Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Buying Lo on Closers

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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You know, last week we did busts and snuck in some fantasy analysis into our tier names. Why don't we do 'buy-low' players this week for our tiers and do the same this week? The better the buy low, the better the tier. Many of you still have some time before your trade deadline expires.


Hitters first!


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Giancarlo Stanton" Tier.)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers


Giancarlo Stanton's power is down. His team is in shambles. His owners are frustrated. This is the perfect time to swoop down and take advantage. Power numbers take the longest to stabilize -- imagine a slugger hitting three homers in one game and what that might do to a slugging percentage -- and Stanton's numbers make up a smaller sample size than most players today. The injuries that kept him out seem like they are behind him, and he's hitting the ball as far as he ever has. In fact, the batted ball distance on his homers and flies is longer than it was last season. He might get walked a few times more than he would if the lineup was better, but the Marlins will be in some close games just because all teams get into close games. Elite buy-low opportunity.


These are our elite relievers. Three that have been here all year without so much as a risky weekend, and one that should have been here for two years running. Aroldis Chapman has two Kimbrels in a row, so that's six straight strikeouts, no base runners. Should he be first? Joe Nathan is last. He has seven walks against six strikeouts in his last seven innings. Probably just one of those stretches.


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


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


We're a tier down, so the buy-low opportunity with Jason Heyward is not as clear. For one, he's not stealing like he used to, and that part of his game may permanently disappear. He hasn't ever shown no-doubt elite-level power like Giancarlo Stanton, and he's not hitting in an RBI position. All of that said, there are plenty of good signs. He's striking out less, so he could hit for a better average once his batted ball luck heads closer to league average. Heyward's putting the ball on the ground a bit more, but he's also got the same batted ball distance on his homers and flies. He might be easy to acquire, and he might have 25-30 homer power with a few steals. That's worth a shot for some, depending on the price.


Mariano Rivera has elite leash. Mariano Rivera is an elite closer when looked at through the prism of time. Mariano Rivera probably won't lose his job. Mariano Rivera has blown three straight saves with three home runs. Mariano Rivera hasn't had an elite strikeout rate for a closer in a long time. These are the reasons why it was very difficult to move him off the elite perch, but it seemed warranted. Not just because of the recent work, but because he doesn't actually give you the strikeout rates of the top guys. His velocity is down a bit, and his line drive rate against is the highest it's ever been, but he'll still be Rock Steady, we think. (But you can't forget that Greg Holland has almost twice as many strikeouts, and only three fewer saves.)


Sergio Romo hasn't done enough to fall out of the tier, but he's slipping a bit. He's got a touch of the Huston Street / J.J. Putz problem: he won't ever throw 70 IP, will he. And once you remember those whispers of injury-prone-ness, and realize that his team is treating him with baby gloves, and then his recent work becomes a little more worrisome. One strikeout in his last five outings. Homers from lefties. Five appearances in August. Declining velocity. It's not definitive but it's something.


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


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


Lawrie's stock has taken a hit, and he might be a better buy-low in keeper leagues given his age (still only 23), but the opportunity for power and speed at third is enticing. His swinging strike rate is up, and he, at one point, was striking out at ridiculous rates. He has that back to better than league average now, which is where he's been for most of his career. There's little reason to doubt that he can hit five homers and steal five bases the rest of the way -- with a .280-esque average, given the power, speed and strikeout rate -- and that's worth pursuing for some.


Jim Johnson leads the league in blown saves now. He also leads the league in saves. He also has a bottom-three strikeout rate among closers. What a strange closer. Like a good Brandon League.


Jim Henderson's walk rate will always harm his upside, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him too much presently. The secret to his walk problems is that he mostly walks lefties -- his walk rate is three times higher against southpaws. That's a heck of a way to avoid platoon splits on a fastball/slider arsenal, but it's better than giving up homers to lefties on sliders that drift too close to the heart of the plate. Maybe it can work in small stints. 95 mph covers a lot of mistakes.


Casey Janssen has none of that velocity, and he could have used it recently. Because if you allow balls into play like he does, you risk things happening like they did last week, when he allowed four runs to blow a game against Oakland. Josh Donaldson singled, Nate Freiman doubled, Alberto Callaspo doubled, Stephen Vogt singled, and Eric Sogard sacrifice flied, and that's your worst Janssen outing of the year. It's not quite a Jim-Johnson-esque problem yet, but if you're going to build me a closer, he's going to have fastball velocity and a wipeout change or curve -- those are platoon busters. (Then again, if you had both of those things, you'd probably be a starter -- that's why plenty of closers are fastball/slider pitchers.)

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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