Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Warming Up In The 'Pen: AL Edition: July 26th, 2011

Greetings and salutations!

This is likely to be a shorter article than usual this week; Outside-of-COSFBA considerations are taking precedence. However, I'm going to try and get as much goodness out with a few less words than normal. So with that out of the way, here's a quick review of last week's performers:
  • Neftali Feliz saw only one game of work in the last week (yesterday). He gave up a hit and a walk in one inning in an absolute pummeling of Minnesota. Manager Ron Washington stated that the long layoff for Feliz wasn't by design, with an off-day and only one save opportunity cropping up (in the 6th on July 20th against the Angels). Feliz was working on the side during the stretch. It's interesting to note that Feliz had a six-day 'vacation' which included the All-Star Break last year, and was lights-out in his remaining performances. Could we be due for a repeat?
  • Speaking of the Twins, closer Joe Nathan saw two games this past seven days. He allowed a run on two hits in two innings, striking out one. He was 2-for-2 in the save chances to give him a total of seven on the year. If the Twins have any chance of competing once more in the suddenly-clogged AL Central, Nathan will need to continue to be steady and solid in the back of the 'pen like he has been lately. He has the opportunity to show that the early season was just "knocking off the rust".
  • Vinnie Pestano also worked two games and was roughed up for two runs on four hits, including a longball in last night's dramatic Indians comeback win against the Angels. He had only one strikeout in his two innings of work this past week. He blew the save last night on a 1-0 four-seamer Bobby Abreu promptly deposited in the right field seats. The recent streak of work for the "Bullpen Mafia" has been troubling, and I'm starting to wonder (like last week) if the number of innings is starting to wear on the young arms. Pestano and the rest need to right the ship if the Tribe is going to stay in competition.
  • Kevin Gregg served his three-game suspension but did work two games against LA over the past week. He notched a save in two innings pitched, giving up two hits and two walks, but two strikeouts as well. It'll be interesting to see if the "cooling of his heels" helps his game any going forward.
 Now let's move forward with this week's guns:
  • "Doing Work": Jonathan Papelbon (BOS) - Paps once more makes an appearance in the 'Pen, and this time it's on the "good" side of the ledger. Since giving up the solo run against the Rays, Paps has been dominant. Five innings of work has seen him allow a grand total of one hit. He's also notched three saves and five strikeouts. He's always had solid months of July and August in his career, notching career ERAs under 2.25 each month (2.24 in July, 1.92 in August), WHIPs under 1.100 (0.980 / 1.067), OPSs under .585 (.566 / .584) and BABIPs under .300 (.262 / .293). Careerwise, his FIP has actually been worst in the month of June (3.26), steadily dropping in July (2.91) and even more dramatically in August (2.27). In my opinion, Paps has turned the corner with the turn of the calendar month. The fact that he has full ownership in ESPN leagues shows that the rest of the fantasy owners are keeping the faith in Paps and the Red Sox fight in the AL East race.
  • "Unsung Hero": Grant Balfour (OAK) - The Athletics set-up man has been having a stellar campaign, and the last seven days have been no exception. In three outings (3.1 innings total), Balfour is 3-for-3 in holds (18 on the season), giving up three hits, walking one and fanning one. The 2.03 ERA he's accumulated on the year is the second best in his career (his 1.54 ERA with the '08 Rays the only one better). His FIP overall this year (3.11) is better than his career average (3.42), and there are other numbers that are better this year versus his career averages (.237 BAbip vs. .281, 2.56 K/BB ratio vs. 2.38, 1.05 WHIP vs. 1.26, .541 OPS vs. .647). He's coming off of a strained right oblique, and has shown no lingering or ill effects. The fact that he's not seemingly well-known (1.6% ESPN league ownership, only up 0.3% from last week) means he might be more of a depth league pick. However, he's well worth the grab even in your more standard leagues if he's available.
  • "Heart Attack Award": Andrew Bailey (OAK) - Bailey's last seven days haven't been horrible. He's given up one run on two hits in three innings, walking three and striking out five. While grabbing saves in each of those appearances, allowing base runners is never a good sign. His FIP throughout his career has exceeded his ERA (2.44 FIP vs. 2.25 ERA this season alone, a more dramatic 2.96 vs. 1.47 last season). Interestingly, he's been throwing more fastballs than ever in his career (78.2% vs. a 65.0% career average), but with a one-MPH drop in average speed. It might not be much of a change, but combine that with a similar drop across the board with all his pitches, and you start to wonder if there might be an issue with Bailey's mechanics. Be it an actual flaw or hitch in his delivery, or perhaps wear and tear, there could be cause for future concern. This isn't enough for me to say to stay away from Andrew; I'm no expert in the medical sciences or the 'sciences' of pitching. However, it's safe to say there's something more here than what's on the surface. Be wary, and only grab Bailey for depth. I have a feeling that Oakland, being out of the race as far as they are, may begin relying on the above-mentioned Balfour for saves sooner rather than later.
  • "ZOMBIE!": Jordan Walden (LAA) - The Angel's All-Star closer has been having a good season, but his recent outings have been a mixed bag. Last night, he blew a save (and got the loss) by giving up two runs on two hits (one of which was a game-tying double by Travis Hafner! Sorry, boss.), along with a walk and a strikeout. In the last week, those are the only runs he's given up. However, since June 22, he's gone 2-2, 6/10 saves, five runs, nine hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. This 'wilting under the pressure' during the Angels' attempt to keep up with the Rangers. During the last three months of the season in his (albeit short) career, his WHIPs (1.33 and 1.30), BABIPs (.429 and .333), and BB/9 ratio (3.00 and 4.38) are elevated. While this may be nothing, the fact that it's happening to a closer (whose entire purpose is to 'seal the deal' under pressure) on a team competing for a playoff spot against the AL Champions really brings into question the mental character of Walden in my mind. I can't cry 'fire sale' on him in your leagues, but I firmly believe that his recent performances are a prelude to a full-blown meltdown as the Angels continue to try to hang in the pennant race.
While there's been no major trade fires burning as of yet, we continue to keep an eye on things. We'll report what we find, and I'll have the NL side of the house on Thursday.

Comments below, or hit me up on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.

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