June 26, 2009

It's time to correct a mistake made in last week's column. While discussing B.J. Upton's chances of making the 40/40 club, I mentioned that he could become the third member of the group along with Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez. Thankfully, my army of readers -- a Swiss Guard-sized army, but an army nonetheless -- e-mailed me to confirm that the 40/40 club is twice the size I gave it credit for.

Readers Alex Ruchti and Chris McCarthy e-mailed to let me know that in addition to Canseco (1988) and A-Rod ('98), Barry Bonds ('96) and Alfonso Soriano ('06) are a part of the 40/40 clan.

That Bonds accomplished the feat in the mid-'90s runs counter to the Bonds we all know and love -- well, hate -- today. I nearly forgot there was a time when he ran the bases with Carl Lewis-like vigor. The Bonds I remember, the 2000s version, had a head so big that I figured it made him too top-heavy to build up speed. (Of course, some would maintain that Bonds' head was of seismic proportions regardless of his steroid allegations.)

Soriano achieved 40/40 status with the Washington Nationals in ... wait, Major League Baseball has a team in Washington?

So, I apologize for the gaffe without promising that I'll make several more. It's part of my charm. In any case, we take a look at a man named after a city that is home to one of the ballparks built during the height of the Steroid Era. How do you like that transition? Huston Street will be Deconstructed as I attempt to figure out if his recent hot pitching will be rule for his '09 campaign.

2009: 2-1, 16 SV, 3.19 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 35 K's in 31 IP

By now, fantasy owners have expected any extended hot streak from Mr. Street to be promptly followed by the news headline, "Closer Street to have elbow/chest/heart examined." Alright, the last body part was a cheap shot, since Street's ticker doesn't appear to have any issues -- if he has a heart.

Street battled a pectoral injury throughout 2006, was afflicted with an elbow issue in '07 and simply pitched terribly for parts of '08. Coming into this year, Street was in a contentious battle with Manuel Corpas, who after undergoing another recent injury, will try to dodge "corpse" and "Manuel can't shift into high gear" jokes for the rest of the year.

Then-manager Clint Hurdle opened '09 with Street as the team's fireman, only to see him give up at least one earned run in three of his first four outings. Corpas officially replaced Street as closer on Apr. 17, but relinquished the role back to Street on May 1.

Since then, he's permitted an earned run three times in 21 outings, converting 14 of 15 save opportunities in the process. His transformation has been noteworthy in a season full of excellent sleeper closers.

ESPN's Buster Olney explained in a recent column that Street made an alteration at the behest of Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca. He changed sides of the pitching rubber from left to right, forcing the right-hander to pitch with more discipline. As Olney wrote, Street can better attack the outside part of the zone on lefties while more easily jamming righties on the inside part of the plate.

Perhaps the comfort of knowing that his closer role is safe has eased his worries and enabled him to pitch with greater confidence. Not only is Corpas shelved, but Taylor Buchholz, once a closer of the future for the Rockies, underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in mid-June. And there's no reason why the Rockies shouldn't be happy with Street as their ninth inning guy.

He's mowing down batters with a 10.2 K/9 rate. Street had averaged a 11.3 rate during that injury-marred '07 campaign, but that clip was below 9 in his three other big league seasons, '05-'06 and '08. The increased strikeout rate would possibly lead any astute fan (apologies for chiding you non-astute readers) to think his velocity has shot up. Congratulations if you put 1 and 2 together. Street's fastball velocity has reached over 91 mph on average, up a full mile on the gun from last season.

The man's also kept his command in, well, control. His walk rate is back to his '07 level, down to 2.61 after seeing it skyrocket to 3.47 last year. Given that closers usually walk such a tightrope between a successful outing and getting burned, the K/BB rate, and subsequent strikeout and walk percentages are arguably the most important stats for a closer. Starters can get away with allowing a lot of runs if they have the offense to back them up. Closers already know the limit to the runs they can permit. Just one or two baserunners creates a tie or win situation for the opposition.

There hasn't been much else that's changed for the better with Street, statistically speaking. Moving to the right side of the pitching rubber set up Street for success. A slight uptick in his fastball and much-improved strikeout and walk percentages finished the process for Street, who's become one of fantasy's elite closers again. There's no reason to sell Street, but trade for him, within reason, if he's available in your league.

Try not to make a mistake by paying too much, though. After all, he is a closer. They're never worth the cost of an effective position player. Just be happy if you have Street and become a little jealous if you passed over him in your preseason draft. Use his success as a mistake to learn from. As you've read in this story, we all make mistakes. Not all of us have the convenience of readers letting us know we did.

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