Albert Pujols is the newest member of the 500 home run club, and the first to hit 499 and 500 in the same game. I have no idea why that matters, it’s just something we have to hear every time we hear about Albert Pujols joining the 500 home run club.
But! Not all members of that club are equal. It’s not the immediate pass into the Hall of Fame that it used to be, and it didn’t create the same baseball-wide buzz that it used to. You can blame steroids, but then we’ll take that conversation and put it in the corner because I don’t feel like having it. (Sorry, steroids conversation, don’t look at me like that, but it’s just not the time. Maybe later. Go play with your toys.)
So let’s name the tiers after members of the club, all while avoiding *that* conversation.
Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The “Babe Ruth” Tier.)
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Apologies to Barry Bonds, the other contender for this title, but there’s something to be said for having the career homer title for 40 years. There’s a reason people comment on pieces with ‘first.’ Wait, is there? Maybe there isn’t. But people do remember who did it first when it comes to career homer titles and joining the 500 homer club, if not commenting on a blog post.
Craig Kimbrel is still the best contender among current relievers for the Mariano Rivera Award for Most Babe Ruthian of Relievers. But the last couple of weeks have shown just how mortal every pitcher is. A shoulder issue felled him for a week or so, and then even after he came back, his fastball command has been shaky. For what it’s worth — and not much, because in-season injury prediction is really hard — the best indicators of hidden injury are loss of velocity, declining zone percentage, and unstable release points. Kimbrel has the velocity loss, but his zone percentage is right where it used to be. His curveball release point is drifting a bit, look at the two charts below. The one on the left is from his first appearance and the one on the right is from his last one. There’s some risk here, but it’s not worth selling low. Wait for a couple dominant starts before you trade him away.
Koji Uehara also missed a week with shoulder issues — and, really, shoulder issues are career-killers if they lead to surgery, so they’re worth talking about — and isn’t the sturdiest or youngest fellow, but he’s been fine since he returned. Kenley Jansen zooms to the top with four appearances in six days, including a Kimbrel (three strikeouts, no base runners in a save). Guess he’s harnessed that new velocity.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The “Ken Griffey, Jr.“ Tier.)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
David Robertson, New York Yankees
The Natural with his gracious smile hid a more complicated personality, but Griffey hit 630 homers and did it without a whiff of — wait, I told this conversation to stay in the corner. This is annoying. Let’s just say he was an icon of his time, in a good way. Maybe Willie Mays should be here, but what can I say? I’m a child of the 1980s and Willie Mays was just a dude that came and waived to the crowd before Giants games by that time.
Jason Grilli still has the double-digit strikeout rates and the good control and the 93+ mph gas, but two blown saves in a row in the past week do raise an eyebrow. Then again, how much can you fault him for giving up a home run to Ryan Braun? Homer issues have cropped up from time to time over Grilli’s career, but since there are no real indicators that something is wrong yet — walk rate does not become stable in eight innings — there’s no real reason to worry yet.
Oh, look — there’s Sergio Romo. He cares naught for your theories on fastball velocity. And he’s throwing the change-up more than ever! Might mean something for his work against lefties.
Trevor Rosenthal made it interesting with two straight walks to the Mets on Tuesday night. He’s walked a batter or two too much so far this year. Better news is that his velocity is up and that he made it out of the inning and looks like he’s still the closer. Carlos Martinez features a sinker and slider to Rosenthal’s fastball and change-up and curve — it’s Rosenthal’s combo that can get lefties and righties out, and he owns the velocity and strikeouts that usually predict who will close. There’s enough smoke to drop him in the tier some, but not enough to move him down to the third tier.
David Robertson is back, and if his groin is healthy, he’ll be a great closer, most likely. Three innings of poor play on a pulled groin are not enough to take away from the 300+ innings of double-digit strikeout rates, or the 200 innings with great control paired with double-digit strikeout rates. Some of his best velocity, however, that is something you can take away from a small sample. Per-pitch numbers are always close to five times ahead of per-plate-appearance numbers, considering your average major leaguer sees more than four pitches in a plate appearance.
Read about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.