Eno Sarris

Baseball Daily Dose

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Joe Nathan Loses Closer Role

Monday, April 18, 2011


So far this season, Joe Nathan hasn't had his fastball back. Instead of averaging around 94 on his heater, he's been closer to 91, and that can be a big difference. For now, it's the difference between Nathan being the closer and not.

Before we make too much of a big deal about his lost velocity, it's worth mentioning that the new closer, Matt Capps, has also lost two MPH off his fastball velocity from last year. Sometimes, it's just a couple bad outings. Long-term, this still seems like Nathan's job. For now, Capps is the man. For the Twins' sake, the news about Joe Mauer got better as the weekend went on - the weakness in his legs may have been caused by the viral infection that put him in the hospital. He may only miss two weeks.

At least there are only two possible closers in Minnesota, really. In Chicago, Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Jesse Crain and Sergio Santos are all ownable because they are all in the mix for the closer's job. Unfortunately, the White Sox got swept over the weekend and we didn't learn too much about who might step forward. Santos is still the only reliever that has not been replaced during a blown save opportunity, and Crain is the only one that has nice numbers for the year.

Other pens are in flux, too. Frank Francisco comes off the DL on Tuesday, but Jon Rauch might keep the job, according to his manager. Francisco also had a poor rehab stint. Ryan Franklin blew another save Sunday, but who's behind him? Jason Motte's fastball is straight and he doesn't have another pitch really. Eduardo Sanchez is interesting, but would Tony LaRussa really trust such a green pitcher in the role? Mitchell Boggs has so far out-performed his past numbers - it seems like a mirage, but he's also new to the bullpen. He could be next in line. Hong-Chih Kuo (lower back) is on the DL now. His control problems this year had already put him behind Kenley Jansen in the pecking order should Jonathan Broxton fail. Brandon Lyon hasn't been great, but Wilton Lopez (elbow) is now on the the DL until the end of the month and Mark Melancon has moved into the setup role. He's not quite challenging Kevin Gregg, but Koji Uehara says he is now ready to pitch back-to-back days.

* Young starting pitchers are so exciting. So little is known about their abilities on the major league level, and their upside is so enticing. Michael Pineda struck out five, walked four, and got a win in six innings of strong work. It was against the Royals, and Pineda still has slight platoon issues, but he's a great pickup in any format if he's on your waiver wire. Ditto for Jeremy Hellickson despite allowing four runs and six hits and two walks in seven innings Sunday. His strikeout rate looks like it did in the minor leagues, so that walk total is actually encouraging. Mat Latos gave up five earned in his second start back from the DL. Once he stops giving up home runs, though, he'll be the elite guy he showed us last year - his minor league numbers support that thought. Tyler Chatwood, though? He had a good start Saturday against the White Sox (one run, five hits), and has some buzz about him, but doesn't strike guys out, has inconsistent control, and only got above-average ground ball rates in the minor leagues. He's no Zach Britton. Derek Holland hasn't gotten the early results as Chatwood, but underneath those numbers, he has a decent strikeout rate, good control, and gobs of promise, even for this year. Even after giving up five runs to the Yankees on Saturday afternoon.

Old pitchers? We have the book on them. We know enough about Jeff Francis, for instance, to say that since he hasn't added velocity, or a new pitch, and since he is striking batters out at about the same rate he always has, he probably isn't a new pitcher. Don't bet on the success continuing, even if he only allowed three runs to the Mariners on Sunday. Josh Beckett was so good for so long, you can believe that his excellent season could easily continue. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays on Saturday. Anibal Sanchez allowed two runs from ten baserunners and struck out eight in six innings - he can do that semi-regularly according to his rates. That much we know from his past, even if his stuff is fringe. Mike Pelfrey may seem young, but we it seems like we know what he is by now: hittable. He doesn't strike guys out, and this year, he's walking people. He's unownable in all formats.

* Not all fast starts are created equal. J.P. Arencibia's smashing start continued with two hits Sunday. But his minor league strikeout rates could suggest that he'll have more Ks coming in the future - and therefore a lower batting average. He could be sell high but Kyle McClellan is more definitely one. Despite another good start against the Dodgers, McClellan hasn't shown the strikeout or groundball rate of a strong starter. Sure he has better-than-average control, but that's not the most marketable skill ever. It's usually not very clear if a guy is a sell high. Starlin Castro had a four-hit day Saturday and is off to a great start. Despite a homer that day and 20+ steal upside, though, he's mostly about batting average. His batting average (now close to .400) will of course fall, but he should still put up a .300ish number going forward. If you drafted him for batting average help mostly, why would he be a great sell-high? He probably fits your team pretty well.

* Time for a checkup on some of our young first basemen in the league! Justin Smoak got his batting average up to .300 with two hits against the Royals on Sunday. His plate discipline stats are looking better this year - he's settled in - but his power upside is limited. Gaby Sanchez got two hits Sunday, and is the same kind of player. Both are fringe options in mixed leagues because of the power question. Mark Trumbo hit his second home run Sunday, and has some power, but is only a fill-in because Kendrys Morales is already running sprints. Brandon Belt is not playing so well (he's hitting a cool .200 after an 0-for-4 Sunday), but he's walked eight times against 12 strikeouts, so he's not out of his league. Still, he may only have until April 26 - when Andres Torres (achilles) returns - to prove he belongs by batting average.

