Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Problems in the Bullpen

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "You Know What's Going to Happen if You Try To Step on That Car" Tier.)


Kyuji Fujikawa (first chair), Carlos Marmol  (second chair), Chicago Cubs
Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Joaquin Benoit (first chair), Phil Coke (second chair), Al Albuquerque (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Trevor Rosenthal (first chair), Mitchell Boggs (second chair), St. Louis Cardinals
Jose Veras (first chair), Rhiner Cruz (second chair), Hector Ambriz (third chair), Houston Astros


Eh, you'll step on the car and fall down, is what will happen. And some of these closers are in the middle of falling down.


Kyuji Fujikawa got his first two saves in Chicago, and it should stay that way. The team was trying to use Carlos Marmol as the closer to get some trade value out of him, but it doesn't look like anyone wants him for high-leverage innings. Fujikawa has a 92 mph fastball and a nice splitter, and unfamiliarity with him will probably buy him a couple times through the league. Right now, some batted ball luck is making his overall line looks worse than it is. Fuji is older (32), but like Kazuhiro Sasaki before him, he should be able to come over and be productive for a few seasons.


John Axford always had a control problem. Now he can't keep the ball in the park. He's thrown fewer than four innings, and he's given up four home runs. Even the one outing in which he didn't give up a home run, he gave up three earned runs on two walks and no strikeouts. He's a mess right now, and it looks like Jim Henderson is the closer there now. Henderson actually has the same story as Ax -- long-term minor league Canadian hurler with gas and no control making good in his late twenties and early thirties -- but he's throwing well now. Like Fujikawa, he should be owned in all leagues. And since Hendo is a new closer, he gets a green arrow, even if the Milwaukee bullpen might have dived down a tier. 


Hey look at that. Saves and Steals has been pimping Joaquin Benoit as the closer, and now it looks like Jim Leyland has made it clear that Benoit is "as close to a closer as [the] team has" as beat writer Lynn Henning put it. Of course, Benoit needs rest, and that's why he pitched in a non-save situation yesterday: he was already warmed up when the game was 5-2 in the eighth, so the bullet had been fired. But since he was warming for the ninth in a save situation, it was already obvious that he's the 'sort of' closer there. Al Albuquerque is wild, Phil Coke has terrible splits, Jose Valverde is not in good graces, and all his peripherals are going in the wrong direction, and Octavio Dotel can only get righties out. I'd expect Coke and Albuquerque will split the save chances when Benoit needs rest.


Now it looks like Jason Motte has a tear. Even if the team is saying they'll wait a month, a tear is a tear. I'd bet he's going to have Tommy John surgery in a month. That means we now have an open discussion for the closer role all season. Mitchell Boggs is probably the closer now, but we're going to try and get out in front of this one and anoint Trevor Rosenthal now. Here's why. One of the few things correlated with a closer change at all is strikeout rate and velocity ($ link). Boggs has had 94+ mph gas since switching to relieving full time, but he's never had even an average strikeout rate for a late-inning reliever, perhaps choosing to have a good ground ball rate instead. Rosenthal can hit triple digits on the gun and has always had plus-plus strikeout rates. He hasn't walked a ton of guys, but he has missed some of his spots in games. Still, 97+ covers a lot of wildness. Right now, Boggs is the closer. Tomorrow? Here's Bernie Miklasz with an in-depth look at the situation, though I might not put too much stock in Boggs' ninth inning ERA.


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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals


Madson's coming back from Tommy John, so he should eventually return. At least he's throwing bullpens. Motte has been shut down until May, when the team will probably announce that he's having Tommy John surgery.


The Deposed


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs


Yup. We already had him in here. Let's wait a week before putting John Axford in here.


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The Steals Department


Michael Saunders is a hot pickup right now, especially for a player that might not play every single day. The Mariner outfielder has always had power and speed: he averages about 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases per 600 plate appearances. Coincidentally, that's what most projection systems have in store for him this year. The only thing with him is that he's struggled to make enough contact to hit for a good average in the big leagues. He's struck out in over a quarter of his at-bats to date. But there's some good news in this department. He made adjustments last year that allowed him to dip below the 25% mark for the first time, and now this year he's only struck out three times in 34 plate appearances. He's seen 122 pitches, and only whiffed on 11 of them -- in the past he'd have two or three more whiffs by now. Contact rate stabilizes fairly quickly, but not this quickly. If he's still got a nice whiff rate in two weeks, Saunders might have a career year with the batting average. And we already knew he had power and speed.


Let's go all Mariners all the time with this week's Steals Department! Brendan Ryan is almost universally un-owned, and that's mostly because he's a defense-first shortstop with a .244 career average and no power. His season high in stolen bases is 14, too. But dude is 31 and playing for a contract -- perpetually, it seems -- and walking more than usual in the early going. Maybe he steals a few extra this year and ends up closer to 20 stolen bases. He hit .292 in a full (429-PA) season with the Cardinals once, and deep leaguers need that sort of middle infielder. As dirty as it feels to pick them up.

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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