Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Is the end near for Perez?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We're right in the middle of the hottest portion of our schedule. Hot, with a major chance of freaky on the East Coast right now, what with the hurricanes and earthquakes and the like.

But hot is the main word that y'all will be thinking this week while many of you are on your well-deserved breaks. But there's good hot and bad hot and just plain mean hot.

So this week, right here at the end of August, we'll name the tiers after different kinds of heat. It's on your mind anyway, and it dovetails nicely with all these pitchers throwing five kinds of heat. Stay cool!

Tier 1: Elite (3) (AKA: The "Peal your skin off the car's leather seats" Tier.)

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

  • Isn't this one of the worst feelings, like, ever? It's worth putting an ugly towel on your seats even if it kills your game. If you leave half your thigh on the car seat, you won't have much game anyway.

  • Jonathan Papelbon is ridiculous. He's only allowed two baserunners in his last ten outings. Two. That's no walks, and two singles. His last walk was on July 10th. He has no walks in the second half. He hasn't given up a run in over a month. He has eight strikeouts to every walk. Is there any other way to describe his awesomeness? Oh -- facing him is like trying to peal your legs off of a hot leather seat.

  • Craig Kimbrel has walked four in his last ten appearances, and it's worth wondering if he's a little gassed. He's seventh in innings among relievers. Along with Venters, he is part of the most-used pair of pitchers in baseball. Still, the Braves have brought up Arodys Vizcaino to help in the pen, and they'll rest their big guy to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Just means his owners might lose a save or two down the stretch.

  • Joel Hanrahan is on shaky ground in this elite tier. He has walked four and struck out none in his last four, and he lost two games in that stretch as well. It's probably just a tough stretch against two decent offenses in the Reds and Cardinals, but it bears some watching, given the fact that Hanrahan doesn't have the pedigree of the other guys in this tier.

  • Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Smelly subway car and dehydration headache" Tier.)

    John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
    Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
    J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
    Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
    Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

  • How about those days in your average major metropolis where you're hurrying to work a little late, perhaps a tiny bit hung over, trying to make that train, elbow your way into the car, and find that you're stuck in the one with the broken air conditioner? Dreamy! Stinky! Steamy!

  • Andrew Bailey had a little three-game stretch of stinky, steamy work, but he's righted the ship, seemingly. And that stretch really wasn't that bad - he lost one game, and gave up three earned in three innings. Even his near-blown-save against the Yankees was against a pretty good offense. He's fine. Jose Valverde also blew a game, but had the help of the defense. Even if one of the errors was his own, it's not that bad a sign.

  • Let's give Drew Storen some propers. In his first full year as the Nationals' closer, he's only blown four saves, has a sub-three ERA, and has survived multiple trade rumors. We could focus on the fact that his strikeout rate is about average for a late-inning closer, and the fact that it's built on an average whiff rate so might not improve. But that would ignore the fact that he gets about half his contact on the ground and has excellent control. Maybe his curveball is gone, but his 95 MPH fastball and 84 MPH slider are getting the job done. Well done, Stanford grad!

  • Tier 3: OK options (9) (AKA: The "Insta-sweat and insta-pit-stain" Tier.)

    Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
    Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
    Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
    Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
    Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
    Fernando Salas, St. Louis Cardinals
    Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins
    Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies

  • Some days are pure antiperspirant advertisements. Pick your colors carefully on these days because you never know what sort of crazy designs your sweat might come up with for your underarms.

  • Heath Bell has to be sweating a little bit. Well, not literally, because San Diego is some sort of freakish perfect weather phenomenon, but figuratively. He's been placed on waivers and might actually leave town a month after we all thought he would. If someone can beat the value of the picks the Padres figure to get when Bell signs somewhere else in free agency, he can be had. Luke Gregerson is probably next in line. The team controls his contract for three more years, and he has a wicked slider. His strikeout rate is down this year, and his results have been up and down, but he's been dealing with injury and his swinging strike rate is still way above average. He's a decent closer in waiting.

  • Man, Jordan Walden keeps finding ways to blow games. This week, he blew a game without allowing a run! That's because he inherited ducks on the pond in the eighth inning, allowed a meek single to plate one, and then went on to record five outs with two strikeouts. He's a testament to the fact that blown saves are not a great way to evaluate your closer. Tuesday night, he got right back on the horse with a clean-slate two-strikeout save against the White Sox.

  • Fernando Salas did not have a good week upon entry into his new tier. He gave up a walk-off home run to Neil Walker in Pittsburgh, and then came on with a man on base and a 1-0 lead only to allow a triple to Aaron Miles and a run-producing fielder's choice to Rod Barajas. What are you going to do? Walker runs into one every once in a while, and Miles… well, don't know what happened there. Salas is a fly-ball guy, but he gets strikeouts and has great control, so he'll be fine.

  • Ryan Madson had one of those terrible, no-good, very-bad days last week, or he'd move up in the tier. In Washington, he allowed a single to Jayson Werth, a single to Danny Espinosa, a single to Jonny Gomes, got a free out from a Wilson Ramos sacrifice, intentionally walked Jesus Flores, gave up a single to Ian Desmond, struck out Rick Ankiel… and allowed a walk-off grand slam to Ryan Zimmerman. As long as this doesn't affect his much-maligned psyche, he'll also be fine. He's an excellent pitcher.

  • Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Uncomfortably roasty: gleaming at the game" Tier.)

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

  • Ever seen a day game in August in Atlanta? You can see the sweat on the fans faces from the comfort of your living room. That sort of heat makes it hard to enjoy your dehydrating adult soda and your salty snack.

  • The goggled professor Kyle Farnsworth is teaching this tier how it works. If he didn't have those career numbers holding him back, and wasn't on a team that, even if they pick up his option for next year, may not consider him a long-term option at the position… well, then he'd be up in the next tier already. He might move up soon anyway.

  • Leo Nunez! Is it time for his late season swoon again? Nine runs in his last three outings, with two blown saves. He's a fly ball guy, and he gave up a home run in one of the blown saves, but he's also walked three guys in that stretch. Nunez is good enough to be a closer while he's cheap, and in a nice home park, but be wary of him if he leaves Florida. And the team may look to trade him in the offseason, as he only has one season of arbitration left.

  • Javy Guerra blew his first save of the season, which wouldn't really be news normally, but his control has faltered slightly recently. He has three walks in his last eight outings, and that's a worse walk rate than he's been showing. It still doesn't sound bad, does it? Here's the thing though, before this season, his minor league walk rate was over five per nine. That's really bad, and it's probably in the back of his mind even now that he's halved that rate so far this year.

  • What are you going to do, though? Sure, trade him in your keeper league if the deadline hasn't passed and you have extra saves or are out of it. Or drop him in your shallow league if there are better options on the wire. Like Mark Melancon, though, Guerra is alone in a bad pen. Mark Melancon has blown two of his last four chances, with home runs, but he's probably not going anywhere either. Mediocre strikeout rates and iffy control? Sure, if they come with saves.

  • 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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