By Tommy Rancel //
Once upon a time, Chris Perez was regarded as the St. Louis Cardinals’ closer of the future. After a few seasons of inconsistency, a trade to Cleveland, and Kerry Wood‘s trade to the Yankees, Perez is finally closing games on a regular basis at the major league level.
Perez made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2008 when he pitched 41 games out of the pen – compiling a 3.46 ERA with seven saves. Although he struggled with walks, he struck out more batters (42) than he had innings pitched (41.2) that year.
The right-hander would split the 2009 season between St. Louis and Cleveland after a mid-summer swap for Mark DeRosa. While his ERA jumped to 4.26, his strikeout rate improved from 9.04 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) to 10.74 per nine. Walks were still a problem, but his BB/9 dropped slightly (4.33 in ’08, 4.27 in ’09). A flyball pitcher (his groundball rate was an extremely low 35.3% in 2009), Perez’s home run rate jumped to a shaky 1.26 per nine innings.
Perez was slated to start the 2010 season as the Tribe’s set-up man for Wood. When Wood went down with injury early in the season, Perez was temporarily given the closer’s role. Upon his return, Wood assumed control of the 9th inning. When Wood was traded to the Yankees at the July 31 deadline, Perez was once again given the title of closer.
Despite the uncertainty in roles, Perez has turned into a fairly reliable fantasy option at the back end of games. Overall, he has a 2.17 ERA over 49.2 innings. His K/9 has dropped to 8.34, no longer elite for a reliever, but still very playable. His BB/9 has dipped slightly to 3.99, a positive sign.
Speaking of progress, Perez has made his greatest strides over the past three months. Since June 1, Perez has struck out 29 batters while walking 12 in 31.2 innings. During the same time period, he has allowed just five earned runs (1.44 ERA). In the small sample size of August, he has not walked any batters while striking out nine and giving up just two runs.
Perez is certainly not the caliber of Mariano Rivera or Rafael Soriano. And his team is middle of the pack on their best day. That said, the low ERA, the stellar strikeout numbers, the unchallenged save opportunities, and the availability on most waiver wires make him an attractive option to deep AL only owners, and those looking for late-season closing options in mixed leagues.
Be warned, though: The biggest change in Perez’s results by far, though, has been a plunge
in his HR/9 rate. That’s down to a career-low 0.72 this season, and
seems to be mostly a product of tremendous luck: His HR/FB rate has
tumbled to 6.5% this season. A pitcher inducing a microscopic groundball rate of
30.3% (for comparison, Perez’s teammate Justin Masterson is generating a 62.3% GB rate) isn’t likely to avoid homers this successfully for long. Perez’s strand rate is a higher-than-average 83.6%, while his batting average on balls in play is just .254, well below the league average of about .300. His xFIP (a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but also adjusts for ballpark effects, aberrant home run rates, batted ball luck, and other factors) of 4.67 dwarfs his 2.17 ERA, and shows that luck has played a big role in his success.
Grab the saves, but don’t expect a Mariano-like ERA forever, especially if you’re in a keeper league.
For more on Chris Perez and other late season additions, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
by Eno Sarris //
Continuing an ongoing series here, today we will look at another prospect from Baseball America’s midseason Top 25 list who may come up and impact your fantasy league.
Just this January, Aroldis Chapman agreed to a six-year, $30.25 million contract with the Reds, amid legendary tales of velocity and dominance from the Cuban leagues. Even while signing he was described as ‘raw,’ despite being 22 years old – or roughly the age of a guy a year out of college. The team talked of refining his delivery and not rushing him, but after a good spring training, they assigned him to Triple-A and the countdown began.
True to his age, Chapman was ready for the upper levels of the minor leagues, as his 11.01 K/9 attests. But true to his unrefined label, Chapman also has had his struggles, as his 4.9 BB/9 can attest. In some ways, he fits the statistical profile of Edinson Volquez, his future partner in the Reds’ rotation. He throws gas, is a little wild, and is not a groundball pitcher (41.5% at Triple-A right now), much like Volquez.
It’s hard to see if Chapman will develop control. He had 365 strikeouts and 203 walks in 327 Cuban innings, a 5.6 BB/9 that was a harbinger of his current struggles. That sort of wildness will limit his upside for sure, but gas like he throws will allow him to persevere as well.
We might look to Brandon Morrow for a true comp.
