Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Healthy and Hurt in the Pen

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

It's Independence Day! And though the day maybe should be a reflection upon the birth of this country, the sacrifices of many made two centuries ago, and the vision of our forefathers, more often it's about the pool and the spread next to the grill. Cause it's the middle of the summer, and we were lucky enough this year that the fourth created the highly coveted four-day summer weekend, and dangit we will enjoy ourselves.

Americans are a lucky bunch. With just a slight recognition of that fact, and some appreciation for how you got what you have, it's (of course) okay to enjoy yourself tomorrow.


But not all of the activities that occupy a typical fourth of July are equal, at least not in the mind of this author. So we'll rank the closer tiers based on the different ways you might spend your time tomorrow. All in good, patriotic fun.


Tier 1: Elite (6) (AKA: The "Eating" Tier.)


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


I'm about ready to house some tri-tip that's already marinating. Might have to go to the specialty sausage store too. Add in some corn bread, and maybe even -- gasp -- some grilled vegetables, and it'll be a day with a capital D. Oh whoops, it's a day with a capital d for everyone.


Nothing really to report here. It's a crowded tier, but all of these guys pitch for good teams, and have great leash. The guys that don't quite strike out one per inning have a little more leash, perhaps, and only miss the mark by a fraction of a strikeout. Sergio Romo does have a weakness against lefties, which isn't a surprise given he's a sinker/slider guy, and sliders have platoon splits, but he makes up for it with his impeccable control. *He hasn't walked a lefty all year.* So, yeah, his strikeout rate drops in half against lefties, but if you don't walk anyone, you can survive with a 6.5 K/9 against lefties. Aroldis Chapman has been a little extra wild recently -- five walks in his last five appearances -- but he still has five strikeouts in those appearances. It's just a Chapmanesque period.


Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Drinking" Tier.)


Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays


Whether your soda comes in the adult or all-ages variety, it's important to stay hydrated. At least, that's what we'll tell ourselves as we enjoy our liquids, even as they probably serve to dehydrate us. It's a paradox worthy of the day.


You can be worried about Addison Reed, but I'm not. He's striking out just short of double digits per nine, he's got an elite walk rate, and both are supported by peripherals and minor league history. He has blown two of his last three save opportunities, but as we covered last week, one of those was on a dropped pop up for the third out. Not. His. Fault. The next one was, when he gave up three singles and a homer to Nick Swisher, with a wild pitch to boot. Happens, and there's no trend here.


I'm always receptive to good arguments. A reader went to bat for Glen Perkins the same week I contemplated moving him up a tier, and convinced me that I had made the wrong decision to leave him in the okay bin. He almost strikes out twice as many guys as the man he replaced in this tier, for one. Add in elite control, 95-mph gas, and you've got a rock steady closer. I didn't like that the Twins offense isn't a great one, since the only thing I've found that has any relationship with future save opportunities is run scoring -- but as the reader pointed out, the Royals are no better in that category. Perkins can manage forty saves with a two-ish ERA and will probably add more than 80 strikeouts this season. Jim Johnson may get ten more saves than Perkins, but he'll cede more than thirty strikeouts to Perkins most likely, and a full point of ERA to boot. There's a tier of difference there.


Casey Janssen's strikeout rate is falling, which is something that I have been worried about since he was named closer. He's been out-producing his velocity and swinging strikes for a couple years now, and though that seems like a long time, it's about half a season for a durable starter. He had six strikeouts in June, in eleven outings, and that's bad. His velocity was way down in his last outing but I think it's more that his approach -- while excellent -- doesn't necessarily mean lots of strikeouts. His numbers in June were probably just a blip on the radar. Probably.


Tier 3: Okay options (6) (AKA: The "Swimming" Tier.)


Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets


Swimming on a hot day is fun. Standing by a pool on a moderately temperatured day is less fun. Sitting in a baby pool in tepid water on a sweltering day is even less fun, even if the baby is being real cute. So, enjoy the pool party, hopefully.


Kenley Jansen will probably continue his ascension through the ranks next week. His peripherals are just so excellent. But he can spend one week atop this tier after blowing a save. You never know what his manager will do, really. And the team is looking for bullpen help, which is actually unsurprising after blowing money on three-year deals to marginal relievers so many years in a row. And trying to find that help in Carlos Marmol… oh man. Got to laugh to keep from crying. All of it adds up to a tiny bit of uncertainty, even if the last blown save really was just two errors and a triple to Domonic Brown.


Rafael Soriano's velocity is up and down and that's a little worrisome. Inconsistent velocity, when paired with inconsistent command and inconsistent release points late in games has been shown to be injury markers. The good news is that Soriano is trending up in all three of those facets of his game. With the better recent velocity, his strikeout rate has been up a bit in June, but he's still striking out only seven batters per nine. He's going to drop here because his line looks way too much like Jim Johnson's with fewer saves and fewer ground balls.


Ernesto Frieri is a fine pitcher. Maybe he deserves better. After all, he did strike out more than twice as many batters as Jim Johnson last year. (I'm sorry, Jim Johnson is okay, too, he's in this tier, but I feel I need to make this point as often as possible, considering the pro-Johnson feedback I get. That sounds dirtier than it is.) But Frieri is not great in two of the three most important facets of the game for a pitcher. His walk rate -- over one every two innings -- is terrible, and he gives up almost a home run and a quarter every nine innings. That's just what an extreme fly ball pitcher with a funky delivery will do. It *probably* doesn't matter that Ryan Madson is throwing again.


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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