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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
Giants, right-hander Jake Peavy strike 2-year, $24M deal
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:25 am ET) Right-hander Jake Peavy, who went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA for the Giants after an in-season trade from Boston, agreed to a two-year, $24 million deal by the world champs, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman confirmed early Friday.

Peavy did not duplicate his regular-season success during the postseason, going 1-2, including 0-2 with a 12.79 ERA in the World Series. Before the trade, Peavy was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA for the Red Sox.

For his career, Peavy is 139-111 with a 3.53 ERA and 2,027 strikeouts over 13 seasons.


Report: Padres continue to talk to Braves about Justin Upton
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:15 am ET) The Padres continue to talk to the Braves about outfielder Justin Upton, according to Bleacher Report's Scott Miller.

Despite the fact that the Padres acquired both Matt Kemp and Wil Myers on Thursday, the team may not be done yet. It's unclear where Upton would fit into the team's plans, but he would be a clear upgrade over whoever the club is planning to start in center field. If the team were to acquire Upton, one of that trio would be pushed into action in center. While Kemp has experience at the position, he's not considered a strong defender. 

The 27-year-old Upton is coming off a season in which he hit .270/.342/.491 over 566 at-bats.


Report: Rangers showing interest in Brandon Beachy
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Rangers have shown interest in pitcher Brandon Beachy, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Beachy is coming off Tommy John surgery, but multiple teams are said to have interest in signing him. The 28-year-old has a 3.23 career ERA over 267 2/3 innings, but underwent his second Tommy John surgery in March. Beachy's representative, Robert Martin said Beachy has multiple offers, but doesn't believe a decision is imminent. 


Report: Athletics sending Derek Norris to Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Athletics have agreed to trade catcher Derek Norris to the Padres, according to the New York Daily News.

After dealing Yasmani Grandal to Los Angeles in the Matt Kemp deal, the Padres were in need of a new backstop. It didn't take long for them to replace Grandal, as the team acquired Norris shortly after the Kemp deal went through.

Pitcher Seth Streich will also head to the Padres in the deal, according to FoxSports.com The 23-year-old posted a 3.16 ERA over 114 innings in High A last season.

The 25-year-old Norris is coming off a season in which he hit .270/.361/.403 over 385 at-bats. Norris is under team control through the 2018 season.

The Athletics are expected to receive pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez in the deal, according to Yahoo! The 24-year-old Alvarez posted a 1.25 ERA over 43 1/3 innings at Double-A last year.

Hahn, 25, posted a 3.07 ERA over 73 1/3 innings in the majors last year. He was excellent in Double-A, posting a 1.91 ERA in 42 1/3 innings before being called up.


Padres, Rays and Nationals complete Wil Myers trade
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Padres, Rays and Nationals have completed a trade that will send Wil Myers to San Diego, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The deal had been in the works for a few days, but was finally agreed to late Thursday night. Myers, 24, will head to the Padres in the deal. He hit .222/.294/.320 over 325 at-bats with the Rays last season. Myers also missed time due to a wrist injury. 

The Padres will also receive catcher Ryan Hanigan and pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo in the deal. 

Tampa Bay will receive outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott from the Nationals. Souza, 25, hit .345/.427/.577 in 357 at-bats spread over three levels last year. 

The Rays will also receive catcher Rene Rivera, first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith from San Diego.

Washington is set to acquire pitcher Joe Ross from San Diego. The team will also receive infielder Trea Turner in the deal. Turner was a 2014 draft pick, and cannot be traded until midseason, so he's currently considered a player to be named later.


Phillies to send Jimmy Rollins to Dodgers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Phillies have completed a trade that will send shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. News that the deal was finally going through was initially reported by Yahoo!

The deal has been in place for some time, but was dependent on a separate Dodgers deal going through. The Dodgers will send pitcher Zach Eflin to Philadelphia as part of the Rollins trade, but first needed to acquire Eflin from the Padres in the Matt Kemp deal. The Dodgers and Padres finally reached an agreement late Thursday night, meaning Eflin could finally be sent to Philadelphia. The 20-year-old Eflin posted a 3.80 ERA in 128 innings at High A last year.

Rollins, 36, hit .243/.323/.394 over 538 at-bats last season. He's in the final year of his contract, and is set to make $11 million next year.


Dodgers complete Matt Kemp deal with Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Dodgers and Padres have agreed to a deal that will send outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. News that the deal had finally come together was first reported by Yahoo!

The trade has been in the works for some time, but was dependent on Kemp passing a physical. It was reported early Thursday that Kemp's physical revealed arthritic hips. The Padres had to to figure out insurance on the contract, which is why it took so long for the deal to go through.

Catcher Tim Federowicz will also head to San Diego in the deal. The Dodgers will send $32 million over as well. 

In return, Los Angeles is set to receive catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Joe Weiland and Zach Eflin. Eflin is expected to be flipped to Philadelphia for shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The 30-year-old Kemp hit .287/.346/.506 over 541 at-bats last year. Kemp is set to earn a little over $21 million in each of the next five seasons. 


Rockies seeking veteran right-handers to fill out rotation
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Rockies are looking at a number of veteran right-handers to fill out the rotation, according to MLB.com.

Kevin Correia, Aaron Harang, Josh Johnson and Kyle Kendrick have all been considered by the club. With Johnson reportedly signing a deal with the Padres, that leaves the other three as options for the club. Though the team is said to be interested in all three players, it has not engaged in serious conversations with any of them. 


Cubs agree to sign Anthony Carter
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Cubs have signed reliever Anthony Carter to a minor-league deal, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

Carter spent last season in Japan, pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He posted a 3.97 ERA over 45 1/3 innings. 


Padres to sign Josh Johnson
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) The Padres are set to sign pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year deal, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Yahoo initially reported the two sides were on the verge of a deal.

Johnson will make a base salary under $2 million, but can earn as much as $8 million due to incentives. Given his recent injury issues, it's assumed those incentives will revolve around both his numbers and his ability to remain healthy. Johnson signed with San Diego last season, but was unable to pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The team declined his option during the offseason, but showed interest in re-signing Johnson to a lesser deal.

Johnson posted a 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings with Toronto in 2013. 


 
 
 
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