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Closing Time: Dan Haren bottoms out; another Frank Francisco fire drill

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Dan Haren takes the walk of shame (AP)

The Rays couldn't do a thing against Felix Hernandez on Wednesday, as you know, but the schedule bailed them out one day later. A 2012 date against Dan Haren is cause for celebration, a piñata party. Take your best shot.

Tampa Bay rolled up seven hits, five runs and two homers against Haren, knocking him out in the fourth inning. The scuffling righty now holds a 4.90 ERA and 1.39 WHIP on the year, and he can't even point to that much bad luck: all of the ERA estimators call for something over 4.00. His strikeout percentage is at a seven-year low, and his walk rate has almost doubled from last year.

And then there's the flashing red light on the radar gun: Haren's averaging just 88.6 mph on his fastball, slowest of his career. No wonder the American League is teeing off on him.

We have to worry (and guess) about Haren's back, which has been bothering him most of the year. He spent about three weeks on the DL in July, and he was scratched from a turn at the end of the month. Herein lies the rub when it comes to struggling aces: as much as we'd love to always trust the established career path and wait for positive regression, sometimes you're dealing with an unreported or misunderstood injury. Haren went through several rough starts in the spring before he disclosed the back problem.

You never know when injured players will start to feel better and perform up to expectations; sometimes it's just a matter of rehab and time taking its course, sometimes it's a reaction to a shot (hiya, Ryan Zimmerman) or a new medicinal path. If you want to wait it out on Haren, cling to blind faith in something, I'm not going to stop you. But now that we're more than halfway through August, I say it's time to start lining up the arms you trust and the arms you don't. Haren isn't welcome to pitch for any of my contending clubs down the stretch. It's not about the names, my friends; this game is all about the numbers.

Kris Medlen is owned in just 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues? Maybe football really is taking over. Club Med had his way with the Padres on Thursday, twirling a six-hit shutout and striking out six. His four starts have been fantastic: 25.5 IP, 19 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 22 K. What do you need, a meteor to drop in your front yard? Point, click, add.

Medlen also qualifies at both pitching positions, which comes in handy in some formats. He works at Washington next week (recommended), and even with Tommy Hanson back, I can't see how Medlen doesn't hold onto a rotation spot. Atlanta has turned into a pitcher's dream, with exceptional outfield defense and a relief staff that holds onto your leads. Good work if you can get it.

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Frank Francisco, in or out? (AP)

Generally when I think of Jon Rauch, I get scared. We're talking about a 6-foot-11 dude, 250 pounds or so, neck tattoos, menacing glare. If I came across Rauch in an alley, I'd simply drop my wallet and make a run for it. Crisis Management 101.

When you're talking crisis management for the 2012 Mets, the subject quickly moves to the bullpen. The Mets have the worst relief ERA this year - at 5.10, they're well clear of Milwaukee's 4.80 - and they're lagging in just about any other bullpen measure you want to look at. It's been the Achilles' heel of this club.

Maybe Rauch can help the Metropolitans gain some respectability down the stretch. He's only allowed one run over his last 20 games, covering 14.1 innings, and he's picked up two saves over the last five days, cleaning up a couple of Frank Francisco messes. Rauch has received plenty of good luck during this hot streak (a .128 BABIP and a .106 average against), but he's also limiting line drives to a puny 10-percent clip and he's only walked two batters (against nine strikeouts). He's a reliever of interest so long as Francisco is struggling.

Bobby Parnell is the other Mets reliever who might get a look in the ninth if Francisco needs a time out (or another DL stint). Parnell faced one batter in Thursday's eighth inning, recording a strikeout, and he's picked up four saves this year, most of them coming while Francisco was unavailable. Parnell's strikeout rate is much higher than Rauch's, he's six years younger than his teammate, and he boasts a snappy 58-percent ground ball rate. You can make a case for Parnell.

I don't know what Francisco needs to do before the Mets move in a different direction; he's been awful most of the year (6.25 ERA, 1.83 WHIP). When you give up five homers and issue 18 walks over 31.2 innings, it's difficult to be successful in any role. Miraculously, Francisco has only blown three saves, but that's more fluke than anything else. Often he's yanked from a game before the tying run gets around the bases, one step ahead of the jailor.

Place your bets, save chasers. Are you holding with Francisco, scaring things up with Rauch, taking faith in Parnell's profile, or just running for your life, determined never to return to Citi Field? Discuss the game plan in the comments.

The roto public is finally up to speed with Jason Vargas, especially at home. The Seattle lefty is 67-percent owned in advance of his Saturday start against Minnesota. It's recommend, of course, along with Mike Fiers against Philadelphia (don't flip out over the Coors turn), Ben Sheets versus the Dodgers, and Jon Niese at Washington. All of these guys are over the 50-percent mark, so you probably didn't need the help. Scott Diamond (51 percent) is also in line for a good afternoon, working at Safeco against Vargas.

Looking for deeper options, how about Bartolo Colon (29 percent) at home against Cleveland? He's been sharp for several weeks in a row. I'm a little leery on Carlos Villanueva (24 percent) against Texas, so you're on your own there. Alex Cobb (19 percent) in Southern California? Sign me up. And Patrick Corbin (12 percent) sure looks like a nice play at Houston.

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