Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Wild Cards in the Bullpen

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Tier 4: Question Marks (7) (AKA: The "Yankees" Tier.)


Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Ernesto Frieri, Anaheim Angels


The Yankees actually have a better postseason chance than the Orioles, given their half-game lead and virtually identical schedule. The weird thing with the Yankees is that for once they are more than the sum of their parts. They are tenth in the American League in runs scored in the second half, and fifth in runs allowed. But in the last month, they are tenth in runs allowed. That sort of mediocrity on both sides of the ball doesn't seem like a contender. A rotation lead by a flagging Hiroki Kuroda, ageless Andy Pettitte, and "something's wrong with him" CC Sabathia doesn't inspire a bunch of confidence. Maybe now that Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez are healthy, the team can mash their way into the playoffs.


There's always some risk with a guy that walks almost a batter every two innings, but Rex Brothers is moving up the charts with his work now that Rafael Betancourt is at the doctor's office. He throws with enough gas, gets enough grounders and can use the changeup enough to avoid platoon splits. His overall swinging strike rate is elite, and he gets more than a strikeout per inning. If he focused on getting strike one, he might be able to improve that walk rate in the same way Greg Holland once did. Once you get strike one, it doesn't take great command to avoid the walk -- great stuff can get you to a strikeout first.


Danny Farquhar is also now a better bet for saves next year than many of the names above him on this list. When we do the keeper closer list in a couple weeks, these two will zoom up the charts. They both have gas and whiffs and are under team control, which is the best mix a young closer can have. Farquhar is a little older, at 26, but it took him a while to get here because he was fiddling with his mechanics. Now over the top with 95 mph gas, he's focusing more on getting whiffs, and it's working. It's fun to look at Farquhar's game log and see all those strikeouts. He'd be higher up but his ERA is pumped up by bad batted ball luck, the team has Carter Capps, and Farquhar hasn't earned a ton of leash yet.


Ernesto Frieri now has three saves in a row, so it looks like he survived the great Dane De La Rosa invasion. Keeping it down to two walks in August probably went a long way towards rehabbing his image. He's not quite so extreme, but there's a whiff of Carlos Marmol about him. It's hard to read the tea leaves on him for next year, because if it's the GM that gets fired in Anaheim, there might be many changes on the way for the Angels.


Tier 5: Rollercoaster Rides (5) (AKA: The "Royals" Tier.)


Mark Melancon (first chair), Jason Grilli (second chair), Pittsburgh Pirates
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks
LaTroy Hawkins (first chair), Gonzalez Germen (second chair), New York Mets
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Pedro Strop (second chair), Blake Parker (third chair), Chicago Cubs
Josh Fields (first chair), Chia-Jen Lo (second chair), Kevin Chapman (third chair), Houston Astros


The Royals have long been a laughing stock… and you can continue to giggle at their 1.9% chance at the postseason. But at least they've got their offense on track -- fourth-most runs in the AL since the break -- and they found a couple pitchers at the top of the rotation. If Danny Duffy can continue to find the zone, he has the velocity and movement on his pitches to play the part of the young man on fire fueling a stretch run. But there are too many flaws on this team to count on em, just like there are too many flaws in these closers for them to be cornerstones for your fantasy team.


Jason Grilli is back. I mean, he hasn't physically pitched in a game yet, but he's back with the team. And he's not officially back in the role yet, but he's back. And that means -- even if the manager says that Grilli won't close right away -- that Mark Melancon's time as the closer is on red alert. That makes Melancon droppable if your playoff team is facing a roster crunch.


Maybe Brad Ziegler should move up. J.J. Putz is still waiting for a gaping hole in his finger to heal enough for him to pitch, and with the team basically out of the playoff picture (0.6% chance), there's little reason to rush him back. Ziegler escaped a poor stretch in mid-to-late August and is still the team's closer, it seems. He's still pretty terrible against lefties. He's survived by not giving up a single home run to a lefty, but they hit a ton of line drives off of him, and he walks twice as many lefties as righties. It's just a function of his sidearm delivery. But over the course of a month, he can probably hide it enough to survive the flaw.


