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John Axford & Brandon League: Buy Low Candidates

Allow me to make an assumption. If you’re reading the roto-blog at FanGraphs you’re likely smarter than your league mates. We tend to attract a different kind of cat over here. You’re more rational. You have a deeper understanding of what makes baseball tick, and you use that information to outwit your lesser prepared league mates. That being said, you’re all aware of how fickle saves can be. If a closer has a few rough outings in a row, or a less than stellar ERA, people tend to freak out. Again, not you guys, those other people. Paying for saves on draft day tends to be a fruitless endeavor, but there’s no reason you can’t hoodwink an owner in May whose panicking over small sample sizes.

Of all the relievers with 10 or more saves John Axford and Brandon League have the highest ERAs, but their underlying statistics have been quite good. Let’s take a look at why each is a good buy low candidate.

John Axford

The mustachioed wonder has been unlucky this season – his .373 BABiP is seventh highest among all qualified relievers while his 67.6 LOB% is 22nd lowest. That has lead to a 4.22 ERA thus far. Compare that with his 2010 numbers of .308 and 77.3% and you can see why he’s having ERA trouble. The truth of the matter is that all of Axford’s important peripheral numbers are very similar to last season. He’s striking batters out at nearly the same pace – a fantastic 11.39 K/9 – walking a bit less, and has kept his FIP down to a sparkling 2.11. If you take out his first outing of the season, in which he allowed four earned runs and his only homer of the year, his ERA drops to a much nicer 2.75. Axford is showing his rookie season was no fluke and I’m betting you can pry him away fairly cheaply from a mustache-hating owner near you.

Brandon League

Like Axford, League is also suffering from the BABiP and LOB% blues. He went through 12 of his first 14 appearances without allowing an earned run, but ran into trouble in a four game stretch from 5/8 through 5-13. In those four games he allowed 10 earned runs on 12 hits, blowing three straight saves in the process and getting a loss in another. David Aardsma is still out indefinitely and may not pitch this season after hip surgery, and a recent elbow sprain, so it looks like the job is still League’s. Despite his horrendous ERA, his FIP is a low 3.18. Over that four game stretch he allowed just one home run, it just looks like everything that was struck fell for a hit. He’s never had big strikeout numbers so he won’t help you there, but the Mariners are involved in a lot of close games thanks to their excellent pitching and horrible offense. That means League should get his share of save opportunities, and will likely resemble the pitcher who posses the 3.18 FIP than the 6.50 ERA. He’s owned in just 60% of Yahoo! leagues. He’s worth the low price he will cost you.