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Bullpen Report: May 4, 2014

John Axford did not pitch well today. Because of this, the Indians did not win a baseball game. While Twitter may imply otherwise, the mustachioed man hadn’t been scored upon in about three weeks, so the implosions aren’t a regular occurrence. Yet. Unfortunately, Axford has seen a steep decline in his punchout rate over the last three years. It corresponds to a fairly noticeable decrease in velocity, which seems to be at its worst this season. These facts, combined with his notoriously iffy control, have pushed his SIERA to 4.48. That would represent the highest mark of The Ax Man’s career and continues a four-year trend of worsening performance. Not cool, John. While his AL-leading nine saves likely give him some additional job security, Cody Allen picked up right where he left off last year and owns a 2.19/2.31 ERA/SIERA. If both Axford and Allen continue down the same paths they have begun 2014 on, a closer switch later in the summer seems inevitable, making Allen is a must-own in all leagues. Conversely, I’d be peddling Axford and his save total hard. Just hope opposing owners don’t look at his Fangraphs page too closely.

• Hope you have been paying attention to my rant-like musings on Hector Rondon over the last two weeks. With saves in back-to-back games, it appears the right-hander has finally worked his way into the ninth inning for the Cubbies. He could stick, too. He’s not quite as good as his 0.59 ERA leads you to believe, but a 2.58 SIERA is nothing to sneeze at. Rondon has slowly morphed into a three-pitch pitcher, owning a heavy fastball with plenty of horizontal run, a slider which gets the majority of his whiffs, and a cutter which sits between the two. Part of his success might stem from a slight uptick in fastball velocity which is providing more velocity separation between all three pitches. While Rich Renteria continues to refer to his closer situation as “fluid” and “organic” (obviously someone had a morning Whole Foods run), it’s pretty evident Rondon is the guy for now. His ownership has skyrocketed to near 40% in Yahoo! leagues as of publish time, so if you are still getting over Friday night’s hangover, he might still be kicking around on the wire.

• Not that you need us to tell you, but Sergio Santos is no longer the Blue Jays closer. After yet another poor performance (apparently a habit Santos has gotten into lately), John Gibbons said “out!” and removed the righty from his ninth inning role. While Casey Janssen continues to try and work his way back from injury, Gibbons was quoted as saying that Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup would be two of his go-to options at the end of games. Well, Loup didn’t acquit himself well in a non-save situation Saturday, coughing up three earned runs in an inning of action. Both Loup and Cecil are left-handed, but Cecil owns vastly better peripherals (2.77 SIERA compared to Loup’s 4.75). His punchout rate (28% last year, 38% this year) sets him apart from Loup as well, so he’s the lefty I’d own in this bullpen.

Unfortunately, Cecil has pretty terrible platoon splits (.322/.205 wOBA versus RHB/LHB — and his career rates are worse), meaning we may need a right-hander to pair with him in Toronto’s committee. If we look at the best righty by ERA predictors in the bullpen we get… Sergio Santos? While Santos’ walk rate has been out of control (no pun intended) he has also suffered from some horrendous BIP and LOB% luck, so there’s a pretty good chance he pitches better in a setup role. But since we know he’s out of the picture for now, we turn to Esmil Rogers and Steve Delabar. Delabar would have been the trendy pick for new closer if we considered last year’s stats, but his strikeout rate has fallen off the table this year. While his fastball velocity is down a touch, his swinging strike rate is still well above-average. Long-term, I like him to bounce back. That said, Rogers has pitched quite well, as a full-time move to the bullpen has pumped his velocity over 94 mph and his swinging strike rate into the double digits. Unfortunately, like Santos, he’s run into some batted ball and HR/FB luck, so his 6.28 ERA is elevated over what his other rates would predict. What does this mean? I’d probably grab Delabar over Rogers, and if you can pair Delabar with Cecil, you’ll probably buy a few saves in this pen before Janssen gets back.

