Results tagged ‘ Saves ’

The Baddest Holds Man in The League?

By R.J. Anderson //

Kyle Farnsworth is known for four f-words: fighting, fastball, failure, and one unprintable word that encompasses the fan reaction to his failure. Another f-word that might pop up in discussion about Farnsworth this spring is fantasy — as in fantasy value. It sounds funny, but with the Tampa Bay Rays signing Farnsworth to a one-year deal (with an option for a second year) there’s an outside chance that he earns some saves this season; at the very least he’s a decent candidate for holds, given the complete overhaul of the Rays’ bullpen.

Farnsworth’s seasons since 2007 resemble a bag full of charcoal and candy. Some of the results are inedible, while others are delicious. Over the past two seasons, Farnsworth sports a solid 3.79 ERA; his peripherals (strikeout, walk, home rate) suggest his ERA should’ve been closer to 3.10. Of course, a look further back at Farnsworth’s 2007 and 2008 seasons (when Farnsworth’s cumulative ERA topped 4.60) makes it easier to digest an ERA in the high 3s as a good sign. The big change in Farnsworth’s game appears to be his reduction in walks and home runs allowed, as displayed below in percentages of total plate appearances:

Season: BB%/  HR%
2007: 10.2%/  3.4%
2008: 8.4%/  5.8%
2009: 8.3%/  1.8%
2010: 7.1%/  1.5%

The improvements coincide perfectly with Farnsworth’s increased usage of a cut-fastball, along with more consistency in release points and a different foothold on the mound. Those changes would not hold the same value if Farnsworth lost much in the way of strikeouts. Fortunately, he’s been able to strike out 22% or more of his batters faced in each of the past two seasons. Thus, Farnsworth is actually one of baseball’s more interesting developments over the past two years.

The legitimacy of this skill set alteration will be tested in 2011, as Farnsworth returns to the American League East for the first time since unceremoniously leaving the New York Yankees. The Rays have some other options to close — and may add another in the coming days. But for now, Farnsworth is a name to watch, especially in deeper leagues.

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The Much-Improved Leo Nunez

By R.J. Anderson //

If you guessed that Leo Nunez would be the better pitcher through May than Jonathan Papelbon, then congrats, but you should really use that soothsaying ability on more profitable ventures. It’s true, though, we’re just over one-third of the way through the season and Nunez has 12 saves, a 2.28 ERA, and better strikeout, walk, and home run rates than the venerable Boston reliever.

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The former Royal, acquired by the Marlins after the 2008 season for Mike Jacobs, does it without the prototypical power closer stuff. Yes, he still features a blazing fastball, one that tops 94 miles per hour on average. It’s his secondary stuff that differentiates him. Nunez used to rely on a slider, but the Marlins have coaxed him away from throwing it. Instead Nunez leans heavily on a change-up that sits fewer than 10 ticks away from his heater. FanGraphs has his change-up worth 3.04 runs per 100 pitches thrown. That places it among the most effective pitches in baseball.

Roughly 13% of Nunez’s pitches have resulted in swings-and-misses. If that number improves or holds steady through season’s end, it will represent a career high, breaking the high he set just last season. That’s not the most interesting alteration in Nunez’s game, though. Instead that honor goes to Nunez’s newfound control. His career walks per nine innings rate is 2.86; this year he’s down to 1.90, a number which would net a career best.

Yes, Nunez is on pace for the best season of his career. In 2008, Nunez’s previous best season, he threw nearly 50 innings and posted a 2.98 ERA. Still, his strikeout (4.84) and groundball (39.1%) rates were uninspiring.

Now, though, Nunez’s change has given him a whole new lease on upper-tier life. Nearly 50% of his batted balls against this season have been grounders. When combined with his strikeouts and walks, Nunez has now emerged as one of the top relievers in the National League.

For more on Leo Nunez and other power relief candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy tools.

Who Replaces Mike Gonzalez?

By R.J. Anderson //

The Orioles’ signing of Mike Gonzalez during the off-season was an odd move. The team had no hopes of competing this year, maybe not even in 2011, yet felt for the talent Gonzalez held, he was too good to pass up for the cost (in draft picks and money).

