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Fantasy Relief: Is Cook playing with fire?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
  •  

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
Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


 
 
 
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