• Quick hits: Jonathan Papelbon is now up to 11 scoreless innings in a row after today’s save. His SIERA still sits in the high 3.00’s because his K% is down and BB% is up. Like Axford, I’d be trying to sell high if I could. Jim Johnson picked up a win today after coming in on a time game (after both Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle were used). While his usage has been mixed, my gut tells me he’s going to return to the ninth inning in the next week or so. Snag if he’s been dropped. Terry Collins says Kyle Farnsworth remains the closer after an iffy Saturday. We’ll see how long that lasts. Daiuske Matsuzaka is apparently an option, albeit an unappealing one. Vic Black is striking out everyone in Triple-A. Too bad he’s walking everyone, too.

• More quick hits: Nate Jones apparently has had back surgery. Robin Ventura says he’ll be back before the end of the season, but he’s droppable in all leagues unless you can hide him in an unused DL slot. The Astros designated Raul Valdes for assignment. The righty had actually racked up a save last week, but apparently Houston has decided they have little need for relievers with career 3.30 SIERAs. #Astrostown. Heath Bell was also DFA’ed if you were in a deep enough league where a move like that is relevant. He’ll probably catch on somewhere else, but appears to be a shell of his former self.

• Breathers: A.J. Ramos blew a save for the Marlins today, but picked up a scavenged win anyhow. Steve Cishek was unavailable after pitching three straight days, so he’ll be back next time Miami needs their closer. Similarly, Fernando Rodney wasn’t available after a four-out save yesterday so Danny Farquhar did the honors. Rodney has plenty of leash right now, but Farquhar would be a fine closer if something were to happen to Seattle’s big free agent acquisition. Continuing the theme, Sergio Romo got the day off. Santiago Casilla notched the SV, providing a nice little bonus for those who roster him in holds leagues.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
Arizona Addison Reed J.J. Putz Brad Ziegler
Atlanta Craig Kimbrel Jordan Walden David Carpenter
Baltimore Tommy Hunter Darren O’Day Brian Matusz
Boston Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa Edward Mujica
CHI (NL) Hector Rondon Pedro Strop Justin Grimm Kyuji Fujikawa
CHI (AL) Matt Lindstrom Ronald Belisario Daniel Webb Nate Jones
Cincy Jonathan Broxton Sam LeCure J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman
Cleveland John Axford Cody Allen Bryan Shaw
Colorado LaTroy Hawkins Adam Ottavino Rex Brothers
Detroit Joe Nathan Joba Chamberlain Al Alburquerque Joel Hanrahan
Houston Chad Qualls Josh Fields Anthony Bass Jesse Crain
KC Greg Holland Wade Davis Aaron Crow
LAA Joe Smith Ernesto Frieri Kevin Jepsen Dane de la Rosa
LAD Kenley Jansen Chris Perez Brian Wilson
Miami Steve Cishek A.J. Ramos Mike Dunn
Milwaukee Francisco Rodriguez Will Smith Brandon Kintzler Jim Henderson
Minnesota Glen Perkins Jared Burton Casey Fien
NY (NL) Kyle Farnsworth Daisuke Matsuzaka Jose Valverde Bobby Parnell
NY (AL) David Robertson Shawn Kelley Adam Warren
Oakland Luke Gregerson Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle
Philly Jonathan Papelbon Antonio Bastardo Mike Adams
Pittsburgh Mark Melancon Tony Watson Justin Wilson Jason Grilli
St. Louis Trevor Rosenthal Carlos Martinez Kevin Siegrist Jason Motte
SD Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Alex Torres
SF Sergio Romo Santiago Casilla Jeremy Affeldt
Seattle Fernando Rodney Danny Farquhar Tom Wilhelmsen
TB Grant Balfour Joel Peralta Jake McGee
Texas Joakim Soria Alexi Ogando Jason Frasor Neftali Feliz
Toronto Brett Cecil Steve Delabar Aaron Loup Casey Janssen
Wash. Rafael Soriano Tyler Clippard Drew Storen

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]