Commentary

Antonio Bastardo has short-term value

Updated: June 30, 2011, 11:34 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Like the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies haven't exactly had the best luck in the closer department this season.

Relief Efforts

But there's a key difference between the teams: Unlike the Dodgers, there has been a clear pecking order at closer every time the Phillies have needed a new one, and every one of the candidates has been a desirable fantasy asset.

Yes, that includes Antonio Bastardo, Phillies-closer-for-the-moment, now that Ryan Madson is on the disabled list with a bruised right hand. Madson suffered the injury when he was struck on the palm by a David Murphy ground ball during a May 20 game against the Texas Rangers; attempting to play through pain, he registered a 4.15 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 13 appearances from May 21-June 18, allowing a run in four of those outings. Finally the inflammation in his hand caused enough pain that not even a June 24 cortisone shot could help; the Phillies finally decided to DL him, retroactive to June 19, on Tuesday.

That allows Madson to return as early as Monday, and while initial indications were that he might be ready by then, this isn't a bullpen for which you should risk it. If Bastardo is available and you've got dead weight on your roster, add him.

A 25-year-old left-hander, Bastardo was never previously regarded an elite prospect in what has recently been a pitching-rich Phillies minor league system. Just once during his minor league career did he crack the organization's top 10 prospects as judged by Baseball America, entering 2010, and at the time the primary questions surrounding him were his health and the effectiveness of his slider.

Health hasn't been a problem for Bastardo this season, but there's no question that his slider has since become a reliable big league pitch. Since his recall during the September roster expansion last season, he has thrown it 29.2 percent of the time, generated misses on 25.7 percent of swings and limited opponents to .179/.220/.179 rates in the 42 plate appearances that have ended with one. Oddly enough, for a left-hander, it's even an effective pitch against right-handers; he has thrown one 25.5 percent of the time to them, has a 50.0 percent miss rate and has held them to .222/.263/.222 numbers in 20 PAs.

If there's any knock on Bastardo, it's that he's an extreme fly-baller, his 54.7 percent rate the 10th-highest among relievers (minimum 13 innings). That could lead to some rocky outings, making him more risk/reward than the man he's replacing, Madson. Still, despite that number, Bastardo has stranded 18 of 20 inherited runners (90 percent) and hasn't surrendered an extra-base hit with a man on base, so he has actually been remarkably reliable considering that weakness.

Valuable as he has been as a late-inning option, Bastardo should return to the primary setup role once Madson heals in a week or two, meaning that in addition to short-term saves value, he'll have ERA/WHIP/K's appeal after that. From a long-term angle, we're talking definite handcuff, and an NL-only asset at the minimum.

And what of the Phillies' recovering relievers? Here's a quick look at each:

Madson: If reports are accurate that he should return at the conclusion of Fourth of July weekend, then he'll undoubtedly reclaim his closer's role and run with it, and the risk that he won't is awfully low. There's now an explanation for his so-so last month, but even with that rocky stretch, he's 15-for-16 in save chances with a 2.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 31 appearances this season, and he has a 1.80 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 77 appearances since his return from a broken toe last July 8, those numbers the fourth- and 10th-best in the majors among relievers with at least 60 innings pitched. I've previously said that I believed Madson had the skills to keep this job all season and save 30 games from the day he earned it -- April 22 -- and I'm not about to back down from that statement.

Brad Lidge: He's recovering from both his spring injury (partially torn rotator cuff) and May setback (strained elbow) and might be days away from a rehabilitation assignment, but after three months' missed regular-season action, Lidge is far less likely to reclaim his closer's role than he was, say, 45 days ago. He'll need to prove his worth -- and that his velocity has returned -- both during a rehab stint and after that in middle relief with the Phillies before being considered for the ninth. Madson remains on track to return first, and Bastardo might even be a smarter choice for the role over the long haul. As for Lidge, he'd be only a speculative reserve in NL-only leagues as a middle reliever; his 3.99 ERA and 1.42 WHIP during his Phillies career demonstrate he's of no help to your ratios.

Jose Contreras: The Phillies' Opening Day closer, Contreras has had a hard time staying healthy this season, spending a month on the DL with a strained elbow, then returning to the DL on June 23 with a similar injury. He's expected to miss at least a month, meaning he might not beat Madson or Lidge back to active status, which might relegate him to No. 4 status in the pecking order. Contreras was an effective closer in April, going 5-for-5 in save chances with eight shutout innings, but between his two DL stints he was shakier, with a 9.00 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in nine appearances. You can safely drop him if you haven't already.

Most underrated

The thinner pool -- 30 closers at any given time, compared to 150 starting pitchers and hundreds of hitters -- limits the choices at the position, but there are "underrated" fantasy choices nevertheless at closer. As with "60 Feet, 6 Inches" and "Hit Parade" earlier this week, I'm choosing my most underrated relievers, going with one full-time closer and one setup man:

The closer -- Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays: It's difficult to let go of a pitcher's many-years track record, especially when his most lucrative seasons (i.e. largest contract), his three with the New York Yankees in 2006-08, resulted in a 4.33 ERA and 1.39 WHIP and many "memorable" poor outings. But Farnsworth isn't close to the pitcher he was even two years ago, let alone 3-5. It's the additions of both the cutter -- often classified as a slider by PitchFx -- and two-seam fastball that have elevated his status; he added the cutter to his arsenal in 2009, improved it in 2010 and has mastered it today, and the two-seam fastball is largely behind his career-high 64.9 percent ground-ball rate in 2011. Farnsworth is even dabbling with a splitter, which if he perfects could further cement his status as a top-10 fantasy closer. He has the fifth-best ERA (2.20) and third-best WHIP (0.89) among current closers, and his 11.00 K's per walk is not only a career best, it's tops in the majors among pitchers with 25-plus innings. Farnsworth has consistently ranked among my top 20 relievers in this space; after taking an even closer look at him, he's clearly worth the boost this week to 11th.

The setup man -- David Robertson, New York Yankees: What? A Yankee underrated? Believe it, because entering the year, the Yankees' pecking order went Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, so the No. 4 man, Robertson, probably snuck past everyone. Injuries to Soriano and Chamberlain, however, have thrust the right-hander into the primary setup role to Rivera, and trade rumors having the Yankees pursuing a more dominant setup man only serve to keep Robertson's stock low. That's fine for our purposes, because there's no question Robertson can help in terms of ERA/WHIP/K's, even if he never sniffs a single save chance. He's third among relievers in K's per nine (14.47, even higher than Craig Kimbrel's 14.27) this season and his 11.92 number in the category since 2008 ranks third-best among those with 100-plus innings. Robertson's 52 K's are actually more than 22 pitchers who have made at least 10 starts! The best part: It's not unthinkable he could notch a few saves, being that the man ahead of him at closer, Rivera, is 41 years old and not the youngest dude.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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