Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Warming In The 'Pen: The Premier AL Edition: July 12th, 2011

It's that time, folks.

Welcome to the initial installment of "Warming In The 'Pen"! I'm Jeff, your MC for this ride, and I hope it can be fun and insightful for everyone involved!

In case you're just tuning in, the purpose of this article series is to cover your closer and short relief needs. I'll review the stats and info from the last week in baseball, and present you some news and views on who's hot, who's not, and who's possibly worth a second look. Facts mixed with a healthy dose of opinion is what I hope to offer up for your perusal, and I hope for constructive and lively debate and commentary right back. This is give and take, ladies and gents. We'll work best together, and that's how we'll get the most out of it.

A few little things first:
  • Just a reminder that the AL side of the house publishes Tuesdays, and the NL publishes Thursdays. Both will receive my same treatments and attentions!
  • Any opinions in these articles are purely my own. They don't necessarily represent COSFBA, any other contributors or writers, MLB, its affiliates and teams... Yada yada quasi-legalese.
  • I do not consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination. My hope is to give opinions with some factual backing, but any ultimate moves and views are up to you, dear fantasy baseball GM.
Now onto the meat and potatoes!

The article series is going to consist of four sections per article, each featuring at least reliever of personal note for that particular section. In this initial article, I'll take the time to introduce each section, what I look for, and then give my week's picks for each. Starting with the NL article on Thursday, it'll be much more compact and an easier read.

