Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Bullpens of the AL East

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


We haven't been giving much attention to the steals part of Saves and Steals, and we still have one more division to go, but at least you can see all the closers and their backups if you follow the links on the right. And here's a nod to steals: Jonah Keri did a great piece on stealing bases with multiple interviews. It's worth a read, and even has some real-life implications. If you play in a league with net stolen bases, Coco Crisp is the man. We don't know who will get the lion's share of the time in center, but Crisp will play. And he'll steal bases too -- he mentions having the green light.

 

On to the closers of the American League East.

 

Baltimore Orioles

 

First Up: Jim Johnson

Johnson's rankings last season caused some consternation, so he'll be closely watched this year in these circles. Even if he saves thirty-plus, though, his strikeouts will be a negative to his overall value. And most teams don't win as many one-run games every year as the Orioles did last season. So I'd expect decent rates and ratios, 30-something saves, and value that Brandon League approximated in Seattle. That's fine... if he keeps the job all year.

 

Next In Line: Pedro Strop

If the team doesn't win all those games, and finds itself looking up at four or more teams by the All-Star break, it'll face a bevy of choices. Do the Orioles call up their young starters and try to make a run for it anyway? Or do they trade away impending free agents -- Johnson is one -- and look to 2014? If they do look forward, they may want to see if Strop can handle closing. Strop has very good swinging strike rates, great ground-ball rates, and last year averaged almost 97 mph on his fastball. Then again, he really doesn't have great control.

 

Sleeper: Tommy Hunter

Brian Matusz has been great in the pen, and Matt Lindstrom has some saves on his career register, but it was Tommy Hunter that was a revelation in the pen last season. When he moved out of the rotation, his velocity jumped to over 95 mph and his strikeout rate correspondingly spiked to almost one per inning. So many failed starters are great relievers.

 

Boston Red Sox

 

First Up: Joel Hanrahan

There are worrisome things about Hanrahan's 2012 season. This failed starter's control problems were the biggest warning sign. Walks have plagued The Hammer his whole career, but in 2010 and 2011, he was above average, rendering his entire line dominant in fantasy circles. And it was fair to wonder, back then, if the control was fine in short stints. But last year he reverted to his old self and gave up a few too many home runs to boot. His velocity dropped about a mile per hour, and he is 31 now. And yet he still threw 96 and he still had a great strikeout rate and decent ratios. It's not time to throw the upside down exclamation marks on him just yet. He's been going too low in drafts in my estimation.

 

Next In Line: Andrew Bailey

Part of Hanrahan's lower draft position this year might be related to the quality of his backup. So far, Bailey has had strong control and good strikeout rates backed by a starters' arsenal, but of course we all know he can't stay healthy either. Provided he is healthy -- and who knows, he is only turning 28 this season -- he could snag some saves this season.

 

Sleeper: Junichi Tazawa

Since he moved to the pen after Tommy John surgery, Tazawa has had great strikeout rates based on his 93+ mph fastball and splitter combo. He always had good control. The problem is that he still owns a couple other major league pitches and could be moved back to the rotation. Oh, and he has two pretty good pitchers in front of him in the pen.

 

New York Yankees

 

First Up: Mariano Rivera

Even at 43 years old, Mo is likely to go places. Even with a career-worst fastball velocity, a three-year low in ground-ball rate and an eight-year high in walks per nine, his overall line was dominant last season before he hurt himself. It was only eight innings, and yet he is very old. Owners should probably expect some nicks and cuts and missed time in 2013 -- those things come with age -- but if there's anyone that can find a way to succeed with only a 91 mph cutter at his disposal, it's Rivera.

 

Next In Line: David Robertson

The 27-year-old Robertson only throws around 92 or 93 mph with his fastball, but it's the curveball that gets the whiffs. He's only once shown great control, but when he did, his overall line was closer-worthy. If only he hadn't lost the job to Rafael Soriano last season, he'd be the unquestioned Closer Of The Future. As it is, he's currently a Very Good Reliever That Could Close.

 

Sleeper: Mark Montgomery

This 22-year-old hasn't even made the roster yet, but he's had insane strikeout rates in the minor leagues and the buzz has already begun. Dynasty Leaguers, take notice.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

 

First Up: Fernando Rodney

There were the 15 years in which Fernando Rodney couldn't find the plate, and then there was the one year in which he could. He did move on the rubber, but I'll take the big sample over the little one, plantain or no. It's worth noting that Rodney's walk rate was back to career levels during the WBC, but he didn't have Jose Molina catching for him either -- Molina is noted for his ability to frame. One last thing: the Rays have had a different closer every year of their existence. Maybe that's what you should remember going into drafts this year.

 

Next In Line: Jake McGee

McGee could be the sleeper instead of the next in line, but with his fastball, strikeout rate, and command, he's probably next in line, too. He's a really exciting pitcher, and even if managers generally prefer righty closers, this lefty with the double-digit strikeout rate and the minuscule walk rate could demand the job. And maybe even keep it for more than one year.

 

Sleeper: Joel Peralta

Peralta has gotten in trouble with baseball before, only hits 90ish on the gun, and he's been around when the closer's role was up for grabs and didn't get the job. It doesn't matter, that fastball, curve and splitter combo works for him, and even if it's in a short stint, he might finish a few close games.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

First Up: Sergio Santos

The org's first pick for the job was Casey Janssen, but he hasn't yet appeared in a spring game. It's his shoulder surgery -- generally regarded as less severe -- that was more recent, and it's his shoulder that's keeping him out of games. Santos has been getting the strikeouts in the spring, and he has the best stuff (when healthy) in the pen, so he's in the catbird seat. Drafts are starting to catch up to that fact, finally.

 

Next In Line: Casey Janssen

All of that said, Janssen is scheduled to get into a minor league game soon. He could still make it back for Opening Day. But the first rule of looking for saves is: who's closing now? And then: who's setting up now? And if he's not on the Opening Day roster, he won't satisfy either of those questions.

 

Sleeper: Steve Delabar

Steve Delabar throws 95 and has a mostly platoon-neutral split finger fastball. The problem? He doesn't always know where the ball is going. If he continues to corral it, though, he could be a closer in the next few years. Who knows when?



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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