Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Cycling Through the Closers

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trout hit for the cycle last night, perhaps you heard. Like a fish riding a bicycle, it was a fairly rare feat. Well, about as rare as the no-hitter, since it's happened fewer than 300 times in MLB history.


Which means there are rarer things! Let's name the tiers after rarities. Because these days, it seems like the closer you own all year without any hiccups or doubt is a real rare gem.


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Back-to-Back No-Nos" Tier.)


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


Johnny Vander Meer is the only man to ever manage this feat. In 1938. Baseball averages about two per season, and in 1938 one man did it twice. Pretty awesome.


All the guys on this list are pretty awesome, even if Aroldis Chapman did eat 13 Cuban pastries in one setting and then blow a save last week. That was a pretty bizarre game anyway: Delmon Young walked (!), then Cliff Lee ran for him (!), then Cliff Lee was caught stealing (!), then Erik Kratz tied the game with a bomb off Chapman (!), and then Freddy Galvis (!) won the game with a home run (!) and Chapman blew the save (!). Sometimes things happen (!!!).


Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Grand Slam on First Major League Pitch" Tier.)


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


Kevin Kouzmanoff is the only man to ever do this. But it's not quite as meaningful as the back-to-back no-nos. It requires a lot of luck for a rookie making his debut to get a pitch with the bases loaded -- and then jack it out. Kouzmanoff had a little help from Edinson Volquez that day, too.


Yeah Tom Wilhelmsen blew a save Monday. And yeah it was his fault. But not because of a pitch he threw. He just blew the coverage. After dropping the ball while covering first base and letting the Indians back into the game, he recovered and let Charlie Furbush finish blowing the game for the Mariners. What a tough series they had in Cleveland. At least fantasy managers probably noticed that it's Carter Capps that's now the clear-cut 8th-inning guy and Wilhelmsen handcuff. Not that he really needs one, but that's nice to know.


Jason Grilli almost blew a save. I'm not so worried, he's still got excellent velocity and peripherals. Jim Johnson blew a few saves. I won't drop him in the rankings yet, but it's worth noticing that Darren O'Day is probably next in line -- O'Day was used in the eighth, and that's usually the best sign. But velocity goes to Pedro Strop, who throws about eight miles per hour faster than O'Day. Then again, Strop is walking about two batters every three innings, and that's probably why he's not pitching the eighth inning. Johnson just had a bad couple of days, although that can happen when you allow too many balls into play.


What do we do about ranking Rafael Betancourt? His peripherals suggested he could be hurt, but now it's "just" a sore groin. He's undergoing an MRI today, and the results will either mean he misses a couple days, and should stay in this tier probably, or he's out for two weeks, and should drop. Rex Brothers has the velocity and strikeout rate, and the usage pattern favors him, too. He's next in line.


Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Perfect Game" Tier.)


Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins


23 perfect games. And Phillip Humber has one. Seriously.


Look at the low-velocity leaders of the tier! They both have excellent control overall, but I'm still a little nervous about moving them up further in the rankings. Neither has an above-average strikeout rate among closers, for one. And Casey Janssen doesn't crack 90 on the gun, while Edward Mujica is throwing the split finger a whopping 64% of the time. That pitch doesn't have a great strike percentage -- if batters decide to look fastball and not swing at the split-finger… let's just say there's some danger there, as awesome as everything looks right now. Three hits in his last ten outings! No walks! Maybe I'm crazy to be worried at all.


Glen Perkins blew a save yesterday, but it doesn't seem like a big deal. It was a game-tying solo job to Evan Gattis. Just a lousy home run in a tight spot. He had two strikeouts and no walks otherwise. But he does move down a bit in the tier because his low-scoring team doesn't look like they're going to provide him a ton of save opportunities.


Chris Perez deserves a dirty look. He would have blown two games in the Seattle series if his teammates hadn't picked him up. It's worth noticing that his whiff rate is back down to worse than his career rate, his control is wonky once again, and now he's giving up more than two home runs per nine innings. His ERA and WHIP looking fine, but there's some nastiness under the hood. Career-low fastball velocity probably doesn't help. Vinnie Pestano's numbers aren't quite what they used to be when we started touting him over Perez (man it's been a long time), but he's probably next in line still.


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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