KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series gives you no-nonsense ratings of performances, injuries and managerial decisions in MLB bullpens. Get your arm loose: Let's find fantasy baseball players in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league who'll get saves.
|Job security (JS) score
||1 (unstable) to 5 (untouchable)
|Health (H) score
||1 (injury-prone) to 5 (durable)
Closer: John Axford
Understudy/Fill-in: Francisco Rodriguez
Lurkers: Kameron Loe, Jose Veras
No more excuses for Axford. Or Rodriguez. Or Loe and Veras.
On Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals, Randy Wolf pitched well enough that Milwaukee was able to scrape together a 3-1 lead on the road. In the ninth, Axford undid it all with a couple of walks and the triple he served up.
That wasn't the end of the bullpen's frustrating performance. In the 11th, Loe loaded the bases and then gave way to Veras, who walked in the winning run on five pitches. Needless to say, the manager was pissed.
Surprisingly, Axford seems to have eluded widespread scrutiny despite his dreary performance this season (1-2, 10-for-12 in SVOs, a 4.94 ERA, a 1.65 WHIP and a 12.93 K/9). It can't be just because of his awful June (4 1/3 innings, six earned runs, five walks and three K's); April and the first third of May were rough for him as well.
Ron Roenicke has made no remarks that infer the possibility of a changing of the guard, but it's clear that his bullpen's performance must improve - and pretty quickly - or he'll be taking a long look at things. That still doesn't mean that Axford is on notice, but if he continues down this path for much longer, we're looking at a possible break, at least.
Hard stuff simply not enough
The problem is that Axford sounds as if he's nowhere close to figuring things out. Todd Rosiak's blog entry relates the right-hander's confusion about his command.
There's nothing wrong with the Ax's velocity, and he said that he feels good, so it's pretty safe to rule out a health issue. The cut and run on his fastball that he mentions suggest that the culprit is a minor difficulty with his grip or mechanics. It may take little time to discover.
Then again, it may not. But also working in Axford's favor is that the Brewers have no clear-cut alternative. K-Rod and Veras have been no more reliable. Although Loe sports a 3.00 ERA, he's lived a lot closer to the edge this season than he did in the previous two.
This past spring, fantasy owners were eager to invest in Axford because he seemed to be well past his control troubles. For most of the 2012 season (6.08 BB/9), this has been untrue.
The 29-year-old has had to rely on his fastball evermore, as well; he acknowledged that his numero uno is typically straight when he commands it. Straight isn't good, but those who locate and throw hard make it work to set up their complementary offerings.
It's one thing on top of another, and until Axford finds the root cause, he's going to keep missing, or hitters are going to be sitting dead red. The sooner he discovers the flaw, the sooner we can stop reconsidering his untouchable status.
Job security score: 4
Health score: 5
Aroldis Chapman owners should've been happy to see their fire-balling closer wrap one up on Wednesday, despite the solo home run allowed. He was much more in command and asserted himself right from the start of the frame. It was his first appearance since his Sunday meltdown against the Cleveland Indians.
In that contest, Dusty Baker seemed to be asking for two stanzas, the first of which came already in a highly stressful situation, from Chapman. The Cincinnati Reds' manager has stated that he'd probably be unwilling to use his top reliever three days in a row, so the way he deploys the Cuban sometimes is confusing.
If the skipper wants to get the most from his left-handed phenom, it'd seem to make more sense to avoid making him unavailable so often. A pitcher who occasionally lacks control or command stands to benefit from a more consistent work schedule.
In a save opportunity last night, Jason Motte gave up a couple of hits but managed to secure the St. Louis Cardinals' 1-0 victory against the Chicago White Sox. A sac bunt resulted in the first out. After the right-hander gave up the second hit to make it first-and-third, he coaxed Paul Konerko to ground into a DP for his 12th save. It was a big moment for the bullpen.
The right-hander looks to be relying on his four-seamer a little more often than the other versions of the fastball that he was more willing to throw last season. Perhaps the breakdown is the outcome because of a little less confidence in his command of the heaters with more movement, or some other minor issue.
Motte's velocity isn't in question, of course, but he needs to rely on his complementary stuff a little more often, and he appears to be moving in that direction. It's his control that must improve, because he can't get much better in any other department, save HR/FB.
Scott Downs (undisclosed ribcage injury) was unavailable again on Wednesday night versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mike DiGiovanna reported some improvement, however. That seems to bode well for his chances to avoid the DL.
Last night, Ernesto Frieri walked one and allowed a hit, just the third he's given up in a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim uni, but he nailed the door shut (for the sixth time) and notched a strikeout. He'll keep doing so, practically exclusively, while Downs is unavailable.
Other Wednesday saviors
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.