• While I was sleeping off illness, J.J. Putz was busy getting served at a late night Panda Express in Arizona last night. Pablo Sandoval‘s two-run homer off Putz ruined a sparkling pitching performance from Trevor Cahill and caused more Arizona beat writers to question whether a change in the late innings is warranted. Putz’s fastball velocity is down a bit, although he’s historically been a slow starter who ramps up as the season goes along. More concerning is the number of free passes he’s granted since his current 12.5% BB% far surpasses his career 7.7% average. His K% is fine and SwStr% is actually up a tick, but his F-Strike% has dropped for a second straight year and his O-Swing% is 27.6%, implying guys are getting ahead in counts against Putz and not chasing.
So long as he is not injured, there’s reason to believe he’ll be fine if he gets the walk rate under control, but Arizona has elite setup man David Hernandez (26.4 K%, 2.92 SIERA) waiting in the wings if a shuffle beckons. We should also mention Matt Reynolds is seeing some high-leverage opportunities, and even though his strikeout rate isn’t quite as gaudy as Hernandez’s; he could be a dark horse option for the ninth as well (remember, Bryan Shaw leapfrogged Hernandez for a period of time last year). Both setup men should be owned in all leagues where saves are scarce. Oh, and the quietly resurgent Heath Bell, looms, too.
• “The Ax Man” cometh… and he cometh to give up another home run. John Axford appeared to be making inroads on reclaiming the closer gig in Milwaukee but he had a mini-meltdown trying to protect a two-run, eighth inning lead this afternoon. His defense didn’t do him any favors, with Rickie Weeks trying to impress the Packers coaching staff into ditching Mason Crosby when he punted (literally, like with his foot) a soft flare into right field, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Axford’s xFIP still isn’t that terrible after the outing (3.51) but his FIP and ERA are both wrecked by a ghastly 4.76 HR/9. You can certainly expect the 33% HR/FB rate to normalize, but there is no question batters have been able to make solid contact off of Axford this year. Even assuming he “improves,” he still should be a weaker option than new Brewer relief super-stud Jim Henderson. Of course, Ron Roenicke could continue claiming Axford will take the job back from the superior pitcher eventually, which would be much to the chagrin of waiver wire aficionados everywhere.
• Scott Downs had to leave today’s Angels/A’s game with what is being termed a rib cage injury. Ernesto Frieri said “no problem” and got five outs to cover for him and notch the “SV.” If you were relying on Downs in a holds league, be prepared to be without him for a while, as average side/oblique injures sometimes take multiple weeks before a pitcher is back on the mound at full strength. Unless your league counts GB%, there are probably better options on your wire anyways.
Frieri has an impressive 2.19 ERA, but his 19.6% BB% seems to imply he is a ticking time bomb. Control has never been his strength, but his walk rate is up, even for him. He has a lot of leash as the Angels closer, especially since half the bullpen is sitting in an ice bath somewhere in extended spring training, but I’d be looking to sell if I could (especially if you read this column and are already flush in waiver wire gems like Henderson, Edward Mujica, and Andrew Bailey!) Unfortunately, the last we heard about Ryan Madson, he was busy not throwing after a sim game last week. Unless your league has unlimited DL slots, those of you praying he’ll be ready sometime soon can go ahead and drop him.
• Bobby Parnell locked up save number three earlier this afternoon. He was a darling in this space last year as he tried to take the job and run after Frank Francisco went on the disabled list and it appears he finally (after a few 2012 bumps) has a firm grip on the ninth. I don’t expect his 2.4% BB% will hold all year, but he’s still bringing mid-90’s heat and striking out nearly a quarter of the guys he faces. Saves might be tough to come by for the Metropolitans, but Parnell should be good as a mid-tier closer with above-average rates.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]
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