Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Going All Out For Saves

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bryce Harper forgot where he was for a second. It only cost him a few stitches and a game or two. But we were provided with quite the spectacle.


There have been quite a few outfield run-ins with walls in the past, and since all of these guys are okay, let's do the most natural thing we can with them: rank 'em. This is not to promote collisions, or to laugh at others' pain. This is meant just to have a little fun now that the dust has cleared.


So the tiers this week are named after notable outfield collisions. In honor of their sacrifice for our enjoyment.


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Rodney McCray" Tier.)


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


Rodney McCray is the king of outfield collisions. He's the one that ran through the wall to make the out. If you're not familiar, check out the video. It's highly impressive work.


These guys are still doing impressive work. Consider this: Mariano Rivera just reached 16 saves faster than he ever has before. He's 43. Coming off ACL surgery. Let's not mention that he he's only struck out one guy in his last six appearances. That might not matter this year. Aroldis Chapman has walked four guys in his last four appearances, too: the five strikeouts make it better, but it's worth remembering that he has had control issues. (And then forgetting.)


Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Aaron Rowand" Tier.)


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


Aaron Rowand might be the name that most immediately came to mind. He made the big catch in a tight moment and sacrificed his nose. That's fine, he got a good contract for it.


Jim Johnson didn't respond to his promotion that well -- a blown save -- but he's still showing the best strikeout rate of his career. And one of his lesser ground-ball rates. It's true: there's a choice between strikeouts and ground balls to an extent. Ground balls come on balls low in the zone, and strikeouts come on balls higher in the zone. Generalizations aside, he's having a good season even if he cedes two strikeouts per nine on the average closer. His blown save Tuesday night does highlight the risk of allowing balls in play, however.


He's moving above the two struggling veterans. And it may not look like Jonathan Papelbon is struggling by ERA and WHIP, but his strikeout and whiff rates are at a career low. By almost half. And so is his velocity. Not by half. Rafael Betancourt is in the same exact situation, but his whiff and strikeout rates are better off. (And so is his team -- since they score more often, it probably means more save opportunities, too.)


Oh and hey, Jason Grilli got a Kimbrel! His second of the year.


Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson" Tier.)


Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays


This one suffers from a bout of realism. When this one happened, nobody was sure that Johnny Damon would be okay. He ended up on a stretcher and in an ambulance, and it turned out to be a concussion, but it was pretty dicey in the moment. Not much enjoyment, despite the spectacular collision. Certainly Jermain Dye didn't enjoy it, as he was thrown out at second, somehow. 


These guys are all good. But there's a little fear that they won't work out completely right. Like, I've been worried that Casey Janssen's strikeout rate would eventually match his terrible velocity, but it hasn't. Not so far at least. He's given up one hit in his last nine appearances even. Of course, he's also only struck out seven guys in those appearances, so maybe his strikeout rate is dipping, but with Sergio Santos having surgery, and everything looking free and easy for Janssen now, there's less to worry about.


Grant Balfour looks fine, but his control has been missing recently -- he has six walks in his last eight appearances, and his slider has been missing spots. Glen Perkins has a Kimbrel this year, but only eight saves and a team that might go south soon. Addison Reed's strikeout rate is back up into elite territory even though his gas is down a tick, but with his great first-strike rate and long minor league track record of outstanding control, he should show a better walk rate soon. Should.


Fernando Rodney is obviously a risk, but he's settled down some. He has two walks in his last four appearances -- and a Kimbrel! -- but of course if you go five appearances back you get a two-walk blown save with a home run to boot. He's four walks away from matching his 2012 walk total, and he's already given up as many home runs as he did last year. No matter what, it won't be a repeat.


Read 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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