Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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More Closer Turnover

Monday, May 27, 2013


I'm going to jump right in by touching on a number of closing situations this week. The rest of the weekly notes will follow.

 

Cleveland: Chris Perez walked off the mound with a sore shoulder Sunday in Boston, putting the Indians' closer situation in flux. Vinnie Pestano would have been the obvious choice to step in, except he just gave up four runs on Saturday. He missed time with elbow tendinitis earlier this month, and his velocity has been down since returning. Joe Smith is the Indians' holds leader. He's always been more of a righty specialist, but he's getting great movement on his pitches this year and he's been very effective against lefties. Of course, after replacing an injured Perez on Sunday, he gave up a game-winning double to Jacoby Ellsbury on his very first pitch.

 

The Indians have also gotten very good results from Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw. I'm a big Allen fan, and it wouldn't surprise me if he turns out to be the Indians' closer next year. However, he hasn't been used in a late-inning role yet. Shaw has often been asked to get five or six outs at a time in middle relief. He has two holds to go along with his 1.85 ERA and 24/8 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. If the Indians were to go to him, it'd throw things out of whack in the sixth and seventh innings.

 

Assuming that Perez does, in fact, land on the DL, I think it's safe to say the Indians would prefer Pestano return to his usual form and claim the ninth, allowing them to use Smith in the matchup role he's always succeeded in. Since that's far from a lock right now, there's no one from the group that rates as a must-add player in mixed leagues. I think Smith is the best pitcher right now, but the usual bias against sidearmers works against him. I'd pick up Pestano first and probably Shaw second.

 

Tampa Bay: The Rays really, really, really want Fernando Rodney to be their closer. For one thing, he'd likely be useless in any other role. Also, while Jake McGee has pitched better these last two weeks, there's no one on the club throwing well enough to be the eighth-inning guy if Joel Peralta is forced to the ninth. Still, the Rays can only be so much more patient. Rodney has blown three of his last five save chances, and he's walked 18 batters in 19 1/3 innings. One more bad outing should get him relieved from his duties for a couple of weeks. That said, it'd almost surely be temporary; the Rays really want Rodney to close.

 

Milwaukee: It's hard not to feel for Jim Henderson; the longtime minor leaguer was doing a great job after inheriting the closer's role from John Axford, going 9-for-9 in save chances before injuring his hamstring Friday. It looks like he'll miss at least a few weeks, and even though Axford has been much better of late, Francisco Rodriguez appears set to get saves in Milwaukee for now. Manager Ron Roenicke seems to want Axford to find his comfort zone before putting more pressure on him. K-Rod has thrown well since getting added to the roster a couple of weeks ago, and he needs to be owned in all formats.

 

Baltimore: Jim Johnson's streak of three straight blown saves looked like nothing more than a hiccup -- albeit one that took his ERA from 0.95 to 4.22 -- when he came back with two perfect innings for a win and a save last week. Then Johnson went and gave up four runs against the Blue Jays to take another blown save and a loss Sunday. I still don't see any long-term concerns; his velocity is down slightly, but just a tad, and his strikeout rate is much improved this year. The O's might back off him for a week or two now, which would probably put Darren O'Day first in line for saves and Brian Matusz second. I still think Johnson is on his way to 35 saves, though.

 

L.A. Dodgers: Brandon League had a nice week, pitching two scoreless innings and picking up a save. Things seem a bit more stable for him now, but the controversy would kick right back up again if he were to blow a save this week. Of course, for that to happen, the Dodgers would have to score runs and build a lead.

 

Colorado: Rex Brothers acquitted himself well in his one save chance while Rafael Betancourt rested a sore groin and then Betancourt came back and took his first blown save when he gave up Angel Pagan's game-winning, inside-the-park homer Saturday. Still, it probably isn't especially worthy of note. While Betancourt is 38 now, he has always been durable, and with the Rockies off to such a nice start, the idea that Betancourt might be moved at the deadline is looking a whole lot less likely. So, while I still like Brothers, he's probably less of a saves sleeper than he was two months ago.

