Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closer Changes At The Bottom

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Zach Duke" Tier.)


Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
Jose Veras, Houston Astros
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays


Zach Duke! He was left-handed! He seemed exciting! He threw seven innings in his debut and struck out nine batters! He gave up three runs and six base runners in seven innings, and his team lost, but still. Those were heady times for Duke. In his second start, Duke struck out eight against one walk. He never struck out more than seven again since and has been on a long slide to the bullpen. But those were the days.


This is a bit of a those were the days tier. I mean, Jose Valverde? Kevin Gregg? Fernando Rodney?


Bobby Parnell is atop the heap just because he has leash and gas. Of course, he's blown two saves in the past week, but I fully expect others in the tier to join in the fun shortly. The Tigers have enough punch to give their closer more save opportunities, which could be an argument for pushing Jose Valverde up higher in the rankings. But I just can't hang my hat on a guy whose velocity is at a nine-year low, and who's putting up a career-best walk rate without any peripherals to support the change. And then there is the matter of his two home runs allowed per nine innings, which is terrible, but probably unsustainable. Maybe if the homers calm down, and he still doesn't walk anyone, Valverde can move up.


Kevin Gregg has never shown a strikeout rate like this, and yet his whiff rate (average) fits right in. Kevin Gregg hasn't shown a walk rate like this since 2006 and yet his first pitch strike rate is terrible. He's probably unopposed in that bullpen, but the numbers will get worse, and Chicago probably won't give him a ton of save opportunities, and really couldn't you say the same thing about Jose Veras.


Fernando Rodney still has gas and a great changeup, even if his control disappeared. That was pretty obviously going to happen anyway. But a walk rate over seven screams for change even if he hasn't technically blown a save since the 25th of May. With every scoreless outing, Jake McGee lowers his season ERA and makes it easier for Rays management to sell the switch. Joel Peralta doesn't seem to have the trust of the team in that role. McGee is a lefty, and lefties don't usually close, and his that overall ERA isn't great, but there's no reason for him to give up home runs like this, and he has 96 mph gas. He's worth looking at in deeper leagues already.


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Todd Van Poppel" Tier.)


Rex Brothers (first chair), Wilton Lopez (second chair), Colorado Rockies
Vinnie Pestano (first chair), Joe Smith (second chair), Cody Allen (third chair), Cleveland Indians
Luke Gregerson (first chair), Dale Thayer (second chair), San Diego Padres
Kenley Jansen (first chair), Brandon League (second chair), Los Angeles Dodgers
Jim Henderson (first chair), Francisco Rodriguez (second chair), John Axford (third chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Steve Cishek  (first chair), Mike Dunn (second chair), Miami Marlins


At this point, it's a little unfair to heap more on poor old Todd Van Poppel. He was supposed to be the future, and he failed fairly spectacularly. And there were seeds of that failure in his debut: He failed to get out of the fourth, and though he struck out nine, he gave up six runs on seven hits and a home run. He continued to give up too many home runs over the rest of his career, though there were two usable years in Chicago.


And I suppose that these guys have their uses, too. Sometimes, it's just for a short time. It looks like that's the case with Vinnie Pestano and Rex Brothers, but it's worth pointing out that Rafael Betancourt is old (38) and still receiving treatment on his groin, and Chris Perez has a problem with his shoulder, which is never ever a good thing. Given that Rex Brothers is younger and seemingly groomed for this role, I'd rather have him by a nose.


We'll take it slowly with Kenley Jansen in the rankings, but run don't walk to pick him up. If he doesn't struggle randomly in his first two attempts to save a game, he may keep the role this year. He should keep the role this year. The Dodgers should never have signed Brandon League. They didn't know his already low strikeout total would disappear. They should have known the ground-baller was ill-suited for closing work. Can't let the ball get into play, never know what will happen when it hits the dirt.


Jim Henderson returned to the end of that bullpen and promptly blew the save. Interesting to see John Axford in the seventh right before him, getting a hold, Axford has been much better recently. Francisco Rodriguez is supposedly a co-closer, on his way to 300 saves, but he's got 298. He's not better than Henderson. Oh and look! Miami won a game and it was Steve Cishek getting the call. Who knows if Mike Dunn was ever really the closer. That might just be one of those pens to avoid completely in mixed leagues. Some saves aren't worth the trouble.


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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
J.J. Putz (elbow), Arizona Diamondbacks
Chris Perez (shoulder), Cleveland Indians
Huston Street (calf), San Diego Padres
Rafael Betancourt (groin), Colorado Rockies


Rafael Betancourt got platelets injected into his groin. This is my dream job. J.J. Putz threw a bullpen and is on his way back, and Huston Street begins a rehab assignment today. Chris Perez is done hanging out with his dog and ail be back in the Indians pen next week, supposedly. Ryan Madson is still throwing on flat ground.


The Deposed


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers


Steve Cishek: forever on the cusp. Brandon League: we'll take a chance here.


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The Steals Department


Is Matt Joyce on your wire? He doesn't have a ton of speed, but he has stolen six in seven tries this year, and should end the season with double-digits in the category. Sometimes you can add speed by picking up players that won't take away in the category. Just remember that he's best suited for a platoon role, or as a bench outfielder in mixed leagues -- he's not great against lefties. Michael Brantley supposedly has more speed, but less power. Always a tradeoff. And Brantley only has five steals on the year. His career high in the big leagues is 13. I'd take the guy with 20-homer power and hope he can steal enough to make him worthwhile.


Rajai Davis played center field yesterday, and the Blue Jays could have used Colby Rasmus there. That means something! I could mean more playing time for Davis, who has been limited to playing against lefties in the corner outfield. If center is available to him, he could get more PT, and we know what he does with PT: SBs and almost nothing else. As long as he's not hurt, Gregor Blanco also deserves more credit. He stole 26 bases last year and could easily do it again, and with the league batting about .253 these days, his batting average doesn't hurt that much. And that's a MASH unit in San Francisco that needs him to play.

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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