Archive for June, 2009

Second-Half Spark Plugs

Well, it’s the last day of June. There are still three more months of baseball to play before the post-season begins, but a few teams can all but pack it in. Today, we’re going to take a look at the five teams that have the misfortune of being the furthest down in the standings. I am going to highlight one minor league player for each club that could (should) come up in the second half of the season and offer a spark for fantasy baseball managers in dire need of some help.

The Arizona Diamondbacks (18.5 games back):
Arizona’s No. 5 pitchers have been downright awful this season and No. 5 starter Jon Garland has not been much better. If it eats a little salary, the club might be able to spin 2008/09 free agent signee Garland (who’s on a one-year deal) to a playoff contender before the trading deadline. Right-handed pitcher Cesar Valdez is having a nice season in triple-A and is the top option to receive a look in the second half of the year. He has modest fastball velocity, but Valdez possesses a plus changeup, a pretty good splitter and knows how to change speeds. So far this season in triple-A, he has allowed 72 hits in 76 innings of work. He also has a walk rate of just 2.72 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.16 K/9. He’s not flashy, but Valdez should be a more-than-adequate No. 4 starter for an organization that lacks premium prospects at the upper levels of the farm system.

The Washington Nationals (17.5 games back):
We’ve already seen quite a few young pitchers perform for the Nationals this season and the organization is still recovering (especially in the upper minors) from years of MLB control, which hampered draft budgets. With starting pitchers like Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler having modest-at-best results, the club could still afford to take a look at a couple triple-A hurlers who have yet to receive a taste of the Majors this season: Collin Balester and J.D. Martin. I won’t get into Martin’s case too heavily, since Dave took a look at the former Cleveland prospect the other day over on the FanGraphs side of the site and made a pretty convincing argument for his promotion. Balester, on the other hand, made 15 starts for the 2008 Nationals and showed that he still had work to do after allowing 92 hits in 80 innings and posting an ERA of 5.51 (5.11 FIP). This season in triple-A, he’s still been a little too hittable with 89 hits allowed in 81.1 innings, but he’s trimmed his home run problem from a rate of 1.60 to 0.33 HR/9. Balester has also trimmed his 2008 triple-A FIP of 4.92 down to 3.59 this season.

The San Diego Padres (15 games back):
PETCO Park and Mat Latos just might be a match made in heaven. The 21-year-old right-hander has been absolutely dominating in the minors this season – originally in high-A ball and now in double-A. In 11 combined appearances, the hurler has a 1.28 ERA and has allowed just 37 hits in 63.1 innings of work. At double-A, he has a walk rate of 2.13 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.00 K/9. His FIP is 1.99. Latos, though, is a fly ball pitcher (despite allowing just one homer this season). It helps that he has a repertoire that includes a fastball that can touch 97 mph, a wicked slider and a developing changeup. With help from PETCO’s larger-than-average dimensions, he could be a very dominating pitcher in short order.

The Baltimore Orioles (13 games back):
The organization has already debuted the most highly-anticipated rookie of 2009 in catcher Matt Wieters. It also has outfielder Nolan Reimold making a legitimate charge at the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. With rookie starters Brad Bergesen and Koji Uehara also pitching well, you might think the high-level prospect cupboard would be bare, but it’s not. The triple-A rotation contains three promising rookie pitchers in Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Troy Patton. Tillman, though, is probably the closest to being MLB-ready. The right-hander, unlike the other two hurlers, has spent the entire season in triple-A and he has posted a 2.97 ERA (2.80 FIP). Tillman has allowed 62 hits in 72.2 innings of work and he’s posted rates of 2.60 BB/9 and 9.29 K/9. His repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, plus curveball and good changeup.

The Cleveland Indians (12 games back):
You’ve already seen him once and he struggled a bit in his first taste of MLB action, but it’s hard to keep a good prospect down. Left-fielder Matt LaPorta hit just .190/.286/.286 in his first 13 MLB games, but he’s gone back down to the minors and worked hard. He’s trimmed his strikeout rate from more than 20% in his career down to 16.7%. The former college catcher has also continued to hit above .300 while also hitting the ball with authority (.219 ISO, 22.7 LD%). Sooner or later, the club is going to tire of Ben Francisco’s (lack of) hitting: .225/.303/.356 in 236 at-bats.

Week 13 Trade Possibilities

Hopefully you were able to pick up Lance Berkman and trade Adrian Gonzalez last week. But even if you stood pat there are still plenty of acquisition targets and trade bait guys out there for you. So, here are five guys to pick up and five guys to move.


Adam LaRoche – In 2008 he had a .764 OPS in the first half of the year and a .975 OPS after the break. In 2007 the numbers were .763 and .854. In his MLB career, LaRoche has a .787 OPS pre-AS break and a .907 OPS after the break. He has had a very solid first half of the season and if he maintains his career averages after the break, LaRoche could challenge for his best season yet, when he batted .285-32-90.

Luke Hochevar – His strikeout rate is poor (3.57) and his BABIP sits at .231 for the season. But Hochevar has hurled a Quality Start in four of his last five outings, pitching into the seventh inning in all four of those games, including one route-going performance. Hochevar has decent control and does not allow many fly balls. And he should improve upon his 60 percent strand rate going forward.

