Posts tagged ‘Francisco Cordero’

Tuesday: 05.17.2011

On Andrew Bailey

 catbird seat

–noun (Informal)

an advantageous situation or condition:

His appointment as acting dean put him in the catbird seat.

A team that is just a game over .500, one game out of first place and in third place in their division isn’t often said to be in the catbird seat, but you could make a case that the Oakland A’s are in fact there.  The A’s have the best pitching in all of baseball when measured by ERA (2.75) and the best in the AL when measured by FIP (3.19) and xFIP (3.49).  Their bullpen ranks very well, too, checking in third and fifth in baseball by ERA and FIP and tied for 14th in xFIP.  The best part about their pitching is that they have the 2nd-most innings pitched in baseball, but their bullpen has the second fewest (by a third of an inning to Philly).

Their advantageous situation comes in the fact that they are succeeding this much despite their ace closer, Andrew Bailey, not having logged a single inning this year.  In fact the fill-in closer, Brian Fuentes, has been one of their worst relievers to date (4.19 ERA, modest 7.0 K/9).  Their bullpen is in for significant improvement when Bailey returns which is expected at the end of May.  He slots in at closer and everyone else moves down a peg (or out in Craig Breslow‘s case as he is the worst reliever to date statistically speaking).

But what if he doesn’t return?  Bailey has hardly been the bastion of health during his three year career and while the results when in have been excellent, he has three different DL stints for three different parts of his body (back, right elbow, right forearm) making him a constant risk.  The prospect of using Fuentes as their closer for the whole season is probably unsettling for the Athletics’ brass.  He has a history of home run issues which is about the worst thing for a closer.

He has avoided them this year with a 0.5 HR/9, but that’s thanks to a 3.3% HR/FB rate which is highly unlikely to stick considering he has a 55% flyball rate.  The home ballpark definitely masks some of it, but I doubt the park will cover him ALL year.  He has already notched three losses, a blown save-win and an ugly save where he allowed two hits and a run (a Dirty Fuentes if you will–full credit to Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz of ESPN).  And that is with just the one home run on his record.  As that HR/FB rate regresses to the mean, it could get really dirty.

Enter the catbird seat.  Their AAA closer in Sacramento is a name you might be familiar with, Joey Devine.  He makes Bailey look like Cal Ripken Jr. with an injury track record longer than Paris Hilton’s STD test results.  But he is healthy right now and mowing down the competition with 12 shutout innings during which he has struck out 17, walked one and allowed just four hits notching three saves and three wins.

If you will recall, the last time he pitched in the majors was 2008 for the A’s and he was excellent in 45.7 innings.  He had a miniscule 0.59 ERA, microscopic 0.83 WHIP and elite-level 3.3 K/BB rate powered by his 9.7 K/9.  He is a major talent who could definitely wrest the closer’s role away from Fuentes should Bailey miss more time than expected.  Or his & Bailey’s health and performance could facilitate a trade for the A’s to shore up their woeful lineup.

It is unlikely that they could flip Devine for a game-changing piece, but a healthy Bailey (who is only signed through 2011 according to Cots combined with the fact that the Billy Beane brass has never been tied singling out a closer and making him the unquestioned guy in the role) could probably net a useful bat especially as several wannabe contenders have a hole (or five) in their bullpen (Reds, Angels, Cardinals, Rockies, Brewers, both Sox, Rangers, Dodgers and Tigers all rate 16th or worse in bullpen ERA).  And six of those teams (Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox) are among the top 10 in runs scored adding to the potential for a trade fit.

The Reds look like a strong fit because they have an aging (36) closer in Francisco Cordero whose strikeout rate is dwindling rapidly (12.2 K/9 in 2007 down every year to 6.1 this year) and their heir apparent, Aroldis Chapman, would walk Vladimir Guerrero… repeatedly.  Couple that with their abundance of bats with no place to play, namely Chris Heisey, and trading seems to fit.

In addition to Heisey, the Reds also have Fred Lewis and Jonny Gomes (though he is a platoon player on the short end as righties kill him) at the major league level.  But if they wanted to keep Heisey and the A’s had no interest in Lewis or Gomes (which would be smart), their AAA team has two strong candidates the A’s would be wise to covet: Yonder Alonso and Juan Francisco.

