Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Stable and Able

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Stability in the world of closers seems to be cyclical. Right now, most of the jobs are pretty well locked down. One closer was demoted prior to yesterday's game and another may be close to losing his job. Everyone else seems to have some margin of error.

 

When building closer tiers, the main factors I consider are talent, expected future performance, and job security. When nearly everybody has some degree of job security, the tiers get lumpy in the middle. I briefly considered enforcing more stringent requirements for Tier 2, but that would have just pushed the lump to Tier 3. Rather than tinker with tier prerequisites, let's just enjoy the brief period of closer stability and quality.

 

Before we sink our teeth into the good stuff, rush to your waiver wire to see if Jake McGee is still available. If not, consider adding Joel Peralta "just in case." 

 

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Baseball League for Wednesday night's MLB games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7:10pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the FanDuel Link.

 

As with last week, let's discuss particularly good setup relievers too. There may not be too many closers at risk today, but injuries and inconsistency can strike without a moment's notice. It's good to be prepared.

 

Tier 1: Elite (5)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

The top tier remains unchanged. Jansen is the only one in question due to a couple blow up outings. He's been sharp since allowing one run on May 21. With Chris Withrow out for the year, the club lacks a front line setup man. J.P. Howell is a good source for holds since he comes in for high leverage, situational relief (20 innings, 28 appearances).

 

The Atlanta Braves have a new name to watch – Shae Simmons. His 95 mph heater has him climbing the bullpen depth chart. Jordan Walden recently returned from the disabled list and David Carpenter is still around too, so it's a crowded picture for holds.

 

Aroldis Chapman wants the top spot. He's struck out over half of batters faced with a tiny 6.7 walk rate. This is a new kind of dominant even for him. He's thrown more sliders and changeups than ever before.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (11)

 

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics

David Robertson, New York Yankees

Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers

Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

Huston Street, San Diego Padres

Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

 

With 44 strikeouts to one solitary walk, Doolittle is quickly climbing my closer depth chart. Base runners are the bane of a pitcher's existence. Doolittle has succeeded by refusing to allow free passes. His walk rate currently sits below one percent! To be certain, right-hander Luke Gregerson has pitched well this season, and could step in if Doolittle falters. Gregerson picks up his share of holds, but his strikeout rate is pretty nondescript for a reliever.

 

It's been a rough season for the Texas Rangers. Soria is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lost season. Texas is quickly falling out of the playoff race and with so many players on the disabled list, a return to relevance isn't very likely. Could Soria be on the trade block this summer? Where might he land? Detroit seems like an obvious candidate.

 

Back when a 94 mph fastball was something special, Rodriguez used to rely upon his heater to succeed. Now he's averaging just 89.9 mph with his fastball, which makes him one of the few high leverage relievers working under the 90 mph bar. A nasty changeup has sustained his excellence. He's been in the league for 12 seasons, but he's also only 32-years-old, so he may have more good seasons ahead of him. The Brewers have a couple good holds candidates in Will Smith and the resurgent Zach Duke.

 

If I had to pick one guy who might fall off this tier, it's Romo. His stat line reads as rather fluky and he doesn't have a reputation for durability. The Giants don't have a typical closer on the roster; it looks as though Jean Machi might be next in line should Romo falter.

 

Allen is the only guy in this tier with a short leash, since he just earned the closer job. The Indians only had one save opportunity in the last week. Bryan Shaw worked two innings before handing the ball off to Allen.

 

The Nationals have an interesting bullpen. Someday, Tyler Clippard is going to break from overuse. He once again leads the team in games played. Drew Storen appears to be back in top form too, although he no longer has the 95 mph heat he once featured. The new kid on the block is Aaron Barrett. He's a bit of a slider specialist. As you can see, there's a lot of competition for high leverage reps in Washington.

 

Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (6)

 

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels

 Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

 

With three perfect outings since we last met, I was very tempted to bump Rodney up a tier. He now hasn't allowed a run in about a month (May 13) and he's only walked one batter in those nine appearances. Walks are Rodney's devil, so he's a nice reliever if he's avoiding them. Danny Farquhar is the heir apparent if Rodney goes sour. There seems to be more hype around Farquhar than he deserves. He's good enough to close games, but he'd be a Tier 3 guy.

 

Addison Reed's penmate J.J. Putz is back in action. Reed allowed another home run on June 7, and Brad Ziegler earned his first save of the season on June 8. Supposedly, Reed just needed a day of rest. It may be time to get a bit edgy all the same since there are viable alternatives. Ziegler will remain ahead of Putz in the pecking order, but he's been a righty specialist (ROOGY) over his career.

 

It's time to bump Frieri up a tier – at least for now. His 4.18 ERA isn't particularly impressive and he's allowed seven home runs in 28 innings. This promotion is an educated guess, but he's performed very similarly to Reed. Based on his career numbers, his home run rate should halve. His walk rate is a career best by a wide margin. It seems like he's traded a few swinging strikes for better control. Joe Smith gets a lot of work out of the Angels 'pen (four appearances in the last five days). He'll give you holds, but the other stats are merely good.

 

Speaking of bumps, it might be time to get over Janssen's low strikeout rate and career worst velocity. He's working his command and control profile to full advantage. Atypical success in the closer role is still success. Unless he crumbles or Sergio Santos comes back in top form, Janssen should net plenty of low drama saves.

 

I've seen Papelbon's current season compared to Nathan's 2013 performance. He has a low ERA, but the inputs aren't adding up to the good output. Regression will come, but as Nathan showed, it need not be this season. Continue to ride the good ERA for now, just don't be surprised if it all goes sideways. The Phillies bullpen is a mess, but they did recently promote hard thrower Ken Giles. Don't expect big things this season.


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Brad Johnson is a baseball writer for Rotoworld, FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, MLBTradeRumors and The Fake Baseball. He can be found on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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