Willie Harris – Since taking over the CF job 10 days ago, Harris has 3 HR and 3 SB to go along with a .308 AVG. Harris has never been a star, but he did hit 13 HR a season ago. If you need a stopgap option in the OF, he is a waiver wire pickup to consider, with the ability to help in multiple categories. Also, he has played 10 games this year at 2B, which may make him eligible there in some formats.

Chad Gaudin – Back as a SP after spending most of last season in relief, Gaudin is piling up the strikeouts and maintaining a serviceable WHIP (1.39) despite a dismal 4.58 BB/9 mark. His FIP is over a full run beneath his ERA while his strand rate has room for improvement from its current 65.2 percent mark. Early in the month, Gaudin was forced into bullpen duty in an 18-inning game. He got rocked in his next start but has followed up with three Quality Starts. In that span, Gaudin has a 28/5 SO/BB ratio in 21 innings.

Garrett Atkins – Through his first 53 games, Atkins had a .189 AVG and was in the discussion for the worst player in fantasy baseball. Since then, he’s hit .519 in his last 10 games, although none of his other fantasy numbers have been noteworthy. But one category production is better than none and Atkins has a .240 BABIP despite a career .314 mark in the category. RoS ZiPS shows him with a .288-12-52-44-1 line the remainder of the season.


Ichiro Suzuki – There may be no more polarizing figure in fantasy baseball than Ichiro. Proponents point to his ultra-high AVG and SB and strong R numbers. So far, the proponents have been right. Ichiro’s .372 AVG has him as the 14th-best fantasy player, according to CBS Sports. He has a .391 BABIP. Ichiro had a .390 mark in 2007 and hit .401 in the category in 2004. Still, his career mark is .358 so some regression should not be a surprise. Also, Ichiro already has as many HR as he hit in the past two seasons and his HR/FB rate is double what it was a season ago.

Derek Lowe – His last three outings have really dragged down his overall numbers. Some may consider Lowe a buy-low option as a solid #2/3 fantasy pitcher simply going through a rough patch. But he is also a 36-year old with declining K/9 and BB/9 numbers. Lowe is getting fewer swings outside the zone and the famed sinkerballer has a career-worst GB%. The numbers could be even worse if Lowe did not have a career-best 4.4 percent HR/FB rate, roughly one-third of his career mark in the category. His velocity is down and Pitch Type Values shows his slider, which was such an effective pitch for Lowe last year, has been a below-average pitch this season.

Mark Reynolds – Fantasy players mostly avoided Reynolds on Draft Day this season, making him a late-round pick or waiver-wire fare. The conventional wisdom was that his power was not worth the low average. Whoops. Reynolds has raised his AVG 29 points, shown even more power than a season ago and added SB to his game. But it is time to sell high. Reynolds is unlikely to maintain his 28-SB or 45-HR pace. He has already surpassed his professional career high in steals and the 28 percent HR/FB rate is 10 points above last year’s mark.

Joel Pineiro – He has gained a lot of publicity lately for being the latest Tony LaRussa/Dave Duncan reclamation project. But Pineiro features a career-low 3.81 K/9 ratio and he is unlikely to maintain a 0.27 HR/9 rate.

Scott Rolen – His .332 AVG has been almost as big of a surprise as Rolen playing in 66 games so far, even with his bad back. He has a 17-game hitting streak with 10 multi-hit games. But he is a one-category performer, with just 5 HR and 29 RBI to go along with his gaudy AVG. And not surprisingly, Rolen has a .360 BABIP, which would be his personal best and is 46 points above his career mark.

Stock Watch: 6/29

Stock Up

Jason Hammel, Rockies

Out of options this past spring, Hammel was shipped from the Rays to the Rockies for minor league righty Aneury Rodriguez. While the 21 year-old Dominican is struggling with his control in Double-A (4.99 BB/9), Hammel has posted an impressive 3.73 FIP in 72.2 innings.

The 26 year-old Hammel has punched out 6.32 hitters per nine innings, while issuing 2.35 BB/9. That’s a marked improvement over his work with the Rays from 2006-2008, when he walked in excess of four per nine frames each season. Hammel’s fastball (-1.41 runs/100 pitches) and changeup (-2.8) are getting hit hard, but his mid-80’s slider (+1.33) and mid-70’s curve (+3.34) are getting the job done. Colorado’s starters rank 7th in the majors in team FIP. Who knew?

Seth Smith, Rockies

Dave Cameron’s Seth Smith Liberation Party scored a major victory recently, as new Rockies skipper Jim Tracy said that the 26 year-old lefty hitter will receive more playing time. Smith owns a .391 wOBA in 290 career plate appearances in the big leagues, while showing excellent plate discipline (14.9 BB%, 21.3 Outside-Swing%). That level of performance is unlikely to persist, but ZIPS sees Smith swatting a highly-useful .296/.371/.487 during the rest of the season.

B.J. Upton, Rays

Following offseason shoulder surgery and a short DL stint, Upton got off to an inauspicious start (.177/.320/.226 in April, .218/.285/.323 in May). Perhaps the 24 year-old is now fully recovered from going under the knife, as he holds a .333/.400/.556 line in June (4 HR). Has Upton recovered his bat speed? His numbers against fastballs certainly suggest that’s the case:

April: -1.85 Runs/100
May: -0.97 Runs/100
June: +2.76 Runs/100

To boot, B.J. is on pace to far surpass his stolen base total last season (44), with 28 swipes in 35 attempts. This is the player whom I likened to a young Carlos Beltran this past off-season.