 

AL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

 

- Orioles 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman gave up four runs in five innings and took a loss to the Blue Jays in his big-league debut Thursday, but he also showed big-time stuff with his 95-98 mph fastball and plus changeup. His slider was rarely in evidence, but it's a solid enough offering to get some swings and misses from right-handed hitters. I'd be more optimistic about Gausman for fantasy purposes if he pitched practically anywhere else; he's in a home run park in baseball's most offense-laden division. Still, I think he'll have some value in mixed leagues anyway. He'll be listed in the 60s among SPs when the June rankings come out next week.

 

- Curtis Granderson's broken finger alleviated any playing time concerns for Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, at least for now. I still want to like Ichiro in mixed leagues, but that hinges on the Yankees batting him high in the order, something they've refused to do so far (and with ample reason). Wells had his big surge three weeks ago, but he's been quiet again since and his OPS for the month is down to .677. Incredibly, the Yankees are looking at giving Lyle Overbay some outfield time with Mark Teixeira (wrist) nearing his return. Overbay, though, isn't really much better of a bet than Ichiro or Wells offensively, and he figures to be a big-time downgrade defensively.

 

- Teixeira will play rehab games Wednesday and Thursday. If he's comfortable and he hits right away, he could be activated Friday. Still, AL-only leaguers should wait until next week to activate him. Kevin Youkilis (back) appears to be in the same boat.

 

- Andy Pettitte (trapezius) is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, but it sounds like he'll throw a sim game first and then return next week. In that scenario, Vidal Nuno would make one more start before being bounced from the rotation.

 

- When Chris Sale's elbow flared up last May, the White Sox announced they were making a closer out of him, only to reverse course a week later and put him back into the rotation, where he excelled the rest of the year. The hope this time around is that the sore shoulder that cost him his start last week will prove to be so easily overcome. Sale's mechanics have been a concern dating back to his college days, with many scouts surmising that he wasn't cut out to last as a long-term starter. I have my concerns, too, especially in light of the new issue. Sale says he's fine and he'll be ready to pitch this week, so ride him for now. Still, I suspect that he'll wind up on the DL in the not-too-distant future. If he gets through his next couple of starts without incident, it'd be time to consider selling.

 

- Despite coming up big with six innings of two-run ball on three days' rest last week against Boston, Hector Santiago was shifted back to the bullpen Sunday to make room for John Danks in the rotation. The decision is disappointing, but not particularly surprising, given that the White Sox won just one of his five starts. I doubt it will be all that long before Santiago gets another chance to start. The White Sox don't have anyone in Triple-A they'd rather turn to in case of a Danks or Sale setback.

 

- The White Sox have thus far shown patience with Tyler Flowers, even as he sports a 40/9 K/BB ratio to go along with his .202/.269/.345 line in 119 at-bats. Meanwhile, Josh Phegley has hit .321/.386/.628 with 10 homers in 137 at-bats as Triple-A Charlotte's catcher. A switch could come following another bad week from Flowers. Phegley isn't anyone's idea of a top prospect, but his defensive reputation is pretty good

 

- Jered Weaver, who suffered a broken left (non-pitching) elbow last month, will make his return to the Angels rotation without an official rehab start when he pitches Wednesday against the Dodgers. Weaver told Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times that his velocity started off at 85-88 mph in an extended spring start last week and then got up to 87-90 mph. That'd be very good news indeed if true, considering that Weaver was off to a rough start while throwing 84-88 mph in his first two regular-season outings. As much as the Dodgers have struggled, it's probably worth activating Weaver right away.

 

- Mike Moustakas homered in three straight games May 8-10. In 12 games since, he's 3-for-44, leaving him with an awful .178/.252/.308 line on the season. The Royals have to be seriously considering sending him down and calling up Johnny Giavotella to share time at third base. Giavotella, better known as a second baseman, has played a lot of third for Triple-A Omaha lately. He's hitting .276/.343/.449 with six homers and four steals in 185 at-bats for the Storm Chasers.

 

- Felix Hernandez said it's not the back, but he's turned in two uncharacteristically poor showings since getting hurt against the Yankees on May 14. Now he's also without his catcher after Jesus Montero was sent down. Hernandez has a 5.00 ERA and a 20/5 K/BB ratio in 18 innings throwing to Kelly Shoppach this year, compared to a 1.73 ERA and a 61/8 K/BB ratio in 57 1/3 innings with Montero. I don't want to read much into that -- by any measure, Shoppach is a better defender than Montero -- but Hernandez did seem fond of his countryman and batterymate. Hernandez currently has the best peripherals of his career; his 2.28 FIP blows away his 3.04 mark from his Cy Young season in 2010. The Mariners, though, aren't what they were defensively, and despite sacrificing defense for offense over the winter, they're next to last in the AL in runs scored. How can he not be frustrated?

