Bullpen Report: September 18, 2013

• The Rangers are certainly not playing their best baseball, and Joe Nathan didn’t help tonight. Texas’ closer was tagged with a “BS” in the box score after giving up a walk, a stolen base, and a single. Nathan has been steadily outperforming his peripherals all year, posting a mid-1.00’s ERA even with an xFIP north of 3.00. While that’s not a major concern, the fact that his BB% has spiked to 13.7% after the all-star break (and a walk began his undoing tonight) is somewhat concerning. His velocity has trended up later in the season, although he remains below his 2012 mark. The control bears watching (given some of Jeff Zimmerman‘s work which implies loss of command is a potential sign of injury) and the fact that Nathan will be entering his age 39 season next year makes him somewhat of an low-upside keeper stash. That said, ride him for the next 10 days.

• One of the surprises of the year, the Royals bullpen (as a group) are putting up one of the top five relief seasons (by ERA) in the last two decades. A huge part of that success is Luke Hochevar, baseball’s third best reliever over the last 30 days. The righty has a 2.97 xFIP on the season, but has really turned up the wick over the last month, posting a ridiculous 48% K%.

The former top-flight prospect has always been stingy with the walks, but the move to the bullpen has resulted in a three mile per hour surge in fastball velocity and an almost doubling of his SwStr% (now sitting at an elite 13.2%). The velocity spike has turned his four-seamer from a -1.09 wFB/100 to a 2.48 mark, and allowed him to be an effective reliever throwing hard stuff (fastball/cutter) roughly 80% of the time.

Unfortunately, Hochevar is sitting in a pen full of big arms (Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera) so his value in standard leagues is stunted. However, assuming he doesn’t grab the ninth inning next season, he might make for a sexy late round pick to rack up peripherals. If he can sustain some of his late-season gains this year, he could flirt with 100 whiffs out of the pen next year. And that’s plenty valuable.

• Quick hits: Grant Balfour blew his third save of the season. His velocity looks OK and his rate stats aren’t too bad, but he’s been “eh” at best over the last month or so. His leash might get short in the playoffs if he has a couple more shaky outings. Mark Melancon showed he’s human today, coughing up a lead against the Padres (the Padres!?). As one of baseball’s top relievers by SIERA, I’m not concerned, but the Pirates could have used the win. Mariano Rivera worked around a couple hits in a multi-inning save (his 44th). Try and catch a couple of his outings over the last couple weeks as his days are winding down.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
Arizona Brad Ziegler J.J. Putz Heath Bell
Atlanta Craig Kimbrel Jordan Walden Scott Downs
Baltimore Jim Johnson Tommy Hunter Francisco Rodriguez
Boston Koji Uehara Junichi Tazawa Craig Breslow Andrew Bailey
CHI (NL) Kevin Gregg Pedro Strop Blake Parker
CHI (AL) Addison Reed Nate Jones Matt Lindstrom
Cincy Aroldis Chapman J.J. Hoover Sam Lecure Sean Marshall
Cleveland Chris Perez Joe Smith Cody Allen
Colorado Rex Brothers Matt Belisle Wilton Lopez Rafael Betancourt
Detroit Joaquin Benoit Jose Veras Drew Smyly
Houston Josh Fields Chia-Jen Lo Josh Zeid Jose Cisnero
KC Greg Holland Kelvin Herrera Aaron Crow
LAA Ernesto Frieri Dane de la Rosa Kevin Jepsen Robert Coello
LAD Kenley Jansen Paco Rodriguez Brian Wilson
Miami Steve Cishek Mike Dunn Chad Qualls
Milwaukee Jim Henderson Brandon Kintzler Michael Gonzalez
Minnesota Glen Perkins Jared Burton Casey Fien
NY (NL) LaTroy Hawkins David Aardsma Gonzalez Germen Bobby Parnell
NY (AL) Mariano Rivera David Robertson Shawn Kelley
Oakland Grant Balfour Ryan Cook Sean Doolittle
Philly Jonathan Papelbon Justin De Fratus Jake Diekman Mike Adams
Pittsburgh Mark Melancon Jason Grilli Justin Wilson
St. Louis Edward Mujica Trevor Rosenthal John Axford Jason Motte
SD Huston Street Luke Gregerson Dale Thayer
SF Sergio Romo Jeremy Affeldt Santiago Casilla
Seattle Danny Farquhar Yoervis Medina Tom Wilhelmsen
TB Fernando Rodney Joel Peralta Jake McGee Jesse Crain
Texas Joe Nathan Tanner Scheppers Jason Frasor
Toronto Casey Janssen Steve Delabar Sergio Santos
Wash. Rafael Soriano Tyler Clippard Drew Storen

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

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There are few things Colin loves more in life than a pitcher with a single-digit BB%. Find him on Twitter @soxczar.

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Balfour has not looked very sharp, I agree. I actually just added Ryan Cook in my 14-team dynasty. He seems to be one of the more consistent relievers for Oakland this year with decent numbers. His value could shoot up in the offseason if Balfour gets overpayed by somebody like the Yankees and moves on.