Oakland Athletics: After surrendering 3 baserunners and 3 runs in a blown save Friday, Brian Fuentes is out of the 9th in Oakland. He no longer misses bats; he owns a solid 9.38 career K/9 with a 11.3% swinging strike rate, but his 2012 numbers check in at a much less impressive 6.45 K/9, supported by a diminished 7.0% swinging strike rate. This is part of a multi-year trend, and if Fuentes isn’t closing, he isn’t worth owning. Ryan Cook is the obvious add, even if his walk rate (5.14 BB/9) is less than ideal. His .141 BABIP is not going to be sustained, but he’s a flyball pitcher in a flyball pitcher’s haven. Look for a low 3 ERA, a WHIP around 1.3 and a K per inning. Grant Balfour has pitched well in June, striking out over 29% of batters faced while owning a 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. His velocity has recovered from an early season drop, and if Cook falters, Balfour would likely get another shot at the 9th.
For an update on Sean Doolittle, he’s now faced 15 MLB batters and struck out 8 of them. He made an appearance on Sunday in the 7th inning, his first outside of the 6th inning, and promptly struck out 5 of 6 batters in his 2 innings of work. He throws lots of strikes (61% of pitches in the strike zone) while making batters miss (72.2% contact rate). He’s not near the closing role at the moment, but if you need solid ratios and K help give Doolittle a look.
Toronto Blue Jays: Sergio Santos suffered a setback while rehabbing his shoulder injury, feeling elbow discomfort after a bullpen session last Wednesday. Casey Janssen doesn’t induce many swings and misses, but he owns a 4.20 K/BB, a 3.45 xFIP, and he’ll be the closer for the foreseeable future with Santos having no stated return date.
Miami Marlins: Another week, another 6 strikeouts to 1 walk in 2.2 innings for Heath Bell. He’s throwing over half of his pitches in the strike zone, and he’s not fooling many hitters, inducing a paltry 5.4% swinging strike rate. That’s a dangerous combination, and batters connecting for a 26.9% line drive rate is testament to just that. If Bell continues to lob 53% of his pitches in the strike zone his walk rate and WHIP will drop, but he may very well surrender a good number of extra base hits. Don’t rush to the wire to add Steve Cishek if he’s available, but if you’re holding him in hopes of a Bell blowup, stick with him.
Milwaukee Brewers: After dominating in 2010 and 2011, John Axford has hit a rough patch. His command is down, throwing only 44.6% of his pitches in the strike zone, and the result is a walk rate of over 6 per 9. In his last two appearances, Axford has given free passes to 4 batters in an inning and a third. A sudden loss of control is typically associated with elbow injuries, but Axford’s velocity is actually up over half a mile per hour from last season. I suspect he may get a day or two off anyway, and Francisco Rodriguez is a decent add if you’re speculating for saves in the very short term. Axford should be fine moving forward, provided there isn’t any unexpected injury news on the horizon.
Chicago Cubs: I’m going to make this brief. Carlos Marmol pitched the 8th and Shawn Camp got the save Wednesday. I don’t own any Cubs relievers in any leagues, and I don’t advise you to own any, either. If you’re desperate, Camp is the current rider on Sveum’s closerousel.
Cincinnati Reds: After not allowing an earned run in his first 24 appearances, Aroldis Chapman has surrendered 4 ER in his last 3 innings. His ERA is still an excellent 1.13 and he’s got an outstanding 5.60 K/BB, so his leash is long. He’ll have to continue to struggle before Sean Marhsall gets another shot at the 9th, even if Marshall has a 2.43 FIP and a K/BB of 5.00. If you’ve continued to own Marshall, hang on to him until Chapman rights the ship. Worst case, Marshall will be great for Ks, holds, and ratios as the setup guy.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Scioscia is still giving Scott Downs the occasional matchup-based save, as Downs came into the 9th against the Rockies to face a couple of lefties on Sunday. It didn’t work out that well, as he allowed three hits and a run, but he did get the save. Ernesto Frieri nailed down opportunities on Monday and Wednesday, and he hasn’t given Scioscia any reason to reconsider his position as closer, striking out 9 batters in 6.1 June innings. Downs hasn’t pitched since his save on Sunday, thanks to injured ribs. As long as the issue is minor, Downs will continue to see the occasional save with Frieri getting the call in most games.
Seattle Mariners: After moving himself closer to the 9th during his previous 6.2 innings, Brandon League took a step back this week, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs Sunday, followed by a 2-walk, 3-baserunner performance Wednesday. League still isn’t missing many bats (7.8% swinging strike rate), but he has struck out 21.2% of batters in June, up from a 15.4% mark in May. Meanwhile, Tom Wilhelmsen possesses an 8:1 K:BB ratio in his last 8.2 innings, with 3 saves and a win coming in those appearances. Enjoy Wilhelmsen while he’s the closer, as the Mariners are set on pumping up League’s trade value before the July 31st deadline. Stephen Pryor is on the DL after injuring his groin Tuesday, increasing the likelihood that Wilhelmsen sets up camp in the 9th after League’s likely departure this season.
Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt had his first poor outing in nearly a month, blowing a save and suffering the loss after getting tagged for 3 runs. His first strike% is down this season (52.8%; 73.4% in 2011), but his swinging strike% is up (13.4%; 12.8% last season). His 8.61 K/9 will probably rise a bit, having been 12.85 and 10.54 the last two seasons. He’s not in any danger of losing his job due to performance, but if he is moved before the trade deadline, Matt Belisle is the next in line. Belisle owns a 6.50 K/BB to go with a sterling 61.7% GB rate, which serve him well in Colorado.