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Fantasy Relief: Is Cook playing with fire?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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There might be space on the Ryan Cook bandwagon, but I'm hesitant to jump on. His numbers are so astronomically off the charts, it just feels like the bottom has to fall out and the A's will be making a third change at closer at some point this season.

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Bob Melvin is a master of deception. When he removed Brian Fuentes from the closer's role on June 9, the A's manager said he would consider Fuentes, previous closer Grant Balfour and Cook for save opportunities moving forward. It seemed logical that Cook would be the guy to inherit the role since Balfour and Fuentes got their chances, but Melvin said he didn't want to give Cook the full-time gig because he wanted him available to use in other high-leverage situations. Well wouldn't you know, Cook has recorded the last four saves for the A's through Tuesday.

Though he indicated other intentions, you can't really blame Melvin for leaning on Cook, who has a 0.59 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 28 relief outings. He is also striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings. Those numbers are fine and dandy, but some of Cook's other numbers scare me.

Let's start with his walk rate. Cook is walking 4.9 batters per nine innings. He isn't the first hard-throwing closer to have control problems. Jose Valverde and John Axford are known to have suspect walk rates, yet have been effective overall in their given roles. However, Cook has just a 46.2 percent first-pitch strike rate this season, which puts him in the bottom five in the majors among relievers. Rafael Dolis has the worst (44.6 percent) and he was demoted to the minors after losing his gig as the Cubs' closer, and wouldn't you know two spots behind Cook is Fuentes, who is throwing first-pitch strikes just 48.5 percent of the time.

Another glaring red flag for me is Cook's .134 BABIP, which is well below the norm and his career average as a reliever. When Cook converted to a reliever in the minors in 2011, he had a .245 BABIP at Double-A and a .283 BABIP at Triple-A. Even when he was in the majors last year, he had a .423 BABIP. It seems Cook's luck is bound to run out eventually.

Cook also has an outstanding 92.6 percent strand rate and 10.6 percent line-drive rate this season. The league average for strand rate is 70 percent to 72 percent and line-drive rate is 20 percent. Even when Craig Kimbrel won Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 he had an 80.7 percent strand rate and 15.4 percent line-drive rate.

Lastly, as you might know, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a measuring tool of what a player's ERA should look like over a given period and xFIP is calculated the same way but replaces a pitcher's home run total with an estimate of how many homers they should have allowed. Well, Cook's ERA might be 0.59, but his FIP is 2.73 and his xFIP is 4.09, indicating a market correction is likely coming.

If I were a stock broker, you might hear me screaming on the other end of the phone, "Sell! Sell! Sell!"

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

Seattle: Like Melvin, Mariners manager Eric Wedge also had a quick change of heart. A week ago he was ready to transition Brandon League back into the closer's role. However, a week later he said he will stick by current closer Tom Wilhelmsen for the time being. But the short-term could very well turn into the long-term for Wilhelmsen. The Mariners could still unload League as the trade deadline nears, and Wilhelmsen's numbers right now don't suggest a dramatic decline is coming. He has a .292 BABIP and his FIP (2.70) is actually lower than his current ERA (3.00). His biggest hurdle might be how he performs at the first sign of adversity. I endorse Fantasy owners in mixed leagues adding Wilhelmsen (owned in 43 percent of leagues) off waivers.

Top non-closers Week 11 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Jose Quintana, RP, White Sox 39
2. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 34
3. Garrett Richards, RP, Angels 33.5
4. Luis Mendoza, RP, Royals 32.5
5. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 31
6. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 29.5
7. Michael Fiers, RP, Brewers 26.5
8. Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers 26.5
9. Tim Collins, RP, Royals 22
10. Carlos Villanueva, RP, Blue Jays 20.5

Chicago Cubs: I understand Cubs manager Dale Sveum wanting to solidify roles in his bullpen, but is bringing Carlos Marmol back as the closer going to make him sleep easy at night? Marmol lost the job earlier this season because he had trouble throwing strikes. It's still not like he's a shutdown reliever. In nine appearances since coming off the disabled list in late May, Marmol has walked seven batters and posted a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings. We are seeing some improvements. He has thrown 58 percent of strikes in his last eight outings, which is up from 54 percent in his first 15 appearances (11 1/3 innings). He's also increased his strikes looking rate from 20 percent to 21 percent in those timeframes, but I wouldn't say Marmol is off the hot seat. It seems if Marmol were to lose the job again, then Sveum might just alternate save chances between James Russell and Shawn Camp.

Minnesota: Speaking of a lefty-righty closer combo that seems to be manager Ron Gardenhire's choice when Matt Capps is sidelined. Gardenhire said after Capps sat this weekend with a sore shoulder that Jared Burton and Glen Perkins would be up for save chances based on matchups. Capps is only sidelined for the short-term, so Gardenhire could always change his mind if it becomes a long-term situation. Perkins would seem to be the favored closer, but if you remember Twins general manager Terry Ryan didn't want to promote Perkins to the closer's role after Joe Nathan signed with the Rangers. Ryan said, "History says you might want to have somebody with experience." Well, Burton closed games in the minors and Perkins didn't, so I wouldn't sleep on Burton if the Twins' need an alternate closer at some point.

