Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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What's Going On?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (7) (AKA: The "Value of a Reliever" Tier.)

Wilton Lopez
(first chair), Wesley Wright (second chair), Houston Astros
Sergio Romo (first chair), Jeremy Affeldt (second chair), Santiago Casilla (third chair), San Francisco Giants
Glen Perkins (first chair), Jared Burton (second chair), Minnesota Twins
Grant Balfour (first chair), Ryan Cook (second chair), Oakland Athletics
Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Frank Francisco (first chair), Jon Rauch (second chair),  Bobby Parnell (third chair), New York Mets
Dale Thayer (first chair), Luke Gregerson (second chair), San Diego Padres


It's obvious that relievers pitch about a third of a regular starter's workload. And it's also obvious that those innings are often more valuable because they come at the end of the game, in higher pressure situations. With work quantifying that pressure (leverage index), we've found a way to give relievers more credit for their work. But if you look around baseball, relievers are still paid more than they are "worth" by many teams. Could be a difference in opinion, or it could mean more research is needed. Obviously, from the emails in my inbox, there are a lot of different ideas about how to evaluate a pitcher in a small amount of innings.


It's good that these are tiers, especially when it comes to the bottom of this tier. If you have strong feelings about Sergio Romo, or Glen Perkins, or Grant Balfour, then you can act on those feelings. It's not like Frank Francisco or Jim Henderson -- despite being in 'sole' ownership of their closer roles -- are sitting so pretty that they deserve that much more attention. We've learned over time that managers don't prefer the committee, and that after some time, cream rises to the top. Consider this tier your grab bag, and the chairs your guide to which closer is probably in line for the most saves on his team.


In San Francisco, the manager opted to have Madison Bumgarner go for a complete game rather than try to decipher who should close. That means something. It also means something that the Giants have chosen to protect Sergio Romo from overuse and hide his slider-heavy approach from lefties. He still doesn't have a save since Bruce Bochy declared this a timeshare. In the meantime, Santiago Casilla has only pitched for eight outs in August, and in blowouts or losses. Maybe he'll show something and get back in the race. He's more suited for work against both lefties and righties than anyone else in that pen.


It's just as tough to read the tea leaves in Minnesota, since both Jared Burton and Glen Perkins have two saves each in August, but maybe there's a change coming. Perkins is a lefty, and managers prefer righties, but the Twins are looking to next year. And Burton is not under contract next year. Look for Perkins -- who has the rates of a better pitcher -- to get more opportunities down the stretch.


In Oakland, Ryan Cook's walks may have cost him the job. He's only appeared in one game in the past week, and it was a four-out appearance that started in the seventh inning. The good news is that he didn't walk a guy. The bad news is that he pitched in the seventh and Grant Balfour got the save. There really isn't anything wrong with Balfour (other than his name), so even if Cook gets more strikeouts, the suddenly competitive Athletics might need the steadiest hand at the helm for now. Balfour only has one save, but he's in the first chair right now, and that matters most.


Jim Henderson got the last save in Milwaukee, but the 29-year-old journeyman minor leaguer also had the last blown game in Milwaukee. And after defying his record, which said that walks might be a problem, for his first six innings, Henderson has walked three in his last two. We don't have anything else to work with, but despite his mid-90s gas, Henderson's record leaves more questions than answers. Keep Axford -- the last minor league journeyman with control to succeed as the closer for the Brew crew -- close, because he could still take it back. The mustachioed one only has four walks in his last ten appearances, and that counts as progress this year.


That New York bullpen? It's just the worst in the league. And bullpen performance and scoring punch are the best predictors for future save opportunities, so that team won't create many saves either. But Bobby Parnell is now pitching in the seventh, and Jon Rauch has a save, so the order has shifted some. That means something to the saves-hungry. Frankie Frank is still in the first seat, but he has a behemoth looking over his shoulder.


Dale Thayer goes last because it's just a strained calf for Huston Street and he should be back soonish. Luke Gregerson has never gotten the full trust of his coaching staff, and as a high-slider guy with platoon splits and a balky elbow, he's almost directly analogous to Sergio Romo. Thayer got the last save and should get the next one.


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Sergio Santos (shoulder), Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Capps (shoulder), Minnesota Twins
Huston Street (calf), San Diego Padres


Whoah, two guys, one is done for the year, and the other is probably done for the year. Guess by now you're healthy or deposed. Oh, except for Huston Street, who pointed out why a pitcher who has been injured often can be considered an injury risk. The fact that he slides right into Frank Francisco's spot here makes a lot of sense.


The Deposed


Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels
Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Brian Fuentes, St. Louis Cardinals
Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds  
Henry Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Rafael Dolis, Chicago Cubs
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals


Ryan Cook has one foot in this box. Grant Balfour has one foot out. Let's wait a week to see what's really going on in Oakland.


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The Steals Department


Coco Crisp is available in more mixed leagues than he should be. Over the past two weeks, he's just two stolen bases off the league lead (held by Rajai Davis at seven), and Crisp suffers from the same platoon splits as Davis. Of course, Ben Revere still profiles better as the younger, speedier option, but Crisp is not a bad fallback, and he has more power. With Oakland suddenly competitive, Crisp should show better runs and RBI totals than he has in the past. It's time to go co-co for Crisp's afro-puffs. 


Last week's deep league tout, Ryan Kalish, is now in the minors. He'll be back in September, but it's just another reason that deep leagues are so tough. Like, you could ignore all the strikeouts and the poor batting average so far from Anthony Gose, but he could end up in the minors again pretty easily. That team wants to see what they have, though, so he'll probably make it through the season. Whether or not he'll actually cut down on those strikeouts and make more contact is another question. Right now he has the swinging strike rate to match his terrible strikeout rate, and his minor league work predicted this. But he's a burner! He had 76 steals against 17 caught stealings over two levels in the minors last year.

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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