Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Is it Isringhausen?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's summer blockbuster time. It's so hot in some parts that there's really no option other than to pony up the cash just so you can sit in a dark, over-air-conditioned space with a cold drink. The movie is almost secondary.

But this year it seems all the movies are sequels or remakes. That's fine if you're Harry Potter, maybe not so fine if you are the Smurfs. Or a Megan-Fox-less Transformers.

So, since we already wish our head was in the freezer, we'll rank the closers by summer movies. Except we'll go backwards. The worse the movie, the more mind-numbing the premise, the higher it will be ranked.

Because thinking hard just makes us sweat more.

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Fast Five" Tier.)

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Does it get any lazier than removing all superfluous words in the title? "Fast" so you know what the movie is about and "Five" because it's the fifth one. Done.

  • Yeah, Joel Hanrahan is in this tier. His ascent has been ridiculous, but he's always been a great reliever. He did blow a save this week and still managed to move up, mostly because it was his first blown save of the year. He's walked one batter since June fourth. One! His strikeout rate is a little down, but his ground ball rate is up and he's only given up one home run this year after giving up six last year. The only thing that was keeping him back was the fact that there were some trade rumors surrounding his name. Well, with the Pirates in first place (!), they won't be trading away their closer. They're even looking into acquiring setup men. Welcome to the Fast Five tier, Mr. Hanrahan! No flashy cars come with the promotion.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides" Tier.)

    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
    Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels

  • Pirates! Pretty women! Fighting! The ongoing quest for eternal life! It's very easy to take in and about as rewarding as stuffing your face with fast food. Unfortunately for this ranking, Pirates took the opposite strategy than Fast Five and decided to try and stuff as many words into the title as possible. That means a tiny bit more thought has to go into things.

  • John Axford hasn't been showing a completely clean slate, but he does have a swashbuckling strikeout rate and continues to limit his walks. Most importantly, he's on a contending team and has survived the addition of a new closer-type. Two straight saves have come with Francisco Rodriguez setting him up and the hierarchy in that pen is clear. He's certainly had a better week since the break than Brian Wilson, who has walked four against no strikeouts. Hey, he still got three saves at least.

  • The middle trio in this group represents a grouping that would be ranked higher if not for trade rumors. Joakim Soria has proven that he's mostly back to his old ways, but now there are a few whispers that he'll be traded. That trade is less likely than Andrew Bailey moving, if only because the A's have proven that they'll make any trade that they feel is beneficial, irregardless of the status of their competitiveness. They have Brian Fuentes, if they get offered some offense for Bailey (and the Rangers have offense), they might pull the trigger. Heath Bell is still the most likely reliever moved here, but now the rumors include Mike Adams. If Adams is indeed the one who goes, Bell would close all year.

  • Jordan Walden seems safe for the year now. Since his blown save on June 26th, he hasn't walked a batter and has only given up three baserunners and one run in five and a third innings. There aren't any rumors that the Angels are looking for relievers, either. With a little added flair on his facial hair, he could even be considered somewhat pirate-esque.

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

    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles

  • It seems like a movie that doesn't require much thought, but then the movie does inspire some questions. Why is it live action? Why is this movie being made? Why is Papa Smurf wearing sunglasses? Yeah, now you're thinking and sweating again.

  • Huston Street did get hung with a loss in the last week, but for the most part he's been excellent recently. He gets demoted because there are suddenly sharks in the water in Colorado. They've come back from similar deficits before, but somehow this year that sort of feat seems less likely. Huston Street is in the final year of his contract and could actually move if the Rox get the right offer. If he survives the next two weeks in the closer's role, he is the favorite to move back up, along with Sergio Santos, whose improved control has made him an exciting closer.

  • If Drew Storen and Chris Perez can add a better strikeout rate to their overall package, they could move up too. Storen struck out three in one inning on Monday! That was only the third time all year he's managed more than one strikeout in an inning, but he now has six strikeouts in the last four innings. He has the tools -- three legitimate pitches -- to get the job done. Chris Perez doesn't have the same arsenal and hasn't shown a three-strikeout day recently, but has managed multiple strikeouts in one inning five times this year. Still, Vinnie Pestano lurks if all that contact turns out to be a problem for Perez.

  • Jose Valverde slips entirely because of his performance as well. He's had two three-run blowups in the last ten outings, but that's not the real reason he's been worrisome. Over the last ten appearances, Valverde has walked eight batters and struck out nine. Not only is that a bad ratio, but it also has Valverde showing the worst walk rate of his career. He needs to corral his pitches. Maybe Gargamel can help.

  • Brandon League and Kevin Gregg get boosts this week that have nothing to do with their performances so far this year. League's competition for the closer's role, David Aardsma, found out that he's going to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. That means that League should begin next year as the closer as well. Gregg? He gets a boost because his team is shopping his competition for the role, Koji Uehara. It's a head-scratcher, since Uehara has been the better pitcher this year, but it is what it is. The Orioles seem to value Gregg as a closer.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Cowboys and Aliens" Tier.)

    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Fernando Salas, St. Louis Cardinals

  • It seems like total fluff until you take note of the actors and actresses involved. James Bond and Indiana Jones in one movie? And that movie brings cowboys and aliens together? There's all sorts of wires crossing right now. It could get dangerous.

  • Why is Leo Nunez in this tier if he hasn't blown a save in over a month? Well, because he's being shopped, and it's not clear if he would close if he ended up in, say, Philadelphia. There are a lot of options there. Behind him, the bullpen situation is cloudy. Clay Hensley saved seven games in seven opportunities last year but started a game this week. Mike Dunn has a great strikeout rate but he is a lefty and he has a bad walk rate. He might be the closer of the future anyway. Randy Choate has been great but he's also a lefty and hasn't shown a strikeout rate like this ever before in his career. You know who is under team control, has been used late in games, has a decent strikeout rate, a great walk rate, and an ERA under three? Edward Mujica, that's who. Now you know the main contenders. Good luck hunting.

  • Ah, Carlos Marmol. Some would say he doesn't deserve to be on this list even, and that Sean Marshall is the closer right now. But Marmol's manager is already talking about getting him back in there after he calms down a little. And Marmol's strikeout rate is legendary. Call his last appearance (one inning, two strikeouts, two walks, no runs) a step back to his old job. Once he starts striking people out again (he has nine walks against two strikeouts in his last seven outings), he'll be a solid closer once again.

  • It looks like Francisco Cordero survived his poor stretch before the All-Star break, as he earned the save on Sunday. But he still only has two strikeouts against six walks in his last ten outings. If he keeps that up, Aroldis Chapman will be closing before long. Fernando Salas not Salsa did blow a save last week, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is way better than Cordero's and his manager has shown that he'll continue to use his find all year. The Cards are not a team that will go out and spend to acquire name closer in all likelihood, so expect Salas to continue climbing. Joel Peralta got the save in Tampa Tuesday night, but it was only because Kyle Farnsworth was unavailable due to pitching in three of the last four games. It's nice to know who's next there. Jake McGee got the hold and has looked excellent of late. He's still a long-term possibility.

  • 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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