National League Quick Hits: Jay Bruce got four hits and a home run on Sunday - there went your chance to buy-low … He feels like a buy-low, but Yovani Gallardo turned in another dud; Seven runs and ten hits to the Nationals on Sunday … Tommy Hanson struck out nine Mets Sunday, but took the loss - if you can get him for any less than ace prices, he's a buy-low too … Jair Jurrjens returned and held the Mets to two hits and no runs in seven Saturday innings, and he's a no-brainer pickup if he's on your wire … Brandon Phillips (groin) missed the weekend but should be back shortly … Jason Bay (rib cage) is due back mid-week, and he could make for an okay waiver wire pickup in most leagues … Uh-oh, the Rockies have discussed sending Ian Stewart down - at least Stewart got a hit Saturday … Teammate Javier Vazquez hasn't found his old velocity or results, but his pitching coach thinks the 86s he was putting up Friday were the result of a mechanical flaw … Josh Thole got two hits in the Sunday nightcap and is hitting for a respectable average, but both hits were singles, and with the way he chokes up on his bat, that's about all he'll get you … After his start Saturday, Barry Zito was diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain - he'll be on the DL at least two weeks … Clayton Richard allowed six runs on seven hits Sunday to a bad Astros offense - he's pretty much a must-sit away from home … He's close, but Cody Ross (calf) will return when the weather allows and is more of a platoon bat in fantasy, even if he plays almost every day while Andres Torres (achilles) rehabs … Allen Craig got three hits Saturday (including a home run), but his glove (and now his leg) will keep him from getting more than a fourth-outfielder's share of playing time … That's the sound of Chris Young (biceps) hitting the DL, but he's still probably worth keeping around given the early results … Yes he had a good start Friday against the Reds (two walks, three strikeouts, one walk in nine innings), but Charlie Morton has 12 walks against six strikeouts and is basically un-ownable anyway … Teammate James McDonald, isn't striking guys out, finding the plate, or getting grounders either, so his six-run blowup against the Reds Saturday is a sign to stay away … Carlos Lee got two hits and two RBI Sunday, he's probably a buy-low if only because he's ahead of last year's pace still … Jorge Cantu homered and drove in three, but is only playing against lefties, at least while Brad Hawpe is in town … Donnie Murphy has a bone bruise and won't start Tuesday, but you shouldn't be starting him anyway, not in any league … Dillon Gee will start for the Mets this week but he's a risky spot-start until he proves he can strike major leaguers out consistently.

American League Quick Hits: Grady Sizemore may not have his old speed back, but he homered in his return and is a must-own in all leagues just in case he's the Sizemore of old … He's owned for speed, but Jacoby Ellsbury hit his third home run Sunday … The Legend of Sam Fuld should also be owned for his speed (in mixed leagues now perhaps) - he also collected two hits Sunday … Mike Napoli started Sunday, but only because the Rangers were facing lefty C.C. Sabathia, so his playing time is once again limited … Brian Roberts got three hits Sunday, and if he's healthy he's a buy-low … Phil Hughes (dead arm) is on the DL for loss of velocity, but he's also on anti-inflammatories; he'll begin his rehab shortly … Brian Matusz (intercostal) has similar upside this year but is not ready to throw from a mound yet, says the team … Brett Gardner and his hitting coach have discovered a flaw in his swing, and that kind of news is just enough to give him a little more leash on your bench … Dallas Braden (shoulder) is worried about making his next start, but still had a nice start against the Tigers Saturday … Jed Lowrie, a good speculative play for those that need MI help, collected three hits (one homer) on saturday and is demanding more playing time … Hank Conger hit a home run on Saturday - he's a good prospect playing well behind a bad number one catcher, if that's interesting to you … Brandon Morrow (forearm) had a decent rehab stint (five strikeouts, three walks, four innings) and is on schedule to rejoin the majors late this week… Erick Aybar (oblique) should be back this week, maybe Wednesday … Jeff Niemann gave up three runs in seven against the Twins Saturday; Even though he's not doing well, his underlying performance hasn't changed much …Scott Baker only gave up one run in the same game, and if he shows better control he's a fringe mixed league option … Even after another good start from Brian Duensing (two runs and seven hits with five strikeouts), his peripherals don't really suggest that he's a great option in mixed leagues … Franklin Gutierrez (stomach) is going to the Mayo clinic for his mysterious ailment … Scott Podsednik (foot) is going to start rehab this week … Mark Buehrle gave up ten hits and four runs in seven innings against the Angles Sunday; He's a poor start in any format since control is the only thing he has going for him … Johnny Damon has as sore finger, hopefully he didn't do it while celebrating his walk-off hit Saturday evening … He's not getting a ton of playing time, but Jake Fox is a catcher and he homered and tripled Saturday for the Orioles, so there's that … Kevin Millwood had a seven-inning scoreless outing for Trenton on Sunday, but is there a rotation spot waiting for him?


Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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