Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Can't Blame the Midges

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Updating the closers during trade deadline season feels a little like walking blindfolded through a mine field. We can have opinions about which relievers might get traded and how a trade might change their value, but we don't know these things. And there are plenty of possible trades that might blow up your fantasy bullpen.

We'll try to hit on all the rumors in this week's edition. With educated guesses about who would be next in line. The guess is that fewer closers are traded than we might anticipate, just because teams seem to be holding their prospects tight to the vest. But that doesn't mean we can't get out in front of this thing.

And in honor of the of the excitement that an infusion of talent can bring to a contending team, we'll name the tiers after previous trade deadline deals that worked out for the buyers.

Because it's all about optimism, even as we navigate the minefield.

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Fred McGriff for Donnie Elliot, Melvin Nieves and Jose Herrera in 1993" Tier.)

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

  • There was some excitement about Melvin Nieves and he did eventually hit 24 home runs one season for the Tigers, but he couldn't control the contact problem and strikeouts did him in. Fred McGriff? Went on to power the Braves all the way to the NLCS and give them their best first baseman in a long, long time. Yeah that worked out for them.

  • Jonathan Papelbon had a bad save on July fifth. Since then, he's walked one and allowed four hits in nine innings. With twelve strikeouts. That's dominance, even if his ERA is in the mid-threes. Craig Kimbrel hasn't allowed a run in ten outings, and has eight base runners in those innings. With sixteen strikeouts. That's dominance without qualification. Joel Hanrahan has almost five strikeouts to each walk. Fire.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Curt Schilling for Vicente Padilla, Travis Lee, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa in 2001" Tier.)

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

  • This was a gift that kept on giving for the Diamondbacks. Vicente Padilla was okay, and that's why this is second, but the rest of the package flamed out quickly. And Curt Schilling? Yeah.

  • Can we get a what, what for Joakim Soria? Since regaining his job, he's been very very close to the Soria of old. In his last ten innings, he hasn't issued a single walk and has nine strikeouts. He's even slowly pushed that velocity boulder back up the hill into the low-to-mid 90s. Whatever was ailing him seems fixed, and he's now the among the best of the second tier.

  • Brian Wilson has been better over the last week, perhaps meeting the president helped him focus. He has two strikeouts in two appearances in the last week, but more importantly, no walks. Jordan Walden rewarded us for moving up in the tiers by blowing his seventh save of the year, but his overall numbers are still strong. And, other than Scott Downs who is a lefty and life-long setup man, there isn't anyone in the pen to take his job. He's not getting traded, there are no rumors that the Angels are looking for relievers, and he has a great strikeout rate. He's probably fine.

  • The next two relievers will stick here, but there are trade rumors surrounding them. Andrew Bailey has re-found his strikeout punch (eight in his last five innings) but now there are some whispers that he might be the reliever going to Texas. Heath Bell, of course, was supposed to be that reliever before, but now teams might be in on Mike Adams more than the current closer in San Diego. Most likely, Heath Bell will still be a closer next week (in San Diego or elsewhere), and the same goes for Andrew Bailey. Neftali Feliz, not so much. And Mike Adams? Let's hope all those weeks of owning him were worth it.

  • Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Carlos Beltran for Mark Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood in 2004" Tier.)

    Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles

  • If the Mets score a better prospect for two months of Carlos Beltran now, when their player is seven years older, it will be a further inditement of this deal. Then again, there was a lot of hope for Mark Teahen, and John Buck turned into an okay catcher. They got something back, just not what they wanted.

  • There are no new rumors about Huston Street, and his salary might have something to with it. He's due another eight million after this year, and that makes him one of the more expensive closers in the league. Even with Rex Brothers moving up in the bullpen, it's unclear which team around baseball wants to take on Street's salary in the bullpen next year. He'll probably stay in Colorado and make Brothers an injury handcuff at best.

  • The only question about the newly recalled J.J. Putz is his health, but now that he's back he should at least be healthy for the short-term. Drew Storen on the other hand is clearly healthy but inspires questions about his performance. Behind his nice ERA hides a below-average strikeout rate and a below-average swinging strike rate. He gets ground balls, but perhaps none of his three pitches is the dominating sort that a long-term closer usually has. Storen is fine for this year, most likely, but relying on him long-term may not work out as well.

  • Sergio Santos has a swinging strike rate almost twice that of Storen's. Of course, he also has a much higher walk rate. And a crazy manager that has cost him some saves in recent weeks by mixing and matching with Chris Sale. It doesn't look like a real change is coming to that pen, but Santos still needs to drop a few rungs to reflect his manager's whims.

  • Brandon League and Jose Valverde represent a choice in taste. Want strikeouts, walks be damned? Valverde is your man, as his swinging strike rate is the same as last year and he should be able to get you a strikeout per inning even with his worst walk rate of his career. Want a nice WHIP, strikeouts be damned? Then pick up League, even if he has three walks in his last four outings. He's had above-average control for the last three years and has turned that into elite control this year.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Mark McGwire for T.J. Mathews, Erick Ludwick and Blake Stein in 1997" Tier.)

    Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Fernando Salas, St. Louis Cardinals
    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins

  • Yes, the Cardinals got Mark McGwire and it was awesome for them. But it was a two-month rental and the names going to the Athletics weren't supposed to turn out amazing. And the Cardinals finished fourth. So, yeah, the 24 home runs were nice, but this wasn't a red-letter trade until Mark McGwire went out and hit 70 home runs the next year after signing an extension.

  • Chris Perez absolutely deserves to get demoted. He doesn't do anything in an above-average manner really. You want your pitchers to strike batters out, not walk them, and keep the ball on the ground in order to avoid home runs. These are the things they can control. Perez has, frankly, a bad strikeout rate. And it's built on a bad swinging strike rate, so it's not going to get better any time soon. He has poor control and always has. He's an extreme fly ball pitcher and always has been. There are worse days coming for Perez, and it might just be now. In July, he's blown two games and struck out three batters against three walks in 5 1/3 innings. He's also allowed four runs and two home runs. Yuck. Vinnie Pestano hasn't been as awesome recently, but he's probably still the next guy in line.

  • We never removed Carlos Marmol, but technically Sean Marshall was the closer there at some point. Now Marmol has had four scoreless appearances in a row and is poised to return to the role. Hope you didn't over-react. Fernando Salas blew a save last week and Mitchell Boggs got one. That's okay, Boggs was only in to pitch the eighth in a close game and then when the home team blew it open, he stayed out to finish the game. Not much to see here. Salas got save Tuesday night, with three strikeouts to boot.

  • Leo Nunez is off the trade market, or so they say. Edward Mujica is the correct call if he goes, but it's looking less likely. Doesn't make sense for the Marlins to hold on to him another year, but that's okay. Maybe he'll be a cheap closer all year.

  • Francisco Cordero was cheaper than many, but he's in a long decline. Well, he got back on the horse over the last week and now has three straight scoreless appearances… while still in the closer role. Too bad that last blow up didn't get Aroldis Chapman into the role, but he'll be there soon enough.

  • Joe Nathan? He's safe now. He's got his velocity back up to normal since returning from the disabled list, has only given up one run in his last ten outings, and hasn't walked a batter in July. The strikeout rate is not quite all the way back, but he's looking good.

  • 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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