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Fantasy Relief: Axford losing his command

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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John Axford entered 2012 with so much promise after finishing the 2011 season as the second-highest Fantasy scoring reliever in Head-to-Head formats and third-highest in Rotisserie leagues. He was the fourth-most drafted reliever in Rotisserie and fifth-most in Head-to-Head formats this spring.

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Sadly, Axford hasn't lived up to the expectations through the first half of the season. Through Monday, he was barely a top 30 Fantasy reliever in Head-to-Head leagues.

Axford had some rocky moments early in the season, but by the end of May he had just one blown save and a 3.26 ERA. Axford's struggles began in June. Last month, he posted a 9.00 ERA and three blown saves over 10 appearances.

The big shift in productivity was because Axford walked seven batters and allowed four home runs in 10 June innings. In his first 21 appearances (19 1/3 innings), Axford walked 11 batters and allowed no home runs. The walks didn't really start to hurt him until June.

A closer look at Axford's numbers last month show he had trouble with his secondary pitches. Axford's primary pitch is a four-seam fastball, with his secondary pitches being a curveball and slider. In June, Axford threw his curveball for a strike at a 48.6 percent rate and his slider at 50 percent, according to PitchFX data compiled by TexasLeaguers.com. To compare to 2011, Axford recorded strikes on 54.2 percent of his curveballs and 59.8 percent of his sliders. Through the first two months of this season, Axford had a strike rate of 52.4 percent on his curveball and 67.9 percent on his slider.

That's significant because the lack of command with his secondary pitches made Axford's fastball flat in June. He managed just an 8.6 percent whiff rate on his fastball in June, as opposed to a 10.7 rate through the first two months of the season.

Top non-closers Week 13 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Aaron Laffey, RP, Blue Jays 34
2. Luis Mendoza, RP, Royals 30.5
3. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 30.5
4. Michael Fiers, RP, Brewers 28
5. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 24.5
6. Josh Collmenter, RP, Diamondbacks 24
7. Franklin Morales, RP, Red Sox 22.5
8. Andrew Cashner, RP, Padres 21.5
9. Josh Roenicke, RP, Rockies 19
10. Freddy Garcia, RP, Yankees 18.5

Axford seemed to be reversing his misfortunes in July after tossing two scoreless innings to open the month, allowing no walks and one hit. The PitchFX data shows that Axford has yet to throw a slider this month, firing 58 fastballs and eight curveballs. His strike rate on his fastball in July is 63.8 percent and whiff rate is 13.8 percent. His strike rate on his curveball is 50 percent and the in-play rate is zero percent. But his performance Wednesday somewhat tarnishes that idea.

It's unlikely, though, that Axford will completely scrap throwing a slider because it's been an effective pitch for him in the past. Even with the off month in June, Axford has a 21.7 percent whiff rate on his slider. Last season, Axford had a 59.8 percent strike rate and 12.2 percent whiff rate on his slider.

A few other troubling numbers for Axford this season have been a .312 BABIP, 26 percent line drive rate and 62.8 percent strand rate, which are all career lows for the 29-year-old hurler. Axford also has an 18.2 percent home run to fly ball ratio, which is beyond awful. The average is 9.5 percent and Axford has never been above 6.0 percent in his career.

Axford's ERA is 4.86 through 35 appearances, but his FIP is 3.72 and xFIP is 3.08, indicating his numbers should be better than what has transpired. The Brewers might fall out of contention in the second half, but I'm endorsing Axford as a buy-low candidate because better times appear on the horizon.

Closing Time

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

Seattle: Last week, I highlighted potential relievers on the trade market in July and mentioned former Mariners closer Brandon League in that group because of the emergence of Tom Wilhelmsen. However, The Seattle Times suggested Tuesday Wilhelmsen might be the better trade candidate than League, citing Wilhelmsen being under team control through 2017 as added value. The Times also points out Seattle has three potential closers in waiting in Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps and Steve Delabar, which could make Wilhelmsen expendable. I can comprehend what the Times is suggesting, but I'm not buying it. What could the M's really get for Wilhelmsen? Maybe a 'B' level prospect. I'm not sure the haul would be worth parting ways with an up-and-coming closer that doesn't hit arbitration until 2015. I wouldn't start worrying about Wilhelmsen losing Fantasy value just yet. He is still the M's closer and a viable option for saves.

