Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Who's the Closer Now?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Last week, it was all about how the prospect pitchers were such bad bets. But hitters are always a better bet — usually about 5-10% better than that.  Who knows why, go ask your cat.

 

But we’ve already talked about position player prospects, for the most part.

 


So let’s talk about position player prospects that have already played in the big leagues. You know the term. Post-hype sleepers. Now we’re talking about guys with track records in the majors, but maybe not the biggest sample, maybe not quite big enough to write them off just yet. Maybe they’re still young enough to be pre-peak (about 25-26 instead of the 27-28 we used to think). Maybe they’ve been both good and bad and we’re waiting to see which one wins out in the end. Maybe it’s their last chance to be called a young player.

 

Those are the tiers: young guys that maybe still have a chance. Post Hype Sleepers if you have to put a name on them.


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Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The “Jurickson Profar” Tier.)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

 

The hype doesn’t get much larger than being labeled the number one prospect. Perhaps the fall isn’t so complete in all leagues, and Profar is owned in your league. If not, this is your last chance to pick up a shortstop-eligible player with upside to contribute in every category. Sure, he’s been caught too often on the base paths in his first 341 plate appearances. And he hasn’t taken off enough to believe that he’ll be a big stolen base guy. And, despite good contact skills, he’s just about average in terms of strikeouts. These flaws exist. And yet, he makes contact, has speed, and has more power than he’s shown in the big leagues. He’s worth a roster spot in most leagues, particularly if you’re weak up the middle.

 

No pitcher has ever struck out more than 45% of the batters he’s faced… hold on, no pitcher other than Craig Kimbrel. And now he’s doing it again. How can anyone else be number one with that being the case? Greg Holland has improved his control to the point that he’s now a positive in that category. Kenley Jansen is throwing harder than ever and striking everyone out. But Kimbrel is still King.

 

Koji Uehara, though, I’m a little worried about Koji Uehara. He’s been a little more hittable this year, sure, but it’s this graph that worries me more. His velocity is down. Definitively. And this is coming off a year in which he logged 20 more innings than his career MLB high. His last two fastballs in his last outing went 85 and 86 respectively. It’s not enough to drop him a tier given that he’s still striking people out with great command, but it’s something to remember. Given Edward Mujica is dealing with an oblique, if things got hectic suddenly, it could be Junichi Tazawa closing. Tazawa has the ability to strike more batters out than he has so far, and he also has more velocity than the other two.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The “Wil Myers“ Tier.)

 

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

 

Myers never topped Baseball America’s prospect lists, but the number four overall prospect had plenty of wind beneath his wings coming into the 2013 season. The Rays took the cautious (or financially sound) approach with Myers and gave him a half-season of work, in which his good batted ball luck made him look like a better player than he perhaps was. Because Myers has always struck out a bit much, and isn’t destined for great batting averages. The thing is, he’s probably undervalued right now. Myers has shown great power all through his career, and at 23, is pre-peak for power no matter what age you define as peak. Power doesn’t stabilize quickly — imagine if he had a three-homer game tomorrow, all of his power numbers would look a ton better, and quickly — so just be happy that he’s improved his strikeout rate and decided to hit a few more fly balls this year. The power should come.

 

For some reason, Trevor Rosenthal is still getting whiffs on his pitches, but he’s not getting batters to reach. Reaching turns balls into strikes, and that’s the main cause for Rosenthal’s bad walk rate. I’ll bet on the swinging strikes and the 96 mph fastball, and the fact that he’s never really shown command problems in the past. That said, Glen Perkins is pushing his already-elite command into more ridiculous territory. Strikeouts minus walks are the best in-season predictor for pitchers, and Perkins has the fourth-best number in that category (Kimbrel and Holland are first and second). Closers are averaging strikeouts on 27% of the batters they face — a 9.9 K/9 — and Perkins is comfortably above that while showing pristine ratios. There’s a case for him to be elite, but we’ll have to watch the Twins some too.

 

Strikeouts minus walks is a better tool than strikeouts divided by walks because strikeouts are more important than walks. Consider the extreme case of a guy that could strike out three batters per nine and walk one compared to a pitcher with nine strikeouts per nine and three walks. For that reason, plus the fact that Sergio Romo hasn’t had an average strikeout percentage for a closer for 75 innings now, we’ll move David Robertson ahead of Romo. Tiers matter more than placing, but Robertson is young and has struck out more batters since the beginning of the 2012 season, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him or his leash. I’m happy that Romo is throwing that change-up and that it’s a decent pitch, but as with any pitcher that doesn’t crack 90, I’m suspicious when there’s a drop in strikeout rate.

 

That said, it’s a little early to put stock in these strikeout numbers. It usually takes about 125 batters faced to really ‘believe’ a strikeout rate change.  Addison Reed’s strikeout rate is up, but he’s only faced 71 batters. I’ll refer to these numbers because it’s what we have to judge guys, but the only number that’s rock solid right now is velocity. (And since velocity is linked to closer change, that’s why you’ll hear about velocity here a lot.) Addison Reed’s velocity is up a tick.

 

Aroldis Chapman! Back this weekend! I’m not worried that he had a bad outing in Triple-A.

 

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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