Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Calamity for Your Closers

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fashion is a fickle beast. A brand successfully launches their look into our culture, that look becomes ubiquitous, and then, suddenly, it goes too far. And then those clothes are on your nearest discount rack or in your basement corner. Here today, gone tomorrow.

I'm no fashion expert, but that may be happening with uggs. Sure, they're probably comfy. And, with all the crap that women have to deal with to look good for men, women should be allowed some ugly comfy clothes. But men? We can rock the jeans and the t-shirt to half the social crap we go to. I just don't see this "uggs for men" idea working out very well.

In their honor, we'll rank this week's closers in tiers named after the worst fashion ideas for men in recent history. The worse the idea was, the better the closers.

Because perhaps nothing in your personal life will make you feel as silly as facing Heath Bell as wearing big ugly fuzzy boot-moccasins last seen on your girlfriend's feet. (P.S.: Before you get too angry, know that I have personally rocked three of the looks below.) (P.P.S.: If you want visual evidence that these are bad ideas, check em out here.)

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "uggs for men" Tier.)

Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

  • Jonathan Papelbon has recovered his lost velocity and control for the most part. That was all that was standing between him and his former elite self, so here you go - he's the newest member of the top group. He's making plenty of batters look like they are standing in a sea of uggs with his double-digit strikeout rate and minuscule walk rake. It's like last year never happened.

  • Mariano Rivera has only pitched once in the past week and he blew the save. That even makes two blown saves in a row. We're still not worried, not really. He's walked two batters all year and his defense hasn't always been his best friend. He'll be fine.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (5) (AKA: The "zubaz Hammer pants" Tier.)

    Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs

  • Yeah, Craig Kimbrel blew a save last week. But he also pitched in three straight games and had four strikeouts in fewer than four innings - that's what he can do for you. So far this season he has 14 strikeouts against a mere two walks, and control was supposed to be his problem. Batters flail at his electric fastball like they were wearing Hammer pants, and there's not really a reason to think he's getting lucky.

  • If you like control, though, J.J. Putz is your man. No walks on the year! Jose Valverde's strikeout rate isn't quite the same as it used to be, but he's only giving up two walks of his own, and his split-finger has given him a great groundball rate over the past two years. As long as he's healthy, he's rock steady.

  • Unfortunately, just when we thought Brian Wilson might join the elite tier and put some uggs on (that would be a sight), he completely imploded and gave up the deciding three runs against Atlanta on Sunday. He needs to find his control, stat. Carlos Marmol has never really had any control of where the ball is going, but his entire package seems much more risky now that he's 'only' striking out about 12 batters per nine innings. The 'golden' ratio for strikeouts-to-walks is three, and he's much closer to two right now. He's great, but he's also risky.

  • Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "sandals and socks" Tier.)

    Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets
    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds

  • If it's too cold to wear sandals, don't wear em. No half-measures. I mean, I've worn socks in my flip-flops if I'm running outside to take the trash out, but that's not quite 'in public.' Francisco Rodriguez is making batters look socks-and-sandals silly at the plate this year with 13 strikeouts in in a mere 8 2/3 innings, but he also has six walks… and a volatile team situation. That counts against him.

  • Huston Street shook off some struggles from a few weeks ago by not walking a batter in five straight appearances. He has 15 strikeouts against four walks all year, and that is an elite ratio. Health will seemingly always be a question with him, but it's not stuff. Chris Prez, on the other hand, has been healthy, but has a mere four strikeouts in eight innings so far - against three walks. That's walking a tightrope. He's had a better strikeout rate in the past, though, so he's not falling just because he blew his first save of the year last week.

  • Jordan Walden doesn't quite have the outerworldly strikeout rate that he showed when he first debuted, but he still has 97 MPH gas. Along with his clean slate so far, that's enough to move him into this tier.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "double popped collar" Tier.)

    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins

  • Not everything that is okay is better if you do it twice. Like a couple of weeks ago, John Axford walked two guys, gave up a run and it was okay. The team still won. Then he tried the same feat a couple days later and it wasn't okay - the team lost. Obviously, he's dealing with some of his old control issues, and he's a blown save or two away from joining the bottom tier. At least he's been better over the past week - three appearances, five strikeouts, no walks.

  • Kevin Gregg has only blown one save all year, but then again, he's only successfully converted three. He has eight strikeouts against five walks and has never had great control. In fact, he's been a very borderline closer his whole career. Behind him lurks Koji Uehara, who has seven strikeouts against three walks, has only given up one run all year, and has been generally excellent since joining the pen.

  • And you know what, let's go ahead and call it. They haven't announced anything definitive yet, but Sean Burnett pitched in a loss the other day and Drew Storen has generally been pitching better and later in games. Burnett is droppable these days.

  • Matt Capps? Still mediocre. But for now, he's the man. But remember, we once said pretty much this exact same thing about Ryan Franklin. If you can use his mediocrity to upgrade somewhere, this might be the time.

  • continue story »
    Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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