Washington: Drew Storen (elbow) will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Potomac Thursday. He is expected to make four rehab appearances before being activated, which could happen after the All-Star break. But as we highlighted last week, manager Davey Johnson intends to keep Tyler Clippard in the closer's role, so unless those plans change, Storen is likely to be one of the most dropped players once he is no longer eligible to be stored on DL spots in Fantasy formats.

Top non-closers Week 13 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Freddy Garcia, RP, Yankees 35
2. Dale Thayer, RP, Padres 38
3. Shawn Kelley, RP, Mariners 40
4. David Hernandez, RP, Diamondbacks 46
5. Sean Burnett, RP, Nationals 52
6. Josh Roenicke, RP, Rockies 62
7. Andrew Miller, RP, Red Sox 69
8. Charlie Furbush, RP, Mariners 74
9. Vicente Padilla, RP, Red Sox 76
10. Brad Lincoln, RP, Pirates 78

Minnesota: Matt Capps (shoulder) is expected to begin a rehab assignment early next week with the hope of being activated off the disabled list following the All-Star break. Capps appears on track for a Week 15 (July 13-15) return. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton remain co-closers while Capps is sidelined.

Boston: Andrew Bailey is back to throwing again after suffering a setback with his surgically repaired thumb. The Red Sox will likely continue to proceed with caution and Bailey is likely at least a few weeks away from potentially making his season debut. But much like what Washington is doing with its closer situation, don't be surprised if Boston takes the same route. Manager Bobby Valentine might leave Alfredo Aceves in the closer's role once Bailey is cleared to return.

Call to the 'pen

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

Mike Dunn's banishment to the minors has paid off. After spending nearly a month at Triple-A, Dunn returned to the Marlins' bullpen in late June. He has since thrown seven perfect outings (six innings), which includes four strikeouts and three holds. Dunn's last three appearances through Monday have all come in the eighth inning of wins. Manager Ozzie Guillen said Dunn is pitching with "confidence" and the team is reciprocating the confidence by using Dunn is high-leverage situations. Dunn is emerging as a viable Fantasy option for holds ... Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle) could go on a rehab assignment in a few weeks. Chamberlain has vowed to pitch in 2012 and it seems he is on track to do so. Chamberlain might get some setup work if he proves effective once off the disabled list, but there's no need to hold onto him in any Fantasy format. Chamberlain doesn't have the same Fantasy value he once did as a starter ... Former A's closer Brian Fuentes was designated for assignment Tuesday. Even with his recent struggles, it wouldn't surprise me if Fuentes ends up with another major-league job. However, he isn't expected to find another closer's job, so leave Fuentes off rosters ... Chad Qualls was designated for assignment by Philadelphia and was eventually dealt to the Yankees, but changing teams likely has hurt his Fantasy value. Qualls was seeing regular hold chances with the Phillies, but likely won't get that chance with the Yankees as long as David Robertson and Boone Logan are healthy ... Braves setup man Eric O'Flaherty is back to being a reliable Fantasy option. After recording his second blown save May 2 and watching his ERA balloon to 7.56, O'Flaherty has a 1.35 ERA, 10 holds and one blown save in his last 23 outings (20 innings). Continue to use O'Flaherty in leagues that reward for holds.

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
Orioles considering spring training invite for Mark Hendrickson
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Orioles are considering a spring training invite for pitcher Mark Hendrickson , according to MASN.

Hendrickson has been linked to the Orioles for some time now. He threw for the club back in June, and recently had a workout at the team's recent minicamp. The 40-year-old Hendrickson has completely remade his windup. He now throws from a submarine style angle. Hendrickson hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011. 


Angels sign Stewart, Herrmann to minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Angels have signed pitchers Zach Stewart and Frank Herrmann to minor-league deals, according to the Los Angeles Times

Both players will receive an invite to spring training. Stewart, 28, spent last season in the minors. He posted a 4.58 ERA over 110 innings.

