Will John Axford Be A Top Tier Closer In 2011?

With Trevor Hoffman ticketed out of Milwaukee via free agency, it would appear that John Axford is primed to assume the full-time closing duties.  Obviously, if that is the case he is going to be viable in all fantasy formats.  The question, however, is if he is a closer we should target on draft day?

When Hoffman struggled Axford stepped in and did a solid job as the closer, posting the following line:

8 Wins
24 Saves
58.0 Innings
2.48 ERA
1.19 WHIP
76 Strikeouts (11.8 K/9)
27 Walks (4.2 BB/9)
.319 BABIP

You have to love the strikeout rate and while he may not maintain quite as impressive a mark, he did post a 9.9 K/9 over his minor league career.  That includes impressive numbers at Triple-A (10.1 in 33.0 innings in ’09).  It also comes courtesy of a fastball that averaged 94.9 mph, so it’s hard to argue that he can’t be a source of strikeouts.

The major concern is his control, which wasn’t impressive to begin with.  However, he was even worse in the minor leagues, where he posted a BB/9 of 6.1.  At Triple-A in ’09, his walk rate was 5.2.

His walk rate regressed as the season went on.  In the first half he posted a 3.8 mark vs. his second half mark of 4.5.  The potential for him to struggle even more has got to be a huge concern, because it could leave his WHIP (minor league career mark of 1.48) close to unusable.

He does a good job of generating groundballs (48.1% in ’10), but his 2.4% HR/FB seems a bit hard to believe.  Yes, he also did a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark in the minor leagues (0.5 HR/9), but in ’10 he was at 0.2.  It’s just easy to imagine that he falls off there, which in turn will hurt his other numbers.

We all know that relief pitchers are quirky.  It’s possible that he posts a great BABIP, offsetting the other regressions potentially hanging over him.  However, is that something we want to bank on?

The strikeout rate makes Axford an alluring option, but with control problems that could hang over him, there is not even a guarantee that he locks down the job for the full season.  Is he going to be worth drafting?  Absolutely, but I would have him ranked somewhere in the bottom third of the league at this point.

What about you?  Do you consider him one of the better closers in the league?

Make sure to check out some of our 2011 projections:

One comment

  1. Frank Kim says:

    I watched him quite a bit and I think he’s unreliable. He doesn’t seem to always know where his pitches are going. It wouldn’t surprise me to seem his lose his job in 2011. It also wouldn’t surprise me to do well but I don’t want to pay for that risk.

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