Geovany Soto, Cubs

Soto’s sock is back. Geovany’s slugging percentages over the first three months: .130 in April, .354 in May and .559 in June. After hitting one dinger during the first two months, Soto has smacked 6 in June. It might take a while for his season numbers to look more in line with pre-season expectations, but Soto is allaying concerns that an early-season shoulder injury would wreck his 2009 campaign.

Randy Johnson, Giants

While Johnson’s 4.68 ERA looks unimpressive, The Big Unit is still pretty darned nasty. He has whiffed 8.17 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.94. Johnson has given up his fair share of homers over the past few seasons, but his 17.1 HR/FB rate well above his 10.8% mark in 2007. R.J.’s Expected Fielding Independent ERA (based on K’s, BB’s and a normalized HR/FB rate) is 3.57 in 2009. That ranks 7th in the N.L. Don’t be surprised if that ERA continues to dip.

Stock Down

Adrian Beltre, Mariners

While he’s backing M’s pitchers with his customary stellar D (+16.7 UZR/150) and is beginning to hit the ball with more authority (.319/.347/.468 in June), Beltre will unfortunately have to undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his right shoulder. He could be out up to two months.

The 30 year-old will be an interesting free agent this winter. Though some seem to view Beltre’s deal with the Mariners as a mistake, Beltre was valued almost perfectly by Seattle. Inked to a 5-year, $64M deal prior to the 2005 season, Beltre has provided a total of 15.5 Wins Above Replacement. That has been worth $62.4M.

Prior to this year’s injury-plagued work at the plate, the righty hitter posted an average of 8.2 park-adjusted Batting Runs from 2006-2008. He’s a good hitter masked by Safeco, a wonderful fielder and one of the least appreciated performers in the game.

Mike Jacobs, Royals

Jacobs has done a better job of working the count this season (9.7 BB%, 7.9% career average), but he’s largely been the same contact-challenged (31.3 K%) platoon hitter who’s helpless versus lefties (.205/.284/.301). The arbitration-eligible Jacobs (making $3.25M this year) has provided -0.1 WAR for K.C. In other news, Kila Kaaihue
is hitting .273/.412/.508 at AAA Omaha, drawing a walk 19.6% of the time.

Shairon Martis, Nationals

Martis is another example of why Win-Loss records for starters just don’t mean very much. The 22 year-old Dutchman holds a 5-3 mark, but he just isn’t getting the job done at the major league level. Martis’ FIP is a grisly 5.43, as he has walked more hitters (4.10 BB/9) than he has struck out (3.57 K/9). Perhaps realizing that he could use more seasoning while simultaneously limiting his innings, the Nationals optioned Martis to AAA Syracuse.

Andy Sonnanstine, Rays

Sonnanstine has been scorched to the tune of a 5.10 FIP, as he has surrendered 1.65 HR/9. His XFIP is a less-ugly 4.62, but the Kent State control artist hasn’t been as sharp this season. Sonny’s K/BB ratio was 3.35 in ’08, but that dipped to 2.27 in 2009 as his K rate fell slightly (5.77 to 5.51) and his rate of free passes dished out rose from 1.72 to 2.42. Sonnanstine’s five-pitch mix led to a 64 First-Pitch Strike% in 2008 (9th-best among starters), but that figure has tumbled to a league-average 58% this year. The 26 year-old was optioned to AAA Durham to make way for Scott Kazmir.

Hank Blalock, Rangers

When is a projected 36-homer season not all that valuable? When it comes with a 5.3% walk rate and a .284 OBP. Hank is hammerin’ the ball (.266 ISO), but the all-or-nothing approach has led to a wOBA (.332) slightly below the league average. Counter intuitively, Blalock has become more of a free-swinger as the years have gone by. He drew a free pass 9.2% of the time in 2007 and 6.9% in 2008, before this year’s new low point.

Wasted Talent in Texas

You have to give Texas manager Ron Washington some credit for helping to turn around the Rangers franchise and make it a legitimate playoff contender in 2009. You can also, though, give the third-year Texas manager credit for wearing down his regular position players, and especially his starting catcher. To make matters worse, Washington is also ruining a pretty good talent in the process.

To this point, Texas has played 74 games. Young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 24, has appeared in 58 games (78%). Back-up catcher and promising rookie (among the club’s 10 best prospects entering the season) Taylor Teagarden, 25, has appeared in just 19 games (26%).

I could maybe understand this if Saltalamacchia was head-and-shoulders above Teagarden both offensively and/or defensively. However, the starting catcher does not have the strongest reputation as a defensive catcher. In fact, there was talk at one point that he would have to move to first base. Teagarden, on the other hand, was considered the best defense catcher in all of college baseball when he was drafted in the third round out of the University of Texas in 2005. He continued to showcase good defensive skills in the minors, as well as the ability to throw out a ton of base runners on a consistent basis.

Offensively, Saltalamacchia is hitting .250/.297/.377 in 204 at-bats on the season. He also has a strikeout rate of 37.3%, which is borderline horrendous. Toss in a walk rate of 6.4%, as well as the habit of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone almost 35% of the time, and you have a pretty poor approach at the plate. Teagarden is hitting .230/.299/.311 in just 61 at-bats so he hasn’t even had a chance to get in a groove. The rookie has played in back-to-back games just twice this season and the last time came on April 30/May 1. His last three appearances were on June 12th, 18th, and 24th – each six days apart. Is that any way to treat a promising rookie?

