Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Warming In The 'Pen: AL Edition: July 19th, 2011

Welcome back, faithful readers...

When we last left our intrepid AL setup men and closers, Joakim Soria and Daniel Bard were the studs of the week, and Jonathan Papelbon and Frank Francisco were the duds. Before we launch into this week's category winners (and in lieu of not having a K-Rod'esque deal to speak about), let's take a a look at how these gents performed over the last week:
  • Soria appeared in one game this past week, notching a save in a KC 2-1 victory over the Twins. He faced five batters, giving up two hits. While not the kind of performance worthy of a dominant closer, Soria continues to be a bright spot for a Royals team that generally doesn't have much to cheer about.
  • Bard has run his scoreless streak to 21.2 IP with two appearances totaling 2.1 IP post-All-Star Break. He grabbed another hold (his league-leading 22nd), fanning two, walking one, and allowing two hits. Bard continues to be solid deep-league material, and should (in my opinion) be considered high market value.
  • Papelbon gave up one run on two hits in two innings pitched over his latest two appearances. He fanned two and claimed his 21st save of the year. Paps continues to give the BoSox fans their MLB daily allowance of cursing and sweating this season. But Paps being Paps, he should be relatively solid (while continuing to "excite") the rest of the campaign.
  • Francisco was indeed moved back into the Jays' set-up role coming out of the All-Star Break, and has appeared in two games. In 2.1 IP, he allowed a hit, and struck out one. It's hard to say if he'll turn the corner once more, but racking up scoreless appearances for, say, the rest of this month? That couldn't hurt his chances to come back to the closer's role (currently held by Jon Rauch)
Now, for this week's performers:
  • This week's pitcher that's "Doing Work" is Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have been stupid good lately. Since taking one on the chin July 3rd against the Marlins (a game in which Mark Lowe blew the save opp and took the loss when a pickoff attempt failed, and Feliz allowed the last of Florida's 4 9th-inning runs), the Rangers have rattled off 11 straight wins. Feliz has been a large part of that. Since the Florida game, Feliz has given up a run on one hit in 5.1 IP, with a walk and four Ks and notching four saves. That includes three perfect outings this past week (2.1 IP) with three Ks and two saves. On the year, his surface numbers are good: 20-for-24 in saves, 2.97 ERA, 26 Ks in 36.1 IP, batters hitting .200 off him. With most things, however, there's a catch. His season numbers in most of the major categories are trending worse than his career averages, which leads me to believe that the advance scouts and batters are starting to figure him out in his second full season: ERA (2.97 in '11 vs 2.57 career), WHIP (1.183 vs 0.915), K/BB ratio (1.44 vs 3.09), GO/AO ratio (0.47 vs 0.58), and FIP (4.45 vs 3.25). While I'm not saying that he's someone to be wary of (he had a very off month of June, which could account for a lot of inflation), owners should be aware also that Feliz's name has been brought up in the trade rumor mills. My advice is to ride Neftali for what he's worth this year, keep a backup option (always wise advice all the same), and if you need to part with him, try to get good value based on overall numbers (plus the fact that he was the '10 Rookie of the Year) and not on a rocky month of June.
  • The "Unsung Hero" of the week is the Twins' Joe Nathan. This year's been rough on both Nathan and the Twins in general. Minnesota's found themselves down near the bottom of the pack since the early season, being feasted upon by the injury bug; Nathan being one of the big names to go down for the Twinkies back in May with a right flexor strain. He wound up being out of the lineup for about a month; there was no reason to rush Nathan back, being a little more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. His first month and a half this season was forgettable, as the rust was obvious. But then the Twins started to pick up their pace and win games, the pack in the AL Central started to close, and Nathan came back in late June. In the 10 games since his return, he's been nothing short of stellar: 2-for-3 in saves, six holds, 9.1 IP, one run on four hits, zero walks, seven Ks. A lot of folks may have sold the farm on Nathan when he went on the DL (or earlier, fearing he wouldn't ever be the same post-surgery), but Matt Capps' implosion as the Twins' closer opens the door for a resurging Nathan. Obviously picking up Nathan at this point won't get you his hold numbers, but it will get you a pitcher that's thrown up a .344 OPS, a .125 BAbip, and a 0.429 WHIP since coming off the DL. And while those numbers are a lot to sustain for the rest of the campaign, the Twins being back in the race will have them leaning on Nathan much more now, giving him plenty of chances to excel and show his stuff from years past.
  • My pick for the "Heart Attack Award", as much as it pains me to say it, is my Indians' own Vinnie Pestano (thought I was gonna say Chris "Pure Rage" Perez, didn't you?). The "Bullpen Mafia" has been the key to Cleveland's upstart success this season so far, and "Capo" Pestano has been one of the huge lifts that have allowed the 'pen to be so successful. His recent outings, however, have been offers that fantasy owners could refuse. Over his last 10 games, he's amassed a hefty 7.56 ERA (8.1 IP, 7 ER) on nine hits, three walks and 14 Ks. He was 2-for-3 in saves in the period with three holds. It's entirely possible that this is a bump in the road in a very young career (this being Pestano's first full year in the Majors). It will be interesting to keep watch, however. Considering the ineffectiveness of starters Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot (whom is on the DL at this time), the recent struggles of Carlos Carrasco, and the continued absence of promising rookie hurler Alex White, the Tribe bullpen will likely see a lot of work in the coming games as the rotation is jury-rigged together. Will the young guns hold it together? Or will lack of innings prior to all this work this year come back to bite 'em in the rear? Stay tuned on that. As for Pestano, I would advise getting him for depth in your advanced leagues. He's always good to pull holds out of the air (13 on the year), can back up Chris Perez in case of needing saves (he's come in in 18 save situations), and his deeper numbers (0.963 WHIP, .550 OPS, .260 BAbip, and 2.33 FIP) trend towards his recent issues being just blips on the radar screen.
  • This week's "ZOMBIE!" was a little hard to pick out. And while I hate to kick a guy while he's down, I felt that Kevin Gregg of the Baltimore Orioles was probably the worst guy in the last little while. His last 10 games fleshed out like so: 9.2 IP, 7 ER, 11 H, 5 BB, 3 K, 3 Sv. His overall stats for the season? Not much better: 36 IP, 16 ER, 33 H, 24 BB, 31 K, 15/19 Sv. Digging deeper, I find some disturbing trends: As of right now, his WHIP (1.583), SO/BB ratio (1.29), and OPS (.769) are lining up to be the worst in his career. His FIP (4.69) is his second worst, with only his '09 Cubs campaign surpassing that (4.93). Maybe this suspension will help get Gregg's head on straight and salvage his '11 campaign. Or, maybe Koji Uehara will step up and make the Orioles' decision once Gregg comes off suspension a little harder. And maybe, just maybe, Gregg will learn how to throw a punch.
Be sure to tune in each Thursday for the NL side of things.

As always, you can hit up in the comment link below or find me on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.

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