Alonso is a first baseman they are trying at left field simply because he is blocked by the reigning MVP Joey Votto, but their best deployment of him is probably in a trade.  He is carrying a .331 average .916 OPS in 130 at-bats for AAA-Louisville and for his career he has nearly 600 plate appearances of .848 OPS at AAA suggesting he is ready for .

I appreciate Daric Barton’s ability to take a walk as much as the next guy, but a team can’t compete with a  .293 SLG out of their first baseman.  That’s so disgustingly bad that I’m sure 64% of you will go check his stats just to make sure it’s not a misprint.  The A’s could keep Alonso in the outfield, but that would put him in Josh Willingham’s spot or require moving Willingham to rightfield.  You can’t take his bat out of the lineup, though, because his .405 SLG actually qualifies as a power bat in the Oakland lineup.  I guess they could put Alonso in left and then Willingham in for Barton (Willingham has played 3 games at 1B.  Letting him learn on the fly would still be better than having to suffer Barton’s bat even though Barton is a plus defender), but that would only be an option if they decided that Alonso was a major value-add in left.  I can’t speak to his defense in the outfield at all.

Francisco is primarily a third baseman which just so happens to be another power position from which the A’s are getting ZERO power.  Kevin Kouzmanoff has an OPS (.591) that you would like to see as a SLG from one of (if not more) of your power positions of 1B, 3B, LF and RF.  His .351 SLG would make a nice OBP for crying out loud.  Francisco is a 24-year old top 10 prospect in their organization from whom big things are expected, but even the .295/.356/.400 production from his 59-game sample in the majors the last three years would be better than anything Kouz can deliver at this point.

The Reds also have a multi-positional Todd Frazier in the midst of a breakout at age 25 on their AAA team so the options run deep.  With as many holes as they have in their lineup, a singular trade won’t completely turn around Oakland’s offense, but it would be a big step in the right direction.  Plus they are doing pretty well overall despite their scrub lineup so maybe one bat would make a world of difference.  They have also some options on their own AAA team that could boost the lineup.  I’ll cover that at a later date.

Of course before any of this Bailey trade talk can come to fruition, he needs to come back and prove his health as well as show the kind of excellence we have seen from him in the past two years.  If he doesn’t, the A’s won’t have as much leeway to trade bullpen arms for help in their lineup, but with Devine surging and a major league bullpen that has been one of the best in baseball so far, they don’t need Bailey to return to succeed.  They are in a strong position either way, but obviously Bailey returning to greatness is the ideal scenario for them to maximize their time in the catbird seat.

Thursday: 03.17.2011

2011 Closer Tiers

Here’s a look at my 2011 closer rankings.  I’m going to do my Middle Reliever article soon so the top 7th and 8th inning guys will get their coverage there.  I mentioned a few in here, but none of them are ranked unless they are in a committee to close.

Stat consideration in order of importance: Strikeouts, Saves, ERA, WHIP.  I would take a few less saves for a ridiculous strikeout rate.  Closers can impact ERA a decent bit (at the truly elite levels), but their WHIP impact is often insignificant (even at its worst, more on that later).

Tier 1

Joakim Soria – He has an incredibly rock solid skills profile over the past four seasons and yet he is still just 27 years old.  His inferior team hasn’t prevent him from two 40+ save seasons and in non-40 save season he struck out 69 in 53 innings (he wasn’t the full time closer in the first of his four seasons).

Carlos Marmol – Too many outlets greatly overrate the impact of a reliever’s WHIP (and ERA for that matter) on your team’s bottom line.  Take Marmol’s awful 1.46 WHIP in 2009 and add it to a standard team with 1250-1300 innings and it increases the WHIP by 0.01.  You can’t tell me that his otherworldly strikeout rates for a reliever don’t more than cancel out that negligible impact.

Heath Bell – Similar to Wilson, he’s on a team that can win, but when they do it’s close because they aren’t powered by offense.  This has led to 42 and 47 save seasons the last two years for Bell.  He’s also notching better than 10 strikeouts per nine with elite ERA and WHIP totals to boot.