This is not the first time that Washington has ridden his starting catcher too heavily. In 2007, he played Gerald Laird in 120 games, while relying on back-up catchers Adam Melhuse and Chris Stewart for just 41 games combined. I also watched a number of Rangers spring training games that season and was amazed at how many innings the manager had Laird play in the Arizona heat.

Texas is not an easy place to play because of the extremely warm weather in the summer, and the catcher’s position is the most demanding, for obvious reasons. Sure, Pudge Rodriguez caught an inhuman number of game behind the plate in his Rangers career, but he was an exception to the rule. Under the heavy workload, Saltalamacchia’s numbers have dipped each month, from .276/.300/.448 in April to .239/.271/.299 in June. His OPS has gone from .748 to .707 to .570.

There is absolutely no reason why Washington should be relying so heavily on Saltalamacchia, while an equally-promising young catcher (more so on defense) wastes away on the bench. There are plenty of veteran minor league catchers who could offer league-average offense for a back-up catcher, while providing excellent mentoring for Saltalamacchia and leadership to the young pitchers on the staff. Three names to consider would be Sal Fasano in Colorado Springs, Mark Johnson in Iowa and Dusty Brown in Pawtucket.

Teagarden has above-average raw power and excellent defensive skills, which could make him an extremely valuable starting catcher for a long time, even if he does hit just .230-.250. Washington’s use of him, though, is hurting his present and future value. The young catcher would be much better off playing everyday in the minors. The club could also use him as trade bait to bring in some MLB-ready pitching. The problem is, though, that the club is also ruining his trade value. If Teagarden ever escapes from Washington’s treatment, he has the potential to become a solid fantasy league option at the catching position.

Someone needs to step up and talk some sense into the manager.

Week 13 Two-Start Pitcher Update

Here is the latest update to Week 13 two-start pitchers. Again this list is subject to change going forward.

Pitchers not listed on last update

TOR – Richmond
WAS – Zimmermann
TB – Niemann
OAK – Anderson
HOU – Hampton
WAS – Olsen
SD – Banks

Pitchers from Friday no longer scheduled for two starts

TB – Garza
HOU – Moehler
OAK – Gonzalez
WAS – Stammen
SD – LeBlanc

Richmond has bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen his last six outings, with three appearances as each, alternating every other appearance as a starter and reliever. So while he’s listed right now for two starts it is not something you want to necessarily count on.

Zimmermann has a FIP over a full run lower than his ERA. He has been a very good strikeout pitcher, averaging 8.91 K/9 and his BB rate is very low, too, at 2.58 BB/9. He has a .331 BABIP and an unhealthy 24.5 percent line drive rate. When batters do make contact off him, 22 of their 71 hits go for extra bases.

Niemann is really getting hurt by walks. He has a .289 BABIP but a 1.47 WHIP, thanks to a 4.11 BB/9 ratio. On 6/3 he pitched a two-hit shutout with one walk but in his last outing he had four walks in four innings pitched. Lately he has kept the ball in the park. After allowing eight HR in his first nine games, Niemann has not allowed a homer in his last five games, a span covering 24.2 innings.

Anderson has poor overall numbers but it really could be even worse. He has a 1.70 HR/9 and a 59.7 percent strand rate. Batters have a .328 BABIP and a .307 average against him. After Anderson threw seven shutout innings on 6/4, he has an 0-2 record with an 8.59 ERA in his past three games.

Hampton is scheduled to come off the disabled list this week, as he is currently sidelined with a strained left groin. Currently he has a 1.59 K/BB ratio. If he maintains that pace for the rest of the season, it would be his best mark in the category since 1999.

Olsen has not pitched in the majors since May 16th because of shoulder tendinitis. His numbers were poor this year in eight starts in the majors. Four rehab starts in the minors were not any better.

Banks makes his first start in 2009 after making 14 for the Padres in 2008. Banks is not overpowering but the 6’3 righty throws about every pitch in the book. He is interesting simply for the fact that he gets two starts in Petco this week.

Green Means Go

There are a plethora of middle infielder surprise stories this year. Ben Zobrist‘s breakout season was just dissected by Dave Allen this week, and Dave Cameron touched on Marco Scutaro’s remarkable penchant for riding the wave this year.

A little less heralded, but no less surprising, has been the play of Nick Green in Boston. All six feet, 180 pounds of Green spent 2008 in the minor leagues in the Yankee organization, playing the middle infield and hitting poorly (.233/.285/.373). Talk about coming back from the dead. Green’s resurrection has brought him all the way to a .281/.337/.433 slash line, and fringe fantasy relevance as the nominal starter at shortstop on a good offensive team.

While defense is not usually a fantasy entity, I covered its importance this week while talking about Fernando Martinez and his chance of sticking in center field over the next couple of weeks in New York. In the same way, a discussion of Nick Green’s defense is in order.

It’s not like he was a player known for his defense at shortstop as he advanced through the Atlanta Braves’ system all those years ago. in fact, the last time he logged significant tries at the position was 2000, in high-A ball. Until Seattle and New York tried him there in 2007 and 2008, he logged about 40 games at the position. But he acquitted himself well while playing short, and his overall minor league Range Factor per nine innings was a decent 3.86.

