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Bastardo's Closer-Worthy Stuff

With Ryan Madson hitting the DL due to a bruised right hand and Brad Lidge still working his way back from an elbow injury, closing duties for the Phillies may be given to Antonio Bastardo. The 25-year-old lefty has earned the role, compiling a 33-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 innings with a sub-one ERA.

Formerly a starter in the minor leagues, Bastardo comes at hitters with three pitches: a low-90s fastball that touches 95 and a mid-80s slider and changeup. That power repertoire has led hitters to miss nearly 34 percent of the time that they have swung at Bastardo's stuff, the second-highest rate among relievers (Atlanta's Jonny Venters is first).

A key to Bastardo's success is his ability to get batters to expand their zones. He has a 36 percent chase rate in 2011, trailing just Venters once again among all relievers. Bastardo climbs the  ladder with his fastball...            

Hitters' chase rate on Bastardo's fastballs thrown out of the strike zone 

League average chase rate on outside fastballs

..and goes low out of the zone with his wipeout slider...

Hitters' chase rate on Bastardo's sliders thrown out of the strike zoneLeague average chase rate on outside slidersBastardo's is mainly a fastball/slider reliever, but his changeup has a near-37 percent chase rate, too.

One of the reasons that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel might turn to Bastardo in the ninth is that the little lefty can handle batters of both hands. During his big league career, Bastardo has a .206/.302/.343 line against lefties and a .219/.308/.344 slash versus right-handers.  

His control could give Manuel occasional heartburn, but Bastardo is well-equipped for a high-leverage role in the Phillies' pen. If you're a fantasy baseball junkie, grab him while you still can: Bastardo is available in almost 70 percent of ESPN leagues.


Right is wrong for the Red Sox

There is very little good to be written about the right field situation for the Red Sox this season. In fact, the best thing is to start looking at alternatives as written by Nick Cafardo in today's Boston Globe. Nick points out that the days seem to be numbered for the Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron combo as a right-handed bat alternative platoon to J.D. Drew.

Nick writes, "The Sox will probably do what they never wanted to do — trade a prospect for an established righthanded hitter." The only trouble is that, according to Peter Gammons of MLB Network (on Twitter), the Red Sox cannot add payroll this season.

Here's why the Sox are in this conflicting situation:

J.D. Drew versus lefties 2011

Drew is hitting .200 this season against lefties and has two extra base hits, a triple and a homer resulting in a slugging pct. of .343.

J.D. Drew versus lefties 2011 on the outer portion of the plate

Lefties have thrown Drew 77 pitches on the outer portion of the plateWhen lefties pitch Drew outside, Drew has gone 1-for-15 (a single) with one walk and seven strikeouts.

So what are the alternatives?

Mike Cameron versus lefties 2011

Cameron is hitting .143 against lefties with one double and three homers among his nine hits

Darnell McDonald versus lefties 2011

McDonald is hitting .129 against lefties with one double and one homer among his four hits

But did it need to come to this?

Here is a frame of reference

David Ortiz versus lefties 2011

Big Papi is hitting .346 against lefties this season and slugging .556 with eight doubles and three homers

Here's why Ortiz has been successful against lefties

When pitched to the outer portion of the plate, Ortiz is hitting .343 with 12 hits, 10 of which have gone to left fieldOrtiz has a 1.003 OPS against lefties this season and when they pitch him outside, his OPS rises to 1.037.

In his contract year, Big Papi has made adjustments to save his job, the same adjustments that neither Drew, Cameron, and McDonald have made and that may cost all them their jobs.


Cliff Lee Quiets Red Sox

Cliff Lee tossed his third complete game shutout in a row last night, dominating Boston's patient, powerful offense while striking out five, walking two and allowing just two hits. Lee hasn't surrendered a run in his last 32 innings pitched, the longest stretch of his career, and he has allowed just one runner to cross home plate in 42 total June frames.

"I'm making pitches, staying out of the zone, using my breaking ball and getting lucky," Lee told reporters after his start.

The lefty is definitely making pitches, his breaking ball has been nasty, and he has received some fortunate bounces this month (.191 batting average on balls in play) after being snakebitten in April (.313) and May (.356). But, as his start against Boston shows, Lee isn't staying out of the zone so much as he's hitting the corners and avoiding throwing meatballs down the middle of the plate.

Against Boston, Lee threw 68 of his 112 pitches within the strike zone, or 61 percent. Even by Lee's standards -- he has thrown a major league-leading 56.7 percent percent of his offerings within the zone this season -- that's a lot of pitches over the plate. But what makes Lee's performance remarkable isn't the quantity of strikes, but the quality. Check out his fastball location versus the Red Sox:

Cliff Lee's fastball location versus Boston on June 28, 2011

Most of Lee's fastballs hugged the corners, and Red Sox batters went a collective 2-for-15 against the pitch.

Lee mentioned his curve in particular, and there again, he stayed within the zone while keeping the ball away from the center of the plate:

 Cliff Lee's curveball location versus Boston on June 28, 2011

You'll often hear managers and announcers talk about the difference between control, or puting the ball within the zone, and command, which means locating the pitch to a particular spot within the zone. Lee is an example of a pitcher who has both in spades.