. Yes, he blew the only save opportunity he was presented with (though he allowed just one run while doing so), but since he was forced into the 9th inning, the replacements the Orioles have tried in Ohman's old spot have failed miserably, leading to Ohman getting just one chance to actually close a game.
Who should you be targeting for fantasy value in the bullpen?
Milwaukee keeps trying to give Trevor Hoffman chances to get his job back, and he keeps making a bad situation even worse when he does things like allow three runs in an inning to the Marlins, costing the Brewers the game. His advanced state of "being toast" brings us to the first teammate swap on the Value Picks board, as we say goodbye to Carlos Villanueva and say hello to John Axford. Villanueva didn't actually pitch that poorly while he was on the board, picking up a save the day he was added and two holds since while maintaining a high K rate, but Ken Macha clearly prefers to keep him in his set-up role and has started to give the opportunities to Axford. If you haven't jumped on him yet, now is the time, since he's picked up three saves and a win in his last four outings and is starting to gain attention in the fantasy world.
Axford's story is an interesting one, especially considering the pedigree of the man he's (currently) replacing. The 27-year-old mustachioed Canadian rookie was drafted in the 42nd round by the Reds in 2005, but didn't sign and played independent ball north of the border. He was then picked up as an amateur free agent by the Yankees for 2007, where he was so impressive that he was... released right after the season. The Brewers picked him up for 2008, and while a 4.55 ERA, 1.674 WHIP, and 6.9 BB/9 (!!) rate in High-A ball that year isn't much to speak of on its own, it's even less so when you realize he was 25, quite old for that level. Still, the Brewers must have seen something they liked, because they brought him back for 2009 and something clicked right away. A return engagement in Broward County was complete domination, striking out 14 per 9, and good work at both AA and AAA as the year progressed got him an MLB cup of coffee late in the year, where he captured his first save - a stunning rise considering where he'd been in 2008.