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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
Royals' Omar Infante taking Toradol to fight off shoulder pain
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:42 pm ET) Royals infielder Omar Infante, who is fresh off a signature Game 2 performance in the World Series, is taking increased doses of Toradol to fight off shoulder discomfort, the Kansas City Star reports.

"I feel better, because I'm taking strong pills," Infante said. "That’s helped me a lot. I feel it a little bit in B.P., and I still feel sore in the front of my shoulder. But yesterday I felt more comfortable."

Infante has a .229/.300/.343 line with one home run and three RBI over 10 postseason games. He may opt for offseason surgery to repair his nagging shoulder injury.


Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera goes under the knife
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:35 pm ET) Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent right ankle surgery to remove bone spurs and to repair a stress fracture in a bone at the top of his foot on Wednesday, the team announced on Friday, per MLB.com. Cabrera, who was plagued by the injury throughout the season, batted .313 with 25 homers and 109 RBI over 611 at-bats. Cabrera is expected to be re-evaluated in three months.

Giants believe Tim Lincecum will be fine
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) The Giants believe Tim Lincecum will be fine, according to CSN.

Lincecum injured his back during Wednesday's game, and was sent for an MRI Thursday. The MRI was considered precautionary, and the Giants don't expect to receive bad news. If there is an issue, Lincecum would be replaced on the roster. 


Royals could start Jarrod Dyson Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) The Royals could opt to start outfielder Jarrod Dyson Game 3 against the Giants, according to the Kansas City Star.

Manager Ned Yost confirmed he's considering the move. In this scenario, Norichika Aoki would sit. Yost said he's considering the move because Aoki has more value as a pinch hitter than Dyson would late in the game. 


A's slugger Moss has hip surgery
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss had hip surgery, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Moss had surgery to repair a torn right hip labrum. He's expected to be on crutches for four weeks following the procedure. Moss should be ready for spring training. 


Southpaw Cesar Jimenez signs one-year deal with Phillies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) The Phillies have avoided arbitration with left-hander Cesar Jimenez by agreeing to a one-year contract for next season.

The 29-year-old Jimenez pitched just 16 innings for Philadelphia in 2014 and compiled a career-best 1.69 ERA.


OF Grady Sizemore sticking around with Phillies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) Outfielder Grady Sizemore has received a one-year deal worth $2 million to remain with the Phillies. Various reports claim that the contract includes performances bonuses.

In his first extensive play since a spate of injuries began to curtail his career in 2010, Sizemore compiled a .233/.299/.354 stat line with Boston and Philadelphis this season. He ended the season on a 3-for-37 slide.


Report: Mets targeting free agent OF Michael Cuddyer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) The Mets are quite interested in potential free agent Michael Cuddyer, according to the New York Daily News. They are contemplating a two-year deal for Cuddyer, who will be 36 years old when the 2015 regular season begins.

Cuddyer is coming off an injury-plagued year, but still batted .332 with 10 home runs in 49 games. However, he hit .400 with six homers and 23 RBI in hitter-friendly Coors Field and .282 with four home runs and eight RBI on the road. Citi Field is considered far more of a pitcher's park.


Pablo Sandoval likely to receive qualifying offer from Giants
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) The Giants are expected to extend the qualifying offer of $15.3 million to potential free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, sources have told CBSSports.com MLB Insider Jon Heyman.

The two sides broke off contract talks in spring training. The team claimed its unwillingness to sign Sandoval for more than three years while he was seeking a nine-figure contract, per Heyman.

Several teams appear interested in Sandoval, including the Red Sox and Yankees, both of whom are seeking major upgrades at that position, as well as the Marlins.

Sandoval rebounded from a .171 start to the season to bat .279 with 16 home runs. He owns a .333 postseason batting average and is again thriving in that role in 2014.


Red Sox LHP Craig Breslow feels destined for free agency
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10/23/2014) Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow is pessimistic about the team picking up his $4 million option for 2015 after a poor season.

The left-hander pitched 54 1/3 innings in 60 games for Boston and compiled a disturbing 5.96 ERA. He believes that last statistic will preclude the Sox from moving forward with him and will result in free agency.

"If you were to strictly look at 2014 with blinders without what had happened previously and what you might expect going forward, $4 million is probably a hefty price tag," he told WEEI.com. "But I think if (you) look at the body of work from 2008-13, you can better appreciate the pitcher I've been and the pitcher I will (be)."

Breslow, who yielded five runs without retiring a batter in his last appearance, performed well in the title season of 2013, compiling a 1.81 ERA in 61 games.


 
 
 
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