Tier 4: Questions (5)
Chad Qualls, Houston Astros
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
Joe Smith, Los Angeles Angels
It appears the leash may be short on Mr. Rondon. He allowed one run, three hits, and two walks over four appearances in the last week. The warning sign resulted from his most recent outing. When he allowed a leadoff single, the Cubs immediately began warming Neil Ramirez. Rondon set the next three batters down in order, but we have to wonder about the margin of error. Rondon still has good numbers, even if they're slightly worse than Ramirez.
It's really really hard to rank a reliever with a 79 percent ground ball rate. Every bit of training I have says he'll regress simply because nobody maintains that kind of ground ball rate. If he does regress, he may not be a closing quality reliever. So long as nearly four-fifths of balls are on the ground, he's borderline elite. Strikeouts aren't part of the profile, but it's hard to give up runs when you only allow infrequent singles. He'll stay here for now.
Mejia threw two innings as part of the Mets 11 inning loss on June 27. He was immediately called back to action on June 28 to record the save, and he hasn't been needed since. He should be rested again after that burst of work. He didn't allow any runs over those three innings.
Smith is good enough to hold a closer job, though we know how itchy Mike Scioscia is about his closers. Smith has posted strong strikeout and walk rates this season, but they're above his career numbers. His peripherals haven't changed enough to account for the improvement, so there's a chance regression will push his ERA higher than the current 2.78 mark. If he does experience hiccups, Jason Grilli is waiting to pounce.
Tier 5: Roller Coasters (5)
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies
Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt San Francisco Giants
Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays
Zach Putnam, Jacob Petricka, Javy Guerra Chicago White Sox
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Hawkins' demotion to Tier 5 is purely administrative; my outlook has not changed. The Rockies have the fewest saves in baseball, which makes sense. They have an explosive offense, and they lose a lot of games. The two factors together mean save opportunities are rare. With Hawkins refusing to strikeout hitters, there just isn't much value to him.
Sergio Romo blew another save last week on a home run, and that was the end of it. Manager Bruce Bochy says Casilla and Affeldt will close by committee. The Dodgers have crept within half a game of the division lead. I have to believe the Giants will trade for a bonafide closer ASAP since neither Casilla nor Affeldt are reliable ninth inning options.
The Rays are running a true committee. McGee picked up two saves early in the last week. Then he pitched the eighth inning in a game that Peralta blew. Then Balfour came on for the save yesterday. Sheesh. Balfour walked two in his save.
Ronald Belisario is out as the White Sox closer. It's not clear who is taking over, but Putnam received and converted the first save opportunity. It was a four out save. The three current candidates all have low ERA's and mediocre (or worse) peripherals. Expect more mayhem to come. I'm pretty sure Belisario is still their best reliever despite that he's better suited to middle relief.
Nathan recorded a save in his lone appearance. He allowed a home run. I'm not sure how much longer this will be allowed to continue. I understand Nathan is being paid to be a closer, and he isn't exactly useful as a middle reliever. Both Joba Chamberlain and Al Albuquerque are better pitchers these days. Clearly the club is waiting for the trade deadline to make a move, but that seems shortsighted with the Royals climbing to just 4.5 games back.
Matt Lindstrom (ankle), Chicago White Sox
Jesse Crain (calf, biceps), Houston Astros
Bobby Parnell (elbow), New York Mets
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs
Josh Fields, Houston Astros
John Axford, Cleveland Indians
Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
Jason Grilli, Anaheim Angels
Ernesto Frieri, Pittsburgh Pirates
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays
Ronald Belisario, Chicago White Sox
Well, that was an eventful week. Grilli and Frieri swapped teams and will work as setup relievers. Three others lost the closer mantle. Balfour's inclusion was subjective since he's still clinging to a small share of the job.
The Steals Department
I recently evaluated the steals market using numbers from the ZiPS projection system available at FanGraphs. I found six baserunners with a combination of season-changing steals totals and a low acquisition cost.
The most expensive of the six is Starling Marte, but he's a multidimensional player. I'm pretty excited to watch him hit between Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen. He should swipe about 15 bases over the rest of the season.
Eric Young Jr. and Rajai Davis have the most speed in the group. Both are expected to steal over 20 bases through the rest of the season. Neither player starts everyday – Davis is actually sliding into a fourth outfielder role. You might be able to find both players on waivers.
If you'd prefer a shortstop, Elvis Andrus and Jean Segura make good choices. Andrus is probably owned, and his name value can lead him to be overpriced. He isn't contributing any counting stats besides steals. Segura has struggled throughout the season, but the projection systems think he'll turn things around enough to be of value.
Last but not least, Leonys Martin is a kind of poor man's Marte. Technically, he can contribute to all five categories, although his supporting cast isn't likely to help him score runs or stockpile RBI. He's getting some starts atop the lineup.