Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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What's Going On In Seattle?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


With Zack Wheeler's good start last night (even with a few too many walks), it looks like the Mets might have two good young starters finally. Of course, Dillon Gee and his 88 mph fastball at the letters is the meat in that sandwich, so maybe it's a little bread heavy.

 

One sandwich comment and I'm hungry. And really, there's nothing better than a sandwich: portable, with a meat filling, and a few vegetables to keep the significant other happy. Perfection, and you can grab it with one hand and even eat it without missing any game action.

 

So our closer tiers this week are named after appropriate sandwiches. Hopefully you like a piece of protein between two carbohydrates as much as I do.

 

Tier 1: Elite (6) (AKA: The "Breakfast Sandwich" Tier.)

 

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

 

Make the protein an egg, especially a runny one, and then add some accouterment (my favorite is homemade barbecue sauce, tomatoes, and blue cheese), toast the bread, be prepared for a bit of a mess, and you've found a way to my heart. It's the combo of soft, hard, crispy, runny, dairy and veggie that plays up so well… almost like the interplay of a soft sinker against a hard slider you'll find when you watch Sergio Romo for a bit. (Romo did walk two and blow a save last week, but it was the first time he'd walked two in an appearance since 2010!)

 

Aroldis Chapman was in the news a bit for headhunting, but until he bites off a hunk of head cheese with one of those triple-digit fastballs, he won't face suspension time. Joe Nathan gave up his first run of June, but it didn't matter. Mariano Rivera has walked a batter in four straight. Does it matter yet? Jason Grilli has 51 strikeouts to seven walks, though, and Rivera only 24 strikeouts… Maybe Mo needs to go down a peg. All that leash is worth something though. At least another week in the top tier.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Ground Beef Sandwich" Tier.)

 

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

 

More commonly known as a "hamburger," the ground beef sandwich might be your favorite. You might not even call it a sandwich. But I ask you: is it not a protein between two pieces of beef? I've had Daniel Boulud's $30 burger, the Shake Shack's best, Keith Hernandez' MexBurger, and had a burger for father's day that had braised pork belly and brie on it. But I'll take a burger off your grill, or one from In and Out (animal style, with medium well fries) and enjoy myself heartily. And I'll enjoy watching most of these pitchers do their job.

 

Not much to report with most of this tier. There's some lusting after Jonathan Papelbon going on in Detroit, and I suppose that could happen, given Jim Leyland's preference for veterans and that team's need to win now. Mike Adams is struggling and isn't a long-term solution at closer, but he'd probably be first in line. Antonio Bastardo is under team control for another two years, but he's a lefty. Justin DeFratus used to have great strikeout rates in the minors, if he can re-capture some of that magic, he could be a dark horse for the role. He still throws 93 with good control.

 

Addison Reed blew a save, but it was his second home run allowed this year, and it was Jose Bautista. Happens. Edward Mujica managed to get his last two saves, but he allowed home runs in both and they didn't look easy. He's never really had a home run problem, but then again, he's never thrown more than 60% split-fingers, so we're in uncharted territory really. Nobody throws that many splitters. Rafael Soriano has his strikeout rate looking more respectable after six strikeouts (no walks) in his last three outings. His velocity is even up a bit. Casey Janssen is still the lowest-velocity closer, but his great control is making it work. Uh-oh, three of his four walks on the season have come in the last two weeks. Could that mean something? It's not like he's completely without risk.

 

Greg Holland will probably never again get his walk rate under three per nine. That's okay when he's striking out double-digit guys per nine innings. But the 3.8 walks per nine he's allowing now? That'll do. There's a little bit of worry -- he's still ten percent worse than the league average at getting strike one, and he's had some terrible walk rates in the past -- but what he's doing now seems sustainable. His walk rate now is the same as his career rate, for example. Before he ever got a save, we liked Greg Holland here at Saves and Steals, and we're sorry we doubted him when he decided to walk the lineup.

 

Tier 3: OK options (5) (AKA: The "Deli Sandwich" Tier.)

 

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox

 

Now you're introducing questions. How clean is the deli. What kind of meat do they have. Who supplies their bread. How long does it all sit around, and is there a good sneeze guard. Most of these guys have questions too.

 

Glen Perkins might have the least worrisome question. It's really only about how many save opportunities that Twins team will give him. And he'll be valuable even with 32 or 33 saves, given his rates and ratios. Ernesto Frieri is probably fine, but he has a worse career walk rate than Greg Holland, and his walk rate this year is worse than anyone that's closing. At some point, you'd think walking a guy more often than every other inning would come back to haunt you. Jim Johnson seems to have survived his scare, but how valuable is a closer that cedes two to three strikeouts every nine innings to the average closer?

 

Andrew Bailey is probably fine. There's just no peripheral to get worried about… if he's healthy. Yes, he's blown two saves in June, and allowed three home runs in his last four outings. Yes, he has six walks against his six strikeouts in June, and yes, his walk rate is more than a walk per nine worse than his career average. Yes, it's looked a little shaky, and I've seen some Junichi Tazawa pickups in my leagues. But I'm not worried yet. His strikeout rate is the best of his career, his velocity is fine, and other than using his curve ball less, his pitching mix is about the same. There's no reason for him to be giving up two homers a game. His manager says he's still the closer… for now.

 

We'll drop Bailey to the bottom of the tier, behind ascending Bobby Parnell. If Glen Perkins can head this tier up, then Bobby Parnell can be a member. He might only get 30 saves or so, but his control looks good, and he's almost at a strikeout per inning. Add in the ground balls and complete lack of homers, and he's looking solid. Not spectacular, but "okay" and that's the name of the game in this tier.


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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