Though he is a right-handed pitcher, Morrow posted a 4.3 BB/9 in the minor leagues, and owns a 5.14 BB/9 so far in the major leagues. It’s taken him until
this year to fully harness his arsenal (his 10.4 K/9 is helping) to the
point where he has gotten his FIP (3.28) under four for the first time. If Chapman can continue to whittle that walk rate down to the mid-fours like Morrow, he might be okay.
But there are myriad reasons to be skeptical. First, Chapman’s walk rate this year dwarfs even Morrow’s – and Morrow had a BB/9 closer to four at Triple-A before it skyrocketed in the major leagues. Second, only eight pitchers in baseball that have a BB/9 over four are currently qualifying for the ERA title. In other words, only eight pitchers have had enough stuff to overcome such a terrible walk rate to survive as full-time rotation members so far this year. The odds are stacked against Chapman becoming a dominating pitcher even now that he’s shown his strikeout ability in the States.
Morrow is a prescient comparison because Chapman is currently a reliever, much like Morrow used to be while in Seattle. The Reds converted their big Cuban asset, at least temporarily, to relief, and he’s closing in Triple-A. It may have been a move to get him on the major league roster, and with Francisco Cordero currently struggling (4.47 FIP, 5.80 BB/9), it may even mean a fantasy-relevant role will come Chapman’s way when he’s called up as roster expand Sept. 1. (One piece of good news is that his control has been better in relief, with his walk rate down to 4.15 BB/9.)
Because of his still-existent control problems, however, fantasy owners in mixed leagues should wait for concrete news on the subject before moving. Deeper league managers looking for saves could speculate with Chapman. But you’d have to think that Nick Masset (3.77 FIP, 9.6 K/9, 4.07 BB/9) is the next man in line for saves in that bullpen, especially with the Reds in prime playoff contention.
It looks like fantasy owners may have to wait another year to benefit from Chapman’s booming fastball.
For more on Aroldis Chapman and other potential pitcher pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris //
We already talked about what happened in Octavio Dotel’s wake in Pittsburgh. Now it’s time to examine the new closer situation in D.C.
Matt Capps left for Minnesota and left an open job behind him. It’s not entirely clear who will assume the mantle there, though there is an early favorite. Drew Storen is thought to be the guy to become the closer in Washington, because he was drafted in the first round and was given the title of Closer of the Future. Was the hype warranted?
Yes and no. The no first: Storen is not currently showing any elite results. His strikeout rate (7.62 K/9), walk rate (3.84 BB/9) and groundball rate (37.9%) are all below average. He does have what might be described as a ‘closer’s arsenal,’ with a 94.5 MPH fastball, an 84.4 MPH slider, and an 82.5 MPH curveball. All three pitches rate as net positives according to the Pitch Type Values at FanGraphs.com, which use changes in the state of a game to evaluate each type of pitch. It’s also important to remember that Storen is only 33 innings into his major league career, and had a double-digit strikeout rate in the minor leagues (10.7 K/9).
Elsewhere, Tyler Clippard has finally turned a nice strikeout rate from the minor leagues (9.2 K/9 career, with most of it starting, higher as a reliever) into good numbers in the major leagues this year (10.18 K/9). On the other hand, he has a scary walk rate, both this year (4.24 BB/9) and for his career (4.80 BB/9). Also, if Storen is a slight flyball pitcher (and this at risk of giving up deadly home runs) Clippard is ridiculously so (55.1% flyballs this year, 56.3% for his career).
Last but not least is the man that actually garnered the first post-Capps save: Sean Burnett. Burnett has no obvious flaws – his strikeout rate (8.38 K/9), walk rate (3.26 BB/9) and groundball rates (56.6%) are all better than average for a reliever, and passable for a closer. On the other hand, there’s the fact that his career rates (6.05 K/9, 4.17 BB/9 and 52.6% groundballs) are all below his current performance. Also worth noticing is his handedness. Southpaws are sometimes shunned by managers when it comes to picking a closer – there are only two lefties in the top 25 in saves right now. It probably has to do with the fact that lefties are more often used as specialists. Burnett’s platoon splits are also troublesome: In his career, he has struck out 11.15 per nine innings against lefties, but only 6.56 per nine against righties.
This is not an open-and-shut case. Storen doesn’t have the obvious flaws that Clippard does, and he also doesn’t have the platoon split that Burnett has shown so far. Those factors, plus Storen being the 10th pick in the draft and thus someone the club would more likely lean on, make him the man to pick up. Burnett may steal the odd save when a lefty-heavy lineup comes up in the ninth, but Storen should get most of the Nationals’ saves for the rest of this season, and in future seasons.
