Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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2 New Closers, 1 Worthy Pickup

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Republican debates were earlier this week and… no, we're not going political here. We're going to lower the level of discourse even further -- and you thought that wasn't possible.


We're going to name these closer tiers after comeback lines from our collective past. If we do hear any of these in the coming election season, you'll know we've really gone off the rails. (If we haven't already.)

Tier 1: Elite (5) (AKA: The "I'm rubber, you're glue" Tier.)

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


  • This is the classic comeback line to end all classic comeback lines. Unfortunately it's not applicable when a closer is hucking a 95 MPH fastball at you. That would be strange.
  • Jonathan Papelbon must be burning some rubber -- he walked two batters last week. That's the first time he's done that all year. They were the first batters he walked sine July 10th. Once his team gets right, he'll rack up five or six saves in the final two weeks and his overall line will look as dominant as his peripherals have been all season. Craig Kimbrel blew a save this last week, and that wouldn't be worrisome at all if he didn't also have five walks in his last ten innings and a history of control problems in the minor leagues. Just remember that when you start thinking about keepers, especially since closers don't make for great keepers anyway. Is Mariano Rivera, newly of 600 saves, worth keeping? Another question to be unpacked later.

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "No you are but what am I" Tier.)

J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals


  • This comeback suffers a little from inviting more abuse, but it's also another classic that reaches way back into our past.
  • Wow. J.J. Putz now has 12 strikeouts and one walk in his last ten outings. That brings his strikeout-to-walk ratio for the year above five-to-one. Amazingly, that still puts him behind Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon (as well as Koji Uehara and both Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street), but it's a top-ten number and that makes him the elite… when healthy.
  • Ryan Madson continues to rise in the rankings. He finally knows he's a closer and what are you? You are enjoying an elite reliever who really has been great for three years now. Three years ago he also bumped up his velocity three or four miles per hour and upped his usage of his excellent changeup. It's much more likely that those things have lead to his current ability to close, not some weird mind-set change or a sudden love of high leverage situations. In other words, since he's made those changes, he could (should?) have been closing all this time.
  • Still no blown saves for Jose Valverde. Still too many walks. Andrew Bailey had a scare with a batted ball in batting practice, but his head is okay and there's no reason to reach for Grant Balfour right now. Joakim Soria moves up because he's put up seven straight zeroes and has only walked one batter in his last nine outings (against 13 strikeouts). He's starting to look like his Mexcellence of old.

Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Takes one to know one" Tier.)

Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins
Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers 


  • Honestly, this one might be better than the comeback in the second tier, but it's just not as iconic. Also, if memory serves correctly, this one sometimes stumped people. Mostly in a good way, but still… it's nice to see that zinger recognized immediately, you know?
  • Joe Nathan is headed north at some point. Since his velocity has returned, he's had much better peripherals. He has struck out 13 batters in his last 9 1/3 innings, and only walked two. His ERA will slowly improve as he gets more comfortable, too. Heath Bell, on the other hand, is headed south. He gave up his fifth save of the season on Sunday, by allowing two home runs in Arizona, without racking up a strikeout. Why his strikeout rate fell so sharply in one year is a mystery.
  • Neftali Feliz has really righted ship over the past month. Since August 9th (yes, a day after blown save), he hasn't given up a run. Better yet, he's only given up three hits in those 13 1/3 innings. He's still showing wonky control (eight walks), but the strikeouts are back (14).

Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "That's what she said" Tier.)

Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
Mark Melancon, Houston Astros
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers


  • The non-sequitir is truly the question mark of comebacks. If the last one left people wondering what you meant, this one will just leave them wondering. Ah, but it will defuse the situation. (It also might have been "Your momma [insert what they said about you]" depending on your particular set of friends.)
  • Jason Motte is rising fast. He's clearly the closer in St. Louis, and he even recorded his first Kimbrel on Monday. There's really not much to worry about with him. He gets ground balls where Fernando Salas didn't, so he's less likely to give up the game-losing home run. Other than that, they both had great strikeout and walk rates. He's probably even a decent keeper closer, depending on how well he does over the next two weeks.
  • Kyle Farnsworth has a tender elbow. It's hard to tell how big of a deal it is, but he hasn't pitched since Saturday. His team is suddenly back in the race for the postseason, though, so they'll try to nurse him to health quickly. Joel Peralta is the interim closer, and he debuted in the role with a Kimbrel, so he has some skills. Still, he doesn't have great platoon splits and is a little more volatile than the goggled professor Farns. This is probably a temporary issue, but we'll demote him for it.
  • Francisco Cordero is still getting saves and they're still talking about negotiating a long-term deal. And Aroldis Chapman is still a better pitcher, and cheaper. Javy Guerra was primed to move ahead of him because of the news that Jonathan Broxton is done for the year. With Broxton being a free agent, Guerra suddenly becomes the favorite for saves next year too. Don't sleep on Kenley Jansen, who has better stuff than Guerra and has been corralling the ball better this year. Oh, and Guerra has had control issues in the past… and blew the save Tuesday night with three walks, including the decisive one with the bases loaded. He's a bit of a risk, and deep league dynasty players should be looking at Jansen now.



Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Your face is [insert insult]" Tier.)

1st Chair: Rafael Betancourt, 2nd Chair: Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
1st Chair: Frank Francisco, 2nd Chair: Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
1st Chair: Leo Nunez, 2nd Chair: Edward Mujica, Florida Marlins
1st Chair: Jim Johnson, 2nd Chair: Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles
1st Chair: Manny Acosta, 2nd Chair: Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
1st Chair: Sergio Romo, 2nd Chair: Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants


  • You're really hurting when you resort to this comeback. You're mostly hurting when you resort to these closers, too.
  • Well, Rafael Betancourt is an excellent reliever. He has 66 strikeouts against eight walks! If you're thinking about picking him up and dropping any other closer in this tier (and probably even the tier above), you should do so right now. The problem is that Huston Street is there, too, and he has a 54 strikeouts to nine walks. He's not much worse, and he has years of closing experience behind him. If you are at all thinking about next year, Huston Street still figures into this equation. And don't worry, we'll do a keeper ranking for these closers soon in order to help separate these issues.
  • In the same way, Frank Francisco is relatively safe now that Jon Rauch is done for the year and headed for surgery. He's been pitching well, too. But his season speaks to his risk: he's lost the job before. And the Jays, looking to next year, might try Casey Janssen in the role. He's under team control for another year, and Francisco is a free agent.
  • Leo Nunez is back on the horse. That is to say, he's getting saves. And the slates are clean since his blowup at the end of August (six straight outings). But he's still risky because of all those fly balls -- and therefore home runs.
  • Now we get to the true chances for saves on your waiver wire. Jim Johnson has converted three straight saves and Kevin Gregg has been terrible this year. But then Gregg got on opportunity Saturday… and blew it. This can't last much longer, and Johnson got the save Tuesday night. JJ is a great waiver-wire pickup for saves. And he's even under team control for longer than Gregg, so this might last. We've been telling you how bad Gregg has been all year, and finally the Orioles decided they couldn't see much more of it.
  • The Mets also provide a chance for saves on the wire, but none of the Met options is very tempting at the moment. Bobby Parnell has been getting into games too early to seem like a viable closer candidate, Jason Isringhausen is hurt, and now Manny Acosta (aka The Acostapalypse) looks like the last man standing. In head-to-head leagues, you might as well turn that spot into a streamer at this point. Acosta probably won't be worth his roster spot just for a save or two. But in roto, you never know. You could be close enough that the save might make a difference. Just watch your innings pitched pace!
  • The Giants are just losing too often to know who the closer is right now. Sergio Romo pitched the ninth in their extra-inning win Tuesday night, and he's probably the guy. But Brian Wilson is nearing a return.

* * * * * * * * * *


Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants (elbow)


  • Brian Wilson threw a 19-pitch bullpen Monday and now his manager is optimistic he'll get back out there before the season is over. At this point, that might mean a save… or a strikeout or two.

The Deposed:

Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles
Ryan Franklin, St. Louis
Brandon Lyon, Houston
Matt Thornton, Chicago A.L.
Vicente Padilla, Los Angeles Dodgers
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee
David Aardsma, Seattle
Jason Isringhausen, New York
Jon Rauch, Toronto
Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles


  • A knee situation felled Jon Rauch for good, while Jonathon Broxton lost his battle with his elbow. Both intense closers will be in the mix for jobs next year, but who knows where.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Steals Department

  • Willie Bloomquist has no power and the 34-year-old stole only 25 bases in his best speed year, so he's no demon. But 25 is 25, and even if he achieved that number in 2009, it hasn't been that long since. 25 is 25 even if he's been successful on less than two-thirds of his attempts this year -- the break-even point for the value of a steal and usually a good predictor of future stolen base attempts. The best thing about Bloomquist is that while he's the starting shortstop for the Diamondbacks, he's probably eligible at third and the outfield as well, depending on your league's settings. He's held fairly steady at .270 in the batting average department, too, which is way safer than Dee Gordon and Alcides Escobar, the other two best infield options if you are looking for speed.
  • Matt Angle is a little too old to be a prospect (25) and hasn't hit better than .271 in a full season above Single-A. He had no power in the minor leagues and probably won't give you a good batting average. But what are you going to do, it's the end of the season. Your deep league waiver wire probably looks like a war zone replete with "DL" and "NA" emblazoned in red next to all of your options. Angle is neither disabled nor not applicable if you're looking for speed. He's the backup at all three outfield positions in Baltimore, the defensive replacement, and the pinch runner as well. Of course, if Nolan Reimold is still available in your league, he has more power, is playing for his job next year, and has been surprisingly stealing bases. Reimold first, but Angle second in that 12-team AL-only where you just need a stolen base or two in the final weeks to fend off a challenge in that department.

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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