After surrendering 8 baserunners and 4 earned runs in 3 post-All Star break appearances, John Axford was removed from his spot as anchor of the bullpen by Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. Axford’s struggles began in June, when he posted a K/BB of 10/7 and coughed up 4 HR. Superficially, Axford’s month of July has also been bad, with a 5.00 ERA and 1.56 WHIP not bringing any reassurance to his owners. However, he’s actually thrown strikes more consistently in July, with 49.4% of his offerings falling in the strike zone, highest total of any month this season. This has led to a season-best walk rate of 3 per 9 IP, and his strong K/9 of 11 has contributed to a solid 2.76 xFIP. Despite strong walk and strikeout rates this month, a .391 BABIP is difficult to overcome, and a 28.6% HR/FB rate hasn’t helped matters any.
His replacement is Francisco Rodriguez, who racked up 291 saves as a member of the Angels and Mets. If Axford has been unlucky in July, K-Rod has been extremely fortunate — he’s walked 9 batters, allowed 8 hits and 2 HR in 9.2 IP, yet owns a 2.76 July ERA. For the month, Rodriguez has a pathetic 4.4% swinging strike rate, and his first strike% is also poor, coming in at 48.8%. He’s not going to continue to strand runners at a 91.6% clip, and with him allowing so many baserunners, any regression in his strand rate will be disastrous. If you’re desperate for saves, pick him up, but don’t expect anything close to his 2004-2007 peak. Axford owners, hold on to your hats, I think he’ll regain the role shortly after the trade deadline. Even if K-Rod isn’t moved, his recent performance doesn’t bode well for his chances of holding on to the closing role.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals are looking to move Jonathan Broxton by the deadline, and the favorite to replace him in KC is Greg Holland. Holland has had control issues this season, throwing 48.7% first strikes and walking over 5 batters per 9 innings, but over his last 6 appearances he’s shown some improvement, throwing 54.6% first strikes and not walking anybody. He’s got serious swing and miss stuff, owning a career 11.66 K/9 and a 12.97 mark this season. He was in the running for the 9th in the spring before Broxton won the job, and has the highest leverage indexes (outside of Broxton) in the Royals bullpen. If you’re speculating on saves, I’d grab Holland now in deeper leagues, and keep your eye out for news of a Broxton trade in shallower leagues.
As for Broxton, he probably won’t be closing for the team that acquires him — as it currently stands, the Mets are the frontrunners for that prize. His swinging strike rate is paltry 5.8%, hardly comparable to his career mark of 12.6%. As a result, his K/9 is a career low 6.15. He’s not offsetting the reduction in his strikeout rate with an increase in control, either, sporting a 3.74 BB/9, matching his career rate. If you own him, you can’t drop him until he’s actually traded and not closing, but explore other options and prepare a contingency plan in the meantime.
Miami Marlins: Mike Dunn recorded the most recent save opportunity for the Marlins, Juan Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez) is likely out for the season with a sprained UCL, and Heath Bell was floating around in a trade rumor yesterday involving the Red Sox. Bell currently isn’t closing games for Miami, and Dunn likely won’t see many saves going forward, thanks to his career 1.87 K/BB and significant problems handling opposite-handed hitters (career 2.83 FIP vs L, 4.95 vs R). Steve Cishek is the most likely to see save opportunities in the foreseeable future, and his strong groundball tendencies (55.3%) and strikeout rate (9.00 K/9) make him a tolerable option for save seekers. As for Bell, his BABIP is high, at .345, and because of that, his strand rate is also suffering, at 61.5%. Even if you were to reverse his bad fortune, his xFIP is still 4.64, which isn’t pretty. He’s going to have to start missing bats more consistently before he regains his owners’ trust — a 6% swinging strike rate isn’t going to cut it.
Boston Red Sox: Andrew Bailey threw his third bullpen session yesterday, and Bobby Valentine said he’s not far from his next step, which would be to pitch to live hitters. He’s still a few weeks away from returning, and his replacement, Alfredo Aceves, has struggled of late. He’s walked 5 and struck out 3 in his last 5 appearances, and he’s only fanned 4.15 per 9 in his last 12 outings. He’s still throwing first pitch strikes (63.3% in the last month) and hitting 95 MPH regularly, but if he continues to struggle, Mark Melancon and Franklin Morales could close by committee until Bailey returns. Don’t laugh: in Melancon’s 16 IP since he was recalled from the minors, he’s got a K/BB rate of 13/2 and he’s allowed only 1 run.
New York Mets: Frank Francisco suffered a setback in his rehab from an oblique injury, but is expected to resume throwing bullpen sessions as early as Monday. Bobby Parnell, despite blowing consecutive save opportunities, has pitched well in Francisco’s absence. Over the last 30 days, Parnell has a 61.5% groundball rate, and has struck out 9 without walking a batter in 9 innings. He’s thrown strikes (61.1% first strikes) and missed bats (10.4% swinging strikes) all season, and if you’re in need of saves, I’d pick him up. Francisco will reclaim the 9th when he returns, but that’s probably at least a couple of weeks away at this point. If the Mets pick up Broxton before the deadline, he’ll probably close until Francisco is healthy.
San Francisco Giants: In his last 10 appearances, Santiago Casilla has blown 5 saves and owns a 10.57 ERA and 2.36 WHIP. Yikes. On a positive note, during that same time frame he struck out 34.9% of batters faced, and his BABIP was a freakishly high .524. That said, Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti are going to “review the closer situation,” which seems like a nice way of saying “Casilla’s out.” Sergio Romo won’t be the every day closer, assuming Casilla actually is out of the 9th, but he’s the most talented pitcher in the Giants’ bullpen. Grab him now if he’s available. Jeremy Affeldt would spell Romo as needed, likely against left-handed bats or if Romo pitched the night before.