For more on Drew Storen and other closer candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
Despite being one of the majors’ hottest teams, the Boston Red Sox have some concerns. With Josh Beckett and Jacoby Ellsbury already on the shelf, Boston recently lost former American League MVP Dustin Pedroia and star catcher Victor Martinez to the disabled list. In addition to those players, Clay Buchholz is also nursing an injury.
There is plenty to worry about in Boston with that group of players. But any potential concerns about the performance of closer Jonathan Papelbon are premature.
Anytime a player struggles in a major media market his troubles become magnified. In two straight appearances in Colorado last week, the 29-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on six hits, yielded two three home runs, and blew two straight saves.
The Red Sox closer currently owns a 3.82 ERA in 31 appearances. Papelbon hasn’t posted an ERA over 2.65 in any of his previous five seasons. Outside of the expanded ERA, Papelbon is striking out fewer batters (7.64 strikeouts per nine innings) and walking more batters (3.31 walks per nine innings) than he ever has in a full season. To complete the trifecta, he is allowing home runs to leave the ballpark at a rate more than double his career level.
It might seem like it’s time to explore moving Papelbon off your fantasy team. But that’s probably a bad move, especially while he’s at his lowest perceived value. Besides, a number of advanced metrics suggest he will rebound quite favorably.
As mentioned Papelbon’s K/9 has fallen from a career mark of 10.17 per 9 IP to 7.64 in 2010. This is odd for a few reasons. His velocity of 94.6 mph on his fastball is nearly identical to his 94.5 mph career number. In addition to the velocity, Papelbon is still getting a lot of swinging strikeouts. His swinging strike percentage of 11.5% is actually higher than his 11.0% from a season ago.
Papelbon is also getting hitters to chase out of the zone (35.6% O-Swing) more than he has in previous seasons (30.4% O-Swing career). He’s throwing more first-pitch strikes (67.2%) which means he is not falling behind hitters. All signs point to Papelbon’s strikeout rate increasing, if his core skills remain steady.
Papelbon’s biggest problem has been the long ball. He has surrendered more home runs this season (6) than in any other season in his career, and we haven’t even reached the All-Star break. We mentioned that his HR/9 of 1.64 was more than twice his career number (0.73). A big reason for that is his elevated home run-to-flyball rate of 12.2%. For his career, 7.1% of the flyballs hit against him have left the yard. In four of his five previous seasons, he maintained a HR/FB% of 7.5% or less.
More likely than not, Papelbon’s problems are related to pitch location issues. We may also be seeing some outliers due to small sample sizes. With the potential for positive regression in terms of strikeouts, and a correction in the disproportionate rate of home runs allowed, Papelbon should maintain plenty of value. If you own him, remain patient. If you don’t, this may be a good time to trade for Papelbon at a discount.
For more on Jonathan Papelbon and other Boston Red Sox, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools
By Tommy Rancel //
In early April, R.J. Anderson asked the question, who would replace the injured Mike Gonzalez as the Baltimore Orioles’ closer? It is now early June and we find ourselves asking the same question. Through ineffectiveness (Jim Johnson) and injury (Alfredo Simon), the Orioles are still looking for a steady replacement for Gonzalez. With their projected closer’s status still in limbo, the Orioles have turned to Will Ohman at the end of games.
The title of Orioles’ closer is more of a figurative title than a literal one. Baltimore has won just 15 of its first 51 games. In save situations, the team has converted only nine out of 20 opportunities. That said, if you are lacking in saves, Ohman could provide a cheap fix without much cost. The veteran lefty is available on waivers in nearly every fantasy league.
A lefty-one-out-guy (LOOGY) by trade, Ohman will be tested in the closer’s role for the first time in his eight-year career. Although he has been tagged with the lefty specialist label, Ohman has been serviceable against both left-handed and right-handed batters. His career OPS against lefties is a very good .637. His OPS against righties is higher at .752, but still far from the extreme splits of some other lefty relievers.
On the surface, Ohman has been a great find for Baltimore in 2010. In 26 appearances, he has allowed just two earned runs (1.08 ERA). He has more strikeouts (18) than innings pitched (16.2), and has stranded every batter to reach base against him (100% LOB%). In fact, both of his earned runs have come off solo home runs by right-handed batters.
In addition to the favorable ERA and strikeout rate, Ohman is keeping the ball on the ground. His 43.6% groundball rate is the second-highest total of his career (52.7% in 2005). Groundballs are great because they can never go for home runs and usually limit the damage to a base hit.