Neftali Feliz – After a back-n-forth Spring Training and rampant speculation about whether or not he was going to start or close, he has finally been locked down as the closer again.  He was brilliant last year and I expect no different in 2011.  He has devastating starter’s stuff which plays pretty well in one-inning bursts.  Remember that with the tiers, I see everyone within a tier relatively similarly.  So if you wanted to take Feliz first in an AL-Only (or mixed for that matter), I support that.  I ranked them how I prefer them, but there’s little difference one to the next.

Mariano Rivera – He’s a freak, even at 41. The Ks dropped last year (6.8 K/9), but ratios remained absurd and I’m not betting against him.  K rate dropped to 6.6 in 2006 and then he reeled off three straight seasons above 9.0 at ages 37 through 39, so don’t let the 41 years make you believe he can’t bounce right back again.  He almost deserves his own second tier because there is a little risk with anyone his age, but I’ll give him the T1 respect.

Tier 2

Brian Wilson – He’s just on another level right now delivering near-Marmolian strikeout rates (10.3, 11.2 last two years) with great ratios and high save counts (on a team that wins, but not with offense meaning more close games).  Update: Injuries move him down, but still worth drafting pretty high.

J.J. Putz – Last year Putz looked a lot like the guy who notched 36 and 40 save seasons back in 2006 and 2007.  Once an elite closer, Putz quickly earned a closer’s role this offseason and there is no reason to believe he won’t once again become a big time stopper.  He’s being a little overlooked so far this draft season.  If you want to skip the first wave, jump on Putz a few rounds after.

Matt Thornton – Rightfully given the job to start the season, Thornton has been an elite reliever for three years now though many might not realize it as he has just 13 saves in that time.  Posted a ridiculous 12.0 strikeout rate last year, but even if he’s “only” at the 10.6 he averaged the two years before, he is still an excellent investment.

Jonathan Papelbon – For all his issues (ascending walk rate, ERA and WHIP; dropping save totals), his strikeout rate is actually ticking up yearly since 2008 (10.0, 10.1, 10.2) and at 29, he’s still well within in his prime.  As annoying as Papelbon can be personally, he could be an undervalued fantasy asset this year as his demise is being overrated.

Francisco Rodriguez – We are seeing a lot risk in this tier which says a lot about the state of closers in the 2011 preseason.  K-Rod is no different, but it’s hard to deny the talent.  The main concern is that if the Mets don’t trade him, they might game his playing time to avoid a vesting option for 2012 (needs to finish 55+ games).

Tier 3

Jonathan Broxton – He is inexplicably being written off for three bad months.  He was brilliant through June 26th with a sub-1.00 ERA and 48 Ks in 33 innings.  The wheels came off the next day with a 4-run outing and he was never the same the rest of the year.  No way I’m going to write off a 27-year old with as much talent as Broxton just yet.

Jose Valverde – An up and down season in 2010 that was essentially four great months and two horrible ones.  Elbow soreness likely caused some of the issues that led to 8.25 and 7.00 ERAs in July and August, but he bounced back with eight strong innings in September.  He looks good so far in Spring Training so I’d be comfortable investing in a standard Valverdian season.

Andrew Bailey – He might have crept into Tier 1 if it weren’t for the major injury scare a few days ago during a spring outing.  We are being told he’s fine for now and doesn’t need surgery, but the uncertainty of his elbow plus his injury track record make him a frightening investment.  Handcuff Brian Fuentes here.

Joe Nathan – He might ease into the role for a few weeks in April, but I think he will be the full-time closer no later than May given health.  Like Putz, I think we’ll see a quick return to form and Nathan will once again be a reliable premier asset.

Chris Perez – He came into his own last year and started paying dividends on his top 100 prospect status from 2008 (97) and 2009 (91).  Control is the missing element in his game to this point (4.3 BB/9 in 162 career IP), but at 25 years old there is still plenty of time.  His stuff is undeniable and he should feel secure in the job.  You should feel secure when investing.

Tier 4

Huston Street – The skills are there, always have been, but it’s hard to rely on him being there for you all season.  That lack of consistent health is why he has just two 35+ save seasons in his six years in the majors.  Each of the other four has yielded 23 or fewer.

