Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Bacon & Bearded Closer: Elite

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This past weekend, runners converged on San Francisco for a crazy, crazy race called Bay to Breakers. The race is run by only the costumed, and then only barely run at all. Think Halloween on legs. Among the many costumes this past weekend was a pack of running bacon.

Bacon is a force of distraction, it seems. Even fake bacon on legs makes one think of thoroughly destroying a big breakfast platter. Going house on some strips is a good way to recover from anything, at least for meat-eaters.

So, in honor of the running pack of bacon, we'll name the closer tiers after our favorite single entity foods. As in, I love me some short ribs in a red wine reduction, but if I had to pick one, simple piece of food for my next meal, what would that food be?

And yes, number one is bacon.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Bacon" Tier.)

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants

  • It makes sense to pair that beard with bacon. They are both so dominant in their respective categories. Brian Wilson is still walking people - three in his last four appearances - but at a much better rate recently. In fact, those three walks were his only May walks. The strikeout dominance never left, nor did the zaniness.

  • Jonathan Papelbon's ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio is only getting more ridiculous. He's now up to 21 strikeouts against two walks after not walking a single batter in May. His team isn't providing him the most save chances, but that's a very volatile stat from year to year and month to month. He'll rattle off a string of five saves in ten days and suddenly he'll look as dominant as he actually has been.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Ice Cream" Tier.)

    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets

  • His Mexcellence (formerly Mexicutioner) has been downgraded to a mere Mexpert. He blew a save last Wednesday, then the team found a flaw in his delivery, and then he's had a nice two-strikeout-no-walk inning in a 19-to-1 blowout loss. The team is playing well enough to hand him some opportunities, but Soria has shown reduced velocity all year. In fact, he showed his best velocity after they corrected the flaw in his delivery - he could be back on his way to the top with a few saves and some nice pop in the catchers' glove.

  • J.J. Putz hasn't quite been as smooth as ice cream recently, as he's begun to walk batters. Five walks (against only four strikeouts) in his last seven trips to the mound is not elite, but as long as he's still healthy he's a fine option.

  • Craig Kimbrel moves by him in the rankings by striking out a whopping twelve batters in his last five innings. It's gotten to the point where the three-strikeout save must be named the "Kimbrel" from now on. He's a step away from elite himself, and only some longevity in the role stands in the way.

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

    Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

  • Neftali Feliz has not come back strong and sweet like a chocolate truffle. Instead, he's walked four against one strikeout since returning from the DL and it's fair to worry about him just a little. As long as the worrying doesn't lead to more chocolate eating.

  • Joel Hanrahan keeps puttering along like a good chocolate bar, but it's folly to expect his team to continue delivering him save chances in bundles. Though he cooks with gas, Hanrahan will have a few save-less weeks that will give his owners gas like chocolate often does.

  • More proof that saves come in bunches and that it's better to look at strikeout and walk ratios than save totals at this point: Chris Perez has 11 strikeouts against nine walks, and just a week ago had ten saves to Leo Nunez's eleven. Now Nunez has 15 saves and his 21 strikeouts against nine walks is still more impressive. Using that method of thinking, it's more important that Drew Storen has walked only one batter in May and has not lost a save chance to Sean Burnett than the fact that he only has nine saves. He deserves some love.

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

    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners

  • Rice can be good. Give me some sticky rice with some Japanese Nori-shake in it, or some rice with beans, and I'll go to town. Rice can also just be blah, something you put on the plate to fill the meal out. These closers are slightly rice-like.

  • Jordan Walden looked good for a while, and now is in an iffy stretch. He's still hitting 97 on the gun regularly, and still striking out batters like a closer, and has only walked three in seven May appearances, but three blown saves in the month have to register. There's no talk yet, but Scott Downs is pitching well and is a solid veteran. He might be next in line for save opportunities should the Angels make a change.

  • Brandon League is also in a little hot water after spending the weekend in disastrous fashion after learning that first-chair closer David Aardsma would be out at least two months with an elbow strain. The good news must have gotten to League, who has now given up a whopping ten runs in his last four appearances. The thing is, he didn't walk a guy, at least not until his scoreless inning Tuesday. More worrisome is the home run he gave up on Friday the 13th, because he isn't getting groundballs like he used to. Still, there's no good option behind him - at all. It'll take a few more blown saves before Jamey Wright is in there trying to shut the door.

  • Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.

    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.
    Email :Eno Sarris

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