Detroit: Phil Coke was called upon for a save Tuesday against the Cardinals after Jose Valverde was unavailable with a wrist injury. Manager Jim Leyland said earlier this year that Coke would be used in save situations if Valverde was unavailable and the matchups called for it. The Tigers were set to face three left-handed hitters in the ninth inning Tuesday, which is why Coke received the call over Joaquin Benoit. Valverde has been diagnosed with a sprained right wrist and hopes to avoid the disabled list. If he has to miss extended time, then Benoit would still likely be the first option for saves, with Coke as the backup closer. Coke is a workhorse in the Tigers' bullpen and it doesn't seem Leyland would want to pigeonhole him into one role.

Milwaukee: John Axford has been off in June. He is 1-2 with an 11.25 ERA, 1.75 WHIP and three blown saves in eight outings. His latest came Tuesday against the Blue Jays, when he surrendered two homers in the ninth inning. Axford has allowed three homers in June after not allowing one in the previous two months. Manager Ron Roenicke can't put his finger on what's troubling Axford, but he backed him as his closer Wednesday. One of Axford's biggest problems is falling behind hitters. He has already issued six walks in eight June innings, and both of his surrendered homers Tuesday came on 3-1 pitches. Perhaps a saving grace for Axford is that setup man Francisco Rodriguez has also had his struggles this season, so his presence isn't forcing Roenicke to make a change. But if Axford's problems persist, then maybe Milwaukee will turn to K-Rod.

Top non-closers Week 11 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Tim Collins, RP, Royals 17
2. Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers 18
3. Carlos Villanueva, RP, Blue Jays 35
4. Chad Durbin, RP, Braves 40
5. Brayan Villarreal, RP, Tigers 54
6. Freddy Garcia, RP, Yankees 55
7. Matt Belisle, RP, Rockies 56
8. Sean Marshall, RP, Reds 60
9. Jamey Wright, RP, Dodgers 61
10. Matt Albers, RP, Red Sox 63

Washington: Drew Storen is expected to return to the major-league roster before the All-Star break, barring any setbacks in his recovery. Storen has been sidelined all season due to April elbow surgery, and the Nationals closer situation had been a carousel of uncertainty before Tyler Clippard brought stability to the role. But as good as Clippard has been, Storen is expected to regain the closer's job once active. Fantasy owners might want to deal Clippard while his Fantasy value is still high.

Pittsburgh: Manager Clint Hurdle hinted over the weekend that it was going to take an impressive offer for the Pirates to deal closer Joel Hanrahan. It makes sense because Hanrahan isn't slated to become a free agent until after the 2013 season, so the Pirates don't have to rush into a trade this summer. But if something did transpire with Hanrahan, then Juan Cruz, who filled in as closer earlier this season when Hanrahan was unavailable, would the logical choice to ascend to the closer's role. Unless, the Pirates unload him in a trade since he's set to become a free agent this offseason. Then, the next likely choice would be Jason Grilli, who is enjoying a career resurgence.

Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

Hisashi Iwakuma is moving up the Mariners' bullpen ladder. Manager Eric Wedge said Sunday that Iwakuma will be used more frequently in setup situations. Iwakuma has mostly pitched in losses or blowout wins this year. Iwakuma might soon be worth adding in leagues that reward for holds ... Kris Medlen's performance in the minors as a starter was less-than-spectacular, so Atlanta added him back to the bullpen last week. However, an injury to starter Brandon Beachy could mean the Braves reconsider adding Medlen to the rotation, especially if Jair Jurrjens bombs in his return to the majors ... Yankees manager Joe Girardi is comfortable using Boone Logan as a left-handed setup man. Since May 11, Logan has a 2.25 ERA, 18 strikeouts, seven holds, one win and one save in his last 18 appearances (12 innings). Logan is developing into a viable Fantasy reliever in leagues that reward for holds ... It's been a bumpy ride the last few years for Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario. He missed last season because of visa issues and missed the start of the 2012 season while serving a 25-game suspension for a positive drug test. But now that Belisario's off-the-field issues are behind him, he's been one of the more steady arms in the Dodgers' bullpen. Belisario is 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in his first 21 2/3 innings this season. He also has six holds. Belisario has been getting late-inning work and seems to be an alternate setup man to Josh Lindblom. Belisario has emerged as a low-end Fantasy option for holds ... The Orioles bullpen has been outstanding in 2012, and 34-year-old veteran reliever Luis Ayala has played a huge part in the bullpen's resurgence. Ayala is 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, one save and six holds in 27 outings. He also has walked just five batters in 31 innings. Ayala pitches in multiple situations for the O's and is even used in multi-inning situations, so he doesn't see a steady diet of hold situations. Ayala remains a very low-end Fantasy reliever.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com

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Player News
Cardinals' Brandon Moss slugs go-ahead homer in win Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:17 am ET) Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss had one hit on Thursday against the Diamondbacks. But it was a big one, as he snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the fifth inning. The go-ahead homer was all the Cardinals would need, as they hung on for the 5-3 victory.