Are we ready? Hope so because. Here. We. GO!
  • The first section is called "Doing Work". Put simply, this is the section where the most solid performers over the last week (usually combined with a solid season-to-date) are stationed. In my opinion, this section features players that are likely a known quantity, but if you can find them running free in your league, they're worth an immediate look.
    • This week's pick is Joakim Soria of the Kansas City Royals. While his overall numbers may not astound off the bat (4-3, 4.03 ERA, 15/20 Sv, 33 K, 1.26 WHIP), his more recent performances have been more in-line with his career stats. In his last 10 games (10 IP), he's given up 1 earned run, while racking up 7 saves and 12 Ks. His OPS is a more-than-reasonable .500, which I feel shows that he's turning the corner after a rough start (his current OPS is a lofty .696 on the year). He's coming back to being the closer, and the bright spot, that an overall dismal Royals team needs for any hopes of improvement.
  • The next section is "Unsung Heroes".  This section highlights the performances that may have gone "under the radar". There's pitchers that might not be those household names, but I feel like there's value in the hidden gems here. Maybe it's a depth or 6x6 league, or maybe it's someone to look at to steal some stats. It's always going to be someone to keep an eye on.
    • The "Unsung Hero" for the week is the Boston Red Sox Daniel Bard. You won't find a better Holds man in the league right now, with a total of 21 holds "in the clubhouse" (4 Holds just in the last 7 days). While this guy won't be giving you big standard numbers (1-4 record, 1/3 Sv), this guy is a massive pick-me-up to the Boston starting staff and long relief. He's only allowed 14% of inherited runners to score (that's 3/22) in 41 G. He's sporting a paltry .492 OPS and a .206 BAbip (Batting Average for Balls In Play). He has 44 Ks in 44 IP. And, oh by the way, he's not allowed a run in his last 19.1 IP. This guy's an unknown (only owned in 19% of ESPN leagues), absolutely rock-solid short reliever who's good for holds and Ks in deep and advanced leagues. He might also be the best available option in the BoSox bullpen for saves if Jonathan Papelbon was to go belly-up for any reason.
  • Our third section is known as "The Heart-Attack Award". The recipients of this "award" are decent performers. Their methods, however, are the ones guilty of costing fans and fantasy owners hair, sleep, and quite possibly tens of dollars in antacids weekly. These pitchers will mostly be mid- to upper-tier pitchers that are having the recent up-and-down performances (those that are more prolonged get their own category). While the players in this section aren't ones I feel should be dumped like weeks-old milk, extra caution is advised.
    • The first-ever Heart Attack Award goes to the aforementioned Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox. While Paps has notched 4 saves and 10 Ks over the last 7 days, he's given up 3 earned runs (including a longball) and 6 H in 5 IP in the same timeframe. When you take those numbers by themselves, he doesn't seem horrible. But takes these along with this week's line: 3.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .669 OPS, .363 BAbip. He's on-pace to give up only 14 BB (close to a career best), but he's also on-pace to give up a career-worst 65 H. My interpretation and opinion is that Paps is either starting to swap his finesse for pure 'power pitching', or the league's hitters are starting to figure him out. His 0.51 GO/AO (Ground Outs / Air Outs) ratio seems to imply that he's getting hit harder (or at least more solidly) this season in comparison. It's something to keep a watch of.
  • Lastly, we have the "ZOMBIE!" category. As the name implies, the players mentioned in this section should be avoided unless desperation is in the air. Even then, ensure you have a shotgun or (more appropriately) a baseball bat handy. These players will more than happily eat at your fantasy bottom line (while moaning, "STAAAAAAAAAATS!"). Just remember Rule #22, because it applies to fantasy baseball as much as it does the Zombie Apocalypse: "When in doubt, know your way out!"
    • This weeks "ZOMBIE!" is Frank Francisco of the Toronto Blue Jays. Francisco saw limited work in the last 7 days (2 G), and the line was not impressive: 1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 1 BB. Yet he somehow managed to notch a save and 3 Ks. Of interest to me is the way he helped set the table for Travis Hafner's game-winning grand slam against Cleveland on Thursday (which is where the majority of that dismal line came from): a 1B, a 2B, and a BB. All this was without getting an out, in an attempt to close out a game that Toronto had well in hand. While he didn't directly give up the game-winner, he set the next pitcher up to have negative margin for error. Francisco is having a terrible year overall on top of the bombshell his last outing (5.92 ERA, 10/14 Sv, 1.849 WHIP, .880 OPS, .368 BAbip), so he is not an attractive option at all as your go-to closer.His viability as even a backup-to-the-backup in a deep league is highly questionable in my mind. There are also rumors flying around that the Toronto front office wants to put him back in a setup role, a move they'd made with Francisco earlier this year when he'd struggled in the closing role. This is a bad trend, and the only reason he'll come back into the closing role later this season is because of the futility of Toronto's 'pen. There are still 71.9% of the owners in ESPN's leagues that have faith in having this pitcher on their roster, but I expect that to drop significantly. There are too many better options.
So there you have it, folks. I promise things will refine and look (and likely sound) a lot clearer with the NL closers on Thursday, but the fluff needed to get out of the way.

Questions, comments, suggestions are always welcome in the boxes below, or by hitting me up on my Twitter feed: @JCPronkFan48


    1. I couldn't agree more with your pick of Frank Francisco as the "Zombie". "Fat Frankie" could also be easily classified in the "Heart Attack Award" category as he has caused several palpitations and irregular heartbeats for fantasy owners and Jays fans alike. In fact, the last time I watched him pitch I think I threw up in my mouth. Just a little.

    2. Firstly, thanks for the comment! :) Nice to get the first one out of the way early. Heh.

      I'll agree with your assessment that "Fat Frankie" (I love the nickname) could be a good candidate for the "Heart Attack Award".

      However, I'm trying to reserve that one for closers and set-up men that are still effective, regardless of the mind-bending (and possible chunk-blowing, like you described) ways they get their results.

      Paps, for example, is still a very servicable closer in my mind. He could prove me wrong and show that this rough patch he's going through is just that: a rough patch in his continued solid career.

      Francisco's showing a pattern. This'll be the second time he's been relegated to the set-up role if the management has their way. It seemed to have worked briefly the first time, but not well enough to improve on some dreadful first-half numbers at the end. He'd have to have a HUGE turn-around this second half to prove me wrong.