Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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On the Eve of Deadline Day

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I'm going to try a slight reordering of the column for today. I think it will flow better this way. So let's dive right into the recent closer news, talk about good non-closers, and then touch on the steals.


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Tier 1: Elite (5)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox


Kimbrel took the loss after allowing one run last Thursday. He's since pitched two perfect innings. Over the three inning sample, he struck out eight batters.


Chapman is right on Kimbrel's heels in these rankings. He's struck out over 10 percent more batters than Kimbrel and has a slightly lower walk rate. Just on 2014 performance, there's a very strong case to call Chapman the best. Kimbrel has been more reliable throughout his career, so we'll keep these two as options 1a and 1b.


Last Thursday wasn't kind to our elites. Holland blew the save, but there's no cause for concern. He was pitching for the third day in a row. He nailed down two dominant saves around the blown game.


The Dodgers are hunting for a top reliever to supplement their bullpen. Jansen's job is entirely secure, but it would be nice to have a Dodgers setup man to track. Also in potential trade news, Uehara has a very outside chance of being dealt in the next day and a half. The Sox say he's going nowhere, but who knows what will happen if someone makes the right offer.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)


David Robertson, New York Yankees

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels


Robertson had a busy week. He started with a couple easy saves before blowing Sunday's outing. He pitched last night and picked up an ugly save. He faced eight batters over his inning of work, walked three, and allowed two runs. One bad outing is just a bad outing. The same can be said of two consecutive bad outings, but it makes you wonder if he's healthy. Now might be a good time to grab Dellin Betances. He allowed a solo home run last night but has otherwise pitched well.


As befitting this tier, Perkins, Doolittle, and Street all have very secure jobs. Perkins allowed a run yesterday and Doolittle walked his fourth batter of the season on Saturday. That's about all there is to report.


Tier 3: Rock Steady (6)

Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals


Last week we discussed the Marlins desire to deal Cishek before his price spiraled out of control. Trade talks involving Cishek have either been very quiet or nonexistent. He picked up four saves in the last week and allowed one run on a solo shot. We'll see if anything happens in the next day. He seems like the kind of pitcher the Dodgers would like in front of Jansen. With their other priorities, I don't know if they have the time to talk Miami into dealing Cishek. I said A.J. Ramos was the guy to watch, but it's probably actually Bryan Morris. He has home run problems, so don't bother stashing him. Chris Hatcher has the best peripherals of the middle relief corps. 


Following the All Star Break, Rodney had his worst week in months. He responded by knocking down two saves in four clean appearances. He allow one hit, one walk, and struck four over four innings. Rodney owners can breathe a sigh of relief after it looked like he might be redeveloping his walk problem.


Benoit has walked a total of six batters in his last five appearances. That's something to watch. Otherwise, he's pitched pretty well since taking over as the closer. Like a few others we've discussed, there's a chance he'll be dealt by the end of tomorrow. If so, Kevin Quackenbush appears to be next in line. He's probably a Tier 4 guy.


Rodriguez continues to allow a distressing quantity of home runs. The Mets popped one last week to saddle him with a blown save loss. Jim Henderson hasn't allowed a run on his rehab assignment, so we could have a closer battle in the offing soon. I'm resisting the urge to push him down a tier for now.


Meltdowns really hurt the ol' ERA. Soriano allowed four runs in 0.1 innings on Monday, and his excellent ERA ballooned all the way to 1.96. It's his second blown save since the All Star Break. The Nationals expected to need a different closer this season, so they're probably already quietly thinking about Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Soriano still has plenty of leash.


Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (5)


Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays


Melancon and Britton have continued to deal. I'm considering moving them up to Tier 3 once the trade deadline passes. Both teams are candidates to add a closer.


Rosenthal is now up to six outings without a walk. Cheap baserunners have killed him this season. Even with the recent run of success, he's walked 12.3 percent of hitters. Last season's breakout came with a 6.4 percent walk rate. If he recaptures that command and control, he'll be comparable to Robertson.


After allowing his first home run of the season last Tuesday, Papelbon followed with a three run loss. He's since had three clean appearances. The Phillies did want to trade Papelbon, but a lot of scouts were on hand to watch those bad outings. Given his cost and declining peripherals, he's likely to remain in Philadelphia. Further complicating matters, he has a no trade clause that he'll only waive if he's acquired to close. He'll probably remain on the trade block through August since his contract should clear waivers.


Janssen has been rocky over the last two weeks. He's allowed three home runs since the break, and his fly ball profile might auger more to come. The Jays don't have a good replacement to Janssen should they need one. Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil would likely share the duties, but neither pitcher is a stable setup man, let alone a closer. We might see Toronto acquire a reliever or two in the next day.


Tier 5: Questions (4)


Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Chad Qualls, Houston Astros

Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets

Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers


The Rays closer carousel has come to a stop. McGee picked up four saves in the last week, so it's safe to assume he's going to be the guy most nights. I originally placed him in Tier 3 before I remembered that his job security is nonexistent. Brad Boxberger and Grant Balfour are still in the picture. Joel Peralta and Kirby Yates could possibly sneak a save.


What an ugly week for Qualls. He allowed two runs on a home run Saturday before imploding for five runs and a blown save loss yesterday. He didn't finish his inning in both appearances. Tony Sipp and Josh Fields are pitching very well if Qualls has suddenly lost his mojo.


With Neil Ramirez hitting the disabled list with a sore triceps, Rondon's job security just massively improved. He allowed an unearned run and one hit over four appearances last week. Pedro Strop is next in line, but he's a clear step down due to unimpressive control. Kyuji Fujikawa's imminent return means Rondon could be back on the hot seat soon.


Another strong week for Mejia, who now has a 1.97 ERA as a reliever this season. He's down in Tier 5 due to inconsistency and a high walk rate, but he could warrant a promotion before long.


Welcome back Feliz to the Rangers closer job. He's converted his first two save opportunities, but don't be fooled. He's not the man he used to be – his fastball averages 92 mph instead of 96 mph. He's a fly ball pitcher in a hitter's park, which doesn't add up so well. In 12.1 innings this season, he has just four strikeouts. The good news is his swinging strike rate, which is pretty healthy at 10 percent. Pitchers with a comparable rate usually strikeout an above average number of hitters.


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You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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