• After we last left you on Friday night, Brian Fuentes had a mini-implosion versus the Diamondbacks, taking a win off the board for the A’s and Tommy Milone and probably taking himself out of the ninth inning on a full-time basis. On Saturday, Bob Melvin told assembled press before the game that he was going to use — something every fantasy owner longs to hear — a committee. Fuentes will remain in the mix for saves but Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour will get opportunities based on their availability and matchups.
Cook has been the sleeper darling of the group since the first few weeks of the season, putting up a sparkling 0.69 ERA in 26.0 IP so far in 2012. While his strikeout rate has been solid (8.7 K/9), his walk rate has been anything but (5.2 BB/9). Free passes are nothing new to Cook who had 9.2 BB/9 in limited action at the big league level for Arizona last year in addition to 4.2 BB/9 down at AAA. Thanks to the walks, a low BABIP (0.119) and the fact that he has allowed no homers this year with a 48.3% fly ball rate, his xFIP is a less-than-appetizing 4.39. Balfour’s fastball velocity and, subsequently, strikeouts are down this year (7.0 K/9, compared with a career average of 9.7), and his walk rate (3.9 BB/9) and xFIP (4.40) are nothing to write home about, either. Ironically, Fuentes still has the best peripherals of the three, thanks in large part to his 2.0 BB/9 (3.95 xFIP). Unfortunately for him, a poor strand rate (64.5% LOB%) and HR/FB% nearly four points above his career average (12.5% versus 8.4%) has his ERA the worst of the three at 5.24.
Cook will be the trendy pickup in standard redraft leagues, although he’s probably already gone from the wire in deeper keepers and dynasties. Since his counting stats are good, and he’s the only one of the three who hasn’t pitched his way out of the ninth yet, he would seem to be the odds-on favorite for saves in the Athletics pen. Also in Cook’s favor is the fact that Fuentes and Balfour have been widely-rumored trade candidates for an Oakland team not planning on being a serious player in the American League West for at least a few years. That said, there’s a lot not to like about each of the three guys mentioned, so if you are a Cook owner — selling his sub-1.00 ERA and potential new job might not be the worst idea in the world.
• The entire Cincinatti Reds bullpen suffered a massive meltdown this evening. Jose Arredondo and Sean Marshall each faced one batter in the seventh, both failing to record an out. Logan Ondrusek allowed one of the runners to score before finishing the inning, but then put two of his own on to open the eighth inning. At this point, Dusty Baker (surprisingly) went to Aroldis Chapman who quickly allowed four consecutive baserunners to reach (blowing the save and conceding the lead in the process) before eventually settling down and retiring Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young. The most concerning thing about Chapman’s outing was the wildness — he walked a batter, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to score. Chapman’s tremendous 2012 success (1.39 xFIP) has been spurred by a greatly depressed walk rate (2.7 BB/9 versus a career 5.3) and tonight’s outing is easily the wildest Chapman has been this year. Hopefully just a bump in the road, but Reds fans and Chapman owners can’t help but feel a little nauseous after seeing tonight’s box score.
• Rafael Soriano blew a one-run game against the Mets earlier today, and it might have been even worse if Ike Davis‘ terrible, no good, horrible, very bad season didn’t continue with him making the first out of the ninth at third base. Word from inside the Yankees organization recently leaked out that confirmed Soriano would remain the closer when David Robertson returned, and today’s outing likely wasn’t bad enough to change that, especially given his improved rates in recent weeks. Speaking of Robertson, he threw a perfect inning in a rehab appearance for Empire State today, and Joe Girardi hinted that he might be activated as soon as next Friday.
• John Axford turned a four-run lead into a squeaker this afternoon (insert joke about closers not being able to pitch in non-save situations here), only retiring one batter while allowing five baserunners (three hits, two walks) before Jose Veras came in to put out the fire. Axford’s walk rate is nearly double last year’s in limited innings (5.6 BB/9 after today versus 3.1 last year) but other markers, such as strikeout rate and fastball velocity are slightly better than their 2011 counterparts. Axford’s xFIP is now 3.06, which is only slightly elevated over his career 2.91 figure, so his owners shouldn’t fret today’s outing.
• I covered Jason Grilli a few nights ago in the Bullpen Report and he rewarded his (still scattered) fantasy owners with a surprise save today after Joel Hanrahan was deemed unavailable after pitching three consecutive days. Of minor note is that Juan Cruz (who converted a couple saves for the team earlier this year when Hanrahan was unavailable) worked the eighth this afternoon, so I’m going to go ahead and swap Grilli and Cruz in the closer grid based on their recent usage. Of course, as I also mentioned Friday, Hanrahan’s job is still plenty safe, so shallow leaguers don’t need to rush to their 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: Jonny Venters (ATL) vs. NYY
No one would argue that Ivan Nova and Randall Delgado have been two of their respective teams’ best starters, so expect both bullpens to get at least a few innings in. Venters has popped up on some waiver wires recently after watching his 2011 ERA of 1.84 turn into 3.13 this year, but what astute readers might notice is that his strikeout rate is actually up to 11.4 and his walk rate is down to 4.3 BB/9. Sounds like a recipe for success going forward to me.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]