 

- The Mariners had the perfect opportunity to really shake things up when they sent down Montero last week, but for some reason, they kept Dustin Ackley and waived Robert Andino instead, with longtime prospect Carlos Triunfel coming up to serve as a utilityman. The obvious call would have been to option Ackley, too, and turn to Nick Franklin at second base. Franklin is batting .324/.440/.472 with seven steals in seven attempts for Triple-A Tacoma.

 

- Now that the Mariners have given up on Montero as a catcher, the wait is on for Mike Zunino. Zunino may well have gotten the call last week if he weren't in a horrendous slump. Fortunately, he has woken up a bit of late, going 4-for-7 with a homer in his last two games. He even walked Friday for the first time in 3 1/2 weeks. Overall, Zunino is at .232/.304/.514 with a 47/11 K/BB ratio in 138 at-bats for Tacoma. If I had to guess, I'd say he replaces Shoppach immediately after the All-Star break. A hot streak could move things up, though.

 

- The Mariners are hoping Justin Smoak's oblique injury isn't a DL situation, but they probably won't wait more than a couple of days for him. The safe play would be to reserve him in AL-only leagues. Smoak going on the DL would open a roster spot for the nearly ready Franklin Gutierrez (hamstring). Gutierrez has already played nine games on his rehab assignment, though he's hit just .132. Gutierrez will probably play right field after returning. Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez would be in line for at-bats in Smoak's place.

 

- The Red Sox placed both Shane Victorino (hamstring) and Will Middlebrooks (back) on the 15-day disabled list last week. Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes are sharing time in Victorino's place, and Carp makes for a nice option in AL-only leagues this week. Jose Iglesias, who, oddly enough, has a .481 average in 27 major league at-bats and a .202 average in 119 Triple-A at-bats this year, is playing over Pedro Ciriaco at third. Victorino figures to rejoin Boston's lineup prior to Middlebrooks, but he won't be eligible to return until June 5.

 

- Clay Buchholz will miss his start Monday due to irritation near his shoulder, but expectations are that he'll pitch later in the week. Alfredo Aceves will fill in against the Phillies.

 

- Anthony Gose's stay in Toronto only figures to last until Rajai Davis is activated, something that could happen within a week. Gose hardly resembled a major leaguer while hitting .227/.343/.325 with just five steals in nine attempts at Triple-A Buffalo.

 

- Josh Johnson (triceps) is slated for one more rehab start after throwing four scoreless innings for Buffalo on Saturday.

 

- The Twins have their own timetable for Kyle Gibson's debut and they weren't going to let a little thing like Opening Day starter Vance Worley washing out change it. I still expect that we'll see Gibson sometime within the next couple of weeks. He'll be worth picking up in AL-only leagues when his opportunity comes.

 

- Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe is slated to return from his concussion Wednesday, so he's worth playing in AL-only leagues.

 

- Austin Jackson (hamstring) won't be ready Monday as hoped, and it seems like a long shot that he'll be activated at any point this week. That means more Don Kelly and Avisail Garcia in center for Detroit.

 

 

NL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

 

- With Jake Westbrook's replacement, John Gast (shoulder), joining Westbrook (elbow) and Jaime Garcia (shoulder) on the DL, it'd certainly seem to be Michael Wacha time in St. Louis. Wacha, a 2012 first-round pick, is 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA and a 34/15 K/BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings for Triple-A Memphis. He hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his starts this season. The Cardinals, though, are still playing things close to the chest and may have something different in mind. For one thing, they might have a better chance of having Wacha available in September and October if they hold off promoting him now. I'm hoping it's Wacha's turn anyway -- he'd be worth trying in even the shallowest of mixed leagues right away -- but perhaps they'll go to Nick Additon instead.

