Welcome to the first ever UK edition of the Bullpen Report! In honor of this momentous occasion (also known as “the column written while the rest of America sleeps”), bullpens were the opposite of boring last night. Full steam ahead!
• Everyone out of the pool! While the rest of the world is fixated on the Los Angeles Dodgers purchasing enough contracts from the Red Sox to offset a small country’s GDP (no, really) Alfredo Aceves may have finally lost his tenuous grip on the closer gig in Boston. On Thursday night, he suffered an epic meltdown at the hand of the other team from LA, giving up three runs in the bottom of the ninth to blow the game once before giving up two more runs in the tenth after the Red Sox had rallied to tie the game and force extras (in Aceves’ defense, he had already thrown 33 pitches before Bobby Valentine ran him out to “finish the job” in the tenth, so he was likely running on fumes). With Aceves unavailable Friday night, and Sox fans more glued to their Twitter feeds than the game, Andrew Bailey wrapped up save numero uno by tossing a scoreless ninth against the Royals. Aceves’ xFIP has now ballooned to 4.31, which is very much in line with his career 4.49 mark. His BABIP (which had been exceptionally low the past few years) is now a more reasonable 0.273. His K/BB is up to 2.48 (levels he hasn’t seen in three years) but his LD% has spiked to 20.6% and his WPA is an astoundingly bad -1.26 (the worst of guys currently closing games on a full-time basis). With the Red Sox blowing up and completely punting on the remainder of 2012, it seems reasonable that they would shift Aceves and Bailey to their anticipated 2013 roles (swingman and closer, respectively). The only thing possibly keeping them from moving Bailey into the ninth full-time is a desire to keep Bailey’s workload in check, but that might be the only string keeping Aceves tied to the closer gig soon enough.
• The Milwaukee bullpen continues to be an absolute mess. John Axford, who looked like he was gaining an upper hand back on the closer role over the last week or so, very nearly gave away a three-run lead to the Pirates yesterday night. Axford walked the first two guys (never a good formula for success) before allowing a single to Neil Walker. He then got a couple punchouts from whiff aficionados Pedro Alvarez and former Mariner prospect Jeff Clement before allowing another single which pushed a second run across and put the tying run on second. Ron Roenicke finally had enough and called on Kameron Loe to punch out pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez to (mercifully) end the game. This bullpen has been discussed ad nauseum in this column over the last few weeks (examples here and here, for example) so it’s of little use to continue to rehash the same old storylines. Axford should be better than this (3.37 xFIP, 28.6% K% couple with “unlucky” 0.341 BABIP, 62.8% LOB%) but he’s just not throwing enough strikes right now (15.4% BB% in August) to be a reliable shutdown guy. I wouldn’t punt on him in keeper leagues (don’t ditch the ‘Stache!) but for those in redrafts looking to cut bait, this bullpen will likely be a mess up until the end of the season. Given that the Brewers sit eight games under 0.500 and are well out of the playoff picture, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the time and effort to chase saves.
• Friday night also saw a rare “double-implosion” in Chicago, where both Addison Reed and Tom Wilhelmsen blew saves. Reed coughed up three runs (two earned) in the top of the inning (after the combination of Phil Humber (my how the perfecto tossers have fallen) and Donnie Veal turned a five-run lead into a save situation) before Wilhelmson spun around and gave it back in the ninth on three hits and a walk. Both pitchers have had some minor bumps this season but have pretty tight holds on their jobs. Reed has been the less impressive of the two, seeing his xFIP now bounce to 4.o2 after his fourth blown save. Reed’s issues are not that he walks a ton of batters (8.3%) but that he doesn’t have a 30%+ K% to offset it (currently sitting at 23.8%). His career 11.2% SwStr% and minor league strikeout rates (never lower than 11.8 K/9 per stop) portend good things for the future, however, so fantasy owners should stay on course as long as Ventura doesn’t make any rash moves. Wilhelmsen’s K/BB has fallen each of the last three months (10, 2.33, 1.67), which should raise some eyebrows, but his 3.36 xFIP is still plenty good enough to keep garnering opportunities in Seattle. Soon-to-be 29 on the Mariners, though, he’s less of an interesting keeper candidate than many other closers (or potential closers) out there.
• Javier Lopez was entrusted with a four-out save and didn’t disappoint. Before commenters go berserk and question why Lopez isn’t the lead closer in the grid with a green bar, it needs to be emphasized that the reason why Lopez was used in such fashion last night was because he faced Jason Heyward (L), Chipper Jones (S), Freddie Freeman (L), and Brian McCann (L). The sidearming lefty’s career wOBA against RHB is an ugly 0.351 including an abhorrent 0.434 this season — he’s just not going to be effective as a “traditional closer” who faces three guys, regardless of handedness. It’s not even a lefty Sasquatch issue either, as Lopez has legitimately awful platoon splits. Those negatives aside, he clearly has done an admirable job retiring left-handed batters and should continue to garner ninth-inning appearances where good lefty hitters are due up (possibly vulturing some one- and two-out saves because of this) — the Giants bullpen certainly has the look of a true platoon committee at the moment.
• Garrett Richards got a save for the Angels last night after Ernesto Frieri was deemed unavailable (thanks to the aforementioned “Aceves funtime” in Boston). Richards has put up a pedestrian 4.85 xFIP as both a member of the rotation and bullpen and should remain behind most of the Angels pecking order going forward. Without shiny rates or significant opportunity, there’s really little reason for him not to remain on redraft waiver wires.
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 Today: Sean Marshall (CIN) vs. STL
The number one and number two relief pitchers for the last thirty days are Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel — or, in other words — SHOCKER. Number three, however, is formerly deposed ninth inning guy Sean Marshall. Marshall has put up a 2.34 xFIP with an impressive 4.92 K/BB over the last thirty days and should represent a cheap option for holds streamers or guys looking to pad their rate stats.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]