Key Statistics: Heath Bell had an absolutely dominant year. Take a look at his stat line:
6-1, 47 SV, 70 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 28 BB, 86 K, .221 BAA, .585 OPS
The most amazing thing about this line is that while he still destroyed opposing teams at the cavernous pitcher’s park known as Petco (2.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 48 K, .229 BAA in 35 IP – where he gave up his one and only homer of the year), he actually pitched better away from his home turf (1.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 38 K, .213 BAA in 36 IP). The fact that Bell pitched well in Petco is not surprising – the fact that he dominated away from the ballpark bodes well, especially knowing that he could be traded during the 2011 season.
Skeptics Say: Bell has two primary weaknesses. The first being he loves to walk batters with no men on (19 of his 28 walks were with no men on base). The other being with a man on second, his gave up 11 hits and 7 walks in 42 plate appearances. This is nitpicking a guy who more often than not, made up for those mistakes (.164 BAA with men on first, and only allowed 8 runs total with the opposing team within 2 runs of the Padres). After watching the Padres play numerous times last season, it’s obvious that this guy does not have the same killer instinct with the bases clear as with more “imminent” threats staring right at him. This obviously wasn’t a problem for Bell last season, but for a guy of his build and level of “athleticism” (seriously, look at the guy), a rapid decline in performance wouldn’t be unexpected.
Another, non statistic-related item is the state of the San Diego Padres. This offseason, the franchise showed they are willing to give up players knowing they have the inability to pay them down the road. With Bell a year away from free agency, as a fantasy owner I would worry about him being traded to a team like the Red Sox, Yankees or Phillies with an established closer in place. Considering how many times San Diego has been rumored to have Bell on the block in the past few seasons, this should be of definite concern.
Peer Comparison: Size-wise and career-wise, Bell best matches up with both Jonathan Broxton and JJ Putz. While Brox was on the younger side when he started closing, Putz and Bell were late bloomers who began closing out games at relatively late ages (29 for Putz and 31 for Bell). All three are power pitchers, have career SO:BB ratios slightly above 3.00, are not very homer-prone and most importantly in terms of fantasy, are projected to begin the season as closers for their respective teams. Out of these three though, I’m taking Putz first.
Broxton had a blistering first half and an awful second half and as I mentioned before, Bell is a likely trade candidate in the last year of his deal. Putz however, just signed a new 2-year contract with the Diamondbacks, who had the worst bullpen ERA in the majors by an entire run, and will likely be the closer. After two years of poor health, he came back to have a great year with the White Sox in 2010. For consistency’s sake, I would take Putz over a guy who is coming off his worst professional season and another guy who could be relegated to a set-up man role with a trade.
Team Outlook: +6. That’s how many games over .500 the Padres were in one-run games this year. In the National League, only one team was more games over .500 in one-run games (the Phillies), and only 3 other teams won as many or more one-run games as the Padres (the eventual champion Giants, the Rockies and the Phillies). Though the Pads young starting rotation will mature and get better this season, that offense, especially with the loss of Adrian Gonzalez, is not getting any better after finishing 12th this year. I would expect that Bell is going to be protecting a lot of 2-0 or 2-1 leads going into the 9th in 2011.
Projection: Even with a great young pitching staff, I see the Padres out of contention by the July trade deadline, and thus Heath Bell being shipped out of SD. The following projection assumes he’ll remain a closer, but obviously this ranking will change depending on his role with his new team. However, his dominance away from Petco leads me to believe he’ll still maintain excellent peripherals. Buyer beware!
68 IP, 37 saves, 2.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 75 K
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