Even if you haven’t been playing in leagues that value holds, it is hard to forgive for missing Ryan Cook‘s past two seasons. Since the start of 2012 season, Cook has accumulated a 2.30/2.82/3.59 ERA/FIP/xFIP. His 3.14 SIERA for the past two seasons is just as impressive. Saves or not, those peripherals plus his 25.3% strikeout rate equates to a strong fantasy bullpen member.
Despite the fact that Cook ranked outside the top 50 of Zach Sanders’ 2013 End of Season Relief Pitcher Rankings, Cook has several positives going for him when looking ahead to this season. Last year his average fastball of 95 mph rated as the 24th fastest among qualified relievers. He is primarily a fastball/slider guy, though he will mix in the occasional change-up and sinker. As per BrooksBaseball.net, a table showing Cook’s pitch selection for all of last season can be found below.
|Total||Pitch Count||Frequency||Average Velocity||Whiffs Per Swing|
What is most eye-popping is his whiffs per swing on the change-up. Note that this isn’t citing raw whiff%, but only whiffs per swing. Given his status a mostly a fastball/slider guy, Cook has cruised when facing same-handed hitters, holding them to a mere .236 wOBA. Lefties have had a higher rate of success against him, but Cook has held them to a respectable .295 wOBA. He’s faced off against 287 lefties and 336 righties for his career, showing that he isn’t just a righty specialist.
When facing an opposite-handed hitter, Cook’s usage rates saw a(n unsurprising) shift. Below are two tables, separated by batter handedness, showing the same statistics as the previous table.
|Vs LHB||Pitch Count||Frequency||Average Velocity||Whiffs Per Swing|
|Vs RHB||Pitch Count||Frequency||Average Velocity||Whiffs Per Swing|
Another impressive — though we can’t decisively call it a skill just yet — is Cook’s home run rate. In 148.1 major league innings Cook has surrendered just six home runs. Last season saw Cook throw 67.1 innings while allowing two dingers, both on the road. One at Minnesota against Josh Willingham and another in Toronto against Jose Reyes. Not much shame in giving up a homer to either of those players. Cook’s 0.27 HR/9 ratio ranked as the seventh best among qualified relievers and his 3% HR/FB% ranked as third best. His 2012 season saw him surrender four blasts in 73.1 innings for a 0.49 HR/FB ratio and a 6.2% HR/FB%. If home run prevention is a repeatable skill — and it is to a certain extent — then Cook is showing the makings of owning said skill.
With Jim Johnson as the closer as well as the acquisition of Luke Gregerson, Cook will most likely find himself as the third right-handed option in the pen (I’ll spare you the “too many cooks in the kitchen/bullpen” line). That being said, he has the pitch repertoire to get a strikeout per inning and has the right ballpark to continue keeping his HR/FB rate low. A strong strikeout rate in addition to a great ratios makes Cook a strong late draft day pick up. He may even be available on the waiver wire in shallow leagues, and if so, should be one of the first bullpen arms to grab when a current closer/setup man inevitably gets injured. The only thing holding him back is higher-than-ideal walk rate and positioning in his team’s bullpen. Cook may be flying below the radar, but he has both a blazing fastball and numbers you can bet a fantasy title on. Some sizzle for something at stake.
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