The Orioles are surprise contenders behind an excellent bullpen. Or, more accurately, behind a bullpen that has pitched excellently.
Pedro Strop was a utility infielder who spent three years in short-season ball and never slugged as high as .350 before the Rockies decided, in 2006, to try his live arm on the mound. In his first try as a pitcher, he struck out 22, and walked just two, in 13 innings. But the Rockies released him two years later, and the Rangers picked him up, waited him out, and eventually promoted him to the big leagues. He had an ERA over 7, with 22 walks in 27 big-league innings, when they traded him to Baltimore as the non-famous half of an August waiver-period trade for Mike Gonzalez.
That was a year ago this week, and Strop has been far more significant in this year’s pennant race than Gonzalez ever was with Texas. He has the second-best ERA in the American League (minimum 30 innings), and among relievers, his win probability added is sixth, ahead of all but four closers. He has the fifth-best groundball rate in the majors, a fastball that averages 97 mph, and no platoon split worth worrying about. The Orioles entered play Sunday tied for a Wild Card spot, though their playoff odds were just 13.4 percent. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that, without Strop's work this year, those odds would be close to zero.
Only one closer was traded at yesterday's deadline, but there are still plenty of situation's in flux in this week's VP.
Of the 18 earned runs Orioles closer Jim Johnson has allowed this season, 13 of them have come in the past 16 days. Sprinkled into this hellacious stretch was a five-run clunker on July 16 and a six-run disaster on Friday. It has not been pretty for this Jim-John (yes, Jim-John) owner. So what’s to blame for the slump? Whenever there’s a stark downturn like this, injury is a concern, but I’ve read nothing to this effect. Correction is possible, too; Johnson misses far too few bats to think he was going to sustain a sub-2.00 ERA all season. But the fact that he absorbed all of this correction (and then some) in such a small window is worrisome nonetheless.
When there are no good starters in your league, the bullpen can offer you the wins you need.
It may sound strange, but one of my absolute favorite parts of running a fantasy team is finding undervalued relievers. Having Matt Kemp fall to me in the middle of the first round and getting 10 home runs through the first three weeks? Eh. Having my 24th-round pick throw a perfect game? Color me mildly elated. But grabbing Jason Grilli for $1 in Tout Wars? I’m throwing a parade in my mother’s basement!
Middle relievers can be an underappreciated source of value, especially in AL/NL-only leagues and in leagues with innings caps. Not only are they capable of producing elite ratios, but they can also match near-elite starters in wins on a per-inning basis, which is incredibly important in leagues with innings caps. Even if your league doesn’t have an innings cap and is simply deep, these relievers can be worth several dollars. Your pitchers are going to get injured, and when you find out that Michael Pineda is done for the season, there aren’t exactly a lot of options out on the waiver wire. In a lot of leagues, there may not be a single starter available at all, even of the Adam Wilk variety.
Just because you're out in your fantasy league doesn't mean you shouldn't go shopping for potential ninth-inning guys.
For the past four years, I’ve written an article at the end of each season discussing one of my favorite keeper league strategies: stashing potential closers. Today, I’m going to do the same, explaining the strategy and then trying to figure out which middle relievers are poised to step into the ninth-inning role.
The Strategy All keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your leaguemates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you. In these leagues, when auction day or draft day rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven't kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the leftovers, the second-tier closers. By default, their prices will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Kevin Gregg is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $18.
Our prospect guru finds himself in a food coma in Mexico, taking in a televised matchup between two AL contenders.
After a few weeks in Mexico, I happen upon my first televised major-league baseball game, a battle between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, shown on ESPN. I’m excited for obvious reasons: The baseball void has already nullified a quarter of my general existence, and the Rangers are the team of my youth—I’m always willing to give them my eyes and ears. The game is dubbed in Spanish, which is annoying and rousing at the same time; the former because the speed of said Spanish is at Billy Hamilton level, and my overall comprehension requires the gentle pace of an aging Molina. My head is pounding from exposure to altitude and alcohol, but the medicinal qualities of baseball’s familiar attraction will no doubt minimize my discomfort.
I’ve been living in a foreign country for 15 days, and I’ve been exposed to more luchadores than lanzadores, which presents an interesting reality, although not one that proves to be especially productive for someone who (supposedly) feeds off the bosom of the game. It’s 2 p.m., and the game is set to begin, with Colby Lewis matched up against Texas native John Lackey. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is packed to capacity. I’m hydrating and reclining in a relaxed state. Oh, baseball.
Perhaps it's another case of the Orioles being the Orioles, but they saw Garrett Atkins hit two doubles and drive in a baserunner last week—no, really, he did!—and figured he'd gotten this whole pesky hitting thing sorted out well enough to let him be while the organization does with Nolan Reimold what they'd already done with Luke Scott. So, Reimold's getting a crash course in first-base play while marking time with the Tides, this while Scott doesn't get employed at first base after all, leaving at-bats to be burned on Atkins until some new idea becomes fashionable. Meanwhile, they decided they had to had to had to have a second lefty in the pen with the decision to spot utility pitcher Mark Hendrickson for David Hernandez on Sunday, which turned out about as well as you could hope in terms of Hendrickson's performance (three runs allowed in five innings). Meanwhile, Dave Trembley's managed to leave a number of roster spots idling—Jason Berken hasn't pitched in a week, and Lou Montanez hasn't played in almost two weeks—but if Hernandez isn't able to make his next turn on Friday, you can hope that they might at least make a retroactive move and reclaim at least that slot and apply it to some useful purpose, unless they want to just start listing certain players' positions as “witness,” given what little else they're being asked to do.
A preview of the Dominican Winter League, taking a look at the teams, stadiums, managers, and players to watch for.
The "National Religion" came back on October 16th, as the Dominican League launched its 56th edition. Reliably praised as having the highest level of talent among the winter leagues, one should expect to watch another mix of highly ranked prospects, mid-level major leaguers, a few recognizable American players, veterans looking for another shot, and some major league stars between now and the end of the Caribbean Series in February. The league format has six teams playing a 50-game regular-season schedule, with the four best records advancing to a long 18-game round-robin playoff, and the two remaining best clubs play a best-of-nine final series to decide the league's champion. Without further ado, here's what this season will bring us:
Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers)
Home: Santo Domingo
2008-09 record: 26-24, fourth place (tied) regular season; 12-6, first place round-robin; beat the Gigantes in the final series 5-0.
Ballpark: Estadio Quisqueya; strong pitcher's park, with a Park Factor of 92.