Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closer Keeper Rankings

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (11) (AKA: The "Don't keep these guys even though I know you are thinking about it" Tier.)


Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees (?)
J.J. Putz, FA
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Valverde, FA
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Wilton Lopez, Houston Astros
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Jon Rauch, FA


Yes, a third of the league has closers that are unkeepable. All you have to do is look down at the 'deposed closers' list to know why -- ten teams made changes this year (12 if you count the Blue Jays and Royals), and turnover around 33% is about the norm. Picking out those 10 teams is not super easy, so we have to be careful and include a couple that will make it through next year un-scathed. 


Rafael Soriano has the best closer in the world breathing down his neck and is supposedly considering opting out of his deal. I doubt he can make his money on the open market, so if he's back, he'll be a setup man for most of the season, most likely. J.J. Putz would probably sign somewhere as a closer, but we don't know that. And we don't know where. And we do know that he's more of a 50-inning closer when in there, and that he's getting older all the time.


Fernando Rodney. One of the best peripherals for predicting walk rate is first-strike percentage. So, to show you how iffy it is to keep Fernando Rodney, even if his cheap option is going to be picked up, I've made a graph. It shows his walk rate indexed to the league average, and his first strike rate indexed to the league average (100 is average):



Little changes in first-strike percentage can be a big deal, but he's been above-average in that category before, and only 'slightly' improved his walk rate. The point is, he hasn't drastically altered his approach to each at-bat, and yet his walk rate plummeted. There's always the fact that they moved him on the rubber, but that kind of crazy decline is usually followed by 'regression to the mean,' which in this case would 'mean' another year with a walk rate worse than the league average (if not much worse).


John Axford had Rodney-like walk rates, and they finally caught up to him. In some of the deeper leagues, he's a keeper still. But there's so much risk here. Almost Carlos Marmol-type risk, although the Ax man does seem to be healthier and did right the ship late in the year.


Casey Janssen and Steve Cishek were fine, this year. There's nothing about them statistically that suggests that they need to be closers next year if their teams find better options. There are possibly even better in-house options for both.


Every statistic on Jose Valverde's stat page is going the wrong way, and he's a free agent. Hey who wants a 34-year-old closer with declining velocity, swinging strike and strikeout rates, iffy control, and the occasional homer issue? Only if the price drops low enough...


Carlos Marmol and Jon Rauch are free agents, but they really just mean 'don't keep a Cubs or Mets closer' here. Ditto Sergio Romo even if he's not a free agent and is a good pitcher.


Wilton Lopez? He's like Jim Johnson without the saves. Okay, he's a little better than that. But the Astros will not be better next year in the American League, and so he'll be an even iffier own.


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Sergio Santos (shoulder), Toronto Blue Jays
Frank Francisco (elbow), New York Mets
Brian Wilson (elbow), San Francisco Giants
Ryan Madson (elbow), Cincinnati Reds
Mariano Rivera (knee), New York Yankees


It would be nice to say Sergio Santos and Frank Francisco will be healthy next year, and keepable (obviously in different tiers), but Frankie Frank has never really been healthy, and shoulders are really dicey situations. Ask Erik Bedard. So stay away from these guys, even if Brian Wilson and Ryan Madson and their surgically repaired elbows are somewhat interesting (obviously in different tiers because of Madson's contract status). You can get them for cheap in the draft next season. And Mo? Man. I guess I'd keep him in the third tier but would you keep him over anyone else in the second tier? His age, his knee, and what's his timetable?


The Deposed


Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels
Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox
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
Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds


Will any of these guys become relevant next year? Other than Cookie, my guess is no. If at all, in short stretches. Although it is worth pointing out that Jordan Walden was once the future in Anaheim.


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The Steals Department


Let's just look at one possible keeper speedster and see what the future might hold. Dexter Fowler had a bit of a breakout year, hitting .300 and finding rosters in most leagues, at least for stretches. Dude will be 27 going into next year, and might be primed for a peak year. Or he might spend another putting up production that falls short of his prodigious tools. Are there any hints for us?


A career .271 hitter, Fowler rode a .390 batting average on balls in play into that .300 batting average this year. Using an expected batting average on balls in play calculator that takes into account his batted ball mix and his speed, his xBABIP this year was .366. That means that he's going to enjoy good BABIPs in the future, but maybe not one close to .400. His career batting average (.271) comes with a .353 BABIP, and so it's better to label him a .275 hitter lest you be upset at his batting average next year. His power may also only be mediocre. His isolated slugging percentage this season was a career-high (.174) but it was only a few points above average (.150+ any given year). Even with a surge in his home runs per fly ball (12.3% this year, 6.3% career), he only managed 13 homers. Ten of those were at home, where he had a .221 ISO. There isn't too much in his power peripherals that suggests he'll add more, either -- he's always hit more ground balls than fly balls, and has always had just a modicum of power.


But speed! What about his speed? He did steal 43 in A-ball in 2008, but that came with 23 caught stealing -- a 65% success rate that would not get him the green light very often in the big leagues. That's below the break-even point for stolen base value. In fact, that trend has continued. Fowler has 64 stolen bases in four full seasons, and 33 caught stealing, for a 62.9% success rate. It's no wonder the team doesn't send him more often. Bill James has a four-component speed score that puts players on a 0-10 scale (five is average), and Fowler is a 6.1 this year. Mike Trout's this year, for example, is 8.7. Other players around six in the category include Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes. Fowler is faster than I am, and he's faster than a lot of major leaguers, but he may not be as fast as you need him to be in fantasy baseball, given his power.


Oh, and now there's a rumor that he'll be trade bait for a pitcher this offseason, since the team has plenty of young outfielders coming up. Judging from his home/away splits, that would be bad for his value.

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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