John Axford – Burst onto the scene last year for a huge rookie season taking over for Trevor Hoffman with nearly 12 strikeouts per game and 24 saves in 27 chances.  His control needs work (4.2 BB/9), but that and a deep track record are the only missing ingredients for an elite closer.

Joel Hanrahan – You may be shocked to learn that Hanrahan has improved his strikeout rate each of his four seasons in the big leagues and had a career-best 3.4 BB/9 last year.  He’s been given the job for now, but Evan Meek looms if he fails.  The skills are there, but does he have the fortitude to closer?  I’d bet yes.

Leo Nunez – He had a career year in his first as the full-time closer which is enticing, but can it last?  He makes a strong secondary or tertiary closer on a team with a T1 in mixed leagues.  I also like him as a cheap option in an NL-Only if you don’t like investing a ton in saves.  I like him a lot more than most and I think he’s being a bit underrated.

Tier 5

Brad Lidge – A sore biceps tendon has caused a preseason scare, but Lidge asserts it’s something he has dealt with before and writes it off as no big deal.  Even still, he’s far from “Lights Out” these days despite the still impressive strikeout totals.  Tread cautiously. Update: Injuries also move him down as he’s now set to start the season on the DL.

Frank Francisco – He’s closed before and posted 3.2 K/BB rates or better each of the last three years, but a sore pectoral has cast some doubt over him, especially in light the depth of competition in Toronto.  If healthy, he could be a cheaper option that pans out very nicely.

Francisco Cordero – His eroding skillset belies the gaudy save totals (79 the last two years) as his strikeout rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons coming in below 8.0 each of the last two seasons.  Mix that in with his age (36) and legitimate competition behind him (Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset) and Cordero becomes a risky proposition.

Craig Kimbrel/Jonny Venters – Listing them together because they are set to share the job for now.  I think one will emerge, but who knows who?  Venters was brilliant in 83 innings so it seems like he’d be more reliable, but Kimbrel really impressed with 40 strikeouts in 21 innings.  I wouldn’t be afraid to invest in either or both if the prices weren’t out of whack.  They only rate this low because saves are the guiding factor of these tiers.  From a pure skills standpoint, both can be elite relievers.

Kevin Gregg – Middling skills combined with legitimate competition on hand (namely Koji Uehara) make Gregg a risky option.  Throw in a mediocre at best team in the league’s toughest division and this could get ugly.  That said, he held on for 37 saves in the same division last year.

Ryan Franklin – Regression popped his ERA last year, but he tightened up the control a lot yielding an even better WHIP than 2009.  Still, I don’t like closers with lame strikeout rates especially if I can’t count on excellent ERA and WHIP.

Tier 6

Alexei Ogando – My main concern is that Ron Washington seems to lack much confidence in him and this whole Neftali Feliz melodrama might not be over yet, either.  Buying Ogando while things remain pretty uncertain could represent a nice bargain as I think he is the clear choice behind Feliz if he does end up a starter (which he should if Texas is smart… and they generally are…)

Jake McGee/Kyle Farnsworth – Manager Joe Maddon is firm on going with a committee marginalizing the value of both of these guys, who would otherwise be pretty valuable if they were the lone closer.  Their skills and team situation is better some of the other committees found in T6 so they still rate above them even as a tandem.

Fernando Rodney – I can’t envision a scenario where he keeps the job all year long.  Any one of Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen or Scott Downs would be better options.  Of course, they will probably get their shot in reverse order of how I listed them.  Downs is on the DL right now, but Rodney should at least hold it through April.

Brandon League/David Aardsma – League is a placeholder until Aardsma is healthy after having hip surgery in January.  I loved League heading into last year after his 2009 season, but he pretty much flopped and made his 2009 skills (9.2 K/9, 3.6 K/BB) look like an outlier.  Don’t buy both.  If you buy one, it should only be as a third option regardless of league format.

Drew Storen – A rough spring is putting his grasp on the job in serious doubt as manager Jim Riggleman obviously doesn’t realize how worthless Spring Training numbers are in the grand scheme.  Add in the myriad of options (none particularly good) behind Storen and he becomes a serious risk.

Brandon Lyon – A lesser version of Ryan Franklin on a much lesser team.  Wilton Lopez lingers, too, but I’m not sold he keeps the 0.7 BB/9 he displayed in 67 innings last year.