Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Enough To Make You Angry

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This week, Milton Bradley was released, and headline editors everywhere held a moment of silence. Baseball fans might not miss the famously emotional outfielder, but features writers will surely pine for the days of easy copy that just flowed from that man.

Remember when he tore his ACL arguing with an umpire right before the postseason started? Remember when he went after that Royals announcer for his comments? Remember when he alienated every single manager he ever played for?

Fun times.

In his honor, we will name the tiers after the five biggest hot-heads in the recent history of baseball. The angrier the better, in this case.

And a programming note: we'll be switching our focus to the lower tiers now. There's generally less movement in the top tiers, and so many of you are looking for the next closer and want to know how the pens with more movement are going to shake down. So we'll cover the final two tiers more closely in order to serve your needs best.


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Elijah Dukes" Tier.)



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

  • What, you thought Bradley would head the list he inspired? It's unclear if anyone could ever top the ridiculousness that was Elijah Dukes, though. His history comes with an actual rap sheet, and revelations like recreational drug use before baseball games.


  • Heath Bell did blow a save, but he didn't blow his stack. Instead he went right back out there and blew them by a couple more hitters. There's an outside chance he'd get traded - in which case Luke Gregerson would take over, most likely - but he's so good he'd probably be the closer wherever he landed. Jonathan Papelbon blew a save too, but without giving up a run. And he has 19 strikeouts against two walks, the best K/BB ratio on this list. Joakim Soria struck out four in two innings this week, but his velocity is still down, and we're still touting Aaron Crow as a decent speculative add.



  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Milton Bradley" Tier.)



    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets
    Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

  • The tier is rock steady, and the man was rock steady in that you could always depend on him to not be rock steady. We'll miss your antics, Milton Bradley.

  • The most newsworthy tidbit in the top of this tier might be the fact that Brian Wilson has only walked two dudes in May. That makes eight strikeouts and two walks in six innings. That puts him in the catbird seat for taking over in case Joakim Soria falters in the top tier. It also makes him the fitting leader of the Milton Bradley tier - he's no hothead, but he might just be as off-kilter on some level.

  • Craig Kimbrel is more Marmol-ian than Carlos Marmol, with 22 strikeouts (and seven walks) in 15 2/3 innings compared to Carlos Marmol's 19 strikeouts (and nine walks) in the same number of innings. Trying to bat against Kimbrel probably would make you very, very angry.

  • Neftali Feliz returns, and since he was bringing the heat in his rehab stint, he jumps right back into the fray here. He could even be elite by next week.



  • Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Jeff Kent" Tier.)



    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins

    Comment:
  • Maybe it was the mustache, but there was something ornery about Jeff Kent at all times. Of course, we remember him for the motorcycle wheelies and the shoving match with Bonds, but he always held that competitive spirit in a very outward way. Like a bristly mustache.

  • Huston Street blew a save, but got right back on the horse. His strikeout to walk ratio (20 to four) means that he's on his way up to the next tier with a healthy, clean slate week.

  • Chris Perez keeps saving games, but he has two strikeouts in his last four appearances - he won't move up without more punch. Francisco Cordero blew a save and doesn't have great peripherals (11 strikeouts, five walks in 15 2/3 innings) but there's no buzz about replacing him with Aroldis Chapman yet. Yet.



  • Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Carlos Zambrano" Tier.)



    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins

    Comment:
  • Carlos Zambrano is mostly harmless, unless you happen to be a pile of mound dirt or a cooler in the dugout. These closers are good for a blowup or two every once in a while, but are mostly humming right along.

  • Before you get too excited about Kyle Farnsworth and start trading away your other closers, realize that he has six strikeouts in 12 innings so far this year. Sure, he has only walked one guy all year, but this is not the picture of dominance despite the tiny ERA. Just be happy with what you got, which is most likely a year-long closer that will suffer a few bad weeks here or there. If anyone takes over for him, it might be Joel Peralta, but Peralta's numbers against lefties are ugly. In the same way as Farnsworth (and just as goggled), Kevin Gregg has a nice ERA but he also has almost as many walks as strikeouts and he just blew his second game of the season Tuesday night. Keep Koji Uehara and his pristine numbers on your mind.

  • John Axford seems perpetually risky, but there really isn't another option in that pen. And anyway, he hasn't walked a guy since April 18th. He's a decent buy-low maybe even. Zooming past Axford is Brandon League with the news that David Aardsma has a sprain of his UCL and is visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum. The only reason League was in the bottom tier was that there seemed to be an expiration date on his time in the closer role. Now, since a sprain is a tear, we know that the expiration date has been pushed out much further. League is possibly even an okay option - but he did blow his first save Tuesday night and has a 4.80 ERA for now, so let's leave him here for a bit.



  • Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (7) (AKA: The "Bobby Cox" Tier.)



    1st Chair: Sergio Santos, 2nd Chair: Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox
    1st Chair: Vincente Padilla, 2nd Chair: Matt Guerrier, Los Angeles Dodgers
    1st Chair: Ryan Madson, 2nd Chair: Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia Phillies
    1st Chair: Mark Melancon, 2nd Chair: Wilton Lopez, Houston Astros
    1st Chair: Frank Francisco, 2nd Chair: Jon Rauch, Toronto Blue Jays
    1st Chair: Brian Fuentes, 2nd Chair: Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
    1st Chair: Eduardo Sanchez, 2nd Chair: Fernando Salas, St. Louis Cardinals

    Comment:
  • Bobby Cox is a mad-man if you're an umpire, and yet he's a docile respectable man if you're anyone else. That puts him on the bottom of this list even if he's at the top of the all-time ejection list.

  • With Jonathan Broxton out six weeks with bone spurs, Vincente Padilla is the man for the forseeable future. We still like Kenley Jansen's strikeout firepower - look at his insane strikeout rate - but his control is just too wonky to be the closer. Padilla might be fine in short stints as ugly as it will look. Matt Guerrier does nothing in an elite way, but everything in an average way and is the dependable setup man now.

  • Brad Lidge seems to be doing well in rehab and thinks he might make it back in June. That seems to mean that Jose Contreras is droppable - Ryan Madson might just give the ball straight to Lidge upon his return.

  • As predicted for about the past four weeks in this column, Brandon Lyon lost his closer role. Of course, it's for a shoulder injury and not for his mediocre play, but that's picking hairs. Shoulder injuries are bad, so Mark Melancon has the inside shot at being a closer all year. He's not without his own flaws, but his strikeout rate upside is better, and he's been pitching well this year. If he falters, groundballer Wilton Lopez will showcase his excellent control.

  • Frank Francisco is the closer in Toronto, says his manager, but Jon Rauch will get the occasional chance. Also, Frankie Frank is very combustible since he's such a fly-ball pitcher - see his blown save Tuesday night due to a home run to Adrian Gonzalez. Keep Jon Rauch close, and if you have a spot to speculate for saves, he's still worth some attention. At the same time, Francisco is the better pitcher overall.

  • In Oakland, the closer is just of the interim variety, but boy did Brian Fuentes owners get some bang for their buck. He's still ownable because Andrew Bailey still hasn't begun his rehab stint.

  • It hasn't been pretty, but Eduardo Sanchez is getting most of the chances in St. Louis right now. Fernando Salas is probably better cast as a capable backup, and Sanchez owns some nasty stuff if he can continue to corral it and develop some consistency. Focus on those two pitchers and ignore the fact that the Cardinals' GM was talking about getting Ryan Franklin getting save opportunities this year. Mitchell Boggs seems to have lost his chance before he really had it.



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    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.
    Email :Eno Sarris



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