Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Texas Three Step?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Now that the dust has cleared, it's time to look at the post-deadline closer landscape. Well… would you look at that. It's pretty much the same as the pre-deadline landscape. Huh.

That isn't to say that there wasn't much activity at this deadline. No, plenty of players passed hands, and the balance in baseball certainly was changed. In order to follow up on last week's top five deals of all time from the buyers' perspective, we'll name this week's tiers after the top five buyers' deals from this trade deadline.

But the bullpens? Only one bullpen really changed. We'll make sure you're covered on all of them anyway.

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Michael Bourn for Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu." Tier.)

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

  • Highway robbery. The Braves got exactly what they needed for the next season and a half -- a good defensive center fielder that can impact the game offensively by getting on base and scampering -- and they didn't give up any of their top five prospects. Maybe one of these pitchers turns in to a decent mid-rotation starter. Maybe.

  • Jonathan Papelbon moves to the top of the list. You know why? He's given up four baserunners in the last ten innings. Four. That's one walk! Against thirteen strikeouts. Of course, he just had his first 'Kimbrel' of the year -- three strikeouts and no hits, walks or runs -- while Kimbrel has four of those. But Papelbon's 61/8 K/BB ratio is slightly more impressive than Kimbrel's 84/21 because of the excellent control. Both are great.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Rafael Furcal for Alex Castellanos" Tier.)

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

  • Maybe this trade doesn't seem like a big deal, but there's little risk for the Cardinals, and yet they received a player that has the potential their worst position both defensively and offensively. Furcal pushes Ryan Theriot to second, where his glove plays much better, and if he finds some rejuvenation in his current healthy moment, he could really help that team.

  • John Axford hasn't blown a save since April 18th! He's the closer in Milwaukee and Francisco Rodriguez won't do anything but save a game or two when Axford needs a blow. Joakim Soria did blow his first save since regaining his job, but he still has a 10/2 K/BB ratio over his last ten innings. Compare that to Brian Wilson, who has a 7/5 K/BB ratio over his last ten outings. And also blew two games in that stretch.

  • Moving past the wonkier closers in this tier are Andrew Bailey and Heath Bell. Both guys survived the trade deadline on their original teams and otherwise own lines that are virtually unassailable. Bailey has four strikeouts to ever walk and has improved his strikeout rate this year as well. He's safe, pitches in a nice home park, and plays for a team that will have their share of close games even if they aren't the best team in their division. Bell's peripherals are not quite as nice. He only has two-plus strikeouts per walk and his strikeout rate has dropped this year. Still, over his last ten outings he has only given up ten baserunners and has seven strikeouts. He's not quite the dominant guy he was in the past, but he deserves his ranking now that the trade deadline has passed.

  • Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner and Matt McBride" Tier.)

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

  • Most likely, this trade was a decent buy for the Indians. Most of Ubaldo's peripherals are right in line with what he's done in the past, and he'll enjoy moving out of Coors Field. But his velocity has also taken a two MPH dive in the past year, and whispers of injury surround him. This is a fairly risky trade with gobs of upside, which is an okay way to describe the closers in this tier.

  • Huston Street needs to drop in the rankings some, even if he survived the trade deadline intact. He has given up three home runs in his last five games, and has now allowed a career-high in homers. His strikeout to walk ratio is still great, and he's only official blown three saves this year. But there are a few losses on his ledger, and the home runs are worrisome. He's on pace for a record amount of home runs for a closer! He should be fine, or he'll get injured again. At least you got more saves and more innings out of him than he gave last year!

  • Drew Storen is also in the midst of a poor stretch. He's surrendered three home runs in his past four games. Maybe the rumors that he was headed to the Twins were messing with his head. We do know that he doesn't have an elite strikeout rate, but his control has held steady, and these could just be a little burst of bad luck. Still, last year he gave up three home runs in 55 1/3 innings. So far this year he's given up seven home runs in two fewer innings. He's not an elite closer.

  • We gave Jose Valverde some homework, and he obliged. He only has one walk in his last five outings, and he needs to keep that focus. The splitter gets him plenty of groundballs, and his strikeout rate is decent, but the control is key.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "Hunter Pence for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and a PTBNL" Tier.)

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

  • Yes, Hunter Pence is an upgrade. Over Raul Ibanez. Who is still in Philly. Pence is only a slight upgrade over Domonic Brown most days, and it cost his team all of their best non-Brown prospects to get him. Flags fly forever, but it will take a long time for the Philly farm system to recover from this trade.

  • Joe Nathan is a nice week away from moving up in tiers. He's showing he's healthy and in his last three appearances, the strikeout rate seems to be returning as well. Maybe Carlos Marmol can move up with him. He's closing again and has had two straight clean slate appearances - with no walks. He's always going to have the high WHIP, but steadying the ship means he can be valuable for strikeout rate and saves.

  • Heck, Fernando Salas could even move up. Now that he survived the trade deadline with his role intact, and his manager has shown the confidence to put him out there after a blown save or two, there's not that much to dislike about Salas. He has more than four strikeouts to every walk, he hasn't given up a ton of home runs, and he's only blown three saves on the year. Also, the other options in the pen suddenly don't look as attractive. With Eduardo Sanchez gone, Mitchell Boggs is probably the handcuff. He got the last non-Salas save at least. Jason Motte is still there.

  • Kevin Gregg is still a poor closer, but he's even safer this week then he was last week. Koji Uehara is now in Texas, and there goes Gregg's biggest competitor for the closer's role. Jim Johnson is interesting, but his manager just said that he might get some starts before the end of the season. Alfredo Simon has done the job before, but he's got some legal issues and just started a game himself. Guess Gregg will keep his job despite his mediocrity. He's just so bad of a pitcher that he needs to move down anyway.

  • Chris Perez continues to pitch poorly in Cleveland. He's now allowed five runs in his last 5 1/3 innings, with four strikeouts against four walks. He hasn't blown a save in the last week, but that might have only been because the team didn't give him a chance to. Still, with his ERA where it is, and the fact that he's somehow only blown two saves during all of this, he might be safe. Vinny Pestano is the handcuff, even if he just lost the game Tuesday night.

  • Hey Francisco Cordero found the ability to strike people out again. He has six strikeouts in his last four innings. That's a tiny sample, but it's a heck of an improvement from his early July work. Aroldis Chapman lurks.

  • 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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