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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
Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke to start Friday, not Thursday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:04 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke will make his next start Friday instead of Thursday against the Giants, manager Don Mattingly said per the L.A. Times.

Mattingly wants to be able to keep Greinke fresh early in the season and has nothing to do with San Francisco's early struggles, according to the report.

"It's too early for any of that," Mattingly said. "This is really just our guys getting rest."

Greinke is 2-0 in three starts this season with a 1.83 ERA and 14 strikeouts.


Rockies' Wilin Rosario still adjusting to first base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:56 pm ET) Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario is still looking to figure things out at his new position, first base. Rosario misplayed a couple of ground balls Friday, but manager Walt Weiss still has faith in him figuring it out, according to the Denver Post.

"Both plays at first were not routine plays," Weiss said. "The ball down the line was a difficult play. ... The other was a throw in the dirt that he didn't pick. But he's working really hard and has a great attitude. I haven't backed off that all — having him at first."

Rosario is hitting .333 in 12 at-bats this season.


Mark Teixeira connects for fourth HR, ties A-Rod for Yankees' lead
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:54 pm ET) First baseman Mark Teixeira provided the only offense for the Yankees in their loss on Monday, a solo home run in the second inning.

Teixeira now has four homers on the season which ties him with Alex Rodriguez for the team lead.

Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun cracks first home run Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:47 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun went 1 for 4 at the plate in Milwaukee's 6-1 loss to the Reds Monday. Braun was kept quiet by starter Anthony DeSclafani, but found success in the ninth on Burke Badenhop. He ripped the first shot he saw from Badenhop over the center field wall for his first home run of the year.

Braun is now hitting .238 with three RBI in 42 at-bats this season.


Reds first baseman Joey Votto rips fifth home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:46 pm ET) Reds first baseman Joey Votto went 2 for 4 at the plate Monday in Cincinnati's 6-1 win over the Brewers.

Votto struggled in his first two at-bats but was able to reach base in the sixth with a single. He was called out at home when trying to score on a grounder in the infield with the bases loaded. Votto then crushed the first pitch he saw from Wily Peralta over the left center field wall for a two-run blast, scoring Billy Hamilton.

It was Votto's fifth home run and 12th RBI of the year, leading the team in all offensive categories.


Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta allows six runs in losing effort Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:46 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta allowed six runs on eight hits in Milwaukee's 6-1 loss to the Reds Monday. 

Peralta worked efficiently through his first five innings of work before finding trouble in the sixth. He allowed the first three runs to reach base safely in the inning before getting Marlon Byrd to ground into an out at home plate. Then, Brayan Pena hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring in the first run of the game.

Then, Zack Cozart opened the flood gates with a three-run home run over the left field wall, driving in Byrd and Jay Bruce. Peralta also allowed a two-run shot to Joey Votto in the seventh before being pulled in the eighth.

Peralta, now 0-2, boasts a 5.68 ERA and will look for his first win of the year Saturday against the Cardinals.


Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani dominates in win Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:46 pm ET) Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani tossed eight scoreless innings in Cincinnati's 6-1 win over the Brewers Monday. 

DeSclafani worked efficiently throughout the start, allowing just two hits in the outing. He did not allow a baserunner to get past second base in his eight innings. DeSclafani, now 2-0 on the year, has allowed just two runs in his first three starts of the season and owns a 0.86 ERA.

He will look to keep rolling Saturday against the Cubs. DeSclafani allowed two hits in his last start against Chicago. 


Tigers closer Joakim Soria sets down Yankees in order for fifth save
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:38 pm ET) Tigers closer Joakim Soria picked up his fifth save in as many attempts on Monday, setting down the Yankees in order in the ninth inning.

Yankees' CC Sabathia takes hard-luck loss, falls to 0-3 on Monday
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:35 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia (0-3) allowed two runs on seven hits in eight innings on Monday but was outdueled by the Tigers' Alfredo Simon and was stuck with the loss. 

Sabathia, who faced the minimum through six innings, carried a shutout into the seventh but gave up RBI singles to J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes in the frame.

Sabathia struck out five and remains winless on the season. 

Sabathia gets credit for a complete game (38th for career) in the loss, the first in the American League this season.

He'll look again for his first win of 2015 Saturday at home against the Mets.


Tigers starting pitcher Alfredo Simon allows one run in 7 1/3 IP for win
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:32 pm ET) Tigers starting pitcher Alfredo Simon (3-0) allowed only a solo home run to Mark Teixeira in 7.1 innings of work Monday to outduel CC Sabathia and defeat the Yankees, 2-1.

Simon notched seven strikeouts and did not walk a man.

Simon this season has walked just one batter in 20 2/3 innings.

Simon returns to the mound on Saturday to face the Indians.

 
 
 
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