Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Pen Shakeup in the T-Dot

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sometimes you feel like you need a little boost. Maybe you drink a soda, or a coffee, or an energy drink. You can do that because you're an adult, or at least close to it. You can make that choice.

But maybe it's not such a good idea to make that choice for your children. In a 'bacon tastes good' moment, scientists have found that energy drinks are not good for children. Next they'll discover that cigarettes and beer aren't good for them either, know what I'm saying?

So we'll name the tiers this week in honor of some of the more obvious discoveries of recent time. Because sometimes Captain Obvious is actually Doctor Obvious.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "People Happiest on Fridays" Tier.)

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

  • Heath Bell hasn't quite shown the crazy strikeout punch, but we've put our crack team of scientists on the case and found that he's still pretty good. He hasn't walked a batter since May 8th even. Of course, the team may trade him. The year hasn't gone well and they probably won't have the money to sign him unless he likes living in his home state so much that he gives a little discount. If he goes, it's Luke Gregerson taking over most likely, since the Padres control Gregerson for longer than the also-excellent Mike Adams.

  • Mariano Rivera has now blown his last two games. He's only had a worse strikeout rate once in the last eleven years - and that was last year. He's still got tremendous control, and that one awesome pitch, but the cracks are showing.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Men More Interested Than Women in Casual Hookups" Tier.)

    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets
    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Speaking of dry spells for men, J.J. Putz is in the middle of a strikeout-less stretch (one in his last five innings). Other than that, and the ever-present health risk, and he'd be in the elite tier. Craig Kimbrel is prone to the occasional hiccup, but a nice stretch might make him elite. Francisco Rodriguez might never be elite just because the threat that his team trades him is very real. Keep Jason Isringhausen close. Carlos Marmol's team may need to step it up a little, because he'd only given up 12 hits in 23 innings before Tuesday night. Then he gave up five hits and six runs and doesn't look like elite material any more. He'll be fine though.

  • Joel Hanrahan deserves some love. He used to have some control issues, but he only has five walks all year and one in May. In his last appearance he struck out three batters and didn't allow a baserunner. He lights up the radar gun, too. Sure, the Rangers are interested, but will they pay serious prospects for Hanrahan? Since he's under team control until the end of the 2013 season, he won't be acquired cheaply. Hanrahan is looking rock-steady.

  • Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Exercise Helps People Lose Weight" Tier.)

    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds

  • Leo Nunez did blow a save against the Giants last week, but from personal, live experience this reporter can tell you that none of the balls in play were really line drives. The Giants dinked and dunked him to death. Nunez still has three strikeouts to every walk and is having an excellent year. He's also under team control for another year so he'll probably stay with the team even if they drop out of the NL East race.

  • Drew Storen is also on a bad kick. He's given up runs in three straight appearances and was saddled with a blown save and a loss in the last two. Thing is, he also looks fine if you zoom out past the last week. He doesn't have an elite strikeout rate, but it's above-average. He's got great control, and that hasn't changed with only two walks in May. And most of the contact he induces is on the ground, which will help him avoid more home runs like the one he gave up to Jason Bartlett in San Diego. He should be fine.

  • He doesn't have great control, so he's no Rock Steady, but Sergio Santos has kept his ERA skinny by striking out 30 in 25 2/3 innings. Most importantly, the former shortstop has been run back out onto the mound for successful save conversions after he blew a save two weeks ago. Looks like Ozzie Guillen likes him - and it's not like Matt Thornton or Chris Sale are pitching lights out. Santos might keep the job all year.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Little Boys Like Cars" Tier.)

    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins
    Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

  • Little boys like cars. They also like chicken fingers and sandboxes and trees and running and jumping. News? Not news like "Andrew Bailey is back and will shortly be the sole closer in Oakland." Not news like that.

  • Jordan Walden is still effective, and still cooking with gas, but he's also got some shaky control at times. He had three appearances in May in which he gave up two walks - and two baserunners in one inning usually means a runner will score. But most of the pitchers on this list have one flaw or another. If it's not Walden's great strikeout punch with poor control, it's Brandon League and Kyle Farnsworth and Matt Capps showing poor strikeout rates and excellent control.

  • And then there's Neftali Feliz. He's looking all kinds of messed up. He has three blown saves in his last five appearances and was removed from his last attempt before blowing it. Since returning from the DL, he has nine walks against three strikeouts. His velocity is a little down, but more worrisome is the fact that the swinging strikes are now below average. By looking at his rate stats, his ERA should be much, much worse. Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver deserve to be owned, and if Feliz hadn't been so awesome last year, he would be in the Rollercoaster tier right now. As it is, he might not last the week if his current work continues.

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

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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.
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