 

- The New York Post reported that Zack Wheeler would likely make his Mets debut after two or three more starts for Triple-A Las Vegas, putting him in line to join the club in early or mid-June. That's pretty much in line with preseason expectations. Wheeler is 3-1 with a 3.91 ERA and a 49/20 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings for the 51s. Las Vegas is, of course, one of the toughest places to pitch in the minors, and Wheeler has held his own there, striking out 26 while posting a 5.73 ERA in 22 innings. On the road, he has a 2.39 ERA in four starts.

 

I'm not quite as high on Wheeler as some, but he does possess No. 2-starter upside. While his changeup is lacking, he's still tough enough on lefties with his mid-90s fastball, slider and curve. My guess is that the walks will catch up to him some in the majors, and since he's going to be a five- or six-inning guy, it's going to be difficult for him to accumulate wins. I'd certainly take a flier on him in mixed leagues, but I'd choose Wacha and Gausman first. One other distant concern with Wheeler; he's most likely going to be shut down a few weeks early.

 

- This column is being posted prior to the Mets' game on Sunday night. Many suspect Ike Davis will be sent down afterwards. Why the Mets have waited so long to pull the trigger and allowed Davis to continue twisting in the wind like this is anyone's guess. Josh Satin is the favorite to get the call if Davis is demoted; he's hit .291/.402/.471 for Las Vegas. Now an .873 OPS for a 28-year-old first baseman at Vegas isn't all that impressive. Satin, though, has actually struggled mightily at home, hitting .218. He's at .351/.445/.543 everywhere else. If Satin does get the call, he'd likely play against lefties. The Mets should seriously consider moving Daniel Murphy to first against righties and playing Jordany Valdespin at second.

 

- There didn't figure to be any middle ground with Josh Rutledge; as Colorado's second baseman and primary No. 2 hitter, he was either going to be a top 10 fantasy second baseman and shortstop or he was going to lose his job and go down as a bust. Before getting sent down last week, he was on pace for 18 homers, 18 steals, 94 runs scored and 47 RBI to go along with his .242 average. If only he could have kept his average in the .270 range, as he did last year, he was going to be a very good mixed league starter. Now he's back in Triple-A with his future in serious doubt. I've never viewed Rutledge as a likely long-term regular. That said, if he does get another crack at the job at some point, he'll probably go right back to being useful in shallow mixed leagues.

 

In the meantime, D.J. LeMahieu is the Rockies' second baseman, and with Chris Nelson and Reid Brignac out of the way, he only has to worry about Jonathan Herrera as far as playing time. Unfortunately, LeMahieu doesn't have nearly as much to offer fantasy leaguers as Rutledge did; he's mostly a singles hitter and he's put up modest steal totals in his minor league career. Plus, the Rockies are primarily hitting him low in the order. As a result, I don't see him as an option in mixed leagues right now.

 

- With Chase Utley (oblique) down, the Phillies' most valuable hitter for fantasy purposes is, ummm, Domonic Brown? Brown had a big week last week and now leads the team with nine homers and 27 RBI. Of course, he's not much of an asset elsewhere, and as long as the Phillies continue to insist on hitting him behind Ryan Howard and Delmon Young, it's hard to imagine him maintaining the RBI pace. The Phillies offense is just a mess. Jimmy Rollins is still a decent enough bet, but Howard hasn't homered in three weeks and both Delmon and Michael Young have little to offer for fantasy purposes. The Phillies might eventually want to try Darin Ruf and third-base prospect Cody Asche instead.

 

- The Giants have yet to announce who will replace Ryan Vogelsong (hand) in the rotation for the next month, but it seems they have eliminated middle reliever Chad Gaudin as a candidate. 24-year-old left-hander Mike Kickham is the favorite for the gig after shaking off an awful April and going 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA and a 29/9 K/BB ratio in his last five starts for Triple-A Fresno. Chris Heston and veteran Shane Loux are the other options. Factoring in offense, defense, bullpen and ballpark, there's no better situation for a starter than San Francisco right now, so if Kickham is the choice, he'll be worth an immediate pickup in NL-only leagues and he should receive consideration in mixed leagues.

 

- Adam Eaton's setback with his elbow means the Diamondbacks outfield picture won't be changing anytime soon. A.J. Pollock was looking at getting sent down to make room for Eaton, but now he's suddenly snapped a slump by going 8-for-13 in his last three starts. The right-handed-hitting Pollock and left-handed-hitting Jason Kubel are mostly platooning now, with Gerardo Parra and Cody Ross playing regularly. Perhaps when Aaron Hill (hand) returns next month, Martin Prado will get the occasional outfield start to go along with his third-base duties. Late June now seems to be the best-case scenario for Eaton.

