Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Making Moves in Minny

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence Day has come and gone, and all we've got left is a headache and a sunburn, am I right? Maybe your gut is still full of brats and burgers, too. And your sense of pride in your country is probably at a seasonal high.

But the sunburn is the most lasting tell. It screams to everyone: I had too much of a great time this weekend, and in the sun. What did you do.

That said, there are different kinds of sunburns. And each has something unique to say. Out of the pain comes our gain - we'll name this week's closer tiers after sunburns. The worse the sunburn, the better the closer!

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Peeling, Bubbling and Gross" Tier.)

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox

  • There are few worse afflictions than the really, really bad sunburn. It looks like your put your leg in the oven, and it feels about the same way. Not only is it impossible to hide because you can't put any fabric on it, but it's also impossible to hide because you can't put one foot in front of the other without thinking about it.

  • Facing Jonathan Papelbon and his 95-MPH fastball, wicked slider and killer split finger probably feels about the same as getting a bubbly sunburn. Papelbon almost managed his first Kimbrel of the year on the third - three strikeouts, no walks and a clean slate - but he allowed a hit. Then he backed that up with a poor save against the Blue Jays. He's still good. Craig Kimbrel, not surprisingly, has three Kimbrels this year. More impressive, given his background, might be the fact that he hasn't walked a guy since June 18th, and has struck out 15 batters since that date. He's elite by any definition.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Void on the Chest Sunburn" Tier.)

    Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
    Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics

  • You've never done this? Left a drink on your chest as you fell asleep? Maybe your sunglasses? Or maybe you had mean friends that wrote mean things on you in sunscreen? As long as they didn't do it on your forehead, it's okay. You can put a shirt on and no-one but you will know the shame that is the book-sized void in the middle of your sunburnt chest.

  • We're going to have to give Brian Wilson some demerits that have nothing to do with his facial hair. We were nervous about putting a closer with a 1.42 WHIP in the elite tier, and for good reason. He's got the elite strikeout rate and personality, but he's walked six batters in his last ten appearances and that's about in line with his walk rate this year. He's really lost the plate to some extent and has almost doubled his walk rate from last year. Now he's blown two straight saves and has one walk and one strikeout in his last 3 2/3 innings. The stuff is elite, but the results have not been so far this season.

  • The worry about Heath Bell is mostly trade-related, but it is strange that his strikeout rate has fallen to a career-low this year. He's still getting swinging strikes at a (barely) above-average rate, and he hasn't really lost velocity or movement on his pitches, but he's not quite the Bell of old.

  • Carlos Marmol is still striking out and walking the lineup, but as long as he's on the healthy side of two strikeouts per walk, he should be able to keep it up. In his last ten, he's struck out 15 and walked six and has generally looked great. He did blow two save opportunities in those ten outings, but in neither did he allow an earned run. And coming on, throwing a wild pitch and losing the game is not even officially a blown save. It's just a Cubs-like foible, really. Marmol is still a great play.

  • Let's move Andrew Bailey into the tier. It only makes sense to switch one oft-injured but excellent closer out with the other, as J.J. Putz will take a two-week vacation to tend to his tender elbow. Bailey has looked great since he's come back and has only walked two all year. Sounds Putz-ian.

  • Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Racoon Eyes Sunburn" Tier.)

    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins

  • This usually happens when you don't think you need sunscreen. Maybe you are skiing, even. Or just at a cafe… in Arizona. You get home, take off your sunglasses, and realize that you'll have to keep them on all the time or face ridicule. Racoon eyes!

  • Andrew Bailey hasn't really stumbled since returning. He had a great save Tuesday night as he accomplished his first-ever Kimbrel. Usually, strikeouts haven't been a big part of his game. Then again, you could say the same about Drew Storen, and there are actually some similarities. They both have the repertoire of a starter - three-plus pitches. That gives them a step up even if the rates aren't quite elite in terms of strikeout rate.

  • Joakim Soria stumbled slightly for the first time since reclaiming the closer's role, but only just slightly. He allowed a home run to Charlie Blackmon in a 9-0 blowout last week. He'll move up after another clean slate week, most likely. Drew Storen could also be a candidate to move up despite his ordinary strikeout rate, but since he blow a save on June 24th, he has one strikeout in four innings, which is not good at all. Then again, he's held teams scoreless in those outings.

  • It might be surprising to find Sergio Santos in this company, but he has twice as many strikeouts as Francisco Cordero and hasn't walked a guy since June 12th. Yeah, he blew a save on July fourth, and is subject to the occasional bouts of wildness or ineffectiveness, but he throws gas and has been showing that improved control too. Santos is a great example of a strong closer found on the waiver wire, of which there's usually a handful every year.

  • Leo Nunez hasn't blown a save since July 15th and his peripherals look fine. He's striking out a batter per inning and walking around three per nine. None of his luck stats are out of whack. And yet, his owners know that he's been a little inconsistent this year. That's probably because he's turned into a fly ball pitcher overnight. Hopefully he can get some grounders in the future, because those fly balls turn into home runs turn into blown saves.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "I Put Sunscreen on My Own Back Sunburn" Tier.)

    Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets
    Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles

  • Yeah, this one is more embarrassing than many, but in a private way. No-one will see that tiny triangle of pain in the middle of your back, but you will feel it all day. And you'll hate yourself for not asking that attractive young person on the blanket next to you for a little help.

  • The rumors are getting more intense in New York every day. Francisco Rodriguez to the Yankees, Rangers or Rays to be a setup man and not trigger his option. With the Yankees and Rays singled out as teams that K-Rod himself would approve, it seems more likely to happen every day. In the last ten outings, Bobby Parnell has made a great case to move ahead of Jason Isringhausen in the possible replacement closer pecking order. He has 13 strikeouts in his last 12 2/3 innings, but more important is the fact that he only has two walks in those innings. If his control really has improved, he'll be the choice, because he's under team control for longer.

  • Neftali Feliz had us thinking that he was all good when he didn't walk a batter for six straight appearances and started striking out the lineup again. Then he stumbled a couple times and made us wonder. Cautious optimism is still the name of the game. He has two saves in the past week, and two strikeouts against two walks in three and a third.

  • Kyle Farnsworth walked two batters in his last save, a five-outer. That makes the report because he's only walked four all year. He has allowed runs in five of his last ten outings, but only one resulted in a blown save. Slightly shaky but still steady.

  • Just because I think Koji Uehara is a better pitcher and should be the closer in Baltimore doesn't mean that he will be. Kevin Gregg keeps escaping and has only blown four saves all year (one in his last ten appearances) despite his terrible 26-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. We will begrudgingly move him up to the bottom of the second-worst tier. That's some confidence in his abilities for you!

  • Brandon League blew a save, yes, but Jamey Wright is no closer. He'll be fine.

  • 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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