This year he’s playing to his potential in the field, with a 3.8 RF/9 and a positive UZR rating. His 9 errors are a little worrisome, but he doesn’t have much competition from Julio Lugo, whose hands have turned to bricks this year. Lugo’s career 4.2 RF/9 is down to 2.8, he has 6 errors in half the attempts as Green. And his 14.1 lifetime UZR rating is down to -6.9 this year.

So you have one man whose lifetime .271/.335/.391 slash line and double-digit lifetime UZR rating are up against a hotter player with a lifetime .248/.314/.364 slash line and 9.5 lifetime UZR at the same position. This is a pretty classic battle, and if the difference on lifetime defense or offense was more pronounced, it would be much easier to come down on the side of the seasoned veteran.

It’s tough to parse the team’s attitude about playing time going forward, even if the decision seems to have been made in the present. Lugo has only 20 at-bats in June, which would seem to say that Green has won the battle. However, Lugo’s current .292/.361/.385 slash line may be some ready-made Maalox for the manager when Green’s offense starts to take the predictable slide.

But career seasons do happen. And Lugo is no prized veteran that deserves more tries at the position. The Boston fans certainly aren’t clamoring for more from the slap-hitting Lugo, especially if his defense continues to be putrid. So we come back to defense, because as long as Green plays better on that side of the ball, he’ll probably continue to start. The team has plenty of offense from its other positions.

On offense, ZiPS RoS projections seem about right for Green. They have him finishing the season with a .271/.322/.418 slash line, and some regression will happen. His BABIP is .344 (against a .323 career number), and his strikeout rate is currently significantly lower than his career rate. There’s nothing more damning than his current 40.5% O-Swing%, in the end. Even his career 26.5% reach rate is way too high reaching for a low-power middle infielder.

So for your deep-league fantasy managers that just need anything, anything at all from a starting middle infielder: Green means go… as long as he’s picking it at short. See some more errors in the box score, and you should get nervous.

What Ever Happened to Nepotism?

As you’ve probably already heard from some of the other great sites covering minor league baseball around The Net, the annual Futures Game rosters have been announced. And, as usually, both the U.S. roster and the World roster are stuffed with talented prospects.

One interesting name of the U.S roster is second baseman Eric Young Jr. of the Colorado Rockies. For whatever reason, though, the Rockies organization is not nearly as enamored with the infielder as I am… which is odd given the marketing angle with Young Jr.’s father Eric Sr. having been the Rockies’ first ever second baseman back in 1993. The younger Young also has a proven minor league track record of success at the plate and on the base paths, which should make this a match made in heaven.

The 24-year-old speedster is still plugging away in triple-A midway through the 2009 season, despite the fact that be performed very well in double-A last year, as well as in the Arizona Fall League. This season, Young has a triple-slash line of .292/.383/.413 in 264 at-bats, along with 43 stolen bases in 51 attempts. The switch-hitter also has a respectable walk rate of 11.1% and has decreased his strikeout rate by three percent over last year to 16.3%.

Currently, the Rockies’ MLB roster boasts three players who are capable of playing second base: Clint Barmes (.275/.322/.470), Omar Quintanilla (.222/.344/.259), and Ian Stewart (.218/.300/.479). Not one member of the trio has played well enough this season to warrant a regular gig. Obviously, Quintanilla would be the easiest player to jettison, while leaving Barmes to back-up the middle infield and Stewart to back-up the infield corners.

Barmes has seen the most playing time at second base this season and he has an OK batting average, but he’s not really providing much else – just slightly above-average power and limited base-stealing skills. Young, on the other hand, could provide some much-needed speed to the Rockies lineup with his ability to steal 40-60 bases over the course of a full season. He also has surprising pop, which could be aided by the Colorado air.

Looking ahead, Barmes will be entering his second year of arbitration eligibility this winter and is already making $1.6 million. Perhaps the Rockies could save some money by flipping Barmes to a contender (like the Mets? Or Cincinnati?) before the trading deadline and receive back a B-level prospect. The worst case scenario would have Young falling flat on his face, which would mean that the club would have to toss $1.5 to $3 million at a veteran second base in the off-season, which be about the same amount it would cost to keep Barmes in the fold for the 2010 season.

The N.L. Closer Report: 6/26

For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).

Death Grip

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers

Big Jon turned in his first poor week at the office, surrendering 4 runs, 2 walks and a homer (his first of the year) in two appearances against the Angels on June 20th and 21st. His numbers are still fantastic for the season, however: 14.38 K/9, a 1.41 FIP and a 2.79 WPA that leads all relievers.

Heath Bell, Padres

Bell racked up 2 saves this week, while also picking up a win (4 IP total). Remarkably, Heath still hasn’t given up a homer in 31.1 innings. Bell has ratcheted up the use of his fastball in recent seasons (from 64% in ’07 to 76.2% this year), and with good reason: the pitch has a run value of +2.07/100 pitches this season.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets

K-Rod was touched up against the Orioles on the 18th (2 H, 2 BB), but he has tossed three scoreless innings (3 saves) since. Rodriguez’s peripherals continue to head south, however. His K rate (9.59) is down for a 4th straight season, and his walk rate (4.79 BB/9) is a career high. A .223 BABIP and a 2.2 HR/FB rate have kept his surface numbers at an elite level, but there are some cracks in the foundation here.

