For most of the second half, Brad Hand just hasn’t been his usual dominant self, and his problems are getting more acute. Since July 23, the Indians’ closer has a 6.59 ERA, a 2.12 WHIP and an 18.8 percent strikeout rate. Undergirding Hand’s subpar K-rate is an 8.8 percent SwStr%. Until recently, his pitch velocity and movement had been near their normal levels, so there was reason to hope that whatever was hurting Hand’s performance could be easily fixed. However, over his last four outings, his average fastball velocity has been just 91.2 mph, or roughly 2 mph below where it typically had been. The average horizontal movement on Hand’s slider has dipped below five inches in two of his last four appearances, as compared to his season-to-date average of 8.6 inches.
Those changes in Hand’s pitches were not apparent in the results from the first three of those four games. He did not allow a run in any of those performances and gave up only one hit over the three combined innings. On Wednesday night against the White Sox — the fourth of those appearances — things went haywire pretty quickly. Hand started off the top of the ninth inning with an 8-4 lead and began by striking out pinch-hitter Danny Mendick, but that was followed by a Leury García single and a Tim Anderson home run. Now with just a two-run lead, Hand loaded the bases by allowing a single, a walk and then another single. At that point, Terry Francona pulled Hand in favor of Nick Wittgren, who retired Eloy Jiménez and Ryan Goins for his fourth save of the year.
With everything pointing in the wrong direction for Hand, owners should bench him unless they need saves far more than they need help with ERA, WHIP or strikeouts. While there are no signs of an imminent change at closer for the Indians, it’s the right time to start speculating on a potential replacement. Despite getting the save on Wednesday night, it doesn’t seem likely to be Wittgren, who has not been used consistently in high-leverage situations. At least initially, it may not be Carlos Carrasco, whom Terry Francona thinks may need more time to be ready for high-leverage work. Nick Goody has been slumping lately and may be pitching his way out of a high-leverage role.
That leaves Tyler Clippard, Adam Cimber and Oliver Pérez as the most-likely candidates, and Francona may want to retain Pérez as a left-handed specialist. Between Clippard and Cimber, the former has made the much stronger case to close. Since July 16, Clippard has a 1.38 ERA and a 0.65 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and four walks over 26 innings. In leagues where it is hard to find saves on waivers, Clippard may be your best speculative option for future saves.
One has to wonder how long José Ureña’s tenure as the Marlins’ closer will last. Granted, he has been closing for them for all of two days so far, and with there being little at stake, he could get a long audition, even if it doesn’t go well. The early returns, though, are a little worrisome. Ureña did nail down his first save chance on Tuesday night against the Pirates, but with another chance on Wednesday night, he failed to retire any of the four batters he faced and allowed them to walk off on Bryan Reynolds‘ bloop single.
Already, I have given Ureña the “Not Very Stable” tag in the closer grid, though it’s not because of Wednesday night’s performance. After all, anyone can have a bad outing. It has to do with him getting only two swinging strikes and two called strikes in 41 pitches over his three appearances since returning from the IL.
Raisel Iglesias has been effective in back-to-back outings, but I’m not quite ready to remove his “Not Very Stable” designation. On Wednesday night, pitched a perfect frame against the Phillies to lock down an 8-5 win for the Reds, but in his last two appearances combined, he has an 11.1 percent SwStr% and a 23.5 percent O-Swing%. Given that this comes on the heels of a four-appearance stretch where he induced swinging strikes on only 3.8 percent of his pitches, there is reason to be concerned that these small-sample mediocre indicators are indicative of a larger problem.
Iglesias was preceded in Wednesday night’s game by Michael Lorenzen, who gave up a Jay Bruce solo homer in the seventh inning, but he rebounded by pitching a 1-2-3 top of the eighth inning and then hitting a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the eighth. Lorenzen will get his first start as a position player on Thursday in the series finale, batting seventh and playing center field.
Quick hits: Will Smith (31), Ian Kennedy (26), Archie Bradley (12) and Brandon Workman (11) were credited with saves on Wednesday night…X-rays came back negative on Tony Watson’s left wrist, which he bruised on a diving tag at first base in Wednesday night’s game against the Cardinals …Sam Dyson returned to Minneapolis from the Twins’ series in Boston with a recurrence of his sore biceps…The Pirates are expected to place Keone Kela placed on the paternity list.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.