• Jim Johnson had the day off on Sunday (he threw ~15 pitches both Friday and Saturday and had pitched four of the last five days) so Buck Showalter decided to try and have Brian Matusz close out the Athletics. “Try” being the operative word, because Matusz gave up a 2-run shot to recently-activated Yoenis Cespedes which sent the game into extras. It was there where Pedro Strop took the loss, although the winning run was unearned thanks to an error by Manny Machado.
There’s no real bullpen controversy in Baltimore; unless he falls down a flight of stairs carrying deer meat, Johnson will be back for the next save opportunity. However, the fact that the lefty Matusz was left in to face Cespedes with Strop already up in the bullpen speaks volumes regarding the latter’s struggles this season. After today’s outing, Strop’s BB% is now sitting at an ugly 13.6% and his xFIP is 4.82. Last year he outpitched his peripherals by a fair margin, but outside of his K% holding the same, he’s regressed across the board in 2013. He’s fallen behind Darren O’Day on the totem pole and I wouldn’t be using him in holds leagues, either.
• J.J. Putz and Brandon League had relatively clean saves on Sunday. Both were welcome sights for fantasy owners as their performances over the past week or two had begun to cause some chatter as to whether a ninth-inning change could be on the horizon for either the Diamondbacks or the Dodgers. Putz’s 13.5% BB% is well above his career average of 7.7%. His SwStr% is up and his Zone% is right where it was last year, so even though I like David Hernandez as a top-5 handcuff, I wouldn’t panic about Putz yet. As long as the BB% rate normalizes, he should be OK.
League is a bit of a different story. His K% is way down this season (8.8% versus a career average of 17.5%) and he’s only getting swings and misses on 7% of his pitches (he hasn’t been below double-digits since 2008). He pounding the zone (52% Zone%) but his fastball velocity has dropped a full mile per hour over 2012. If these trends persist for another few weeks, it might be time to start worrying that a mistimed string of bad outings could cost him the ninth inning. He has “Heath Bell contract”-like job security but he also has one of the more dynamic relievers in baseball (Kenley Jansen) right behind him. Hold if you own him, but it wouldn’t hurt to try and pry Jansen away from his owner for some extra roster fodder. Consider it a hedge investment.
• Kevin Gregg has been saving games for the Cubs the last few days. Yes, I also had to check to make sure we didn’t accidentally hit a time slip and discover ourselves back in 2007. He looks pretty much like the same, old, Gregg we’ve seen the last half decade; a near replacement bullpen arm who garners ninth inning save chances thanks to his “proven closer™” label. However, given that he’s managed to go five innings without allowing a run, he’s the new closer du jour on the North Side. Scoop him up if you need saves.
• Joel Hanrahan is expected to make his way back from the disabled list when the Red Sox next play on Tuesday. He threw 17 pitches (only 8 strikes) in a scoreless inning for Triple-A Pawtucket this afternoon. Chatter among Boston beat writers is that Hanrahan will reclaim the ninth inning from Andrew Bailey upon his return. Given the way Bailey has pitched, I’m not completely sold on that being the case, and if it is, “the Hammer” will have an incredibly short leash. Do not drop Bailey under any circumstances. Hanrahan will take the spot of the again-demoted Daniel Bard who unraveled Saturday night, throwing eight of nine pitches outside the strike zone (way outside the zone) before he was yanked. He clearly has more work to do if he wants to overcome the control problems that have plagued him for over a year now. It goes without saying that he shouldn’t be on your roster unless you are in a tremendously deep dynasty league.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]