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“On Bzdek” Bullpen Briefing: Week 5

The Chicago White Sox had MLB’s best bullpen ERA as of Tuesday night, sitting at 1.90. It’s since declined to 2.16 and 3rd best among all MLB teams–still pretty good. What’s also pretty good is their 10.32 K/9, fifth best in all MLB. The White Sox bullpen has improved from the middle of the pack performance of 2016, and it’s likely a large part of the team’s current 15-12 record, which ties them for first in the AL Central division. The successful start comes as a bit of a surprise, since the White Sox were in rebuilding mode this winter.  They  traded off assets such as Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, while several other players were floated in trade rumors this winter including current closer David Robertson. Should the White Sox season go south, Robertson (free agent after 2018) is a likely trade candidate again. With all this in mind, this week I look to see which players are driving April’s best bullpen and which to target in the event of a Robertson trade later this season. We’ll start with current closer David Robertson.

David Robertson
The veteran closer is off to a great start this year after his worst season with the Chi Sox in 2016. That is not to say his 2016 was bad, but in 2017 his K/9 is up to 13.97 from 10.83, his ERA is down to 2.79 from 3.47, and his WHIP is down to 1.03 from 1.36. Since signing with the White Sox in 2015, Robertson’s been solid, but slowly trending downward which is not unexpected from a guy over the age of 30. So, what’s with the hot start to 2017? Well, the only difference is Robertson is changing his pitch mix a bit. He features two pitches: a fastball and a curveball. This season he is throwing 10% more curveballs, and therefore 10% fewer fastballs. The change in approach is fooling hitters so far, as Robertson boasts a swinging strike rate of 16.8%, up from 12.4% in 2016. With Robertson’s history, even if batters adjust to his new pitch mix, Robertson is a very capable reliever and is one of the safer bets to hold onto the closer role. He’s recorded at least 34 saves each year since 2014, and there is little reason to doubt he won’t reach that mark again. Should the White Sox fall out of contention and into sell mode, Robertson will surely be on the block. Washington is one potential destination, and Robertson would likely step right into the closing role should he be dealt to D.C., so Robertson owners needn’t worry.

 

Nate Jones
Jones, a hard throwing righty, had himself a career year setting up Robertson in 2016. He threw a total of 70.2 innings and recorded 28 holds, along with a 2.29 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 10.19 K/9. He’s not far off so far in 2017. The K/9 is up slightly at 11.57, the ERA consistent at 2.31, and the WHIP up at 1.29. The jump in WHIP is a bit alarming. Looking at Jones’ game log for the year, the WHIP spiked at 2.40 on April 11th after a 3-walk game against the Indians and has since been working its way downward, so I don’t see this as a major concern.

Like Robertson, Jones is throwing about 10% fewer fastballs this season, with his second pitch, the slider, seeing a 10% increase. The adjustment in pitch mix is not having the same impact as it appears to be for Robertson, but Jones also didn’t have a lot of room for improvement either. Jones established himself as the Chi Sox go-to setup man last year, and should remain so, even with the hot starts by a couple of other White Sox middle relievers. Unfortunately for Jones, he was placed on the 10-day DL Thursday morning with elbow neuritis. The White Sox are expecting Jones to miss only a couple of weeks.  But  with Jones’ elbow history (Tommy John surgery in 2014), and the general injury prone nature of pitchers, you never know. If you own Jones in a holds league, the guy below will make a suitable replacement.

 

Tommy Kahnle
Tommy Kahnle is turning heads in the fantasy baseball community, which is not easy to do as a middle reliever. The reason for all the attention is Kahnle has 19 strikeouts over just 10 innings, allowing only 2 walks and 1 earned run. I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to FIP, but Kahnle’s stands out because as of Wednesday night it is a -0.88 (Yes, negative. Apparently that is possible. Here is the calculation for FIP if you want to check the math. K’s are subtracted, and with 19 of them you get a negative balance). This is undeniably an amazing start. Kahnle was solid in 27.1 innings in 2016, recording a 2.63 ERA and 8.23 K/9, however the 6.59 BB/9 is disturbing and makes you wonder if the hot start is for real. Well, let’s see, Kahnle throws a three-pitch mix. He relies mostly on his fastball (78% usage) which is averaging 98 MPH this year, up a tick from 2016, so that always provides a boost. According to Kahnle, he made a minor mechanical adjustment to his leg kick in spring training and that helped him improve his command. The confidence came from there and Kahnle is obviously feeling it right now. Sox manager Rick Renteria is feeling it too and giving Kahnle more high leverage situations. His last four appearances have all been to protect a White Sox lead, and in two of those situations Kahnle recorded a hold. With Nate Jones on the DL as of yesterday, Kahnle is going to see even more hold situations in the near future. The only bad news is that Kahnle’s performance spans just 9 innings, which is too small to make a confident assessment based on 1 MPH and a minor mechanical change. Guys go through peaks and valleys all the time throughout the long season. Kahnle’s 17.1 K/9 shows his upside, but it’s bound to come back to earth. When it does we will have a better idea of where Kahnle really stands. Until then, grab him in holds leagues and enjoy the ride.

 

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak is another White Sox arm off to a hot start. Through 14 innings, Swarzak has yet to allow an earned run while recording 16 Ks and walking just 1. Swarzak posted an ugly 5.52 ERA in 2016, but had good strikeout and walk rates. The strikeout rate has improved due to a 20.7%  swinging strike rate, up from 9.6% last season. Looking at Swarzak’s pitch mix – it has not changed one bit: 48% fastballs and 52% sliders in 2016 and 2017, with velocity also remaining consistent at 94 MPH. With no notable changes that would explain the hot start, this leads me to believe regression is coming. However, I think Swarzak pitched better than his 5.52 ERA last year. His xFIP in 2016 was 3.86, almost 2 whole runs better. Swarzak should find himself with an ERA somewhere in the 3s come season’s end. Like Kahnle above, Swarzak should benefit from Jones’ injury. While Kahnle has a higher upside, and is the preferred pickup, if you missed out, Swarzak makes for a great consolation prize.

