Key Stats: Relief pitchers are the greatest uncertainty in fantasy baseball, but John Axford is a great pitcher. For two consecutive seasons he’s been ranked in the top 60 at the end of the season according to Yahoo. During that time, his FIP, xFIP, and ERA have all been under 3 and his K/9 has been over 10.5. I’ve said it before, but relief pitchers shouldn’t just be drafted for saves. The innings they pitch make them as valuable collectively to a team as a starter. Thus Axford’s numbers are like getting two Cy Young types of months from a starting pitcher over the course of the season with saves instead of wins.
Skeptics Say: Being picky, but Axford was significantly worse on the road last year than he was at home. The team also will be without Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun (for a little while), so the team figures to win less games. That said, that doesn’t mean there will be less save situations for Axford.
Peer Comparison: I found it very interesting that Drew Storen was ranked number two by Tristan Cockcroft among all closers. Axford had more strikeouts and a better ERA, while Storen had a lower WHIP. Storen also comes much more highly regarded, but at this point Axford has proven himself. Storen’s ceiling is not likely to be much higher than where he finished last year, and if anything his ceiling was how he pitched last year. Storen’s second half was a little worse than his first half. That’s important to keep in mind for younger or very old players. Axford is neither of those things, so reasonably we can expect him to be the same pitcher next season. Obviously there are scenarios that Storen will be the better choice, but I think Axford is a safer pick at this point.
Team Outlook: After the Brewers traded for K-Rod, there was talk of them having a committee for saves. It never materialized as Axford actually pitched better down the stretch and made the decision to stick with him in the 9th inning an easy one. K-Rod did not record a save with the Brewers, and other than Axford only one pitcher on the team had a save last season. That meant that Axford was healthy all season and there was never a question of who would close for the team.
Projection: Given that his average fastball was thrown harder last year than it was in 2009 and 2010, it’s hard to pick against a third straight year of dominance despite his position.
4 wins 39 saves 2.26 ERA 1.10 WHIP 81 K in 71 innings