Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Legendary & Ordinary Meltdowns

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Sometimes things don't go my one-year-old's way, and he gets a little frustrated. Maybe he'll throw a car and shout a dinosaur scream. Sometimes things don't go our way when it comes to closers. Maybe we'll shout a cuss word and drop a player prematurely. Sometimes things don't go Miguel Olivo's way and he takes it out on equipment.

 

We have to vent, after all. Some of us vent better than others, or at least more explosively.

 

So, in honor of all the meltdowns that we're seeing in bullpens around the league, we'll name the tiers after epic destruction. Because it's fun.

 

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Carlos Perez and The Water Cooler" Tier.)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

 

The best detail in this story is that Carlos Perez "struck the objects 14 times before disappearing into the tunnel." The author must have watched the video a few times to get that number right, and enjoyed Carlos Perez going absolutely nuts over and over and over again.

 

Craig Kimbrel finally got a Kimbrel -- three strikeouts and no base runners -- but he's been great without them. Joe Nathan started the year with a Kimbrel, and has only one walk all season, that's elite. Aroldis Chapman has a two Kimbrels and is humming right along with 21 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.

 

And now, going Carlos Perez on the league for one final time, Mariano Rivera deserves to be in the elite tier. After a good week -- six strikeouts in three and a third innings, with four saves -- his swinging strike rate is back up to normal, he's striking out more than a batter per inning, and it's just his ground-ball rate that's missing. And we know he has Hall-of-Fame style leash. No way they're going to take him out of the role this year.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "George Brett and The Pine Tar" Tier.)

 

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates

This one is no lesser in terms of bat guano crazy eyes, but it is different because Brett had a better reason. Since we all know the details, and could perhaps put ourselves in his perplexed state, we know that this isn't really as crazy as it gets. Just mad.

 

Sergio Romo is the look in George Brett's eyes right now. He's fire. As a fastball/slider guy with barely 90 mph velocity, he looked like a ROOGY at one point -- a righty one-out guy that could only get righties out. But he's developed a change up and has worked on his two-seamer so that he has more weapons against lefties, and it shows. He's excellent.

 

Two years ago, Rafael Betancourt had eight strikeouts in a full year. This year, he already has six. It's still safer to assume that he'll go back to elite walk rates, but coupled with a career-worst velocity and swinging strike rate, there's definitely worry here. The handcuff isn't obvious either. Well, it's probably Rex Brothers, who has been groomed for the role, has the best strikeout rate in the pen (other than Adam Ottavino), and has the most gas in the pen -- those are the thing best associated with closer changes. Also, Brothers has the most holds, so he's being used in high-leverage innings. Might be a good pickup if you're looking for saves and have to be ahead of the game.

 

The Grilled Cheese Incident, Jason Grilli, kept his velocity increase despite his advanced age, and now he has 17 strikeouts in 11 innings. He even owns a Kimbrel. He just gave up his first earned run, and the Pirates are giving him save opportunities by the bushel. You never know with that team in the stretch run, but if they can keep scoring enough runs, Grilli will be the value of the year.

 

Tier 3: OK options (8) (AKA: The "Hal McRae and The Phone" Tier.)

 

Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

 

Really, this one is just funny. I mean watch that video. He hits the reporter with a phone! That's great. Doesn't seem really crazy. It's funny!

 

I'm worried about J.J. Putz. I won't throw the phone at him, but I'm worried. He blew the save last night by allowing a home run to Pablo Sandoval, but the problems have been there all year. He has excellent control typically, but is walking five per nine this year. The last time he walked this many batters, he ended up missing half of 2009 with injury. His velocity is at a career low, and the team has a ready-made replacement that is signed past the end of the season in David Hernandez. Right now, Hernandez is showing better control and more gas, if not more strikeouts, and he hasn't let one of his own base runners score all year. Hernandez is a decent pickup.

 

We have to move Casey Janssen up. I don't understand how he wrings that strikeout rate out of that middling stuff, but he does have excellent control. He hasn't walked a guy all year. Perhaps he has excellent command, too, and that's getting the most out of a 90 mph fastball, 89 mph cutter, and 74 mph curve ball. Sergio Santos isn't even healthy, and Steve Delabar can't find the zone. He's safe. I don't get it, but he's safe.

 

Fernando Rodney is Fernando Rodney again. I've been saying it since the end of the season last year when I did the keeper closer rankings and left Rodney to the very bottom. His last year with the Angels, Rodney walked 7.88 batters per nine. This year, he's walking 7.56 batters per nine. It's safe to say he'll walk fewer batters -- or lose his job -- but the preponderance of the evidence suggests that he just doesn't have great control. He's getting the first pitch strike, though, and so his walk rate should get better. But remember the old Fernando Rodney. The old-old one.


Read more about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.


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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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