Trevor Hoffman, Brewers

With the Brew Crew rotation featuring Gallardo and four punching bags, Hoffman’s work has been scarce (Milwaukee has dropped 5 out of 6 games). Trevor has been mortal this month (including a blown save and 2 runs surrendered against the Indians on the 17th), but he still boasts a 19/4 K/BB ratio in 21.2 frames. Hoffman still hasn’t given up a big fly, either.

Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks

After a turbulent beginning to the month of June while dealing with forearm soreness (7 runs in his first 6 appearances), Qualls delivered two scoreless appearances on the 24th and 25th. Qualls’ fastball velocity hasn’t suffered, but the pitch hasn’t been as effective this season. His heater has a -0.34 run value per 100 tosses, including an ugly -4.16 mark in June (+1.68 in 2008).

In Control

Brad Lidge, Phillies

Lidge is off the DL following a pair of quality rehab appearances for Single-A Clearwater. “Lights out” returns to a line that includes some truly gruesome figures. He ranks dead last in WPA (-2.20), with the least productive heater among ‘pen arms (-3.36 runs per 100 pitches). Opponents have made contact with 87.9% of Lidge’s offerings within the zone, well above his 74.8% career average. Let’s hope that the rest and mended knee fix this previously dominant closer.

Francisco Cordero, Reds

Cordero finally served up a big fly this week, amazingly his first since September 20th, 2008. He picked up 3 saves during the week, with a 1.44 WPA for the season. Hitters continue to make more contact with Cordero’s stuff (64.5% in 2007, 70.7 in 2007 and 76.8% in 2008). However, nearly all of that extra contact has come on pitches outside of the zone: Cordero’s O-Contact% has gone from 35.1% in ’07 to 63.5% in ’09.

Matt Capps, Pirates

Capps hasn’t collected a save since June 14th, but he has tossed two scoreless frames since then, including a pair against the Indians. Happily, Capps’ normally razor-sharp control appears to be returning. He has issued just 1 walk in 9 innings this month, while locating 60.5% of his pitches within the strike zone (51.6% in April and May).

Huston Street, Rockies

Street has been an awfully busy man for the surging Rockies, with 8 saves in June. Huston’s K rate has bounced back this season, from 8.87 per nine innings in 2008 to 10.16 per nine in ’09, and his walk rate is down from 3.47/9 last year to 2.61. Street’s slider has been deadly, with a run value of +4.07 per 100 pitches (one of the 10 highest rates among relievers).

Jose Valverde, Astros

Valverde has returned to ninth-inning duties rather well. He did blow a save against the Royals on June 24th, but he collected 4 saves since our last “Closer Report” while issuing just one walk. Valverde’s fastball (95.5 MPH) is humming, though opponents have made contact within the zone 85.7% of the time this season (76.2% career average).

Ryan Franklin, Cardinals

Has anyone seen Mr. Franklin? He hasn’t gotten into a game since June 20th, when he picked up a 1.1 inning save against the Royals. Franklin’s strand rate sits at an impossibly high 99.1%, making St. Louis’ ninth-inning man the best escape artist since Houdini. His FIP (3.21) is over 2.2 runs higher than his ERA (1.00).

Brian Wilson, Giants

Good Vibrations: The last time Wilson was scored upon was all the way back on May 21st. Since then, San Fran’s stopper has turned in 13.2 squeaky clean innings, with 16 K’s and four walks. His strikeout rate is up for a third consecutive campaign (6.85 in ’07, 9.67 in ’08, 9.79 this season), and his fastball run value (+1.71 per 100 pitches) is a career best.

Watch Your Back

Mike Gonzalez/Rafael Soriano, Braves

Soriano and Gonzalez appear to be engaged in a strikeout battle. Soriano (12.3 K/9) picked up the save against the Cubs on the 22nd, and now holds a 1.90 WPA. Gonzalez (11.65 K/9) has tossed five scoreless, walk-free frames since a 4-run meltdown on June 16th. His WPA sits at 1.20. Expect the time-share to continue for the foreseeable future. Both are well-qualified, and Bobby Cox knows that.

Kevin Gregg, Cubs

Watch out for: Carlos Marmol

Well, so much for Angel Guzman’s covert attempt to swipe the closer’s role. The Venezuelan’s talent is only surpassed by his propensity to end up on the trainer’s table (this time, it’s a right triceps strain).

Gregg continues to do his best Joe Borowski imitation. The former Angel and Marlin had been working on a 9.2 inning scoreless streak, but he then used up some of that good will by blowing a game against Detroit on the 23rd (Ryan Raburn took him deep). His WPA (0.09) is just slightly in the black. Gregg has really ramped up the usage of his low-80’s slider (32.4% this year, 23.6% in ’08), but the pitch’s run value has dipped from +0.70 in 2008 to -1.01 this year.

Matt Lindstrom (right elbow sprain) on the DL; Leo Nunez, Dan Meyer and Renyel Pinto are candidates

After two more blow ups (a combined 5 runs and 7 hits in 1.2 IP), Lindstrom heads to the DL with a triceps injury. Perhaps the time off will mend whatever has caused him to lose control of the strike zone: the high-octane righty issued 2.82 BB/9 in 2007, 4.08 in 2008 and a stunning 6.21 this season. Lindstrom’s velocity wasn’t suffering, but his Zone% dipped to a below-average 48.8% this season (51.5% in ’08 and 54% in ’07). Lindstrom is not expected back until August.

