Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closers Going Splat

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


It's summer now -- unofficially -- so we turn to one of the main staples of the season for our dietary needs: festivals. No matter what food you like, there's sure to be a festival for it in the coming months.

 

But, even if there is a similar smorgasbord available to us on our waiver wires, closers have taught us that not all options are of equal quality. So we rank the food festivals this week, as we rank our closers.

 

Because it's the festivals for the rest of us.

 

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "BaconFest" Tier.)

 

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

 

There's probably a BaconFest in your city. Now there's one coming to San Francisco. Which is good, because I happen to think everyone tastes better with bacon. Is that a tired meme? I don't care. Cause, bacon.

 

I mean you could say Mariano Rivera is an old meme. But, like bacon, he's still delicious. (?) He's even reversed a steady decline in his swinging strike rates the past two years, so he's getting delicious-er even. If only he added strikeout punch, he'd be number one. But he's got more leash than anyone in the business, even if he won't go through the season without a blown save. Yes, that was the first time he ever blew a save without recording an out, he's old, what can he do other than be 85% Mo, and still better than most? Joe Nathan falls behind him because he's not showing an elite strikeout rate, and he doesn't quite have the leash of the great one. Bacon was born of the attempt to preserve: the salt keeps the meat viable longer. So, obviously Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera are made of bacon.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Maine Lobster Fest" Tier.)

 

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

 

Lobster doesn't quite rise to the versatility of bacon -- I wouldn't put it in a dessert, I don't think -- but it is delicious in many different dishes (risotto! buns! by itself!). In Maine, they'll serve their eaters more than 20,000 pounds of lobster, which is great, and then try to sell them lobster-themed art, which is not great. The highlight is always that thing where they try to run across lobster traps submerged in water. Good times.

 

Give him one more week -- to see if Joe Nathan really isn't going to strike out more than a batter per inning -- and Sergio Romo will join the elite squad. His control is better than anyone in the elite tier not named Mariano, and his slider is equal to most of the non-Mo-cutter pitches, too. He's found a way to consistently get lefties out (sinkers and change ups), and though he doesn't crack 90 on the gun some games, he's dominant.

 

Addison Reed got a lot of love last week, and rightfully so. His swinging strike rate is elite, his strikeout rate is double-digit, and he's cruising. Maybe I wanted too much for him. I've always liked Reed, but was wondering why his walk rate wasn't as awesome as it was in the minors. Then Reed went out and didn't walk a guy in nine outings, and his walk rate is plummeting. There's no reason to be suspicious of him.

 

Grant Balfour moves up because he's earned himself some leash, and his velocity and swinging strike rate are up. He's showing a five-year high in strikeout rate, and it looks supported by the peripherals. It's fair to worry a bit about his walk rate, especially for a man with his name and background, but the old man can survive with an average walk rate, especially with a little home-park boost.

 

Tom Wilhelmsen, Rafael Soriano and Jonathan Papelbon are all suffering from one phenomenon right now: lost velocity and strikeout rate. Of course, each is to a different extent. Wilhelmsen may not have lost velocity at all, really, and his strikeout rate seems to be on the rise. Since his swinging strike rate was fine, too, it's not surprising to see that he has six strikeouts in his last five innings. Papelbon is still down a mile and a half, and his reduced strikeout rate is worrisome. He has a couple three-strikeout games in his past month, though, and his velocity is trending upwards. Mostly, it looks like his slider has slowly morphed into a curve ball. Rafael Soriano has the worst swinging strike rate, strikeout rate, and velocity of his career (save his rookie season). He's also had a couple blowups recently. It's probably not worth rostering Carter Capps, Mike Adams or Drew Storen yet, though.

 

Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "International Cherry Pit Spitting Contest" Tier.)

 

Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

 

I like cherries. And, to the consternation of the women in my life, I like spitting. I think I'd like this cherry-spitting contest, then. The winners usually huck those seeds over sixty feet, which is just crying for video. Oh, yeah, there it is.

 

Jim Johnson fell down a tier… like a pit into the trash can (badumching). Bad segues aside, this was always a peril with a low strikeout rate: too many balls in play. Johnson, after two years of good batted ball luck, hit a stretch that pushed his batting average on balls in play per .300, allowed a homer or two more than he was 'supposed to,' and now his ERA is bloated. If his ground-ball rate wasn't down a bit, his peripherals would look the same, though. And the rest of that pen behind him is not exciting. Pedro Strop has the gas, but doesn't know where the ball is going and is injured. Darren O'Day has the ratios, but not the gas of a closer. Tommy Hunter has been throwing 96 since he moved to the pen, and could actually be an interesting pickup if you're looking for saves in a deep league, but my bet is that Jim Johnson holds on to the role through rocky times.

 

Rafael Betancourt, on the other hand, seems like he's in 'rockier' times. His groin is hurt, yes, but he says that's not a big deal. Something else could be going on, though: His velocity and swinging strikes are at a career low, and his control has left him. A plummeting zone percentage can be the precursor to injury, so there could be a problem here. Other than his groin. Rex Brothers is an interesting pickup in most leagues.

 

Greg Holland. Better than he was last year, and no longer with Kelvim Herrera breathing down his neck.


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.
Email :Eno Sarris



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