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Bullpen Report: July 20, 2012

• Big trade in the bullpen world that became official early this morning. The Astros sent J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, and a minor leaguer to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, and a collection of five more players. Obviously, for this column’s sake, the two most important players in the deal are Lyon and Cordero. Lyon (4.07 xFIP) moves from an Astros bullpen where he might have been a closing option in the semi-likely event Brett Myers gets traded to a bullpen where Casey Janssen‘s 2.83 xFIP and 13-for-13 conversion rate has a stranglehold on the closing job. Lyon will likely see marginally more holds for a slightly better Blue Jays team, but he’ll move into a far tougher division from an opposing hitter standpoint. Cordero is the far more intriguing piece for fantasy purposes, moving from a team where he was fully blocked from racking up saves to an Astros squad actively looking to move their current closer in Brett Myers. Cordero hasn’t pitched well this season, although a 0.366 BABIP is keeping his ERA (5.77) more than a full run higher than his xFIP (4.64). With Wilton Lopez back from the disabled list, he seems like the favorite for saves if Myers departs Houston, but, coming into the season, Cordero had saved at least 10 games every year since 2002, so even with iffy peripherals, he might get a whiff thanks to prior experience.

• Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said that the return of John Axford to the ninth inning may come sooner than people think. “The reason you turn it over is because of the impatience of people – the media, the fans, everybody else,” said Melvin. “He’s still got the best arm on the club.” He’s not wrong. Axford’s 3.18 xFIP is the second-lowest in the Milwaukee bullpen (only slightly behind Manny Parra‘s 3.13) and he still holds an elite 29.7% K%. While Axford hasn’t been sterling this year, he’s been partially victimized by a 0.337 BABIP and a 65.9% LOB%. Francisco Rodriguez, meanwhile, has a lower ERA but worse peripherals across the board, posting the lowest K% (22.3%) and SwStr% (8.0%) rates of his career and his highest BB% since 2009. Axford owners should hold tight and guys who snagged K-Rod earlier this week should consider peddling him to other owners hurting for saves who might believe he’ll hold the job longer than he probably will.

• The Nationals bullpen had a night to forget in Washington Friday night, giving up 10 straight runs to blow a 9-0 lead. Tyler Clippard will catch the most flak for giving up a two-run triple to speedster Michael Bourn in the top of the ninth to allow the Braves to pull ahead, but Sean Burnett (1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 ER) and, more importantly, Drew Storen (0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 K, 2 ER) both pitched equally poorly in the late innings. Clippard has picked a poor time to start struggling, allowing eight earned runs over his last six outings (six innings) while compiling two blown saves and a loss right around the time former closer Storen returned from his elbow injury. Luckily for him (and his owners), Storen didn’t look like a world-beater tonight and, of greater concern, his velocity is down. The ice under Clippard’s feet is certainly thinner than it was a week ago, but owners shouldn’t start panicking just yet.

• Clippard wasn’t tagged with the loss in tonight’s game because Craig Kimbrel suffered a rare blown save after allowing a solo shot to Danny Espinosa in the bottom of the ninth. Of course, Kimbrel and his 1.21 xFIP laugh at anyone who are even the concerned in the slightest. The league’s other 45%+ K% guy, Aroldis Chapman, had a cleaner 1-2-3 save tonight while whiffing two. Chapman had a minor hiccup last month, but has now struck out an other-worldly 20 guys over his last eight and a third innings. Both closers are good bets to remain the top two guys for fantasy purposes through the remainder of 2012 and make for elite bullpen keeper options (so long as Chapman stays there) going forward.

For those of you who play daily fantasy games like FanGraphs: The Game, or just like to stream players, here is a matchup you may be able to exploit.

A Pitcher for Tomorrow: Chris Perez (CLE) vs. BAL

Quick, which reliever has the fourth best xFIP in July (behind the aforementioned Kimbrel and Chapman — who have negative xFIPs this month)? If you answered Chris Perez, you’re either an Indians fan or spend way too much time perusing the leaderboards. Either way, Perez wasn’t used in tonight’s loss and tomorrow’s McAllister/Tillman pitching matchup certainly doesn’t involve a shutdown ace so Perez feels like a good gamble.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second Off 25-Man
Arizona J.J. Putz David Hernandez Bryan Shaw
Atlanta Craig Kimbrel Eric O’Flaherty Jonny Venters
Baltimore Jim Johnson Pedro Strop Darren O’Day
Boston Alfredo Aceves Andrew Miller Mark Melancon Andrew Bailey
Chicago (NL) Carlos Marmol James Russell Shawn Camp
Chicago (AL) Addison Reed Matt Thornton Hector Santiago
Cincy Aroldis Chapman Sean Marshall Jose Arredondo
Cleveland Chris Perez Vinnie Pestano Tony Sipp
Colorado Rafael Betancourt Matt Belisle Rex Brothers
Detroit Jose Valverde Joaquin Benoit Octavio Dotel
Houston Brett Myers Wilton Lopez Francisco Cordero
KC Jonathan Broxton Greg Holland Aaron Crow
LAA Ernesto Frieri Scott Downs Kevin Jepsen Jordan Walden
LAD Kenley Jansen Javy Guerra Ronald Bellisario
Miami Steve Cishek Heath Bell Edward Mujica
Milwaukee Francisco Rodriguez John Axford Jose Veras
Minnesota Glen Perkins Jared Burton Alex Burnett Matt Capps
NY (NL) Bobby Parnell Jon Rauch Ramon Ramirez Frank Francisco
NY (AL) Rafael Soriano David Robertson Boone Logan
Oakland Ryan Cook Grant Balfour Jerry Blevins
Philly Jonathan Papelbon Antonio Bastardo Jake Diekman
Pittsburgh Joel Hanrahan Jason Grilli Juan Cruz
St. Louis Jason Motte Mitchell Boggs Eduardo Sanchez
SD Huston Street Luke Gregerson Dale Thayer
SF Santiago Casilla Sergio Romo Javier Lopez
Seattle Tom Wilhelmsen Brandon League Charlie Furbush
Tampa Bay Fernando Rodney Kyle Farnsworth Jake McGee
Texas Joe Nathan Mike Adams Robbie Ross
Toronto Casey Janssen Brandon Lyon Darren Oliver
Wash. Tyler Clippard Drew Storen Sean Burnett

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

The Woodstock of Baseball, the 2nd Annual Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball Seminar will be held on the campus of Boston University on August 4th and 5th. This seminar  is bringing together speakers who are experts on scouting, player development, advanced statistics, sports medicine, science, psychology and sports writing, all to benefit The Jimmy Fund. Speaking at the seminar are Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, Bench Coach Tim Bogar, Dir of Professional Scouting Jared Porter, Dir of Baseball Information Systems Tom Tippett, ex-GM Mike Port, Dan Brooks of Brooks Baseball, Mitchel Lichtman, Kevin Goldstein, Steve Goldman, Michael Silverman, Jon Rish, Andy Andres and many more. This is a great opportunity to interact with some of the best minds in baseball and to increase your knowledge of the game we all love. There will also be a live demonstration of the Trackman Ball Tracking System. Come see why there will be representatives of four other MLB teams in the audience. Tickets are only $125 for adults and $65 for students. Because all of the speakers are donating their time and covering their own expenses, 100% of the proceeds go to The Jimmy Fund. For more information, please visit http://saberseminar.com