In his absence, Nunez, Meyer and Pinto will battle for save ops. Surprisingly, Meyer has resurrected his career in Florida and looks like the best hope for fantasy owners. The former Braves and Athletics prospect has recovered from a nasty shoulder injury to author a 3.48 FIP and a 4.29 K/BB ratio.

Mike MacDougal, Nationals

MacDougal has a 4.2 inning scoreless streak going, but it’s hard to get excited when that comes with nary a strikeout and 2 walks. Mac has a K/BB ratio of 9/13 this season, with just 43.4% of his pitches hitting the strike zone (49.1% MLB average). It would be best to look elsewhere.

Fantasy Links – 6/26/2009

All 30 teams are in action this evening as interleague play wraps up. How about some links?

MVN’s MLBOutsider takes a closer look at the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann, who has a 1.99 ERA and 22/6 K/BB ratio over his past four starts. He obviously doesn’t carry much win potential, but he’s been missing a lot of bats (8.9 K/9) without a great dip in control (2.6 BB/9). Mixed leaguers starving for strikeouts might as well give him a try. He is owned in just 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Alex Geshwind of lists his “second half starting pitching targets,” calling Francisco Liriano the “ultimate risk reward” and Randy Johnson a “decent buy low candidate.” Geshwind also takes note of Jorge De La Rosa’s 9.8 K/9 and 3.46 BABIP.

RotoRob’s “Daily Dump” is the Orioles’ Luke Scott, who is stuck in a 3-for-22 rut and has a .699 OPS in the month of June. He’s shown a good display of power this season (14 home runs in 184 at-bats) and has at times murdered left-handed pitching, but he’s not helping mixed leaguers.

Knox Bardeen of AOL Fanhouse advises us to stay away from the “Homer Train.” He, of course, is referring to the Reds’ Homer Bailey, who will be called on to start Saturday against the Indians. The 23-year-old is 4-0 with a 0.47 ERA and 38/7 K/BB ratio in his last five starts for Triple-A Louisville, but he’s had trouble parlaying any kind of success into the major leagues during the course of his career. There’s some hope that this time will be different, due in large part to a new split-finger fastball.

Brad Berreman of MVN’s MLBOutsider has a look at the Marlins’ bullpen situation. With Matt Lindstrom hitting the disabled list, the Fish have said they intend to use a closer-by-committee strategy. That doesn’t always last. Perhaps Leo Nunez or Dan Meyer will emerge as the club’s official ninth-inning hurler.

Rotoworld’s Mark St. Amant presents his “Risers” and “Fallers.” He even gives a little credit to David Ortiz, who is putting together a nice June after opening the season in a massive slump.

Have a link, question or comment? I’m all ears. Shoot me an e-mail or come join me on Twitter.

The A.L. Closer Report: 6/26

For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).

Death Grip

Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Since we last checked up on Rivera, he has racked up three more saves (taking him up to 17 for the year), whiffing 5 batters in 2.2 combined innings. Much has been made about cracks in Mo’s armor this season, from an elevated HR rate to a decrease in cutter velocity to a decrease in his swinging strike percentage. But for all the panic, Rivera holds a 37/3 K/BB ratio in 29.1 innings, with the highest strikeout rate of his career. If this is decline, then we have become awfully spoiled.

Joe Nathan, Twins

Nathan has been a machine in June, compiling 8 saves while allowing no one to cross home plate. In fact, the last time Joe conceded a run was all the way back on May 15th. Since then, Nathan has reeled off 14 scoreless frames while punching out 19 hitters and walking just one. His 93 MPH fastball is overwhelming the competition, with a run value of +3.04 per 100 pitches (tops among all relievers).

Joakim Soria, Royals

With K.C. taking a royal beating as of late (6 losses in the past 8 games), Soria has just 1 save during the month of June. Joakim coughed up a run against the Astros on the 24th, and his control is a little off following a pair of DL stints (45.5 Zone%, compared to a 52.8% career average). He’s nasty as ever, though, with a 73.9% contact rate that ranks as the lowest of his career.

Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

Boston’s stopper hasn’t quite been himself this season. Granted, it’s difficult to say that a guy ranking in 4th in Win Probability Added (2.17) is scuffling, but Papelbon isn’t attacking the strike zone in 2009 as he did in previous years. After posting rates of 2.31 BB/9 in 2007 and 1.04 BB/9 in 2008, Papelbon has issued 4 BB/9 this year. His Zone% is down to 48.6 (54.2% career average), and opponents have reacted by swinging at about 9 percent fewer pitches this season. Whether intentional or not, his fastball has more tailing action in on righties this year, the continuation of a three-year trend: 7.3 inches in ’07, 8.5 in ’08 and 9.2 in ’09.

Bobby Jenks, White Sox

Jenks got taken out of the yard by Cincy’s Jay Bruce on June 20th, but has since reeled off three scoreless innings (2 saves). Bobby is having some uncharacteristic issues with the long ball this year. With a career 54.9% groundball rate and 0.62 HR/9, Jenks doesn’t give up jacks too often. But in ’09, his HR/FB% is 20 percent, 11 percent above his career average. It sounds silly to say with an established reliever like Jenks, but perhaps you could acquire him a little cheaper than usual from an owner just focusing on his inflated ERA (2.63 in ’08, 3.33 in ’09). Jenks’ K/BB ratio (4.33) is a career-high, with his K rate up from 5.55 last season to 8.67 this year.

