Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Parnell Throws Gas, Will Close

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday night marked the deadline for teams to sign their draft picks, and action was fast and furious all the way up until clock struck midnight.

Or, that is to say, it was fast and furious among the hard-core fans. It's hard for many to get very excited about a bunch of names they didn't know who might or might not make it to the major leagues. Still, it's fun to dream of the future, especially when your team is out of it.

In that honor, we'll name the tiers after the best values in the history of baseball's draft. Even if your team missed out on signing their first or second pick this week, they might just have uncovered the next Mike Piazza, who was famously selected in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather.

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Albert Pujols, 13th round, Pick #402" Tier.)

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

  • Yeah. The King was drafted in the 13th round. There were concerns he might not be able to stay at catcher, or third base, and that he wouldn't have the bat for first. Whoops!

  • Seriously, any calls that Mariano Rivera is done are overblown. Yeah, he's blown as many saves as last year, and he's given up home runs in two of his past three appearances, but that's still only three home runs on the year. Even pointing out his career-worst ground-ball rate is picking the nits. He's still Mo and he still has the cutter.

  • Still, no closer is going to assail Jonathan Papelbon's position at the top if he keeps pitching like this. In his past ten outings, he has three baserunners. And no walks. And 11 strikeouts. Even if Craig Kimbrel has more Kimbrels, and Joel Hanrahan has more saves (and somehow avoided his third blown save of the season despite giving up the tying run Tuesday night), Papelbon carries the crown another week.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Roy Oswalt, 23rd round, Pick #684" Tier.)

    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers

  • It's doubtful that there were three players better in Roy Oswalt's draft, let alone 683. Even on the tail end of his career, Oswalt has shown pinpoint control and strikeout stuff. He managed to survive in a hitter's park and put the Astros on his back for years. No wonder his back hurts now.

  • Andrew Bailey drops in this tier, and it's not only about the game he blew against Texas Sunday. What is worrisome is that he has five walks in his last nine outings. That might not sound so terrible, but to put this in perspective, Bailey has eight walks in 25 1/3 innings this year. He had 13 walks in 49 innings last year. He's had some arm issues, and any loss of control would have to be a red flag. Grant Balfour is the backup after Brian Fuentes burned bridges in the organization with his public comments, most likely.

  • On a full-year basis, Jose Valverde is still a shaky entrant into this tier. He's still walking batters at a career-high rate, and striking them out at a career-worst rate. He's also lost the nice ground-ball rate he showed last year for the first time in his career. But! He still strikes out about a batter per nine, and he hasn't blown a save all year. He could be living just enough, just enough for the city (of Detroit).

  • Tier 3: OK options (9) (AKA: The "Ian Kinsler, 17th round, Pick #496" />" Tier.)

    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
    Fernando Salas, St. Louis Cardinals
    Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins
    Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies

  • Maybe his low batting average scares you off in some fantasy leagues, but Ian Kinsler's blend of power, patience at speed at an infield position makes him one of baseball's best real-life players. That almost five hundred players went before him seems unbelievable, but then again it's obvious that he's worked on his ability to make contact as he's matured. Looks like scouts just never thought he could make it this far.

  • In a lot of ways, Jordan Walden is a better pitcher than Jose Valverde. He gets more strikeouts. He issues fewer walks. More of his contact travels along the ground. He has more velocity. He has more long-term upside, given his age and stuff. But the games are still played, and Walden just blew his eighth save, which leads the league. As long as his manager can look past his results and instead focus on the process, Walden should keep his job. But the BS often catches eyes, so Walden drops to represent this risk.

  • Sergio Santos had another save snatched from his fingers this week when Ozzie Guillen opted to use Chris Sale to pitch to two lefties in the ninth inning against the Royals. Again, this is a smart way to go -- platooning relievers makes the best use of their skills -- but it will cost Santos owner saves going forward. Santos cost himself a save Tuesday night, but it wasn't a blowup. He's safe for now.

  • Brian Wilson is in trouble. Not with the law, but something is not right. He's walking a batter more than usual and his swinging strike rate is at a career low as well. He's gotten a little unlucky on batted balls, and he still has a strong mix of whiffs and grounders, but this isn't the same Brian Wilson we had last year. He has five walks in his last five appearances and blew a save spectacularly against the Braves on Monday. His back hurts, too. With Sergio Romo on the DL, it looks like Jeremy Affeldt would be next, but it also looks like the Giants may sink or swim with Wilson anyway. If you think his walk rate is not a problem, consider that Carlos Marmol only has four more walks then Wilson… and 25 more strikeouts. That's why he moves up past Wilson despite blowing his own save Tuesday night.

  • Why move Fernando Salas, Joe Nathan, and Ryan Madson up in a wholesale move? Because the tiers were a little off. In an effort to keep these tiers even, we might have pushed some guys too far down. But so many things in our lives are normally distributed: meaning that they fall in a bell curve pattern. There are a few elite players, a big chunk in the middle, and then a few really bad players. Consider this the chunk in the middle. All of these closers have slight question marks that keep them from the elite, even if Salas blew a save Tuesday night. None of them are really question marks as the next tier is labeled.

    Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Kevin Youkilis, 8th round, Pick #243" Tier.)

    Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
    Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
    Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles
    Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
    Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
    Mark Melancon, Houston Astros

  • The Greek God of Walks, Kevin Youkilis, is a great player in his own right. But the eighth round is not quite the dead zone as the double-digit rounds. Cliff Lee was also picked in this round, and high-upside players with question marks often fall this far. So, great pick Sox, but not greatest pick.

  • Now the tiers look a little better. These guys aren't quite roller coasters, but there are legit question marks about each. The 'king' of this tier is Leo Nunez, who just blew a save and hurt himself in the process. A comebacker nipped his pitching hand, but he stayed in the game. Really, Nunez is a strong pitcher -- he has a better than three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio -- but he does have a gopheritis problem. Good thing he pitches in a nice home park. Mike Dunn and Edward Mujica are next on the depth chart but Nunez got right back on the horse with a save Tuesday night.

  • This is why the tiers needed to be changed: Closers like Kyle Farnsworth, Kevin Gregg, Francisco Cordero, Javy Guerra and Mark Melancon are flawed closers, but they are relatively safe. Call it a flashing yellow -- you'll probably proceed, but you never know when a truck is barreling towards the intersection.

  • Of these closers, Farnsworth and his pinpoint control this year (eight walks in 46 innings) might have the best 'true talent' but it doesn't take much more than a look at his career ratios to know that he could implode as well. If Co-Co Cordero didn't have a nice ERA and WHIP, he'd be in more trouble. He barely has a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and the flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman is breathing fire down his back. The rest don't really have much behind them -- Gregg has Jim Johnson, who is starting some too, Melancon has Wilton Lopez most likely, and Guerra is just hoping Jonathan Broxton doesn't get healthy in time. The lack of competition mean they deserve a higher ranking than their talent demands.

  • 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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