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Will Uehara get saves with Rangers?

7/30/2011

If the Texas Rangers want their best relief pitcher closing games the final two months of the season, based on current statistics it sure wouldn't be Neftali Feliz. Instead, it would be right-hander Koji Uehara, acquired Saturday from the Baltimore Orioles for the relatively low price of strikeout slugger Chris Davis and ordinary starting pitcher Tommy Hunter. Yes, Uehara is having the better season, and quite easily in fact.

Of course, while we still await a final destination for San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell, with the Rangers often mentioned as well, I'd be pretty surprised if Rangers manager Ron Washington chooses Uehara to close over Feliz. I mean, Feliz has 21 saves. He saved 40 games -- when he was much more effective -- last season. That's probably what Washington is looking at. Uehara is much older at 36 and hasn't saved a game all year, despite being next in line for oft-terrible Kevin Gregg.

Hey, Uehara is good. Among relief pitchers with 40 innings pitched, he ranks 14th in wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.com. His 1.72 ERA might be a bit generous, but his xFIP is 2.31. Uehara has one of the top strikeout rates of any reliever, with 62 whiffs in 47 innings. He's issued a mere eight walks all year (Feliz has issued four this month). Uehara's WHIP is 0.70. And Uehara was pretty good last season as well. I'm not worried about him handling home games in Texas, either. I am worried he won't sniff a save chance, no matter how good he is, however. Feliz owners can rest easy. If Bell was acquired, I think the Rangers would have almost been forced to move Feliz to a setup role. But now I think Uehara will handle that role.

If holds are a stat in your league, or you just like relievers that don't allow baserunners, add Uehara. He wasn't getting many holds in Baltimore, but that team wasn't winning much. The Rangers win a lot more. I don't think Feliz is going to pitch poorly enough to lose his closer role anytime soon, but certainly he's not someone I would target in trade, not with 20 walks in 38 2/3 innings, a significantly lower strikeout rate and some notable July struggles.

As for what the Orioles receive, pause for a moment while I yawn. I've written and talked about Davis so many times over the past three seasons, waiting for him to be safe for fantasy owners to own, and it just hasn't happened. Davis possesses immense power. He smacked many home runs in the minor leagues, and made quite the splash with the Rangers in 2008 when he hit 17 home runs -- and a lucky .285 -- in roughly half a season. Fantasy owners loved him. In parts of the three seasons since, as the Rangers kept giving him chances and being disappointed, Davis has hit .231 with a .288 on-base percentage, and 208 strikeouts in 612 plate appearances, whiffing more than a third of the time.

Sure, he's got power. He's hit 25 home runs in that span. If the Orioles play him regularly at first base, they'll have a bookend to go with third baseman/strikeout historian Mark Reynolds. I could see Davis hitting double-digit home runs the rest of the way and 30 in any given full season. He certainly has more power -- and he's only 25, by the way -- than incumbent first baseman Derrek Lee, who'll likely be traded somewhere any minute. Good for the Orioles if they give Davis 200 at-bats the rest of the way and see what they have. Davis has actually hit more road home runs in his big league career, so I'm not worried about him leaving cozy Texas. Of course, I wouldn't add him in standard leagues yet, because there are many first base eligible players more worthy, and most of them won't hurt your batting average.

As for Hunter, his career ERA is 4.36, and I wonder how misleading even that is. It should probably be higher. Hunter was a popular fantasy own in 2010 when he won 13 games in only 22 starts, eight of the wins in the second half when his ERA was 4.41, and his strikeout rate was 4.3 per nine innings. Hunter is only 24, and the Orioles might place him in their rotation, but he possesses little upside as a right-handed control pitcher that allows home runs and doesn't miss bats. Other than that, well, he's great.