Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Mellow Deadline, Raucous Pens

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Some might call this past trade deadline a boring one. Only the two closers most likely to be traded were sent packing, and most of the fantasy opportunity lies in the Philadelphia outfield. One of the players sent packing had already been traded at the deadline before! Maybe it wasn't the craziest, zaniest deadline ever.


On the other hand, if your team bought a player, you're probably excited.  And you might know that it can get worse in the future. With wild cards now worse than half a division champs playing card -- they get a game, not a series, and their chances of making the world series is half of what a wild card winner had last year -- teams may find themselves standing pat more often in the future.


So for now, enjoy what the trade deadline looks like. And in honor of this deadline just passed, we'll use the biggest trades completed on Tuesday to name the tiers. The more fantasy implications the deal has, the higher it ranks. Because this is a fantasy column.


Tier 1: Elite (5) (AKA: The "Jonathan Broxton to the Reds" Tier.)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies


It's the classic trade deadline deal -- over-rated closer gets nabbed by a team with a great closer. That kills one closer and a new one sprouts up behind it. A really good one in this case.


Strikeouts are up across baseball. Like up higher than they've ever been. And relievers are striking out more batters than starters, as they always have. Consequence? The average strikeout rate for the top 30 pitchers in saves this year is over 10 per nine. It's over 10 per nine! So, in order to give value in strikeouts, your closer has to have a strikeout rate like these guys have. In fact, it's these guys that are skewing the numbers with their ridiculous strikeout rates. It's too late in the season to go get one of these guys without paying retail, and they might only help you catch up around 10 strikeouts (versus an average closer) in that category now that we've played 2/3 of the season. On the other hand, if you have one of these guys, I bet you're doing well in strikeouts.


And remember, before you get too upset about how the Phillies did during the trade deadline, wins don't necessarily get you saves. A good offense and a decent bullpen are the things most associated with save opportunities, and the Phillies never had one of those things anyway. 


Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Hunter Pence to the Giants" Tier.)


Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays


Hunter Pence might take a slight ding moving to AT&T park, but it's not as bad as you might think. It's lefty home run power that is suppressed in San Francisco -- righty home run power is only 4% worse than league average there. So Pence won't hurt too badly. He leaves behind him opportunity for a player that was once the best prospect in baseball. Dominic Brown. Brown was once projected by Bill James to go 30/30 -- his speed has since declined a little, and his power looks less exciting than that, but those tools are still there. Brown is one of the better upside waiver pickups of the deadline.


Ernesto Frieri is fine. He hit a little stretch where he was walking guys -- six in his last ten appearances and that one big bad blown save on July 15th -- but he's found the zone recently. He's even better than fine now that Scott downs is hurt and there's no doubt who will get the next save, even if lefties are involved.


We didn't think anyone in this tier would get traded, and they didn't. Rafael Betancourt had some nibbles, but he's under a team-friendly contract into next season, and his team could still use a closer next year, too. He wasn't overpaid, and he's not over-rated. Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano drop a slot or two each now that we know they have below-average strikeout ability (!).


Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Shane Victorino to the Dodgers" Tier.)


Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles


Take the Hunter Pence paragraph and just shave a couple inches off the top. With the new haircut you get an okay player in an okay situation in Los Angeles -- Victorino definitely takes a little bit of a hit -- and a less exciting player behind him. John Mayberry Jr. is probably taking over center field, but he probably doesn't have value in a standard mixed league. The pitchers going to Philadelphia have uncertain and far-off futures. It's a trade, period. 


Chris Perez and Huston Street survived! If Perez had the strikeouts of an average closer, he'd be ranked higher, and there's always an asterisk for Street (his health), but they're very decent pitchers. They could move up if the budge those rates higher or stay healthy, especially now that they aren't a risk to be moved by their own teams.


We're going to graduate Tyler Clippard because he has the strikeout rate of an above-average closer, a decent enough walk rate, and has survived a bad stretch (two blown saves between the 17th and 20th). But we're also going to graduate Clippard because Storen has been back for a handful of appearances and he hasn't blown the doors down. Storen's velocity is down two ticks and his swinging strike rate is down a little too. At this point, it would take an extended slump for Clippard to bring Storen back into the role.


Addison Reed hasn't quite had the crazy strikeout rates he showed in the minor leagues. He's been hovering around one per inning all year. He did bring the good control with him, though, and he still has given his teams ten more strikeouts than teams have gotten from Jim Johnson. And going forward, he's just as likely to get as many save opportunities as Johnson, given their teams' respective scoring punch and bullpens.


Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Travis Snider to the Pirates" Tier.)


Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers


This trade is actually the most interesting of the deadline, in some ways. The initial response was that Jays' GM Alex Anthopolous just made his first bad trade. Closer inspection just reveals questions all the way around. It seems that a detailed examination of Travis Snider in Pittsburgh doesn't even eliminate the questions -- number one is, can Snider cut the strikeouts while maintaining the power? His history makes no definitive arguments either way, but he's still young and there's still a chance he goes on a power tear the rest of the way. He leaves an opening for another strikeout king -- Anthony Gose -- in Toronto, but since he's even less seasoned and doesn't have much power, it's hard to get behind either guy right now in fantasy unless you're in a deep league.


It's not hard to get behind the newest closer on this list, Greg Holland. Dude can pitch. He's got a strikeout rate over 12 per nine, a great ground-ball rate, and, with his split-finger, three pitches that should keep him from having any platoon issues. Of course, he does have control issues right now, and he's had them before. He might be a Marmolian closer. But he'll get you strikeouts, and we're talking young Carlos Marmol here. Not the recent version. If he could get strike one over the plate more (he's more than 10% below the league average, and that stat is the best single zone stat for predicting walk rate), he could even improve in that area.


Jeremy Affeldt got the save in San Francisco Tuesday night. That's mildly concerning, and then Bruce Bochy didn't say a thing about his closing situation after the game and that's slightly more concerning. He hasn't given Santiago Casilla a vote of confidence recently, either, so it's okay to be concerned. Casilla looks fine, though, and the team did not trade for a closer. Even with Sergio Romo still in that pen, and Jeremy Affeldt getting the save in San Francisco Tuesday night, Casilla is probably fine.


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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