The home run was Moss' 16th of the year, and his first since coming to the Cardinals in a trade at the July 31 deadline. Moss is batting .200 (10 for 50) in his tenure with St. Louis so far.


Rangers' Jurickson Profar goes 1 for 4 in rehab debut Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:13 am ET) Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar began his minor-league rehab assignment with Class A Hickory on Thursday. Serving as the designated hitter, Profar went 1 for 4 before being lifted for a pinch runner in the seventh inning.

Profar is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and it is not yet known if he will be able to return to the Rangers in 2015.


Cardinals RP Trevor Rosenthal survives shaky outing for 41st save
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:11 am ET) Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal made this dicey, but he settled down to preserve the 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday. Rosenthal allowed the tying run to reach base with one out. But he was able to strike out the final two batters of the ninth, en route to his 41st save of the season.

Rosenthal has successfully converted each of his last 15 save opportunities. His ERA is down to 1.52 on the season. The 41 saves ties him for the most in the Major Leagues this season.


Diamondbacks' Rubby De La Rosa scuffles in start Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:07 am ET) Diamondbacks starter Rubby De La Rosa was not very effective in his outing against the Cardinals on Thursday. The young right-hander allowed five runs on five hits over five innings. He walked four and struck out four in the 5-3 loss.

De La Rosa (11-6, 4.46 ERA) fell into an early hole in this one. He allowed a solo home run to Tony Cruz in the first inning, and then watched two more runs score on him in the second.

The D-Backs were able to tie the game in the bottom of the second, and De La Rosa put up goose eggs over the next two frames. But he served up a two-run home run to Brandon Moss in the fifth inning, and that would be the final blow for either side.

De La Rosa had been pitching well in August, as Thursday was the first time in five starts that he allowed more than three runs. He had won each of his last five decisions prior to Thursday's outing.


Cardinals SP Carlos Martinez grinds out win on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:06 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez posted a quality start in his outing against the Diamondbacks on Thursday. The young right-hander allowed three runs on four hits over six innings. he walked two and struck out six, throwing 60 of his 103 pitches for strikes.

All three runs Martinez allowed came in the third inning, which tied the game. But the Cardinals were able to bring in two in the fifth, paving the way for Martinez to pick up the 5-3 victory.

Martinez (13-6, 2.91 ERA) posted quality outings in three of his five August starts. With Thursday's victory, he snapped a personal two-game losing streak.


Diamondbacks' Daniel Hudson leaves game with finger injury
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:52 am ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson was lifted from Thursday's game against the Cardinals due to a cut on his finger. Hudson suffered the injury while fielding a comebacker in the top of the ninth inning. 

Hudson went 1 1/3 innings, allowing a hit and striking out a batter with no runs allowed. 


Mets' Daniel Murphy stays hot, plates go-ahead runs in victory
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:10 am ET) Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy came through with the biggest hit of the night on Thursday. Murphy, who went 3 for 6 with a run scored and two RBI, snapped a 5-5 tie by smoking a two-run double in the 13th inning. The Mets would go on to beat the Phillies 9-5.

Murphy also made a dazzling play in the field, as he led the charge to the four-game sweep over the Phillies. He has somewhat quietly been on a bit of a tear lately, hitting .366 (15 for 41) with two home runs and 13 RBI over his last nine games.


Mets' Kelly Johnson belts game-tying home run on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:07 am ET) Mets second baseman Kelly Johnson had one hit in six at-bats on Thursday against the Phillies, but it was a key hit. Johnson launched a game-tying, solo home run in the fifth inning, knotting the score up at 5-5. The Mets would go on to win the game 9-5 in 13 innings.

The home run was Johnson's third since coming over in a trade at the end of July. He has been mired in a bit of a slump recently, as he was 6 for his last 24 coming into play on Thursday.


Yoenis Cespedes keeps on rolling for Mets
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:04 am ET) Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stayed red-hot at the plate on Thursday, as he connected on a two-run home run in the 9-5 win over the Phillies. Cespedes' home run came in the fifth inning, as the Mets stormed back to erase a five-run deficit.

The home run was Cespdes' only hit of the night, but it was his eighth longball since coming to the Mets at the July 31 trade deadline. Perhaps even more impressively, over his last eight games, Cespedes is batting .350 with six home runs and 15 RBI. He has certainly been a catalyst for the Mets' recent upswing.


Mets RP Carlos Torres does it all in victory on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8/27/2015) Right-handed reliever Carlos Torres was one of the heroes of the game for the Mets, as they went on to beat the Phillies 9-5 in 13 innings on Thursday. Torres shined with his arm, his glove, his bat and his speed in this one.

On the mound, Torres tossed 2 1/3 scoreless ball, allowing just one hit. He also made a couple of athletic plays, including a sprint to first base to beat Jeff Francoeur on a deflected ground ball.

At the plate, Torres reached on an infield single and scored the Mets' go-ahead run in the 13th, as he picked up his fifth win of the season. Overall, it was an impressive evening for the right-hander, as the Mets completed the four-game sweep of the Phillies.


 
 
 
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