 

 

Key Takeaways

The guys outlined above have all been key performers for the White Sox bullpen this year. Robertson, the closer, is throwing 10% more curveballs, which has got him off to a great start. Jones was coming off a career year and looking to repeat, but an injury has him sidelined for the time being. Kahnle and Swarzak are both options to replace Jones in the 8th inning. I lean toward Kahnle due to the high volume of strikeouts he is racking up this year, but Swarzak hasn’t allowed a run and should see a fair share of late inning opportunities as well. Robertson, Kahnle, and Swarzak are all out-performing their historical statistics. I think we’ll see some regression from all of them, however, all should be able to provide value to the White Sox and fantasy owners alike especially while Jones is out.

 

Okay, now on to some miscellaneous items from across the league:

Baltimore Orioles – Zach Britton returned from injury, bumping Brach & co. down a peg. I’d hang onto Brach for a few days until we feel comfortable that Britton is fully healthy and back to his old self.

Oakland Athletics – Sean Doolittle hit the 10-Day DL on Wednesday with a shoulder injury. The A’s like to roll with a committee, but Casilla should now see majority of the saves options, with Ryan Madson and Ryan Dull the key setup men.

St. Louis Cardinals – Trevor Rosenthal struck out two and picked up his third save of the season Tuesday night as Seung Hwan Oh had the night off. Rosenthal now has 17 Ks in 8.2 innings pitched.

Wandy Peralta, CIN – 19 strike outs in 12.2 innings pitched, to go along with a 1.42 ERA and 0.55 WHIP. Last year in 7.1 innings he was pretty bad, but this year he is throwing his slider a lot more. The change in pitch mix seems to be working. O-swing is up to 41.9% from 27.2%, so guys are chasing the slider. His overall zone % is also up to 44.2% from 39.1% last year. The strikeouts alone are worth monitoring, but he has not been used in a lot of key situations. If his dominance continues that may change quickly.

Jose Leclerc, TEX – Leclerc’s impressive start continues. He recorded his second hold of the season last Friday, but more importantly he continues to keep his walks down (just 2 on the season), which was a concern for the young reliever. If only the Rangers would win a few more games to give Leclerc increased hold opportunities.

Chase Whitley, TB – In his last 5 appearances, Chase Whitley has recorded three holds, one save, and one win. He’s yet to allow a run on the season and appears to be becoming a favorite in the Rays pen. All things considered he is worth an add in holds leagues.  

Carl Edwards Jr., ChC –Another reliever who has also not allowed a run in 2017 (until last night of course), however in 13 innings for the Cubs he’s only recorded two holds due to the depth of the Cubs’ bullpen.

Justin Wilson, DET – Wilson has recorded 19 strikeouts and 6 holds this season, all while holding an ERA of 1.54 and WHIP of 0.60. Francisco Rodriguez is still the closer and has a long leash, but he’s had a volatile season. Wilson is a great add/watch for saves speculators, he’s likely already owned in most holds leagues.

Jose Alvarez, LAA – Alvarez had himself a great week. In 4.1 innings, he recorded 1 save and 4 holds. Opportunities are there in a banged-up Angels bullpen, but I don’t expect the lefty to see this much action going forward.

That’s all folks. thanks for reading and see you next week.

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea Lamont, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 30th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #85 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, a 5 year veteran in MLFB leagues, and a really handsome guy. His articles publish every Sunday. He helps “Pick Your Spots” for the coming week.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday May 7th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #86 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Bryan Luhrs. Bryan is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, and the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

I've been playing fantasy baseball for 14 years. I am also an auditor and CPA, where I analyze information on a daily basis. Combined, my passion for fantasy baseball and analytical background create a unique perspective for analyzing and writing about fantasy baseball.

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #134, 8/26/2018 Host Brian Roach, Jr., Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Bryan Luhrs

Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #134, 8/26/2018 Host Brian Roach, Jr, Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Bryan Luhrs

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Ben WBen W

I am a recent college graduate from a small liberal arts school in Atlanta, GA. I'm a sports junkie and a diehard Atlanta sports fan.

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Baseball fan through and through. Follows every team, every player and every transaction. Graduated Lasell College in 2013. Covers high sc...

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I grew up a Dallas Cowboy's fan in Washington Redskins' country, but I currently reside in Florida. I have played fantasy sports since 1999,...

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General IT/Web/Backoffice resource for MLFS. After sitting down with Corey and getting a good look at the time and effort needed to maintain ...

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I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since...

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I've been playing fantasy baseball for 14 years. I am also an auditor and CPA, where I analyze information on a daily basis. Combined, my pas...

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I'm a former collegiate and semi-pro baseball player. I underwent successful Tommy John Surgery in 2008, and can give a wide-range of tips on...

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Unrepentant Red Sox fan and all things Boston. Deflategate was a joke. Boston Latin School is awesome. Harvard and Johns Hopkins alma mater...

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A business analyst by day, pursuing all things baseball by night. My favorite day of the year is opening day and my favorite sound is the crac...

@LennyMelnick Football will. The new QB rules just put the nail in the coffin. You can't hit him high, low, or in the mid section now. Competiton is gone in the sport. Now it's all QB and you could play until your 50 if you are good QB because you can't be touched.

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