Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Birthing New Closers

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Still here on vacation, if you can call it that. Visiting the sister in law and her newborn, and her 18-month-old, all with my three-month-old… it's a babypocalypse. Or maybe it's just an episode of Oprah -- You get a baby! You get a baby! You get a baby!


Hardly leaves much time for vacation. At least we have some great examples of baby ages at our disposal. Each of these babies can be an inspiration for a tier. All babies are great, and all parents are proud, but there are just time periods in a baby's life that are better than others.


So, in honor of the life I'm suddenly living, I present to you this week's tiers, named after the stages in a baby's life. Nothing if not topical, am I right?


Tier 1: Elite (6) (AKA: The "Newborn" Tier.)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers


There's nothing bad a person can say about a newborn. I guess if you're just not planning to have babies, and you're not a baby person, you can say that they just aren't your style. But even those cats -- and I know plenty -- are a little stymied when they come face to face with a baby that was inside a womb less than a month before. Those babies basically don't cry. They don't throw temper tantrums. They don't have tempers. They sleep, they eat, they poop -- and even their poop's not such a big deal. And they look like little angels maybe 99% of the time.


Aroldis Chapman has had two Kimbrels since he hit that rough patch. He has 21 strikeouts in his last 8 2/3 innings… He has two walks. And, given his age -- 24 -- his arm is fresh. He even pitched back-to-back-to-back innings between the 13th and the 15th of July. There's really nothing to not love about this guy right now. He's just a baby, man. A fierce, gas-throwing, strikeout hoarding baby.


Kenley Jansen is the newborn of this family, and he's blown two saves in a row, but he's not going to drop out of the tier just yet. With 64 strikeouts in 42 and 2/3 innings, he's giving you good value in every other category, and he's probably not going to lose the job for giving up three hits and no walks while getting his last seven outs.


Tier 2: Rock Steady (5) (AKA: The "One Year" Tier.)


Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels


Every baby develops differently. Instead of 'one year,' think of this tier as that magical moment when the baby takes his first steps, begins to form words, and still can't get into the cupboard and do serious damage. He's not yet completely mobile, but he's giving you all the firsts that you can handle.


This tier seems lonely, maybe it needs a fresh face. Maybe you could say that Fernando Rodney, who's had a magical season full of firsts at the ripe age of 35, should be here. After all, he's still thriving despite Kyle Farnsworth's return. He's not a pumpkin yet. Still, with a story this unique, it feels like the magic could disappear at any moment. Maybe you could say Chris Perez should be up here. But he's striking out more than a batter per nine innings over his career rate, and his swinging strike rate and velocity predict a lower strikeout rate as well. His career walk rate predicts a worse walk rate. Regression seems to be coming, at least the numbers say so. Maybe you could move Huston Street up because of the rumors that the Padres don't want to swallow any of his salary, making him a possible Padre after the trade deadline. Instead, we'll pass, and wait for another week of information before bringing someone up a tier.


Tier 3: OK options (8) (AKA: The "Three Months" Tier.)


Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles


I'm lucky enough to be in this tier, and I'll take it about a million times over the storm that is on the horizon. First directed smiles come in this tier, and the baby is finally acknowledging you and staring into your face lovingly. They can't talk, they can't play with a toy, most won't even sit still through a baby book, they just want to be carried around to look at things, they sleep every other hour for a half hour, they can finally pee enough quantity to be dangerous, and they require constant attention -- but they'll smile at you!


Maybe Santiago Casilla is getting as tired as the parent of a newborn. He's been thrown in two back-to-back-to-backs in the last month, and both times he blew one of his three chances. He's blown four of his last seven opportunities, and he's not on the most stable footing. On the other hand, he came back from a blister issue and got his job handed right back to him, and the team prefers Sergio Romo setting up. Might be good enough.


Every closer with a job is cute, just like every baby is cute. So even though Jim Johnson is suddenly blowing games left and right -- six runs over his last four outs -- and he doesn't give you strikeouts (23 in his 38 and 2/3 innings this season, or about 15 less than a normal closer), he's a closer! And look, he's smiling at you.  Kinda, sorta, not really


Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Eighteen Months" Tier.)


Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals


Eighteen months is the tier of question marks. Will the baby angelically run towards you for a hug? Or will the baby run away from you screaming? Will the baby sit still for a book? Or will he cry so hard that he can't breathe, blow snot bubbles into the air and then cry some more? You never know what you're going to get, and boy, hope you babyproofed the house by now, because that baby will get into something the minute you look away


Jonathan Broxton might not survive four months as the newest addition to the Royals family, but if he ends up a Met, he might still be a closer. Behind him in Kansas City, you have to admit that Aaron Crow has been decent again in the pen, but that Greg Holland has been pitching later in games and striking out many more batters. He's the closer if Brox the Ox leaves.


Tyler Clippard was supposed to keep ascending in the ranks. He's got a double-digit strikeout rate backed by a double-digit swinging strike rate, all built on 93-mph gas and a platoon-neutral changeup that's 12 mph slower. He'd be perfect if not for spotty control. Well, now in his last four appearances, he's had a two-walk-no-strikeout inning, lost a tie game, and blown a save spectacularly. Tuesday night, he gave up a single to Josh Thole, a single to David Wright, struck out Scott Hairston, allowed a three-run homer to light-hitting utility man Jordany Valdespin, and then struck out Ike Davis and got a pop out from Andres Torres. That's not enough to give Drew Storen the job back without a statement from his manager, but it is enough to keep Drew Storen within arm's reach.


And really the only problem with Casey Janssen -- other than a strikeout rate that's about three per nine better than his career rate -- was that Sergio Santos was on his way back. Now that's no longer the case. So now Casey Janssen is just a question mark -- based on that strikeout rate that's about three per nine better than his career rate.


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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