Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Soria's Hammy, Holland's Opus

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The die has been (mostly) cast. The chips have (mostly) fallen. It's (almost) the end of the season. So we're here to give you (just a little) help for that final push.


This will be your last (regular) Saves and Steals of the year. Next week, we'll do a keeper ranking in order to help you prepare for the offseason (which you hopefully enter victoriously). In that manner, we'll name the tiers after fantasy baseball victories.


You know that they are not all created equally. Some victories are sweeter than others.

Tier 1: Elite (5) (AKA: The "Last day, last start, last strikeout puts you over the top of your brother/best friend in your hyper-competitive money league" Tier.)

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


  • There's nothing better than beating a close friend or a family member, unless it's beating them on the last day in a close matchup. Allow yourself a victory dance. Or ten.
  • And don't hold Mariano Rivera's celebrations this week against him. He's the best closer of all time. Yeah, Craig Kimbrel may have twice as many strikeouts, but the Atlanta wunderkind is just now starting out on his major league career and has many more years before we could even put him in the same sentence as Mo. (Well other than that sentence right there.) Jonathan Papelbon may have 40% more strikeouts than Mo, and might top our keeper rankings next week, but let the Yankee great have a few more days atop the heap. We'll blame it on Papelbon's second (!) blown save of the year Tuesday night.
  • But when it comes down to names that are a little further down in this tier, yes, yes we can hold a 40% difference in strikeouts against a guy. That's why John Axford is still here, at least. He gets you tons of strikeours to go with his saves.

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "A push over the last week steals that final point to win your modest money league by a half-point." Tier.)


Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Jordan Walden, Anaheim Angels

  • A win is a win, and gummibears are gummibears. Similarly, all of these closers have generally given you what you expected of them. You could easily have put together a cheap bullpen made up of these guys and be in the money right now.
  • In fact, this tier is a one-tier argument for not spending too much on your closers. Another failed starter, Joel Hanrahan is also a great argument for real-life teams to do the same thing and find their closers rather than draft them. Even if his declining strikeout rate has dropped him into the very good tier, his improvement in control has made him look like a solid closer for the forseeable future. Also, make sure that you pay attention to closers that took the role late in the season. Hanrahan actually became the closer late last year and his save total kept him artificially low on draft lists going into this year.
  • Drew Storen continues to improve his strikeout rate, which bodes well for his future. He now has 13 in his last ten outings (and two saves in the doubleheader on Tuesday). With his better control and ground-ball rates in his sophomore season, this Stanford grad has moved to the head of his class. Next year, he'll likely give up fewer home runs even (given his ground-ball ratios) and look even better.
  • Sure, Jordan Walden had some off-days this season. Off-weeks even. He blew nine saves, more than anyone in ball, too. But he has a plus strikeout rate built on plus velocity and a crazy jump-step delivery. And he's been slowly better his walk rate over the course of the season. He's now gone since June 26th since walking two batters in one appearance, and has six walks total in the 24 appearances since. He's also been unsecured upon in September, and only gave up one run in August. He's not without risk -- see his strange delivery and wonky control -- but he's also a young closer under team control, which often make for good investments in fantasy.

Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "A small margin of victory over your co-workers is marred by the fact that you work at an art-house indy magazine and no one has seen a game in years" Tier.)

Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs


  • Maybe it's a little more prevalent in football leagues, but it always seems like there's one league you're in where a good portion of the players know very little about the sport in question. How did that happen? Who knows. It's okay that you beat up on the little kids. You still win.
  • It's okay, Andrew Bailey. You're still a closer and you're still saving ball games. You're pretty good, even. He's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and this year his luck has turned a little on those fly balls. A few more home runs means a higher ERA. Even with his excellent control and swinging strikes. And his injury history is sorta scary too.
  • Brandon League just put up his first Kimbrel of the year, and that's important. He doesn't have the same strikeout rates as the other closers in his tier, so the occasional three-strikeout game really improves his value. He's had great control all year, though, and deserves his ranking despite being behind in one category.
  • We'll accelerate the movement of Jason Motte and Rafael Betancourt up the rankings because there's only a week left and neither should lose their job over the next week. Both guys have great peripherals and the public backing of their managers. Shallow leaguers might consider picking them up for the final week if their ratios are very important to them.
  • The bottom of this tier might be called Yesterday's Elite. Carlos Marmol just didn't show the near-unbelievable strikeout rate he had last year, and you see that his control needed that gaudy strikeout rate to work. He's an incredible risk year-to-year and even day-to-day. Sean Marshall even got the last save in his pen. Heath Bell lost his power, Neftali Feliz lost his control, and Joe Nathan lost his power and control after his surgery. The younger guys might be better bets to return to grace, but at least all of them still have jobs this year and should keep them the rest of the way.

Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "Your keeper league team shows its age and loses steam, and only a spurt of streaming keeps you from falling to second place on the last day" Tier.)

Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
Frank Francisco, Toronto Blue Jays
Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Mark Melancon, Houston Astros
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians


  • In this case, you know you won but there's doom on the horizon. Your players are getting older, and you lost one of your few young arms to Tommy John surgery. You're not sure how to revamp the team, and yet you won, so who's to say you need to revamp the team. Your faithful Saves and Steals correspondent has a dynasty team headed for just this sort of conclusion, after five years of winning. So it happens! In just the same way, this tier is filled with players that will keep their job the rest of the year, and will do the job that is required of them, but that doesn't mean that doom is not on the horizon.
  • Think about it. There isn't a guy on this list that doesn't have an Achilles Heel. Francisco Cordero is not striking anyone out and is baseball old. Frank Francisco and Leo Nunez have bouts of gopheritis because they are extreme fly ball pitchers. Even Jim Johnson doesn't strike anyone out and Mark Melancon is below-average there too. Chris Perez walks people and doesn't strike people out either. Javy Guerra has been okay, but only okay -- and has a history of control problems. Obviously some of these flaws are a little embellished for the sake of this paragraph, but it's true. They are not great pitchers.
  • Of course there are mitigating factors. Jim Johnson doesn't strike a ton of batters out, but he could be a Brandon League closer if they try him in the role again next year. He gets grounders. Mark Melancon actually has a decent ground-ball rate, too, and more strikeouts. There's still a chance he develops into a top-shelf closer even if he's been up and down so far.
  • Chris Perez, though. Not sure there's any mitigating circumstance for him. He's got the worst ground-ball rate among closers, one of the worst strikeout rates, and walks more than four per nine. he's had bad control his whole career, so he really needs to get those strikeouts back. And for some reason his swinging strike rate has declined every year he's been the bigs. He's not fooling people and he's not getting grounders. Stay away next year.

Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "After dominating from Opening Day to October, you pulverize nine other randoms in a ten-team public mixed league" Tier.)

1st Chair: Brian Wilson, 2nd Chair: Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
1st Chair: Greg Holland, 2nd Chair: Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth, 2nd Chair: Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays
1st Chair: Manny Acosta, 2nd Chair: Bobby Parnell, New York Mets


  • There was a time when these wins were exciting. But as you've gotten better at fantasy baseball, beating a bunch of randoms for no gummibears provides little satisfaction. Resolve to find more competition next year to avoid this empty feeling.
  • Brian Wilson is probably the closer, but he's only pitched once since he returned. Santiago Casilla got the last save, too. Who knows what happens when the Giants are officially eliminated, too. Both guys just have to be owned for now in deeper leagues.
  • It looks like Joakim Soria's hammy might keep him out for the rest of the season. Go get Greg Holland if you need saves! Holland has been playing a masterpiece this year, with a great strikeout rate, an above-average walk rate, and an average ground-ball rate. Go get him. 
  • Joel Peralta has the last two saves in Tampa Bay, so maybe he should be listed first. It looks like Professor Kyle Farnsworth felt good after testing his arm Wednesday, and while the team is still in it, they have reason to try and get him on the mound. Again, both guys have to be owned in deep leagues.
  • Manny Acosta has the last two saves for the New York Mets, but the first was two weeks ago. If you're sensing a trend, you are. Both guys should be onwed in the deepest of leagues, even if the Mets won't be offering up many save opportunities. Manny Acosta was going to the be the closer Tuesday night, but then the team lost by five runs. Scratch that, maybe neither shold be owned.


* * * * * * * * * *


With the expanded rosters, injured players are still on rosters. Call it the curse of the day-to-day. Maybe Joakim Soria belongs here, but he's day-to-day and is not on the DL. Sigh.


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
Kevin Gregg, Orioles


  • Is it mean-spirited to be happy that Kevin Gregg finally made it onto this list after pitching poorly all year? No. Enjoy it for a whole week!

* * * * * * * * * *

The Steals Department

  • We've talked about Dee Gordon before, but did you know he's headed to San Diego this weekend and that the Padres are the second-worst team in baseball when it comes to stopping the running game? They give up .87 steals per game, meaning Gordon should get two this weekend. Two steals, even if it will come with no (negative?) power, cold win your championship matchup, couldn't it? The Houston Astros are the worst team in the league by caught stealing percentage, and they get the Rockies over the weekend. Dexter Fowler is available in two-thirds of leagues, so check that angle out if Gordon is gone. Lastly, Ted Lilly is the worst pitcher when it comes to allowing stolen bases, and he faces the Padres on Friday. Cameron Maybin might be gone, but Jason Bartlett has 23 steals and is probably available for you. Good luck streaming for steals!
  • Matt Angle and Nolan Reimold last week, Robert Andino this week. We love marginal Baltimore Orioles in the deep league portion of the Steals Department, don't we. But here's the thing, the Orioles will see a lot of the Red Sox over the rest of this year. And the Red Sox give up the most stolen bases in the major leagues -- almost a full stolen base a game. Jason Varitek is getting older and Jarrod Saltalamacchia was never that good at throwing runners out. Andino stole his 11th Tuesday night just because he could, and Nolan Reimold chipped in for good measure. Just your average big lunky corner outfielder first baseman type, stealing bases. Check who's got the Red Sox -- and if John Lackey or Josh Beckett are pitching, especially -- pick up a speedster going up against them. Those two pitchers are both in the top ten in stolen bases allowed.

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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