Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closing With Flair

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The weather is starting to heat up, so the homers are starting to fly. And I, for one, love the showmanship of the bat flip. Some of y'all will feel the bat flip is too new school and shows the pitcher up, but I dunno, that pitcher gave up the home run. And baseball has very little panache or flair. It's not football, where players celebrate after every other play. So maybe we can have a little fun.


So we'll rank the tiers by the better bat flips out there. With video.


(Aren't you at least a little glad that this column is not about performance enhancing drugs?)


Tier 1: Elite (6) (AKA: The "Tatsunori Hara, In Japan" Tier.)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates


Who? You ask. This guy. This guy. This guy with the two-handed, over-the-head huck of a bat flip. Huck yeah.


And all these guys are deserving of their elite status. Mariano Rivera is the only one that's not striking out more than a batter per inning, so there was the thought that he could drop. But Mo is still getting whiffs, and he got two strikeouts last night to push his overall rate into the 8+ K/9 range that he's used to. If he does that once more, he has excellent control and more leash than anyone in baseball, and close to a strikeout per inning. He's still elite.


So instead of dropping someone out, we're going to make room in the elite tier for two more entrants. Is that wise? Who knows. An elite tier with six people in it seems a little less elite, a little too crowded. But maybe someone will make up our minds for us and drop out next week. Maybe Mariano won't strike anyone out next week and his overall fantasy line will suffer to the point that he drops. Maybe someone will get hurt. Maybe you already think Mariano is coasting.


We just can't get around how excellent Sergio Romo and Jason Grilli have been. They took a while to get where they are for a reason -- Romo doesn't crack 91 on the gun some games, and Grilli put on velocity in his late thirties, strangely --  but they've now been who they are for more than 80 innings, and have survived the jump into closerdom. (It's almost like some sort of mythical mindset has nothing to do with it.) They didn't have the track record closing that some of these other guys did, and caution is the best way to avoid one-hit wonders, but they check all the boxes now, and have for long enough.


Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Prince Fielder, In Disgust" Tier.)


Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners


Prince Fielder cares not for your silly pitch. Or your silly tiers. Seriously, he's disgusted.


And since two guys moved up, let's move another two guys into this tier. There was some bellyaching about the ranking of Casey Janssen and Edward Mujica over the past couple weeks, so maybe some will be happy with this new ranking, but all they did was move up two spots overall. And though they are looking steady, it's not like they don't have asterisks. Janssen doesn't even crack 90 on the gun, and finesse in the ninth inning doesn't always work. Then again, he doesn't have much competition and it's working for now. Mujica's asterisk? He throws the split-finger at the same rate that most people throw a fastball. The reason that most people throw a fastball 60% of the time is that it's the easiest pitch to command. The split-finger has terrible strike rates and is notoriously hard to throw for strikes. If people stop swinging at it, he's left with a meh fastball. So I'm nervous. Never heard anyone compare a split-finger to a knuckleball or call it a gimmick pitch? I have.


Tom Wilhelmsen has had a tough week. He blew a save on the first, and then gave up a run on the third. He has three blown saves in the last two weeks. He has seven walks against two strikeouts in in his last five appearances. It's worrisome. Especially since Carter Capps has found the plate behind him. Right now, Capps is the better pitcher, with equal velocity and almost six strikeouts per walk. But Wilhelmsen has slowly been pushing his strikeout rate back to where it should be, and they need Capps setting up, too, so it's not yet time to turn this situation into a problem. It might be a situation though.

Hey look at this:


That's the velocity chart from FanGraphs.com on Jonathan Papelbon. Looks like he's getting right. Dude's strikeout rate is slowly creeping back to where it needs to be, too. If he gets all the way right, he'll could make the elite tier *really* crowded.

Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Edwin Encarnacion, Trying to Be Helpful" Tier.)


Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles

Here, here says Edwin Encarnacion. Here's this bat. Do with it what you will.


If Glen Perkins or Greg Holland were on teams that were better (i.e. scored more), they'd move up faster. Especially Perkins, who has an elite-level strikeout rate, an elite-level walk rate, and a three-year track record. He does have 12 saves, but with that team as it's constituted, it's hard to see much more than 30 saves on the back of his 2013 baseball card. Still, if Wilhelmsen continues to falter, or Janssen or Mujica start to show signs, there are two ready arms at the top of this tier.


Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey are excellent pitchers! They are! Of course, there are Frieri's walks, but Ryan Madson isn't around to make those a big deal. And Andrew Bailey is made of glass, and remember Junichi Tazawa's name, but he's in there now, and he's got a starter's arsenal and great control. They're okay, at the very least. And if they somehow stay in one piece or don't walk the lineup, they'll be fine.


Jim Johnson is getting back on track, but there are people in this tier that get two strikeouts to every one he manages. It's going to be hard for him to move up, especially with his career-worst ground-ball rate. That's his best skill! Four straight clean slates is a way to get it started, though.


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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