Friday, September 6, 2013
Bullpen Report: Is Uehara a top-5 closer?
By Eric Karabell
One could argue that no relief pitcher is playing a larger role in the pennant races these days than Boston Red Sox right-hander Koji Uehara. The Red Sox scored off the great Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning late Thursday night -- his sixth blown save -- then scored again off unhappy Joba Chamberlain in the 10th inning to give the dominant Uehara a save opportunity, which he, of course, handled seamlessly. The guy not only hasn't allowed a run since July 6 -- that's a 26-inning scoreless streak -- but in his 21 innings since July 19, he has permitted five hits and one walk. He has allowed only one baserunner over his past 10 outings. That's incredible.
I argue this pretty much every time analysts, some of whom played in the majors, question whether a terrific setup reliever like Uehara can handle closing better than say, Kevin Gregg: Just look at Uehara's statistics. See anything wrong there? Uehara struck out two of the Yankees he faced Thursday and now boasts a ridiculous 0.27 ERA as the team's closer, and a 1.14 ERA and 0.60 WHIP overall, with a monster strikeout rate. And all this at 38 years old. He's owned in all leagues, but it's fair to ask whether he's a top-five fantasy closing option for 2014. After all, we have the renowned big three of Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, and no obvious guy after that for fantasy owners to covet with Rivera playing golf next season -- though manager Joe Girardi wants him back -- and Jonathan Papelbon perhaps coming off winter ball because he was so underutilized this season.
I'm being facetious with Papelbon, but seriously, who's No. 4 next year? There's Joe Nathan, Greg Holland why not Uehara? It was originally reported that he had signed a one-year contract for 2013, but it turns out he had a vesting option for 2014 that likely will be exercised. The Red Sox can't make a good case to see what rehabbing Joel Hanrahan or Andrew Bailey could do in the role when their current closer throws 1-2-3 innings nearly every outing, and is right there with Kimbrel for leading all relief pitchers in Wins Above Replacement for the season. In fact, remove the gaudy save total from Kimbrel and Uehara's numbers are the same, with better hit and walk rates. He does it without big-time velocity -- his average fastball has been slower than 90 mph each season, which is unheard of for a closer-- but rather with deception, movement and impeccable command. His career WHIP over 275 innings in the States is 0.847. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the early leader for the No. 4 closer spot -- and a potential top-100 pick -- in next year's drafts.
[+]Enlarge Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsJason Grilli returned to the Pirates' bullpen earlier this week.
Closer talk: Speaking of Red Sox relievers, former setup man Daniel Bard was picked up by the Chicago Cubs this week. Could he fit into the closer mix in 2014? Well, Bard was a top holds guy for a few years, striking out many hitters in the process. He attempted the transition to starting in 2012, and it went horribly wrong. Now he's just clinging to a career after a lost season. Just remember the name if he turns things around, because the arm is still there. The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't announced when former closer Jason Grilli, now healthy, will supplant Mark Melancon for the ninth-inning role, but I bet it happens within the next week. Amazing stat: Oakland starter/reliever Brett Anderson has two saves in the past week, both in long-relief roles. Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has just four saves since the All-Star break. I'm done with the Houston Astros bullpen. Seriously, don't even bother now. I think Josh Fields is the guy, but they switch the hierarchy with regularity. I feel like every time I see Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano pitch, he's getting hit hard, yet he hasn't allowed a run in his past five appearances. Still, don't overrate his 40-plus saves in 2014 drafts. This guy is due for a statistical fall. Mariano Rivera didn't struggle Thursday night. Two-out hit, stolen base, catcher error, blooper RBI. He's fine.
Box score bits (AL):Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain returned from his one-month disabled list stint for a strained oblique and was a defensive replacement Thursday. Then he was pinch hit for, a sign that perhaps Cain isn't ready to hit or play regularly. He's not worth adding in standard leagues. Seattle Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez smacked a game-tying home run in the ninth inning off Greg Holland, just his second blast since mid-July. Ibanez remains on pace for 30 home runs, but don't expect many more this month. Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana allowed three solo home runs to lose in Baltimore on Thursday, but he continues to prove reliable. Five of Quintana's past six starts, excluding the rain-shortened one Monday, have been quality starts. Angels manager Mike Scioscia is not having a good season -- he might not be managing the Halos in 2014 -- but you have to love the move Thursday of hitting catcher Chris Iannetta and his .354 OBP second. Erick Aybar, the leadoff man Thursday, has a .306 OBP. Hey, catchers can be lineup-setters, too.
Box score bits (NL):St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn continued his erratic ways Thursday, serving up three home runs in five messy innings at Cincinnati. He walked four and allowed seven hits, and his season ERA is 4.37. The last time Lynn, who has been stuck on 13 wins for six consecutive starts, permitted fewer than four runs in an outing was Aug. 9. Feel free to bench him or move on. Cardinals third baseman David Freese took Reds lefty Tony Cingrani deep, just his seventh home run of the year. Freese hit 20 home runs a year ago, so his 2013 qualifies as disappointing, and it's likely the Cardinals will move on and keep Matt Carpenter at the hot corner in 2014 so Kolten Wong can handle second base. As for Cingrani, he looked fine in his first outing off the DL (lower back strain), striking out seven and allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Cingrani threw 79 pitches. He even stole a base! The latest rumor has Johnny Cueto being ticketed for bullpen duty if/when he returns from his DL stint, so Cingrani seems safe.