StrategyJune 19, 2013


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Bottom of the 9th: Seattle Who?

By R.J. White

Oliver Perez made 195 starts in his career before earning his first save in his 71st career relief appearance. Yoervis Medina made 22 career appearances and no starts before picking up his first career save. With their powers combined, they’re … what, exactly? Enough to make this last call for The Bartender?

Tom Wilhelmsen was an unmitigated success story in 2012. Freeing the Mariners from the reign of terror that was Brandon League’s run as a closer, Wilhelmsen put up spectacular numbers, especially in save situations, where he held batters to a .159/.265/.228 while striking out 44 batters in 41 innings while amassing 29 saves. This year, the strikeout rate has tanked (6.4 per nine innings) while the walk rate has gone up to a more-than-problematic 4.9 BB/9 rate.

The Mariners have acted quickly, pulling him from the closing role at least temporarily while he tries to regain the moxie of last year. The obvious candidate to take over would have been young fireballer Carter Capps, but elevated hit and home-run rates have led to an ugly 5.16 ERA through 29.2 innings. While both elevated rates will likely be chalked up to small sample size when we have the fortune of hindsight, his performance makes it hard for the Mariners to trust him in the ninth inning right now.

Enter Perez and Medina. Perez, who owns a 1.07 ERA and 12.4 K/9 this season, earned the first save opportunity post-Wilhelmsen and converted it successfully. But that’s not the whole story — in that save, the A’s had a couple lefties on the bench looming as potential pinch hitters, and the Mariners may have wisely decided to avoid them by giving the opportunity to the lefty Perez. When the next save opportunity came four days later, it was Medina, a righty, earning the save, with Perez pitching the seventh inning. With such an early appearance, Perez can likely be scratched off the future closer list for now.

So I guess Medina is the play, right? Well, like Wilhelmsen, he’s battled free passes (5.3 per nine innings). His save also came in the 10th inning after the Mariners curiously tried to get a six-out save from Wilhelmsen and he blew it by giving up a two-out solo home run to tie the game in the ninth (his first home run allowed this year).

I’d like to suggest Capps as the guy to own in fantasy, but he’s made it hard by giving up six earned runs in 1.2 innings over his last two appearances, the most recent of which came in the sixth inning on Monday. A few days ago, he probably would have been the guy to take the lead in the bullpen, and his numbers to date as well as his pedigree could have allowed him to run away with the job. As it is, it would shock me if he was used in high leverage situations for the next week or so.

Anyone else in the bullpen that could take the job? I’d like to propose Danny Farquhar as a sleeper. Sure, he owns a 7.24 ERA, but he also owns a nice fastball/cutter/curve combination that has racked up strikeouts this season, 30 in 20 Triple-A innings and 20 in 13.2 innings with the Mariners. He’s walked nine hitters in 34.2 innings between the two assignments, a more than reasonable number. The Mariners have asked him to get more than three outs in six of his nine appearances, which may be reason enough to keep him out of a strictly ninth-inning role. However, with Wilhelmsen and Capps not pitching particularly well, maybe a multi-inning closer who can serve as his own setup man is just what the doctor ordered.

How do I see this playing out? I think Wilhelmsen is still clearly the guy to own, but I’d keep him on fantasy benches if possible while he works out the kinks. He’s worth adding if his owner cut bait. I’d avoid Capps altogether until he puts a few good outings on the scoreboard. I wouldn’t bother owning Medina, and I’d consider picking up Perez in deeper leagues with the hope he can scrounge together some saves as part of a committee. If I had a roster spot to burn and I wanted to speculate, I’d grab Farquhar, who would have a decent shot of taking off if given the chance despite his high ERA.

 
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
 
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