• Dayton Moore should send Dave Dombrowski a thank you card. That, and maybe a copy of “Building Bullpens for Dummies.” A weekend of blown saves and poor relief performance for Detroit have thrown their bullpen into turmoil and let the Royals scratch back to even in the race for the AL Central. Brad Ausmus befuddingly (not quite sure if that’s in Webster’s) took out a dealing Max Scherzer to let Joe Nathan close out Saturday’s game. Of course, in 2014 Nathan fashion a save was blown. Joakim Soria actually put out quite an inferno (pushing the game to extra innings) but suffered an oblique injury which sent him to the disabled list. On Sunday, with Nathan supposedly unavailable, Joba Chamberlain took his turn being the guy who threw gasoline onto a bonfire, blowing another save. This time, it pushed a potential Tigers win into a 19-inning affair which Toronto ended by scratching a run across against elite relief pitcher Rick Porcello (just kidding).
Nathan has pushed his strikeout rate up since the all-star break (28% after versus 23% before) but has suddenly lost the ability to command the strike zone (18% BB% versus 9% BB%). For all the “bad luck” he had with his SIERA-ERA splits early on, his ugly outings recently have been — well — ugly. Unfortunately, Joakim Soria, who had struggled a bit since his move to Detroit but still owns a 2.24 SIERA, is now sidelined for at least two weeks and probably more with an injury that proves tricky for pitchers to recover quickly from. Joba Chamberlain has also regressed somewhat lately, his strikeout and walk rates both went the wrong direction each month from April to July (correspondingly his xFIP climbed by nearly a run each month as well). And it’s not these guys who have been the problem — the Tigers’ pen has the 3rd highest ERA in baseball, behind the juggernauts known as the Rockies and Astros. While grabbing Soria may have been a key speculative play yesterday, his injury and Brad Ausmus’ endorsement of Nathan put Nathan squarely back in the closer role. Chamberlain remains the immediate handcuff but red flags are there, too. Unfortunately, it looks like the Tigers would have been better off paying for an Andrew Miller at the deadline — now we’ll have to see if they can make a waiver move to give them another arm in the late innings. Word did break late tonight that the team has summoned perennial Triple-A closer Kevin Whelan who has pitched quite well for Toledo this year. He’s 30 and has had control problems in the past, but hey, if you are in a 16+ team league and want to really, really roll the dice on all the dominos falling, go for it.
• Mets closer Jenrry Mejia has been pitching through a calf injury and now apparently has a hernia. The proper treatment for the righty appears to be surgery, although he’d like to continue pitching through the ailment. It’s not unheard of for a pitcher to continue to play with this injury — A.J. Burnett is doing just that. However, given Mejia’s durability issues in the past and the fact that the Mets are going nowhere fast, it seems conceivable (dare I say likely?) that the closer gets shut down in the next month or so. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s been pitching poorly lately, blowing another save this afternoon against the Phillies. Grab Jeurys Familia (20% K%, 3.80 xFIP) if you need the saves, although don’t expect a 1.86 ERA going forward.
• Quick hits: Hector Rondon had a rough game Friday (taking the loss) but he bounced back Sunday, tossing a scoreless inning in a non-save situation (tie game in extras). He continues to be somewhat BABIPed (even though his LD% is north of 20%) so I would not hesitate to keep using him unless Chicago pulls the plug. Neil Ramirez is back, so scoop him up if you want to handcuff. Joe Smith gave up Yoenis Cespedes‘ first home run in a Red Sox uniform, ending his scoreless inning streak at 23 2/3 innings. This isn’t going to stop me from using him in holds leagues. Zach Britton gave up a three-run shot trying to keep a today’s game versus the Cardinals close. He was getting a little lucky based on his peripherals in the first half, however he’s increased his whiff rate in the second half, which has helped offset (and then some) some of the inevitable GB% regression. Keep riding him.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]
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