Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Disappointments in the Pen

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The trade deadline was a dud, even among recent duds. So let's use this year's fantasy duds to name the tiers. The worse the letdown, the higher the tier. Our number one bust will lead our elite closers, if that makes any sense.


Just making up rules as I go along here.


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Matt Kemp" Tier.)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers


We could have gone with Ryan Braun, but that's a sticky wicket. Matt Kemp has just taken a pass on this year. He was hurt and had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and that sapped his power for the first half of the season. Right when he was about to get going, an ankle felled him. And other body parts failed him. And yet, he could come back next year, refreshed and ready to 30/30 again. Baseball!


Craig Kimbrel has three Kimbrels on the year -- his last outing had the requisite three strikeouts, no base runners -- and 25 straight saves. Not bad. Recently, Aroldis Chapman hasn't been quite as dominant as he's been all year, but he's still awesome. Mariano Rivera has dialed it up a bit recently, and he moves ahead of Joe Nathan, who has six walks against five strikeouts in his last six. That's not great.


We have a new elite reliever! Well, he's been elite his whole career, but it's just taken him a really long time to put a death grip on the closer job in Los Angeles. He had to survive the slings and arrows hurled at him by his own general manager -- Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, Javy Guerra, Mike MacDougal -- and even his own heart failed him for a bit. Jansen is fifth in the league in strikeout rate and has whittled his walk rate down every year of his career. To the point where he's now second in baseball in strikeouts per walk. It's true that he throws his cutter almost 90% of the time, and I've pointed to Edward Mujica's split finger (over-?) usage in the past, but the cutter is different than the split finger. The cutter has a great strike rate, gets grounders, and also has a pretty famous champion residing one rung ahead of Jansen. Jansen is not quite Mariano Rivera yet, but he could be. He could even add more strikeouts than Mo!

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


Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals


Justin Verlander is still a great pitcher, just maybe not as Rock Steady as we thought. He'll probably get it together, just maybe not this year. His season may have something to do with all the extra innings he's pitched over his career, especially since his velocity is down a tick and a half. At least he's healthy and didn't lose the year to the knife?


Sergio Romo drops a tier. His problems against lefties continue. Last week, we warned that lefties were enjoying him a bit too much, and then Monday night in San Francisco, lefty Juan Francisco took him deep. As in, to one of the deepest parts of the park, on a cold night in AT&T park. As much as Romo has tried to refine his arsenal to deal with lefties -- he's added a changeup, and focuses on the sinker more when he's facing them -- his career strikeout rate drops in half against southpaws. This year he's not even getting ground balls from them, and also giving up a homer and a half per nine innings against them. He can survive his at-bats against lefties, but he doesn't thrive, and that's what happens when you're a right-hander that throws your slider more than your fastball.


The rest of the tier is just rock steadying right along. Greg Holland's newfound control is holding, Glen Perkins is looking for love in all the wrong places, Grant Balfour righted a ship that was barely in trouble, and Edward Mujica has seven strikeouts in his last ten innings -- but no walks and only nine hits. Koji Uehara slips ahead of him because he strikes everyone out, doesn't walk anyone either, and oh yeah has given up four hits in his last twelve innings and 27 on the year. He can get homer prone, but he hasn't given one up since June.


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


Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals


Even in the outfield, players like Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward have probably been bigger busts. A good last two months could still make Harper a .280/25/10 guy for the year, and even if that's not a high second-rounder most years, it'll do. So Harper is a mild disappointment for a mild tier. Still has major upside going forward, based on our power expectations.


Addison Reed hasn't gotten many chances to right the ship since he blew his fifth save of the season on the last day of July. He's only thrown two innings since. He gets an incomplete. Jim Johnson has gone back to not striking anybody out -- two strikeouts in his last seven innings, and seven in 13 innings since the end of June. He's also only given up one run and walked three guys since the end of June, so it's working again.


We welcome two very different closers to the tier in Casey Janssen and Jim Henderson. Janssen is still making it work by getting strike one and then using his plus-plus command to frustrate hitters, while Jim Henderson is still blowing 98 mph fastballs by the hitter (without knowing where it's going all the time). I'm not into skinning cats, so let's just say there are many ways to float a boat.


Rafael Soriano: still looks hurt. His velocity is still down and his swinging strikes are gone, and he's using the slider about half as much as he has over his career. He's had elbow trouble from time to time over his career, to boot.


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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