 

- The mess in Los Angeles seems likely to end with Don Mattingly getting canned. Of course, that's not going to do anything to solve the problem of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier having a total of six homers and 32 RBI between them. But the thing is that neither has been so bad to make it worth benching them; the only answer is to stick with them and wait for the hits to come. Ethier had a .758 OPS when Mattingly chose to single him out and bench him Friday. The average major league right fielder has a .747 OPS this year. Kemp has been worse and if any of the Dodgers' outfielders needs to sit against a righty, it should be him. But he's still Matt Kemp. For all of his struggles, he's batting .261, and the power should gradually return the further removed he is from shoulder surgery.

 

Prospects Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson aren't yet the answers for the Dodgers. Scott Van Slyke has done terrific work in spot duty, but he's not an upgrade as a regular. Maybe an Ethier trade will come in July, but if the Dodgers were to go that route now, they'd have to eat a ton of salary, they'd get next to nothing in return and their lineup would quite likely be worse for it.

 

- If Hanley Ramirez (hamstring) had his way, he'd already be back in the Dodgers lineup. As is, it seems he's still a week away from being activated. Dee Gordon has been horrendous of late, so any thoughts of returning Hanley to third base are on the backburner. Gordon is probably going to be shipped back to Triple-A when Hanley returns.

 

- Reds prospect Billy Hamilton has suddenly gotten hot in Triple-A, batting .400 in 30 at-bats over his last seven games. That's merely boosted his overall line to .250/.309/.340 in 188 at-bats, but it's a start. With the news coming down Sunday that Ryan Ludwick (shoulder) won't be ready until mid-August at the earliest, the Reds will have ample reason to want to give Hamilton a look if he keeps hitting these next two or three weeks.

 

- Padres left-hander Clayton Richard (virus) is coming off the DL on Monday after posting a 2.25 ERA and a 12/0 K/BB ratio in two rehab starts. He'll be on a short leash after going 0-4 with an 8.54 ERA and more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) in six starts before landing on the DL, but he'll be worth trying again in NL-only leagues if he impresses in his first start back.

 

- San Diego could also get Cameron Maybin back this week after a six-week absence due to a wrist impingement. I'm not confident that his wrist problems are behind him, and his return creates a messy situation; Chris Denorfia, Will Venable and Alexi Amarista have all played well in his absence. With Maybin back, Venable and Denorfia will revert to platooning in right, with Amarista likely getting the occasional start over Maybin against righties in center. It will be interesting to see how much rope Maybin gets.

 

- Yasmani Grandal's 50-game suspension concludes on Monday, setting him up to be activated on Tuesday. He's hit .313 on his rehab assignment, but it comes with no homers and an 8/1 K/BB ratio in 32 at-bats. While he probably won't be worth using right away, Grandal should prove to be a decent No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues after settling in.

 

- I would have figured the Nationals would be grateful for any sort of excuse to put Danny Espinosa and his .196 OBP on the DL, so imagine my surprise when the team said last week that he'd be evaluated for a few days after being diagnosed with a broken bone in his wrist originally sustained last month. Steve Lombardozzi is hardly an All-Star at second base, but he's a whole lot better than the version of Espinosa we've seen this year. I think it's only a matter of time before the Nationals give Anthony Rendon a look at second, though it's not going to happen this week. Rendon is still playing a lot more third than second in Double-A. He is hitting .330/.473/.625 with six homers in 112 at-bats in the Eastern League.

 

- The Nationals were talking about sitting Bryce Harper for a few days to rest his sore knee, but it doesn't sound like Harper is interested. Keep him active and hope for the best.

 

- Ian Kennedy was scratched from his start Monday because of a cut on his right finger, so Tyler Skaggs will come up and pitch in Game 1 of a doubleheader. He'll head right back to Triple-A afterwards, and Kennedy is expected to pitch Friday.

 

- Logan Morrison (knee) is 4-for-19 with no extra-base hits five games into his rehab assignment, so it doesn't look like he'll rejoin the Marlins this week. That was never really the plan anyway.



Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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