A 1.08 ERA and a strikeout per nine innings rate (K/9) of 9.72 are very attractive. But buyer beware. Using our favorite defense-independent metrics, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), we can see Ohman has been the beneficiary of some good luck.
Ohman’s FIP of 3.96 suggests he’s been much closer to average than his 1.08 ERA tells us. This is because his walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 4.32 is unimpressive, and not unexpected given his career 4.43 BB/9. With a left-on-base percentage of 100% sure to regress, those free passes will come back to hurt Ohman at some point.
Meanwhile, if we look at Ohman’s 3.71 xFIP, which measures the same metrics as FIP except with a normalized home run rate, we see that his FIP is slightly elevated due to his home run rate of 1.08 home runs per nine innings.
Even with regression to the mean, Ohman is likely to settle as a league-average reliever. With the closer position his for the time being, he could rack up 5-10 saves over the next few weeks. Even if he relinquishes the job, Ohman is likely to rack up some holds over the season, which could be valuable if your league counts the stat.
Facing more right-handed batters may elevate his lower than normal ERA, but if you need some cheap saves (and possibly holds) plus some strikeouts to pad your team’s total, Ohman is worth a flier in extremely deep mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
For more on Will Ohman and other potential waiver wire fixes, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson
When it comes to early-season role shuffling, Neftali Feliz to the closer’s spot in Texas is as big a maneuver as you’ll ever find. Ignore whether or not it’s the right real-world call for the Rangers, and just focus on the facts:
– Feliz is 21 years old.
– He throws fire.
– He’s one of baseball’s top prospects.
Those three reasons alone are enough to give him fantasy value. Add in the extra pleasure of getting saves credit for his appearances, and the decision has made some fantasy owners downright giddy. It’s hard to project just how good he will be and the worrisome part is that no timetable on his closing efforts is being publicly made. That means that owners of Feliz have two choices:
1. Ride the tidal wave and hope the Rangers don’t move him to the rotation, or away from the ninth inning.
2. Let him rack up even more hype, then ship him off, and hope the Rangers realize he’s wasting away in a closer’s spot, since he’ll likely provide more real-life value (if not necessarily more fantasy value) as a starting pitcher.
It’s a difficult call. How many saves could Feliz rack up, anyway? Last year, Frank Francisco recorded 25 saves, which led the Rangers, but C.J. Wilson also tallied 14, and four others had at least one, including Feliz. All told, there were 45 saves recorded. The Rangers won fewer games in 2008 and as a result only racked up 36 saves, although team quality did not stop the 2007 Rangers from topping 40 saves once more.
Skeptics might speculate that Feliz is too young, too new, and too untried to wage war in the 9th. They have no idea what they’re talking about. In 34 career big league innings, Feliz has per nine ratios of 11.8 strikeouts and 2.6 walks. During his time at Triple-A, mostly as a starter, he posted about a strikeout per inning, and his career minor league numbers are 325 strikeouts in 276 innings. He’s got the stuff to miss bats and produce outs, even in high-leverage situations.
If Feliz is the full-time closer from here on out, he’s getting something like 35-40 chances for a save. That’s valuable, but it’s not like another closer’s job won’t change hands and lead to a similar opportunity before the month of May is even upon us. So, depending on the needs of your team, and the offer quality presented, you could either ride the wave or ship Feliz out for a king’s ransom.
Either way, Feliz could win you a title. If your league has weekly transactions and Feliz isn’t owned yet, use that number-one waiver claim, or empty your FAAB account.
Since converting into a full-time reliever in the 2007 season, Downs has been one of the best set-up men in baseball. His ERA hasn’t finished above 3.09 and his Ground Ball Percentage (GB%) has never fallen below 55.7% in that time frame. That last part is important since keeping balls on the ground, and by extension in the yard, is an important part of a closer’s duties. Downs did save nine games a season ago, but Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston seems like he’d rather Downs fill the type of roving reliever role that J.P. Howell has with the Rays, saying: “I’ve got a feeling that Scott, he’ll pitch anywhere you want him to pitch. He’s not going to be upset if he’s closing or not closing.” Not a good sign for the Scott Downs For Closer supporters out there.
Taking everything into consideration, Gregg looks like the Jays’ most likely pick. Losing teams rarely spend nearly three million dollars on a reliever that’s not finishing games for them, and 20-plus saves for Gregg at the trade deadline could make him more attractive to a contender, potentially enabling the Jays to add prospects to their farm system. Gregg’s Average Draft Position is 329th, making him a cheap late-round pickup that could end up paying dividends – even if only for a few months.