The 30-year-old Herrmann spent all of last season in Triple-A. He posted a 6.37 ERA over 29 2/3 innings. 


Report: Joba Chamberlain has turned down multiple offers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) Former Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain has turned down offers from multiple teams, according to FoxSports.com.

The 29-year-old Chamberlain is coming off a year in which he posted a 3.57 ERA over 63 innings with Detroit. He performed much better in the first half of the season, posting a 2.63 ERA over 37 2/3 innings. Chamberlain struggled in the second half, however. He posted a 4.97 ERA over 25 1/3 innings. Chamberlain saw his strikeout rate drop in the second half, while his walk rate creeped up. 

It appears Chamberlain has received attention during the offseason, but has held out to sign with a better club. While he was initially shooting for a two-year deal, Chamberlain may accept a one-year offer with incentives at this point.


Orioles have made an offer to Nolan Reimold
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Orioles have offered a contract to Nolan Reimold, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Team executive Dan Duquette confirmed the team made the offer, but said there are multiple teams interested in Reimold. The 31-year-old spent the first five seasons of his career in Baltimore. He spent last season with the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, hitting .232 over 69 at-bats. 


Giants designate Chris Dominguez for assignment
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Giants have designated Chris Dominguez for assignment, according to MLB.com.

The 28-year-old Dominguez received 17 at-bats in the majors last season. He spent most of the season in Triple-A, where he hit .274/.307/.460 over 496 at-bats. Dominguez had to be removed from the 40-man roster in order to make room for Ryan Vogelsong.


Brewers, Neal Cotts agree on a one-year deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Brewers have reached a one-year deal with reliever Neal Cotts, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. 

Cotts was in Milwaukee on Thursday to take a physical. He passed the team physical, and will earn $3 million next season, according to FoxSports.com. The deal is expected to be announced by the club on Friday. The 34-year-old Cotts posted a 4.32 ERA over 66 2/3 innings last year.


Brewers talking to reliever Neal Cotts
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Brewers are talking to reliever Neal Cotts, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Cotts, 34, spent the last two seasons with the Rangers. After an exceptional comeback in 2013, Cotts regressed a bit in 2014, posting a 4.32 ERA. While the two sides have talked, it's unclear if a deal is close. If the Brewers were to reach a deal with Cotts, the team would have to remove a player from the 40-man roster. 


Phillies designate Cesar Jimenez for assignment on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Phillies have designated pitcher Cesar Jimenez for assignment on Thursday, the team announced.

Philadelphia signed pitcher Chad Billingsley to a one-year deal, and needed to make room on the 40-man roster. In order to do so, Jimenez was designated for assignment. The 30-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.69 ERA over 16 innings with the major-league club last year.


Chad Billingsley signs with Phillies
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Phillies have signed pitcher Chad Billingsley, according to MLB.com.

Billingsley is set to make $1.5 million next year. He's eligible to make more based on whether he can reach certain performance bonuses in the contract. Billingsley has pitched just 12 innings in the majors since 2012 due to elbow issues. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013, but experienced more elbow issues while rehabbing after the surgery. He had season-ending surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in the same elbow, ending his 2014. The Dodgers opted to decline an option on Billingsley, making him a free-agent. 

The 30-year-old has compiled a 3.65 ERA over 1175 1/3 career innings. 


Red Sox add LaHair, Paulino and Quintero on minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/29/2015) The Red Sox have added Bryan LaHair , Felipe Paulino and Humberto Quintero on minor-league deals, according to the Boston Globe

All three players will receive invites to spring training. LaHair, 32, spent last season in the minors. He hit .223/.309/.318 over 453 at-bats. He was an All-Star with the Cubs back in 2012.

Paulino spent last season with the White Sox. After four starts in the majors, he was demoted. It was revealed Paulino was dealing with a shoulder injury. He missed most of the season recovering from the issue.

Quintero, 35, hit .290/.311/.425 in Triple-A last season. He received just two at-bats in the majors.


 
 
 
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