Gonzalez Germen was supposed to get some save chances in New York. He does get great whiffs from his changeup, has good velocity and three pitches. He had great control numbers in the minor leagues. As soon as they gave him higher-leverage innings, though, he imploded. In his last three outings, he's got one strikeout, no walks, and has given up eight hits to the 14 batters he's faced. They may give him another chance or two -- why not -- but he doesn't look as promising as he did even a week ago.


Since 2012, and before his recent call up, Chia-Jen Lo had walked 12 batters in 61 and 2/3 innings. Since his call up this year, he's walked ten batters in 12 innings. That first step's a doozy. He still throws 94 with a curve and splitter, but doesn't get a ton of whiffs and isn't getting strike one at a league-average rate. Oh, and he's allowed four hits (one a home run) and five walks against his last 15 batters. But who do you have in that bullpen otherwise? Josh Fields is the only other interesting name, and he does have a hold recently. He throws 93+ with a three-pitch mix, okay swinging strike numbers, and a good strikeout rate. If he stops giving up home runs (his last one was on 8/17) maybe he can get the job done. Let's move him ahead of Lo then.  

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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Rafael Betancourt (elbow), Colorado Rockies
Bobby Parnell (neck), New York Mets


Most likely, Bobby Parnell -- with or without neck surgery -- remains on this list for the rest of the year. If he decides against surgery, he'd still need a week or two too get ready… and then it'll be October.


The Deposed


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


Despite all the different pitchers that have racked up saves this year, this isn't the longest list. And health had a big part in at least one of these, meaning that health and role change were almost equal predictors of closer change this year.


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The Steals Department


Let's just look at the speedsters that are facing bad catchers over the weekend, since we're all in freakout mode right now, ready to stream for any stat at a moment's notice. Some of the worst catchers in the game at throwing base runners out reside on the Angels, Athletics, Red Sox, Rays, and Mariners. The Rays, in particular, are bad no matter which of their two catchers are behind the plate. So apologies to Billy Hamilton -- he could actually steal five bases in the last month, just as a pinch runner (that much we know from his first appearance), but he'll be a negative in every other counting stat -- but let's look at some guys that might play a whole game at a time. (If Billy Hamilton starts a game -- maybe even just one -- he's a pickup, on the other hand.)


That means the Rays/Mariners series this weekend could see some base running. Mixed leaguers should probably take a shot on Brad Miller, who does have some wheels, or maybe Nick Franklin if the other middle infielder is not available. Neither is a volume base stealer, but they might get you one of the weekend just because of the scouting reports on the Ray's catchers. Deep leaguers are always scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point in the year, so they'll be used to picking up guys like Abraham Almonte, who is getting a look in the Seattle outfield with Mike Mores gone. Almonte even stole 26 bases in the minor leagues this year, and he shouldn't strike out this much. Given the fact that the A's are also on this list of poorly throwing catchers, Almonte is a decent short-term play for steals in general.


The Red Sox are bad by rate, and they've also allowed the most stolen bases in the big leagues this year. The Yankees come to town this weekend, though, and the pickings are a bit slim. Maybe Eduardo Nunez works on an infield position for your deeper league team -- he could even make for a desperate weekend play in a mixed league. A deep league team might consider taking a shot on Vernon Wells against a lefty -- perhaps he'll start against lefty rookie James Paxton this weekend.


Instead, you may want to look against the Angels, who are also bad in rate, and have allowed the third-most stolen bases in the big leagues this year. The Angels get the Rangers this weekend, and Leonys Martin is available in more than half the leagues on a few platforms. He's an excellent weekend pickup, at the very least. Deep leaguers may just have to pick up Craig Gentry and hope he gets some defensive work in a blowout or a start against a lefty. Deep leaguers have my sympathy this time of the year.

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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