Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "Matt Moore" Tier.)
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
For one, Matt Moore is currently hurt, and depending on a hurt pitcher seems like a bad idea. And for the other, there were plenty of signs that Moore was a sell-high before he got hurt. He hasn't solved any of his walk rate woes from last year, and the only difference between this year and last is what might be considered an unsustainably low home run rate. He also lost a mile and a half of velocity since last year and this year. Well, he still gets strikeouts, and he might be gettable, and at least he throws almost 93 mph -- so he's a better buy low than Jered Weaver, whose velocity loss just took him under 87 mph this year. Right at 87 mph and below, home runs per fastball start to spike. Plus, Weaver doesn't have the strikeouts of an elite pitcher and comes with an injury asterisk of his own.
Speaking of injury asterisks, Rafael Soriano just needed to drop into this tier. Sure, he successfully shut the door Tuesday night, but he allowed a home run, making that three straight outings with a homer allowed. Reduced and erratic velocity, lower whiff rates, terrible strikeout rates -- plus the fact that he's using his slider about half as much as he has in the past -- all of these things are big whopping warning signs. And they came before the homers ever left the yard.
If Yoervis Medina wasn't also pitching better in the ninth inning, I might rather have Danny Farquhar over the Nationals' closer. Farq survived a blown save of his own, and he's showing the skills that put him in the role in the first place. The batting average on balls in play is ironing out, The 95 mph velocity is blowing batters away, and the cutter/curveball combo is keeping platoon splits at bay. No reason not to love being Farquhared.
Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Yovani Gallardo" Tier.)
Rafael Betancourt (first chair), Rex Brothers (second chair), Colorado Rockies
LaTroy Hawkins (first chair), Gonzalez Germen (second chair), New York Mets
Dane De La Rosa (first chair), Ernesto Frieri (second chair), Anaheim Angels
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Pedro Strop (second chair), Blake Parker (third chair), Chicago Cubs
Chia-Jen Lo (first chair), Josh Fields (second chair), Kevin Chapman (third chair), Houston Astros
Yovani Gallardo lost velocity -- down more than a mile per hour from last season -- but it might be his switch towards throwing the two-seamer more that's hurting him the most. The two seamer doesn't get many whiffs, and it's the whiffs that are missing from Gallardo's line. Since he doesn't have good control, or a great defense behind him, Gallardo has never been an asset in WHIP, and if he's not getting strikeouts… stay away. Like most of the contenders did, choosing not to trade for him. Oh and I don't have much hope for Roy Halladay. Pitchers his age with DL stints for shoulder issues average 51 innings… over the rest of their career.
Rafael Betancourt got his job back. We speculated about this last week, wondering what the mutual option would mean, and it looks like the team either wants to shop him for one last week or see if he can come back next year on another four-plus million dollar contract. Either way, there's risk in dropping Rex Brothers, or depending on Betancourt. Even if he finally seems healthy, he was finally healthy right before he got appendicitis. It's what age does, if generally, not specifically.
LaTroy Hawkins doesn't strike batters out like he used to, but at least he seems a little less volatile this time around. One of his better ground-ball rates, paired with the best walk rate of his career, has him as a useful contributor in the bullpen. Of course, that wouldn't be closer material on almost any other team, but what can the Mets do. With Bobby Parnell out, it's just about getting to next year. He's even survived a blown save. If Gonzalez Germen can corral his stuff, he does have the fastball/changeup combo to close, and he's already pitching the eighth in close games.
It's not a vote of confidence that Arizona rookie Patrick Corbin, nudging up on a career high in innings soon, went the full nine to get the win against Cincinnati Tuesday night. On the other hand, Corbin was so efficient that he only threw 103 pitches. The bullpen seems up in the air. Brad Ziegler is still bad against lefties with that delivery, and J.J. Putz is still not quite vintage Putz. They each have split the two save chances the D-backs have seen in the last two weeks. Putz's save, though more recent, came in the 16th inning of a game in which Brad Ziegler had already pitched two scoreless. Ziegler's still in the first chair, but it's not as sure of a thing as his ERA suggests.
Dane De La Rosa was throwing heat Tuesday night -- up to 97 on the gun -- but he also walked two. Ernesto Frieri pitched the ninth in the same tied game, throwing a little less heat, but also only walking one. De La Rosa got the last save opportunity… on August ninth. Good luck figuring this one out. Both should be owned, and it's worth noting that most of the press box on Tuesday night seemed to think Frieri would get the job back eventually. But then the rest of the bullpen blew the game and out came Scioscia Face.
Kevin Gregg's strikeout to walk ratio since July first: 12-to-15. Number of distinct pitchers that have gotten the last three saves for the Houston Astros: three. There are a lot of leagues out there where these closers can safely be ignored as below replacement value. I doubt the Astros will turn to a lefty that had a walk rate over six in Triple-A, and I doubt the Cubs will continue to roll out Greggian ratios at the closer spot when he's a free agent next year. But stranger things have happened.
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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Jason Grilli (forearm), Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Grilli was bouncing around the Pittsburgh clubhouse this week. I asked the beat writers if he was that upbeat right after his injury, and the consensus was that he was a little more down than his usual self those days and that the old Grilled Cheese was back. Obviously none of this would ever come out of the mouth of a doctor, but hey, I'm not a doctor. Maybe Jason Grilli will make it back this year. Mark Melancon owners beware.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Jose Veras, Detroit Tigers
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
Okay, no Brad Ziegler yet. Jim Johnson eyeing us over here though.
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The Steals Department
A pair of exciting young middle infielders were called up this week, but it's probably the less-heralded one that will make more of an immediate impact. Because though Xander Bogaerts has been tantalizing us for about a year now, he's coming into a more crowded situation than Kolten Wong in St. Louis. And Wong has more speed, stealing 40+ over the last two seasons. Bogaerts looks like he'll play some short against lefties and some third (but Wil Middlebrooks is also a righty), and that doesn't sound like much more than 1/4 of the playing time. Wong, on the other hand, is supposed to force Matt Carpenter to third against righties, ceding his lineup position to David Freese against lefties. That's more like 2/3 the playing time. And neither is probably as good a own as the veteran Eric Young, who's playing every day, has wheels, and is eligible at second base in some leagues. That's just how rookies work.
Emilio Bonifacio seemingly has a new lease on life in KC. He's been playing more between second and third in Kansas City then he did in Toronto… although the further Royals drop out of the race, the more likely they'll probably just let Chris Getz (or Johnny Giavotella) and Mike Moustakas swing it out to see what they've got. In any case, a short-term add of Bonifacio is fine in leagues of most depths, as long as you don't risk a real player for it. Once Moose Tacos starts playing more often again, watch second base to see what the Royals do there. it might be where you see the end of Dayton Moore's rein coming, a speck of light growing larger as two extremely flawed players battle it out.