• Just as Heath Bell looked like he was climbing back into fantasy owners’ good graces, he crumbled faster than the Mrs. Fields cookie I’m gnawing on while sitting on the floor writing this at BWI (surprisingly busy for a Sunday night). While he’s been frustrating for fantasy owners this year, his recent uptick in velocity hasn’t reversed over the past week and his June peripherals (6.0 K/BB, 2.54 xFIP) still were the best of his 2012 season (and it wasn’t even really close). As has been said in numerous Bullpen Reports, he will have a long leash at the back end of the Miami bullpen thanks to his contract, so expect to see him still patrolling the ninth if the immediate aftermath of the all-star break. An interesting wild card that might stir up some trouble for Bell if he continues to regress back to early season form — Juan Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) is eligible to return from his suspension on July 23rd and manager Ozzie Guillen did not rule out the former closer (career 2.6 K/BB, 4.25 xFIP) seeing a few save chances once he returns. I wouldn’t rush to grab Oviedo in shallow leagues given his history of mediocrity outside of 2010, but Bell owners in deeper or NL-only ones might think about handcuffing him during the fantasy lull over the next few days just to cover all their bases (something the Cardinals did against Bell today — hey-o!).
• Yesterday, Scott Downs wrapped up a 3-0 game by pitching a perfect ninth. Given the distribution of saves opportunities, it’s clear that Ernesto Frieri is still the 1A guy in Los Angeles; however, owners should understand that Downs is still getting mixed in 20-25% of the time. Given the fact that both pitchers (Frieri: 3.03 xFIP, Downs: 3.13 xFIP) have gotten the job done since Jordan Walden was demoted two weeks into the season, there doesn’t appear to be any inertia to force Mike Scioscia (who has done a good job using the two pitchers appropriately in various ninth-inning matchups) to blindly toss every ninth inning to either of the pitchers. Walden’s 3.90 xFIP isn’t terrible (certainly not as bad as his ERA implies) but he seems pretty droppable in even deeper mixed leagues — the odds of Frieri and Downs simultaneously pitching bad enough to both get leapfrogged at the same time seems highly unlikely.
• Aroldis Chapman got back-to-back saves Saturday and Sunday — facing six hitters and whiffing five of them. Chapman had a small speedbump over the last month or so, putting up a 9.82 ERA over the last two-thirds of June (12/3 K/BB) after his impressive start to the season but it’s clear he’s back to being the top dog in Cincy. Chapman’s 16.25 K/9 and 1.64 xFIP are keeping him neck-and-neck with Craig Kimbrel in the battle for “best reliever in baseball.”
• Closer fill-ins Bobby Parnell (3.10 xFIP) and Casey Janssen (2.91 xFIP) both racked up saves over the weekend, continuing their stellar run of substitution. However, there was some good news for the guys they replaced — Frank Francisco is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment Wednesday and Sergio Santos will attempt to throw off a mound this week. Francisco has gotten the all-important vote of confidence from Terry Collins and should regain the closer role sometime next weekend or early the week thereafter once he’s ready for big league games. Santos, on the other hand, has been besieged by setbacks during his rehab so the fact that he’s merely scheduled to throw off a mound likely isn’t fooling his owners into fist-pumping from behind their office computers yet. Even if Santos has finally turned the corner, Janssen’s performance since taking over the role (1.21 ERA, 21/4 K/BB) has been strong enough that there’s a very real chance he holds the closer role after Santos returns. I’m holding Janssen and owners short-selling him for fifty cents on the dollar thinking his closing days are numbered might be in for a rude surprise.
• Matt Thornton finished off the Blue Jays Saturday, rewarding owners holding him with a rare save. However, it didn’t signify a changing of the guard on the South Side, as Addison Reed was merely unavailable after pitching three consecutive nights. While Reed’s hold on the job isn’t rock-solid, he’ll be back to taking the ball in the ninth when Chicago returns to play later in the week.
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: Random Batting Practice Pitcher
Lots of taters to be mashed tomorrow. Pitchers not recommended.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]
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