Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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An Old Papa Returns

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Water At Night" Tier.)


Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins


No, we're not talking Chinese water torture. We're talking rain, sprinklers, fountains -- the regular sound of water colliding with another surface is comforting to most human beings. It's just a question of volume. Like, Brandon League doesn't strike out enough people to join the top tiers, but maybe his ground balls will be just the kind of thing to comfort his manager and keep him in the role all year. If only Kenley Jansen wasn't so good.


We didn't like Huston Street's declining velocity and missing strikeout rate last week, and all he's done since then is walk two guys in two innings -- against one strikeout -- with an earned run. Not really changing much. He's got to turn it up.


Ernesto Frieri would move up if it weren't for two things. Ryan Madson is getting healthy and targeting next week for his return. And Frieri's walk rate -- never good -- is now approaching one per inning. Frieri will own the velocity and the strikeout rate, the two things best correlated with closer changes, but if Frieri keeps walking guys, it might get ugly for him.


The next three closers on the list seem to have kept their toes from the fire. Greg Holland is rewarding his patient owners with a strikeout rate near 20 per nine, which is insane. Of course, his walk rate is one per nine and his WHIP is nasty, but that should change. In his last three appearances, he has eight strikeouts and no walks, no hits in three innings. That's two Kimbrels! He's ready to move up if he keeps the walks clean for a bit. Casey Janssen is making me look foolish for wondering about his sub-90 mph velocity, but I'm just not ready to move him up a tier. Steve Cishek lost a game in the last week, but his rates have all returned to normal, and he's also saved two games in the past week. None of his blown saves have been real blow ups, and he hasn't given up a home run on the year.


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Box Scores" Tier.)


Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Edward Mujica (first chair), Trevor Rosenthal (second chair), St. Louis Cardinals
Jose Veras (first chair), Rhiner Cruz (second chair), Hector Ambriz (third chair), Houston Astros
Andrew Bailey (first chair), Junichi Tazawa (second chair), Koji Uehara (third chair), Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde (first chair), Joaquin Benoit (second chair), Bruce Rondon (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Carlos Marmol (second chair), Chicago Cubs


Well, here's where you put in the weirdest thing that works for you. I like box scores late at night. My bro in law said cows, and now I'm worried about him. Whatever is your pleasure.


The top two closers in this list just need time. Jim Henderson is doing a great job avoiding the walk, and there's no real reason to take him out of the role. But the Brewers are still using John Axford in late innings, and he's also avoided walking a batter since April 9th. There's still danger there. Edward Mujica looks good in the role in St. Louis for now, but Trevor Rosenthal owns both the gas and the strikeout rate to take that job from him. So there's risk there, too.


Time is not as much on the side of Jose Veras and Andrew Bailey. Bailey could lose his job to Joel Hanrahan, or to injury -- give him enough time and he usually finds a way to grab a body part. Veras is the closer in Houston, but time might uncover a real sleeper behind him. Right now there isn't a healthy pitcher on the roster that is striking out a batter per inning other than Veras, though.


The big news, we save for last. Kevin Gregg might be the interim closer for the Cubs! No, just kidding, nobody cares. Once Kyuji Fujikawa is healthy, he's the closer.


It's Detroit we're all thinking about. Jose Valverde is back and his manager says he's the closer! There's plenty of reason for the exclamation mark. Valverde's strikeout rate -- and swinging strike rate -- fell to career lows last year, part of a five-year decline. As did his velocity. His walk rate has never really been an asset, and his ground-ball rate was above-average once in his career. He did okay in the minors, striking out four against two walks in three innings, but it wasn't even Double-A. It was High-A. There's little reason to believe he's fixed things. Instead, the interesting thing is that the Tigers also called up Bruce Rondon, who only walked two in his first eight appearances in Triple-A. He's got the gas and strikeout rate to take the role from anyone else in that pen. It feels like comfort to turn to your old friend to close out games -- until your old friend reminds you why you dropped him out of the role in the first place.


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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (hamstring), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (forearm), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Blue Jays


Ryan Madson wanted to be back May first, but now he's a little sore after facing hitters for the first time. Wait a week for more details. Jason Motte is still sitting. Joel Hanrahan actually had a setback but then threw again Monday and felt fine. He'll be on rehab by Friday. Kyuji Fujikawa has not yet thrown a bullpen session! That's a bit worrisome. Sergio Santos actually has a strain in his elbow, which is not good. If he's down for another surgery, Janssen will move up in the rankings.


The Deposed


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals


Carlos Marmol actually got a shot at redemption, but then blew it. John Axford may yet get another chance. Mitchell Boggs' days as closer look done.


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The Steals Department


Steals are down around baseball, so don't get too much if your lineup is looking slow-footed these days. It should pick up some with the weather, and most likely, other people are having the same problem.


If you're willing to platoon, there are a bevy of outfielders that can help you in a daily league. You just have to put the effort in. And, of course, it's a bit of a problem that many of them face lefties for the most part. Rajai Davis is a great plug-and-play against southpaws. So is Craig Gentry. Drew Stubbs is playing every day right now, and he's walking and stealing bases, but once Michael Bourn is back, he'll be in mostly against lefties. Nate McLouth doesn't have the speed of the rest of these guys, but at least he's a lefty and will play mostly against righties. You could say the same of lefty Gregor Blanco. Combining two of these players might give you 20-30 steals on the cheap.


If you're looking for a lefty to pick up in the hopes that he'll play every day in the future, check out Jordany Valdespin in New York. 'Spin has a flashy style that rubs some people the wrong way, and he hasn't yet turned a focus on patience into a good walk rate, but he has the potential for power and speed, strikes out at an average rate, and might be able to keep his batting average above .270. With the league hitting .249 these days, that's looking better than ever. Also, the left-hander is getting almost all of the center-field at-bats against righties in New York, and at some point he may take the role for himself. Especially if he can walk at a league-average rate.

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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