Frank Francisco (C.J. Wilson is getting the call until Francisco gets comfortable), Rangers

Francisco is back with the Rangers, but Wilson continues to get ninth-inning duty as Frank works his way back into form. He fired scoreless innings on the 20th and the 24th, but served up a dinger last evening to Arizona’s Mark Reynolds.

Wilson, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a run since June 4th, a stretch of 7 innings (8/2 K/BB ratio). He’s doing a nice job of keeping the ball on the ground (58 GB%) and his 27.8 Outside-Swing% is a career-high, but Wilson’s 2.67 ERA overstates his case. His Expected Fielding Independent ERA (based on K’s, walks and a normalized HR rate) is 3.78.

In Control

Andrew Bailey, Athletics

Bailey has notched 3 saves since our last “Closer Report”, though June 20th was the last time he got into a game. The 6-3 righty (ranked just 23rd on Baseball America’s top 30 A’s prospects entering the year) has been a revelation in the ‘pen, with 10.15 K/9 and a 2.90 FIP. Bailey offers an unusually deep mix of pitches for a reliever, able to confound hitters with a 93 MPH fastball (+1.47 runs/100), 89 MPH cutter (+1.38) or 78 MPH curve (+3.70). Good luck squaring up those offerings: Bailey’s 71.8 Z-Contact% (percentage of contact made within the strike zone) ranks 1st among relievers tossing at least 30 innings.

Brian Fuentes, Angels

Fuentes hasn’t surrendered a run in 5.2 innings this month, with 9 K’s and 3 walks. There are a few interesting trends worth watching with the former Rockie: His Zone% has decreased 3 straight seasons, from 52% in ’07, 51.7 in ’08 and 46.1 this year. Perhaps not coincidentally, the effectiveness of his secondary stuff has lagged this year. His fastball may be down a few ticks (91.6 MPH to 89.9), but the pitch still has a healthy run value of +1.60 per 100 pitches. His slider (-1.78) and changeup (-4.29) aren’t working near as well. Fuentes seems aware of this, however: his percentage of fastballs used has increased from 64.9% in 2006 to over 71% each of the past two seasons.

Kerry Wood, Indians

There’s no place like home? Wood headed back to his old stomping grounds in Wrigley this past week, only to get throttled for a pair of blown saves, 3 runs and 1 dinger in 1.1 innings. Cleveland’s big free agent signing then gave up a run and two walks against the Pirates on the 23rd, escaping with the cheap save by the skin of his teeth. Wood now has -0.2 Wins Above Replacement in 2009. Uh, Kerry, can we get a refund?

George Sherrill, Orioles

Sherrill is working on another scoreless streak, with 5 spotless frames in a row. George has issued just 2 walks in June, after dishing out 5 in May. Typically control-challenged (career 4.36 BB/9), Sherrill has just 2.83 BB/9 in ’09. His WPA (1.44) is way above any of his previous marks.

David Aardsma (Brandon Morrow is headed back to the rotation. We think.)

For the most part, Aardsma has been his wild self in 2009 (5.5 BB/9). But in June, he has issued just 3 walks in 9 innings, while whiffing 17 in the process. Perhaps it’s time to stop being quite so critical. Aardsma’s chances of losing his job are remote with Morrow out of the picture, he’s whiffing over 11 batters per nine innings, and he’s an extreme flyball pitcher backed by two center field-caliber OF’s in a park that suppresses homers. The extremely low HR/FB rate (2.4%), BABIP (.251) and high strand rate (88.1%, compared to a 73.8% career average) portend to regression, but the K’s and grip on the job make him a viable option.

Fernando Rodney, Tigers

Watch out for:Joel Zumaya

Same old Rodney? Fernando’s strikeout-to-walk ratios over the first three months: 4.00 in April, 2.60 in May and 1.11 in June. Sadly, his sharp spring is looking like the outlier. Sure, Rodney has been scored upon just once in his last 6 innings, but that stretch also includes 4 free passes. His Zone% (49.6) is now below his career average (51.2), with a 1.8 K/BB that is just marginally better than 2008’s 1.63 showing.

Jason Frasor (Scott Downs on the DL with a toe injury), Blue Jays

Downs is down with a left big toe injury, so Frasor will handle closing duties for the time being. He gave up two walks and took a loss against the Nationals on the 19th, but he came back with a save against the Reds on the 23rd. Frasor’s walk rates have usually been lofty (6.08 BB/9 last year, 3.93 for his career), but the 31 year-old righty has issued just 1.75 BB/9 in 2009. It’s not as though he’s suddenly firing strike after strike: his 53 Zone% is right around his career average. Rather, Frasor has baited hitters into chasing 25.4% of his pitches off the plate, well above his 18.5% career mark.

Watch Your Back

Dan Wheeler/J.P. Howell/Lance Cormier/Joe Nelson, Rays

Howell collected a save versus the Mets on June 20th, and he hasn’t let up a run all month (9 IP, 11 K, 5 H). Howell has whiffed 10.9 hitters per nine innings, with a 68.8% contact rate that bests K-Rod. Yeah, he’s really good. Now if only we knew he’d keep the closer role..