Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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The Heat is (Back) On

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


It's so hot, you can barely say "It's so hot," without slurring your words because your tongue is melting. It's so hot, it's not even worth going outside if you have cardboard and ice in the house to eat for dinner. It's so hot you're afraid to crack the door to get the mail on the front mat. It's so hot, you called off the barbecue and sat in a tub of ice in front of Weekend At Bernie's Two.

 

It's so hot.

 

It's a yearly tradition, but it's worth doing every summer: we'll name the tiers after the different levels of summer heat. Because if you're feeling the heat on your recliner while watching the game, imagine being the struggling (bearded) Ike Davis facing Craig Kimbrel cracking triple digits on the radar gun while the sun cracks triple digits on the thermometer.

 

That's hot.

 

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Perma-Shorts" Tier.)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Wear a pair of shorts, sit on some black leather seats in your sauna of a car after a double feature, and suddenly you're always wearing those shorts. They've melted into your legs.

 

Craig Kimbrel has jellied more than a few legs. He struck out two against now walks Tuesday night. He had a Kimbrel on June 13 and June 3rd (no walk, no hits, three strikeouts). He hasn't walked in twelve appearances. In those 12 innings, he has 20 strikeouts. It's like he's a college graduate in rookie ball or something. Just toying with people.

 

Kenley Jansen seems like he's toying with people, but he celebrated his move into the elite tier by giving up a home run against the Angels and losing the game. He got right back on the horse by striking out two White Sox against no baserunners in his next appearance. He's fine. Great, even.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Rat Armpit" Tier.)

 

Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers

 

Ever been on a train that smelled like a gang of rats crawled up everyone's shirts and died in their armpits? I have.

 

Aroldis Chapman normally makes people feel like they can't keep their eyes open -- his 95+ MPH slider makes them faint -- but the last week hasn't been so kind to the new closer. He blew a save Tuesday night, and also on June 10th and June 7th. In between, he struck a lot of guys out and walked a lot of guys. Still what he does.

 

He belongs with John Axford, even if John Axford blew the save against Toronto Tuesday night and dropped to the bottom of the tier. Even if John Axford blew three straight games wide open June 10th, 13th and 14th. Even if John Axford has seven walks against nine strikeouts in his last ten innings… Wait, this means Axford should drop to the bottom of the tier and serve as a warning sign for bad control. Still, it's not as if Francisco Rodriguez has been lights out, and Axford is under team control until 2016. They'll give him time to find the plate. More work like this, though, and he'll switch places with a player in tier three soon. He still has one of the best strikeout rates in all of baseball, and his walks are a little less damaging in his fewer innings.

 

Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Full Body Shave" Tier.)

 

Heath Bell, Miami Marlins
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles

 

Plenty of times I've been in heat and wondered why I had long hair. Some times I've been in heat and wondered why I had any hair at all. One day, I might just act on it.

 

Heath Bell is starting to show something. Sure, his swinging strike rate is still bad, and his walk rate is atrocious. He was never really a ground ball guy either. But his velocity has been up from a floor around 92 mph recently, and so it's not gas he's lacking. Since he returned to the role, he's got 15 strikeouts against two walks in nine appearances -- that looks like the Bell of old. Amazingly, he could be a buy-low guy right now.

 

Since Rafael Soriano only blew one save while David Robertson is out, let's believe his team when they say he's still the closer. That's how fickle this role is -- if he'd blown a couple games and walked a few guys, the fan base might be aching for Robertson, and Soriano would be on the hot face. Now the guy with the serious closer face has a closer's role to go with it.

 

Ain't nothing wrong… with a little Fernando Rodney.

 

Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Pool BBQ" Tier.)

 

Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins
Frank Francisco, New York Mets

 

Should we jump in the pool and then barbecue, or barbecue and then jump in the pool? Neither. We should find a way to barbecue while standing in the pool. That's what we should do.

 

It's a weird time to promote Ernesto Frieri -- he just got a hold Tuesday night -- but he's so awesome he's like eating a Bratwurst in a bathtub full of ice. He's been getting more saves than holds, and Scott Downs is the lefty closer. Frieri is more important to own.

 

Ryan Cook moves into sole ownership of the Athletics' closer job, but he's not without issues. He's walked 17 in 30 2/3 innings so far this year, but makes it work with the strikeouts. Remember that Henry Rodriguez once had control issues and a job. Grant Balfour has worked his way back into the eighth inning and could be relevant -- but he could also get traded pretty easily. Cook is the Aussie to own.

 

Alfredo Aceves has been peeing in the pool, but lately he's been cool enough for school. Will any of it matter? Even if he's struck out eight against his last in six innings of work, Andrew Bailey still looms behind him. Just enjoy what you've gotten so far. At least Vincente Padilla is not taking the job away.

 

Jonathan Broxton has more challengers than Aceves -- Greg Holland is a great pitcher, and Aaron Crow is much better in the bullpen -- but he overcame a blown save on June 17th to get the save Tuesday night. He's getting a few more strikeouts these days and could hold onto the job, although he really should be in the Brett Myers category. He could get traded for future Royals pieces, and his underlying stats don't suggest he'd be a closer for many teams. He's showing the worst swinging strike rate of his career.

 

Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.


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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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