The start of Gonzalez’s 2010 season was not what the team had in mind when the contract was being crafted. Gonzalez made three appearances over the opening week, completing two innings, saving one game, and taking the loss in the other two. On Wednesday, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained shoulder. There’s little to no point in looking into the statistics of three outings as anything meaningful. One potential trouble sign did emerge, though: Gonzalez’s fastball velocity was down nearly two full miles per hour.

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Replacing him in the closer role for now will be Jim Johnson.
Johnson is a big right-hander who actually saved 10 games for the
Orioles last season and has pitched in 50 games or more in the past two
seasons.

Johnson certainly could morph into a season-long option. Gonzalez’s struggles had certainly raised the possibility of his closer tag being removed. At the same time, it’s hard to see that occurring now with his injury. At best, Johnson will serve as the temporary closer until Gonzalez returns and proves his health.

The good news is that the rest of the Orioles’ pen looks like a mess. Well, that’s sort of good news, at least. It means Johnson has little to no competition for those save situations, but it also means a few save opportunities could be blown by lesser quality pitchers.

He doesn’t strike out as many batters as you would expect from someone with mid-90s velocity (just 5.0 per nine innings in 2008, an improved 6.3 per 9 IP in 2009), but he is an extreme groundball reliever, which helps to hold his home run totals down. The problem is that the Orioles’ infield defense is rather lackluster, making him a WHIP liability on bad days. That makes young reliever Kam Mickolio a deep sleeper in extremely deep leagues, including AL-only ones. 

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Despite Johnson’s flaws, he’s well worth a pickup in deeper leagues. If nothing else, you can always hoard saves, then trade them for other assets later. In the meantime, keep an eye on Gonzalez’s recovery, and how Mickolio fares in the early going.

For more on Jim Johnson, Mike Gonzalez, and other closing pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Who Replaces Huston Street?

By Tommy Rancel

The Rockies are expected to start the season with closer Huston Street on the disabled list. Street has been battling shoulder stiffness this spring, and suffered a setback while playing catch on Tuesday. He  underwent an MRI on Wednesday, and although the results were clean, he is likely too far behind on his throwing program to be ready by opening day.

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Right-handers Rafael Betancourt and Manny Corpas would seem like obvious replacements, but both have issues of their own. Like Street, Betancourt has missed time with a shoulder issue this spring. Corpas, on the other hand, missed the second half of 2009 with a bone chip in his right arm.

More likely, the Rockies will turn to left-handed former starting pitching prospect Franklin Morales to fill in for Street. Most baseball fans remember Morales, 24, as a promising rookie starter on the 2007 National League championship team. He dealt with a back injury and inconsistency in 2008, and had a shoulder problem of his own in 2009. Once healthy, he rejoined the Rockies as member of the bullpen. When Street went on the DL in September with biceps tendinitis, Morales closed out six games in his absence.
 
He made 40 appearances last season (38 in relief) and had a league average-ish 4.50 ERA. He also saved seven games in eight chances. Despite the ho-hum ERA, Morales showed traits of a good relief pitcher.

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In his brief time as a major league starter (72.2 innings), Morales had an unimpressive strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) of 5.4. Meanwhile, as a relief pitcher he struck out a batter per inning (32 strikeouts in 32 innings). He also allowed just one home run in 32 relief innings.
 
The knock on Morales has been control. In his major league career, he has a walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 4.6. In 2009, his BB/9 was over 5.0. While his control remains an issue, velocity is not. As a starter, Morales averaged low 90s on his fastball; as a reliever, he topped 93.0 mph, on average, in 2009.
 
Outside of his strikeout rate, Morales currently offers little to fantasy players. With a league average ERA and poor walk rates, his average draft position is just 335.5. That said, as a the potential closer on a promising team, those flaws become less relevant, and Morales becomes a serious late-inning target.

Grab Morales at the back end of your draft, especially in a deep NL-only league or a larger mixed league. Given Street’s injury history, as well as the medical and performance questions facing the rest of the bullpen, Morales presents the potential for some cheap save opportunities – and maybe more.

For more on Franklin Morales and other potential sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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