Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Warming In The 'Pen: AL Edition

The Trade Deadline has come and gone, and while several big moves were conspired (I'll probably write my thoughts on Ubaldo Jimenez in a future article), the back end of most 'pens stayed intact. The Rangers added major depth with Mike Adams and Koji Uehara as they try and repeat once more as the AL Champions. Brad Ziegler, former Oakland A, has been shuttled off to Arizona. Other than that, stability reigned in the AL. Certainly there's bound to be Waiver Wire activity in the coming weeks, and I'm sure we'll have more news as it comes.

But for now, let's look at last week's performers:
  • Jonathan Papelbon saw action in one game this past week, where he slammed the door on the Chicago White Sox in a perfect ninth inning. He struck out the side, and notched his 24th save of the season.
  • Grant Balfour came into three games, pitched three innings, and only allowed two hits. He also got two knockouts, but no holds or saves as the games (all wins) were already well-in-hand.
  • Andrew Bailey showed up in two games (like Balfour's games, both well-in-hand so no saves), and gave up an unearned run on two hits in two innings pitched. He fanned three in the midsts of his work.
  • Jordan Walden managed to get a save in two games, allowing two hits and getting two punch-outs. The Indians made his save very interesting (as Joakim Soria and Daniel Bard can attest to), but he managed to pull it out.
And this week's winners and losers:
  • "Doing Work" - Mariano Rivera (NYY): In an occurrence that's of no surprise to anyone (100% ownership in ESPN leagues), Mo has been putting together a season to compare with the best ones of his career. A 1.74 ERA (4th lowest in his career), a 7.40 K/BB ratio (2nd best), a 0.6% HR (2nd best), and he's averaging 14 pitches per game in relief, the best in his career. I really don't have to say much about Mo. He's 41, still dealing over 90 MPH on his heat, and his numbers over the last 4 seasons have been much better than his career averages. He does seem to be getting hit more easily (.294 BAbip this season vs. .264 career), but with a FIP this year of 1.88 (right in line with his season ERA, 0.87 better than his career average, and the best in his career), he is still an insanely effective pitcher. He has 587 saves on his career, and knowing the Yankees and their fight in the AL East, he will hit 600 before the season's end. I'm not a Yankee fan, but I do know a superstar player when I see one. Mo is one for the ages.
  • "Unsung Hero" - David Robertson (NYY): Behind every great closer, there's usually a great set-up man. In the real-life Gotham City, Mo's Batman is accompanied by 'Robin' Robertson. David has only been in the Bigs for four years, so saying a season is his best so far isn't difficult. However, the amount of improvement he's shown has been amazing. His ERA this year is 1.90 below his average, his FIP is 1.35 lower, and his WHIP (while not impressive) is 0.11 lower. His LOB % (85.5), GB % (46.0), and K/9 ratio (14.46) are all much higher than his career marks. He's picked up 2 MPH on his fastball, almost 3 MPH on his curve, and a touch over 3 MPH on his changeup. He has a wide range of speeds, and has enough control to get batters to slap ground balls down. Plus, there's the fact of him not giving up a single home run all season. He's grabbed 21 holds for the year so far, so he's definitely worth a pick-up in holds and deep leagues. He could be next in line to take over closing duties after Mo retires. If he continues on his upward trend, the drop-off after Rivera will be much, much less than I think anyone anticipates.
  • "Heart Attack Award" - Neftali Feliz (TEX): There may have been a reason behind the Rangers' acquisition of Adams and Uehara, and it might be to back Feliz up in a possible "closer-by-committee" situation if he continues to struggle. I know I've written about Feliz before. At the time, I wrote that he'd possibly be coming around. Well, so far, not so good: a loss (and a blown save in the process) and a save in his last two games. He gave up two runs on three hits in 1.1 innings pitched, with a walk and a strikeout. Yes, as I stated before, he's coming off a horrible month of June. His month of July wasn't great: 0-1 record, 5 Sv, 4.00 ERA, 9 IP in 10 G, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 Ks. While it was an improvement on June, there's still a lot of work to get back to the sub-2.00 ERAs of April and May. His last 28 days numbers (save the ERA) are trending more towards his '11 season numbers, so there is still a chance for Feliz to pull it together and end his season strong. There may be less pressure on Feliz in this pennant race now that Adams and Uehara are both Rangers, but I don't see a change in the role of closer unless Feliz completely falls on his face.
  • "ZOMBIE!" - Jon Rauch (TOR): The Blue Jays do have an outside chance at the Playoffs: only 10.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, and an above-.500 record. If they were in the AL Central, they'd be tied with the Indians at two games out of the lead. However, Jon Rauch isn't exactly helping them get there. Over his last three games (2.2 IP), he's given up two runs on three hits, only grabbing two strikeouts. With a WHIP of 1.500, an OPS of .876 and a BAbip of .357 over the last four weeks, it's really doubtful that this is just a 'phase'. With a low GB% (36.6), a high HR/9 ratio (1.62), and a FIP of almost 5 (4.82), there's something more to all of this. Rauch has lost speed on all his pitches (1.5 MPH on his fastball alone) along with an increased reliance on his changeup (10.7% this year, up from 6.2% a year ago). The problem comes into effect when you consider his average fastball is at 89.4 MPH, his average slider is 84.6 MPH, and his average changeup is 83.7 MPH. A 5.7 MPH difference between a pitcher's hard stuff and his "finesse" pitches is definitely not a good thing, and tends to get him hit hard. The unfortunate thing is that the next-in-line for the closer role, Frank Francisco, is not much better. The Jays may want to consider a Waiver Wire move for 'pen help, or any hope of Playoffs for them is moot.
 The NL will be on report on Thursday as usual. As always, comment below or hit me up on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.

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