BY ROB SHAW
CJ Wilson may have been the top arm on the market this off-season, but the pressure is certainly not as intense on the hurler as it is on Albert Pujols. The reason is very simple, while Pujols is the best hitter in the world Wilson isn’t even the best arm on the Angels.
Wilson’s struggles in the postseason may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Rangers fans, but the hurler is actually in a much better situation now that he flees the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. Putting the 2011 playoffs aside, the year as whole brough great improvement for Wilson. His strikeouts went up while his walks went down.
Another factor for Wilson this season will be his run support. Typically leaving the Rangers, who are loaded with sluggers, will result in a decline of run support. However, that is not the case since Pujols will also join the Angels who already have some former first basemen who know something about providing big bats.
The Angels will be fun to watch for many reasons, and after falling to Pujols and the Cardinals in the postseason last season, Wilson should enjoy the shot at winning with Pujols as his teammate manning first base.
It made perfect sense for the Miami Marlins to sign Heath Bell. The veteran hurler has three straight seasons with 40-plus saves and while the Marlins have had some success in their bullpen in recent years, it has not been as dominant as what the Padres enjoyed. There is just one problem with bringing in Bell and expecting everything to run smoothly. There are signs that the 34-year-old may be losing his effectiveness.
A late bloomer with the Mets, Bell broke out in San Diego, where he had the benefit of little media attention and one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers. In fact his 2.88 ERA on the road last season was not as dominant as the 2.15 ERA he posted at PETCO Park.
Bell also regressed as a strikeout hurler. His 11 K/9 dropped to 7 K/9, as his whiff rate fell by 9%. This is not just a matter of Bell losing velocity, in fact, the main issue has been a loss of effectiveness in his curveball. In 2010, the opposition hit just .141 against that pitch, and last season it spiked two-fold to .282. The out-pitch is not recording as many outs.
Bell should enjoy plenty of save opportunities since the Marlins did improve their starting rotation and offense, but there should be less heralded hurlers in fantasy leagues who can end up posting better numbers this season.
At first glance, last year was a disaster for long-time Twins closer Joe Nathan. His ERA doubled, his strikeouts declined, and his saves were cut drastically. Of course, Nathan was also returning to the mound after missing all of the 2010 with a major arm injury.
On that note, Nathan’s statistics should be measured differently. Rather than focus on the full season, we should pay greater attention to the end of the season when he finally shed all of his rust. From June 25th on, Nathan was his usual dominant self. His WHIP was a dominant 0.90 from that point forward, which suggests that even in his late 30s, Nathan still possesses the ability to dominate.
Nathan now joins the Texas Rangers, and while he will throw the ball in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark, he joins a better club that will likely result in more save opportunities. The ERA may take a slight uptick, but overall he will enjoy more saves and have more value assuming he can stay healthy. It also allows some of the younger hurlers to take on larger roles in the starting rotation.
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Ailment: Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians
The former Indians MVP candidate has been slowed by injuries and will now miss the next month because of another knee injury coupled with a sports hernia. Even when he was on the field, this is not the Sizemore who was routinely a first round pick in fantasy leagues. Nope, the All-Star who once swiped 38 bases has not stolen a single bag this season through 61 games.
Cure: Cameron Maybin, OF, Padres
It seems like he has been a top prospect for more than a decade. The truth is that at just 24-years-old, Maybin is still plenty young, and he is currently enjoying his best season to date. He seems to fit well in Petco Park playing small ball with 44 runs and 17 steals through 80 games.
Ailment: Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Rockies
After a stellar rookie campaign we expected more of the same from Chacin this season. However, the Rockies hurler has inexplicably lost his demand, most recently walking seven Braves on Thursday. His ERA spiked to 3.60, which isn’t bad at all for the ballpark he pitches in, but still Chacin has surrendered four or more runs in four of his last five starts.
Cure: Vance Worley, SP, Phillies
The 24-year-old hurler came out of nowhere, but it looks like he is here to stay. Injuries to Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt have thrust Vance Worley into the Phillies rotation and he has responded with a 6-1 record and a 2.02 ERA. He can still get plagued by wildness at times, but he does rack up a decent amount of whiffs, and he has won his last four decisions.
Ailment: Ty Wigginton, 3B/1B/2B/OF, Rockies
This is what happens to streaky hitters. Ty Wigginton was on top of the world in June with 8 home runs and 18 RBI. However, he has yet to go deep once this month and his average this month is down to .204. It’s not a bad idea to look for other options.
Cure: Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays
Just 28 years old, Encarnacion has 107 home runs under his belt, but they do come in bunches. He has been red-hot since the All-Star break with a home run and a .400 average. With the veteran seeing the ball so well in a fine lineup, it’s not a bad idea to invest in his fantasy services for the short-term.
Ailment: Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Brewers
He was once the best closer in the business and he holds the record for most saves in a season, however, a less than dominant tenure in New York landed him in Milwaukee where he now offers middle relief. Despite pitching in middle relief, K-Rod was credited with a blown save on Thursday. He does not get enough strikeouts or offer a low enough ERA and WHIP to remain on a fantasy roster.
Cure: Edward Mujica, RP, Marlins
Marlins manager Jack McKeon showed his cards this week, stating that if Leo Nunoz gets moved, Mujica becomes his closer. This is well-deserved to Mujica, who boasts a 35:5 strikeout to walk ratio. His 2.85 ERA and 0.87 WHIP makes him a solid pick up for fantasy managers hoping to snare a closer for later in the season.
The Future Closers
BY ROB SHAW
Al Alburquerque, RP, Tigers
With 40 strikeouts in just 24 innings, Alburquerque is striking out batters at a historic pace. He is a bit wild with 16 walks, but it’s a battle for the opposition to even put a bat on the ball. I don’t think he’ll be closing by year’s end, but somewhere down the line someone is bound to give this 24-year old a shot at shutting the door.
Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies
This 25-year old southpaw is equally effective against right-handers and left-handers. He has not surrendered a run in his last 11 appearances; in fact, he has allowed just one hit over that period. If Ryan Madson were to falter, I think Bastardo would pick up the saves for the Phillies.
Brian Sanches, RP, Marlins
While Marlins closer Leo Nunoz has hit a wall, Brian Sanches is cruising with a 1.93 ERA. The 32-year old veteran may not be the most attractive long-term option in Miami, but he has been the most effective over the last two seasons. In 2010, Sanchez offered a 2,26 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP. He can get wild at times and he has yet to pick up a save throughout his entire career, but if judging on results this season, Sanchez is the best relief option for the Marlins.
Daniel Bard, RP, Red Sox
Though he only boasts five career saves, there is a lot to like about Daniel Bard. He strikes out more than a batter per inning, he has immaculate control, and the opposition can’t touch him. He may be the very reason why the Red Sox have not locked up current closer Jonathan Papelbon to a long-term extension. If Papelbon struggles, don’t be surprised to see the Red Sox turn to Bard a year earlier than expected.
David Hernandez, RP, Diamondbacks
Many baseball fans thought the Diamondbacks were crazy for trading away a slugging corner infielder in return for a couple of live arms that neither started or closed games. However, at this moment the D-Backs front office looks brilliant as David Hernandez, a failed starter with the Orioles, is dominating in middle relief in the desert.
A scoreless inning on Thursday night resulted in his third win of the season, while lowering his ERA to 2.73. Hernandez still has some work to do on his control, but he throws in the high 90s racking up plenty of strikeouts while limiting the amount of hits he surrenders. Should the injury-prone JJ Putz miss some time due to injury, Hernandez will add to his total of two saves this season.