Closer Carousel Creates Holds Opportunity

It’s probably safe to say that the Tampa Rays and Anaheim Angels didn’t draw up their bullpen plans like this in March. Both teams have had numerous players close games — or rather, attempt to close games — since the beginning of the season. They’ve both had the dubious “closer by committee” approach. They’ve both tried reclamation projects and they’ve both tried some kids. But what falls out of focus is how this shifting impacts the arms trotted out there in the 7th and 8th innings for those of you in leagues which value the hold. And over the last month, there have been two very valuable late inning arms whom you may want to employ.

Brad Boxberger has always had the ability to miss bats, with a 27% and 25.5% strikeout rate in his two seasons with the Padres. But his inability to repeat his delivery often led to occasional blowup innings in large part due to an unseemly 15% and 14% walk rate from 2012 to 2013. Shipped to the Rays in the off-season, Boxberger came out looking like the old Boxberger with high strikeouts and high walks, but something changed right around June, perhaps a credit to Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, perhaps a credit to a deal with the devil, who knows. But Boxberger started to find the strike zone with regularity and his strikeouts even increased. Here’s a comparison by month this season:

K% BB% FIP
April 26.70% 13.30% 2.64
May 35.20% 14.80% 4.52
June 45.10% 3.90% 4.26
July 50.00% 5.00% 0.38

Yes, small sample size police and all, but that’s a trend that I can get behind. He has been absolutely filthy in July, throwing just over 12 innings, giving up just four singles, two walks, and striking out 20. In July, batters are slashing .105/.150/.105. What’s more, during this time he’s been used pretty regularly in the eighth inning and has amassed seven holds and a win. The Rays have been on a pretty good streak, and if you’re in a holds league, Boxberger could be a handy arm to have around. And if you’re a save maven, if I’m not mistaken, last night Boxberger was warming up for the save until the lead was extended to four runs and he gave way to Grant Balfour. Intrigue!

Kevin Jepsen is no stranger to the hold category, but after registering just eight holds in 2013 and being altogether very hittable, the makeup of the Angels bullpen appeared to frown on his prospects for holds in 2014. And Jepsen didn’t come out of the gates particularly well, walking too many batters and seeing his ERA sneak up there towards the 5.00 range. But as with Boxberger, something in July clicked and he’s been one of the better relievers in baseball over the past month. Over 11 innings, he’s given up just three hits, all singles, walked just one batter and struck out 13. He’s held opponents to a .086/.111/.086 slash line and his FIP over the month was just 1.04.

Of particular note is Jepsen’s fastball, which started the season looking fairly mortal. But not so much anymore:

jepsen

Jepsen is running his fastball up there at an average velocity well over 95, and he’s starting to get his walks under control. Over the course of the past month, nobody has registered more holds, and pitching for the surging Angels and behind Huston Street, there’s not much reason why that can’t continue.



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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


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Bobby Ayala
Member

Both these guys were snatched up a long time ago in any league that uses holds. Can you float a few more names, or maybe revisit this idea if more RPs get dealt by today’s deadline? Thanks.

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