Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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It Takes Two to Handcuff

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "David McCarty and Jeff Branson" Tier.)


Ernesto Frieri (first chair), Scott Downs (second chair), Los Angeles Angels
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Brandon League (second chair), Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard (first chair), Sean Burnett (second chair), Washington Nationals
Ryan Cook (first chair), Brian Fuentes (second chair), Sean Doolittle (third chair), Oakland Athletics
Shawn Camp (first chair), Carlos Marmol (second chair), James Russell (third chair), Chicago Cubs
Casey Janssen (first chair), Francisco Cordero (second chair), Jason Frasor (third chair), Toronto Blue Jays


Twins first baseman David McCarty wasn't quite the worst rookie ever by WAR -- that feat belongs to another former Twin in Christian Guzman -- but he did share a debut year with Jeff Branson in 1993. That year, the two of them combined to hit five home runs in nearly 600 plate appearances, and they didn't make up for it with any patience. Together they cost their respective teams over four wins combined, the worst for any pair of qualified rookies in a single calendar year. At least they were atop the leaderboard in a category? These closers probably won't lead any categories at all.


Yes, on talent, Ernesto Frieri is no David McCarty, and yes, he might actually lead some leaderboards (particularly strikeout rate ones). He's more of an Albert Pujols actually (most rookie WAR), since his funky release and great movement make his 93 mph fastball nearly invisible. But Scott Downs is still getting saves chances -- he had one Sunday. This is a real tandem, and if that's the case, the split in saves would most likely reflect the 1/2 vs. 2/3 split in the league's batter handedness. Downs gets the lefty-heavy lineups 1/4 of the time, Frieri gets the rest. Without that quirk, Frieri would jump up a tier-plus.


The Mariners have made some noise about moving Brandon League back into the ninth, and they have used their erstwhile closer as the setup man recently, so League is back in the mix. But right now, Wilhelmsen is the better pitcher. He's striking out double-digit batters per nine and is showing above-average control for once. Everything about what he's doing looks sustainable -- even if his control regresses a little, he has the strikeout punch to erase innings. League, on the other hand, has had inconsistent control over his career, and right now is showing a bad walk rate. His ground balls have also disappeared. He gave up two earned on four hits in his last eighth inning appearance, and that might have given Wilhelmsen more leash.


Tyler Clippard is the sole closer in Washington, but we're back to playing the "All Year" game -- is there any chance he's the closer the rest of the year? It doesn't seem likely, with Drew Storen on his way back. Clippard was probably always the best pick to replace Storen, but it took Henry Rodriguez to predictably walk a lineup or two for the team to see the light. While Storen is out, Clippard's backup is lefty Sean Burnett.


There's a new closer in our midst. Ryan Cook got his first save… and walked a guy. That's going to happen. He has 27 strikeouts and 16 walks in 27 innings, and his minor league career showed some bad walk rates, too. Keep Brian Fuentes close, maybe, since Sean Doolittle is pitching in the (sixth and) seventh in tight games, but Cook could take this and run with it. Grant Balfour is droppable -- they're shopping him and he pitched in the seventh Tuesday night.


We put Shawn Camp as the closer before he ever got a save, and there he was Tuesday night… saving a game for… Carlos Marmol. That bullpen is probably worse than New York's (okay definitely worse), but that's your relevant duo, considering James Russell has such terrible platoon splits.


Every piece of bad news for Sergio Santos is good news for Casey Janssen. Janssen isn't great -- his only elite rate is his walk rate, and his mediocre strikeout rate isn't backed up by a great ground-ball rate -- but he's better than his partner in crime, Jason Frasor… probably. Well, at least while Frasor can't find the plate. In fact, if Santos loses the year, Frasor becomes an interesting own. He's got the best swinging strike rate of his career.


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Andrew Bailey (thumb), Boston Red Sox
Kyle Farnsworth (elbow), Tampa Bay Rays
Drew Storen (elbow), Washington Nationals
Sergio Santos (shoulder), Toronto Blue Jays


Bad news. Sergio Santos felt renewed discomfort in his throwing shoulder last week and had to be shut back down. There's no timetable for him now.  Andrew Bailey is playing catch and might be back soon, but Kyle Farnsworth actually has a target date -- June 28. Drew Storen is throwing off a mound and feels good, so he's probably the second-closest on this list.


The Deposed


Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds  
Henry Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Rafael Dolis, Chicago Cubs


Let's not put Brian Fuentes here just yet, but he's destined for this list for sure. James Russell might be too, although his reign on the top was short like leprechauns.


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The Steals Department


There's a trio of speedsters atop the leaderboard for steals this year, and all of them are sparsely owned. That might be because Tony Campana, Juan Pierre, and Jordan Schafer are all left-handed and are better used in a platoon (or actually used in a platoon in real life). Here's an idea for those that are hurting in steals but weren't that interested in one of these guys because of they don't play every day: create your own platoon. Pick up two of these guys and make sure you always have a banjo-hitting speed-only lefty facing a righty in your lineup. Hey, Tony Campana leads the majors in stolen bases. And it's easier to steal against a right-hander. It does make sense, even if it will rob you of a bench spot. Admitted: it's a better strategy in leagues with deep benches.


If you wanted a little power in your platoon, you could add in lefty Michael Saunders, who is raking in Seattle. The power is real (seven home runs so far), and so is the speed (ten stolen bases), but the .281 batting average looks like it will regress. Saunders has figured some things out, but isn't making a ton of contact, and his luck on the batted ball is probably going to regress. With his power, he's a good deep league pickup. Since he's a lefty, he's a better pickup than Rajai Davis, a righty who only enjoys the platoon advantage one-fourth of the time. It's lefty day in the steals 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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