• It finally happened. Bob Melvin has (temporarily, at least) removed Ryan Cook from the closer role. Since July 19th, Cook has given up runs in six of his eight appearances leading to a bloated 10.13 ERA over that time frame. Cook’s 4.24 xFIP remains well above his 2.76 ERA and his BB% rate remains one of the worst among qualified relievers. Melvin has left the door open for Cook to regain his job in the ninth if he can make it through a couple clean innings first, but for the time being Grant Balfour (who wrapped up Saturday’s 9-7 win) will get save opportunities. Balfour’s 4.16 xFIP is nearly as uninspiring as Cook’s but he holds a 0.63 ERA since the beginning of June with a solid 15/4 K/BB in 14.1 innings. Sean Doolittle, while a lefty who has hit a bump or two in the road recently, has a 2.43 xFIP and a 5.6 K/BB and also may be a dark horse candidate for saves in the interim but probably would require continued slips by both Cook and Balfour.
• John Axford had another “uh-oh” Friday night, allowing two runs (one earned) to rack up his eighth blown save of the year. Since the middle of July, Axford has now allowed nine earned runs in 11.2 innings while owning an extremely subpar 9/7 K/BB. Axford’s stats might confuse some — his fastball velocity is up to 96.2 miles per hour after sitting at 95 last year — correspondingly his SwStr% is actually up a tick from his studly 2011 campaign — but it all boils down to the BB% being up nearly 50% from last year (8.2% up to 12.0%). While he’s deposed (either temporarily or permanently) it looks like recent minor league callup Jim Henderson is the go-to guy in Milwaukee. Much has been written about him this week, so I’ll keep the analysis terse, but Henderson will need to improve on his career 5.3 BB/9 in AAA to impress with regularity in the majors. EDIT: After an impressive ninth (tie game) where he struck out the side, Henderson gave up infield single, walk, walk, single to send the Brewers to another walk-off loss. Henderson is probably still the favorite for the next save opportunity, but the Brewers ‘pen remains messy.
• Huston Street racked up his 21st save of 2012 on Friday night but it came at a price for fantasy owners as Street injured his calf covering first base on the final play of the game. Street’s sparkling 2.27 xFIP will be missed by Padres and fantasy owners alike. At 3.19, Luke Gregerson has the next lowest xFIP in the bullpen and will compete with Dale Thayer (4.15 xFIP) who has some 2012 closing experience (five saves) when Street was on the shelf earlier this year.
• Wilton Lopez took his first blown save of the season for the Astros tonight, allowing the Brewers to force extras by allowing a couple hits and a run to eventually score on a Jean Segura groundout. Even with tonight’s hiccup, Lopez’s 2.47 xFIP makes him far and away Houston’s best option in the late innings and — as long as his elbow holds up — he should continue to man the ninth inning for the team with the second fewest (21) saves in baseball.
For those of you who play daily fantasy games like FanGraphs: The Game, or just like to stream players, here is a matchup you may be able to exploit.
A Pitcher for Tomorrow: J.J. Putz (AZ) vs. WAS
Putz hasn’t allowed a single run in the past month and his 13/0 K/BB, 0.85 xFIP combination over that time frame isn’t too shabby, either. Young Patrick Corbin has been fairly solid for Arizona this season and if the Diamondbacks are going to take Sunday’s game, they’ll likely need a solid inning from Putz at the back end.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]