Just to let you know, I really don't want to write about this piece. I'm so tired of writing about bullpens and answering the incessant questions about bullpen arms. Alas, until we move on from saves in the fantasy game the questions are valid, and will keep coming. The Indians and Astros are in the mix today, and I'll also touch on two league specific adds as starters with the Indians and Diamondbacks that have looked pretty sharp as their 2014 big league season gets underway.
WHO IS CLOSING FOR THE INDIANS?
John Axford has nine saves to lead the Indians, but he's also lost three games and blown two saves. That effort has led to his removal from the 9th inning for the moment. That must mean Cody Allen is the new closer, right? Not so fast. Let's read some quotes from manger Terry Francona.
Who is the news closer Terry? “I think it’s more closer by-good- pitchers. This group is all a little different in how they pitch, but they all have the ability to get outs and handle themselves against lefties and righties.”
Well, Allen has to be the leader, right? “There are days when you get to the seventh inning and the bases are loaded and Cody, or one of those other guys, might be the best bet to get us out of that inning... How many saves did CP (Chris Perez) not convert last year (five)? My guess is that Cody influenced 12 or 15 of our wins last year in the seventh or eighth inning.”
What are your feeling on Axford at this point? “I told him numerous times that the goal is to get him back as our closer... I don’t want to put a Band Aid on it. When he gets it back, I want him to stay there.”
Guess that leaves Bryan Shaw as the man? Note the question mark. Shaw picked up the save Sunday and has a save in two of his last three outings. Is he a better pitcher than Allen who most, including the Oracle, thought would take over if Axford struggled?
Allen: 1.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 4.60 K/BB, 0.75 GB/FB
Shaw: 1.45 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.20 K/9, 5.67 K/BB, 1.10 GB/FB
Pretty clear that Allen is the more dominating arm. Two other things. (1) Shaw's 1.45 BB/9 mark is less than half his career 3.13 rate. Can he keep that up? Doubtful. (2) Shaw's GB/FB ratio has gone down each of his big league seasons: 3.40, 2.49, 1.29 and 1.10 this year. That's not exactly a heartening trend.
I still view Allen as the better arm. However, as this situation yet again points out, it's not always about who the best arm is that matters. It's how the manager chooses to deploy the arms that counts. That's the only thing that matters. The quote from Francona above says is all. He's basically saying that he thinks Allen is his best reliever and no matter when the game is on the line he's calling on his best pitcher. If that's before the 9th inning, than so be it. I can't disagree with the thought either. That's why I'm constantly pushing for a change with hoe we value relievers (saves+holds = solds being a simple yet logical first step).
WHO IS CLOSING FOR THE ASTROS?
The litany of closing options for this team boggles the mind.
Jesse Crain? Still haven't seen him on the field.
Josh Fields has two saves but he's in the minors thanks to a 12.00 ERA.
Raul Valdes has a save, but he's in the minors too.
That leaves two men standing – Anthony Bass and Chad Qualls.
Bass has a solid 1.22 WHIP and has walked only five batters in 18 innings this season. He's also, get this, struck out four batters all year. That's actually comical. He's also allowed a run in two of his last three outings and his last save was back on April 12th.
The man to own in this bullpen is Qualls. Though he has an unsightly 1.75 WHIP, Qualls picked up the save Sunday and he's gone 8-straight outings without allowing a run. He also has an impressive 10.50 K/9 mark and 4.67 K/BB ratio. Add in the fact that he saved 36 games in 2009-10 – managers love that experience – and that he's an extreme ground ball pitcher (58 percent this year and for his career) and he becomes the man to own for the Astros.
WHO IS STARTING FOR THE INDIANS?
Trevor Bauer has a huge arm. After years of trying to harness that wing in the big leagues it seems like he's found “it.” In six starts at Triple-A he's gone 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 40 Ks in 40.1 innings. He also allowed only one earned run over six innings in a spot start earlier for the Indians. So the Indians' 5th starter currently is... Josh Tomlin. I have zero idea why the Indians would make this decision. Bauer is younger and more talented – there is no debate from any corner about that. However, for some reason that boggles the mind, the Indians have chosen to throw their support behind Tomlin at the moment. To his credit Tomlin has looked good through two outings (2-0, 2.13 ERA), but this is an AL-only arm and one that could lose his spot to Bauer at a moments notice one would think (though with their handling of this situation maybe not). Tomlin doesn't strike anyone out (4.90 per nine), and with a 4.82 career ERA over 62 outings there's just nothing to see here.
WHO IS THIS ANDERSON KID?
Chase Anderson is in the D'backs rotation right now because Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson and Archie Bradley cannot be (Mike Bolsinger was demoted when Anderson was called up). In his first start Chase lasted 5.1 innings and permitted just one run while walking one and striking out six. An excellent first effort. His outlook moving forward? Spotty, meaning NL-only territory. The already 26 year old Anderson might profile a bit better as a reliever than starter. He doesn't have “big” stuff but he usually works around the strike zone and tries to keep batters off balance with solid secondary pitches (which includes a plus change up). Anderson was pitching very well at Double-A over six starts (4-2, 0.69 ERA an a 0.72 WHIP over 39 innings), so clearly he's locked in at the moment, but as I noted the stuff just isn't there for him to be anything other a 4/5 stater in the big leagues, and that keeps his fantasy value on the low end.