• J.J. Putz hit the disabled list and the news isn’t good. The notoriously injury-prone reliever is said to be likely in need of surgery and, regardless, “he’ll be out a long time.” It seems that Putz’s 2013 BB% (14%) is double that of his career average could be a manifestation of a partially torn ligament and, reading the tea leaves, season-ending surgery is a real possibility for the 36-year-old. You might as well wait a couple days if you don’t need the spot, but feel free to drop him in shallow leagues or if you have an eye on another guy on the wire.
In fact, others guys on the wire might consist of Heath Bell or David Hernandez. The former all-star and (more recently) formerly maligned Bell will get the first crack as replacing Putz at the back end of the Diamondbacks bullpen. Taco‘s 4.73 ERA may lead many to grumble “didn’t everyone learn last year that Bell isn’t a closer anymore?” but a look at the underlying peripherals show a much improved pitcher. After surpassing 10% in 2012, Bell’s walk rate is back in the single digits (5.3%). He’s also struck out a third of the batters he’s faced thanks to a SwStr% that has reverted to his career average. He should be rostered in all leagues; Miami Heath could always reappear, but if he keeps pitching like he has so far, he should be successful enough to hold the job.
He’ll have to be successful since Hernandez will be right behind him. Hernando emerged as one of the elite setup men in baseball last year, posting a 2.85 xFIP in 68.1 innings. However, this year, his strikeouts are down and walks are up and both have conspired to raise his ERA predictors into the 4’s. His fastball velocity is off a tick but his biggest problem is that his curveball (historically his best pitch) has been abysmal by linear weights (-0.68 wCB/100 this year compared to 2.00+ the past two seasons). There’s really no reason to believe that he won’t be able to fix his offspeed offerings and after doing so he should return to putting up an ERA in the high 2.00’s or low 3.00’s. If he’s not gone, I’d also grab him in deeper leagues as a speculative play.
• With Kyuji Fujikawa‘s return seemingly imminent, Cubs manager Dale Sveum squashed any potential controversy by naming Kevin Gregg his closer. We’ve covered “Kevin Gregg: Proven Closer” in this space a few times, so I’ll defer to those. Given Gregg’s career mediocrity, I still would be holding Fujikawa in leagues where saves aren’t generally available on the wire — at the very least he should put up passable rates and add a few whiffs to the ledger. Gregg tossed another scoreless inning tonight (non-save situation) and lowered his xFIP to 3.26. For context, he hasn’t had an xFIP below 4.00 in almost a decade (2004).
• Brandon League continues to not miss bats, giving up a home run to Paul Goldschmidt last night and sending the Dodgers to another loss. League’s 12.3% K% continues to be a big concern for his fantasy owners, although manager Don Mattingly claims he has decided not to “mess up the pen.” Kenley Jansen and his career 40% K% need to be owned across the board. Hell, you should roster him even if you don’t need the saves, since he’ll likely end up with more strikeouts than a multitude of 150+ inning starters this year (Rick Porcello, anyone?)
• Ryan Madson is apparently on track for a return next week. Yes, I’m totally serious. It would be nice to see Madson put his elbow discomfort behind him as the 32-year-old was a lights out reliever with a sub-3.00 xFIP in 2010 and 2011 before Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 before it started. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Madson will be handled with kid gloves for a few weeks as he continues to rebuild strength in his arm. Correspondingly, I would certainly have him well below guys like Bell, Gregg, or Junichi Tazawa on the “must grab if available” list, but if you have deep rosters and a spot to burn, Ernesto Frieri‘s 18.6% BB% (5.17 xFIP) could allow some doors to swing open for Madson in a month or two.
• Oh, Joel Hanrahan is apparently suffering from “flexor mass issue” and had film send to James Andrews this afternoon. The Red Sox haven’t let on that they think it’s anything immediately ominous, but it’s worth noting that Jason Motte was diagnosed with the same injury in spring training. I wouldn’t criticize anyone who wanted to jump ship for something more interesting on the wire. Andrew Bailey will try throwing on Thursday. Unless you hear something negative, feel free to scoop him up if someone dropped him just in case he makes a triumphant return the day he’s eligible from the DL (next Monday).
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]