John Axford / Cody Allen (RP - CLE) - Terry Francona indicated on Saturday that John Axford has been removed from the closer role. The Indians will supposedly go with a committee in the ninth but Cody Allen is only the must-add of the group. Allen boasts an above average swinging strike and strikeout rate, as well as a fantastic 68% contact rate. He has a 95 MPH fastball, but his curveball is his most effective pitch. With the news, Allen instantly becomes a top-15 closing option, assuming he sees the lion share of opportunities moving forward. Righties do hit Allen a little better than lefties, but his career wOBA is better than average against both sides of the playe. Axford only signed a one-year contract this past off-season, so from a financial perspective, there's not as much at risk by keeping him out of the closer role for the rest of the year. Run out to your waiver wires and grab Allen if he's still available.
Joe Smith / Ernesto Frieri (RP - CLE) - Joe Smith got the call in a save situation on Saturday protecting a 5-1 lead after Tyler Skaggs allowed two baserunners in the ninth. He did allow both inherited runners to score before ending the game with a double play ground ball. Smith was dealing with some tightness in his side and missed most of the past week. Meanwhile, Ernesto Frieri notched two saves (including one on Friday after Smith allowed a homerun while pitching in the 8th) leading to speculation that he reclaimed the closer gig. Regardless, Mike Scioscia's decision to pitch Smith in a save situation on Saturday shows that neither player has a firm grasp on the job. Smith has shown significantly better control this year (5% walk rate) as well as an improved strikeout rate (24%) and is on pace for career bests for both stats. Since being removed from the closer role, Ernesto Frieri has made 7 appearances, striking out 7 over 6.2 IP allowing just one hit and no walks. Consider this a committee for now, but if Frieri continues pitching well, he could reclaim the job for himself.
Tommy Hunter (RP - BAL) - Hunter gave up three consecutive hits in the ninth inning to blow his second save of the season against the Astros. Since moving into the bullpen, Hunter has seen an uptick in velocity and is striking out batters at the highest rate of his career, despite a below average 6% swinging strike rate. After allowing the runs tonight, he has now allowed at least a run in each of his last 3 appearances and has given up hits to 20 of the 65 batters he has faced on the year. I'm confident that the closing job still belongs to Hunter, but he's going to need to turn things around soon. At this point, the best arm in the bullpen for the Orioles is 31 year-old Darren O'Day.
Tyler Skaggs (SP - LAA) - Skaggs rebounded nicely on Saturday after being shellacked in his last outing. After allowing a run in the first inning, Skaggs didn't allow another hit until the 8th inning. Joe Smith replaced Skaggs after he allowed back-to-back singles in the ninth. Unfortunately, both runners came around to score, tagging two earned runs to Skaggs' line. On the night, Skaggs struck out 4 and allowed just 4 hits with no walks against a tough Toronto Blue Jays offense. Hitters are making contact with Skaggs at a higher rate than ever before and his overall strikeouts are down but he's showing significantly improved control and giving up a much higher percentage of groundballs (which helps offset the higher contact rate). Outside of a clunker against Texas, Skaggs has enjoyed a very good first season away from hitter-friendly Chase Field. I'm buying into the breakout.
George Springer (OF - HOU) - George Springer hit his 2nd homerun in 3 days on Saturday and looks like he's finally turning the corner after getting off to a slow start in his major league debut. He has tallied hits in 9 of his last 10 games (although only 2 have been multi-hit efforts). A 66% contact rate and 18% swinging strike rate are the biggest drivers behind his brutal 33% K-rate. Springer carried a high strikeout rate through each stop at the minors but he also walked at an above average rate, which helped him post solid OBP numbers. He's still working on his approach at the plate so hopefully we'll see improvement to his 0.19 EYE moving forward. If not, he might need to go back down to the minors to cut down on the strikeouts.
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