Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Pain Can Lead to Gain

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,000 One-Day Fantasy Baseball league tonight (Wednesday). It's $5 to join and first prize is $400. Here's the link.


It's a sad, sad day. Matt Harvey won't be pitching any more this season, and there's a good chance he won't pitch next season. Only Adam Wainwright has really pitched with a partial tear of that ligament in recent memory, and even he underwent the knife eventually. Chad Billingsley tried, and succumbed to the surgeon as well. Most just go willingly.


Of course, it's no help to anyone now, but we fantasy owners are always looking to predict these sorts of things, so it was helpful to go back in and check our injury predictors on Matt Harvey. Jeff Zimmerman took that approach yesterday, using everything at his disposal -- zone percentages, release points, velocity loss, max velocity, and breaking ball usage -- and couldn't find anything to suggest we could have known it was coming for Harvey.  Sometimes the bear eats you.


On the other hand, we do have these tools. Debuted by Josh Kalk before he was hired by a major league team, the 'injury zone' is a place where a pitcher's mechanics are breaking down. You can see it in his release points late in the game, his velocity trends, and his ability to place the ball in the zone. Zimmerman took that research and ran with it, creating a newer version last year. 


The latest full PAIN leaderboard is on his MASH writeup, but let's use some select players from the list to name our tiers. That way we can highlight some players that might be dropping in the final month. At the very least, you'll be prepared to pick up their handcuff if something happens.


Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Brandon McCarthy" Tier.)


Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals


Brandon McCarthy and Ryan Vogelsong head up the list, and they are particularly interesting because they've been hurt this year. Future DL stints are best predicted by past DL stints, and so the fact that they've both lost multiple ticks on the gun and are showing much lower zone percentages late this season is an even bigger warning sign.


Aroldis Chapman is extra healthy. More on that later. It looks like he got a Kimbrel in his last save -- three strikeouts, no baserunners -- but if you look closely at the box score, it looks like he faced four batters. He actually hit Khris Davis. That's okay, he only has four Kimbrels on the season now. Greg Holland has four Kimbrels of his own, which is impressive considering his walk rate last season. He also has 31 strikeouts against TWO WALKS since the beginning of June. That's hot fire.


Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Jason Vargas" Tier.)


Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals


Bartolo Colon was really next on the list, so kudos to PAIN for nailing that one. Next on the list was Chad Gaudin. Whoops, nailed that one too, he's on the DL for carpal tunnel. So we move on to Jason Vargas, who was one of the last clear 'worries' on the leaderboard. He's lost a mile per hour on the fastball and more than three percentage points in the strike zone. Well, you could say he's just still hurt from his shoulder surgery this year, but that's also meaningful -- he's not quite right. Yoervis Medina showed up in this part of the list, too, and he's listed as our second chair closer in Seattle. Maybe Danny Farquhar can really hold on.


We saw the extra walks for Joe Nathan recently, and suddenly he has the second-worst walk rate of his career as a reliever. It probably means nothing (and he's avoided the free pass the last two times out), but he is 38 years old, and the third-worst walk rate of his relieving career came right before surgery. Nah, only really relevant for his keeper status, probably. Well, we'll use it as an excuse to swap him out with Greg Holland. Mariano Rivera has half Nathan's walk rate, since we're talking about old men. Sure, he also strikes out fewer guys, but his ERA and WHIP are pristine, and 38 saves will do. Ageless wonder.


Here's something interesting about Sergio Romo. We've been talking about how his arsenal -- the sinker and slider -- aren't well-suited to getting lefties out. Well, Romo saw two lefties in a row last night. He threw eight pitches to them. Four of them were changeups. So far this season, Romo has actually been using the changeup almost half as much against lefties as he did last year. Maybe this is a sign that he's seen the good swings lefties have been putting on him recently and is ready to work in the change up more often. It's probably important that he does so.


Edward Mujica makes me nervous with all those split fingers and that problem with the shoulder three appearances ago. And you can see the appearance where he complained of shoulder soreness loud and clear on his velocity chart. (See that low dot? Yikes). But Mujica shrugged it off with a few days on the bench, it seems. And Trevor Rosenthal is just so sexy. Oh well.


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


Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox


Everything seems fine with Hisashi Iwakuma's peripherals. He's got great control of his fastball and a great split-finger for swinging strikes. Add in a helpful home park and all is well. Except he's lost a half-tick of gas, and his zone percentage is down a full five ticks. You could waive your hand at this, but there's an under-reported facet to Iwakuma's game: frailty. Last year, his low innings total got a pass because he didn't start in the rotation. But look at his last six years in Japan, going backwards from 2011: 119 IP, 201 IP, 169 IP, 201 2/3 IP, 90 IP, 38 2/3 IP. Not a paragon of health. (Oliver Perez comes in just below him, so that Seattle pen might be going young soon.)


Glad we didn't drop Jim Johnson too far because Tommy Hunter got that one save. The problem with Hunter is not velocity, he humps it up there pretty well. It's that his curve ball doesn't get great whiffs, so he doesn't have the strikeouts of a closer, and he doesn't really add Johnson-like ground-balls either. You might blame it on the 'big hump' in his curve -- maybe hitters can spot it coming earlier -- but as good as Hunter has been in the bullpen, he's not necessarily a shoo-in to take the role from Johnson. The incumbent closer put two innings between him and his three consecutive blown saves, and then he got the next save chance. He'll probably hold the job the rest of the year, provide top of the table saves totals, and be blah everywhere else.


Addison Reed had a bad day Monday. He came on in a tie game and gave up back-to-back jacks. That's concerning. On the other hand, those were just his fourth and fifth homers of the year, which isn't bad. And he hadn't blown a save in August. And he got back on the horse Tuesday night. Generally, though, his overall stats aren't quite where they seemed they might be when he destroyed the minor leagues. He strikes out one per inning, has a good walk rate, doesn't give up homers, but he isn't really elite anywhere. He's fine though. Totally "okay."


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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