Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Down and Out in Oakland

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This is a baseball column. This is not a basketball column.

And yet, we're allowed to mention other sports, probably. Dirk Nowitzki's great performance in Monday's game against the Thunder might get a writeup from Steve Alexander and the RotoWorld NBA dudes, but it will also get some love here. Nowitzki led his team back from the brink with a collection of circus shots, fallaway jumpers and lazer-like foul shots, and he did it on the road.

That gives him the number one spot in our tiers, which will be based on performances within this year's NBA playoffs. Because even though this is a baseball column, sometimes the other sports deserve a little love.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Dirk Nowitzki" Tier.)

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

  • Being great late has long been the hallmark of these closers. So long that for some, the cracks are forming. Mariano Rivera has only blown three saves this year (one in the last week), but his strikeout rates these last two seasons have been among his four-worst of all time. Surely he's slowing down a little.

  • Recent elite tier inductee Brian Wilson has spent the last week blowing a save and walking three batters against one strikeout, so his position is slightly tenuous. Jonathan Papelbon, on the other hand, spent the same time frame striking out six and walking one, so he still deserves his place atop the mountain.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "LeBron James" Tier.)

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

  • LeBron James has averaged around 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the playoffs so far, which would be awesome if he wasn't LeBron James. Some of these closers have elite skills, but they are also not quite there with the elites.

  • Joakim Soria still has elite upside, but even after possibly correcting a flaw in his delivery, he's walked three and only struck out two in the past week. Think about Aaron Crow, but don't necessarily pick him up until there's some actual injury rumblings with Soria. Even after Soria's blown save Tuesday night, and even if the team will eventually trade their closer, it's in the Royal's best interest for him to succeed in the role.

  • J.J. Putz slides ahead of Craig Kimbrel because he hasn't walked a guy or blown a save since May 15th while Kimbrel's wildness is starting to show. Francisco Rodriguez is pitching fine, and has three saves in the past week, but revelations that Sandy Alderson is contacting general managers around the league about most of his players means that he could easily leave town to be a big-market setup man. Handcuff him with Jason Isringhausen if you're very nervous.

  • Tier 3: OK options (8) (AKA: The "Luol Deng" Tier.)

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

  • Luol Deng has still been useful, but shooting 31% from three and 43% from the floor means that he's been inefficient once you look past the points and rebounds. Neftali Feliz is still throwing gas, but he's walking more than he has struck out and blew two saves in the past week. Oh, and his team apparently contacted the Pirates about Joel Hanrahan. That's enough to shuffle the tier around a little.

  • For those wondering why closers like Chris Perez and Francisco Cordero are at the bottom of this tier despite their nice ERAs, they are both currently showing poor strikeout and walk rates. Perez has even walked as many as he's struck out. That's not a recipe for future success. They'll drop down a tier with continued work like that - while John Axford, who has a great mustache and has only walked three batters in May, is moving up in the world. He's struck out more than Cordero and Perez combined with room to spare!

  • Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Pau Gasol" Tier.)

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

  • Pau Gasol is a good player, but 13 and 8 from your power forward (on 42% shooting from the floor) is not 'getting it done.' These closers are still getting it done, but they have plenty of question marks.

  • Jordan Walden might be through his trouble spot and out the other side unscathed. Another week like the one he just had (two saves, two strikeouts, two walks and one hit in three appearances) and he'll move back up in the tiers because he'll be 'tried and true' by then. Funny how much a week can mean to a young closer.

  • Kyle Farnsworth only has nine strikeouts so far this year, but has only allowed one walk. That seems like an okay recipe, but look no further than Matt Capps for the danger that's around the corner. Capps has 14 strikeouts against one walk for the year, but has also blown three of his last five save attempts. If the same thing happens to Farnsworth, does he keep his job? If Joe Nathan hadn't just given up three runs in his last four appearances, would Capps already be out of a job, too? Now that Capps has forearm soreness, Nathan might actually get a save chance this week.

  • Brandon League has gotten past his very-bad weekend with three straight scoreless appearances. No strikeouts in those three innings is worrisome, but since Jamey Wright and Aaron Laffey are the only guys worth mentioning in that Seattle pen otherwise, he's probably safe until David Aardsma comes back.

  • 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.
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