Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Cishek Shuffle

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Before we dive into our regularly scheduled programming, let's revisit the tiers I described last week. Continued excellence from the tiny “Almost Elite” group has convinced me to promote them both to Elite status. The result is that we're down to five tiers – at least for now. There is no reason that tiers should remain static in size or number. We'll use as many or as few as is necessary.


A couple potentially elite closers are scheduled to return this weekend. Kenley Jansen will rejoin an elite Dodgers bullpen. He won't immediately resume ninth inning duties per reports. It's clear that Yimi Garcia hasn't stolen his job. The club will want to see a couple clean frames before returning to business as usual.


Jake McGee's path to the ninth inning is murkier. Even if he never landed on the disabled list, there was a case to be made that Brad Boxberger was the better pick for the ninth inning. His early season performance has only increased that perception. It may take an injury or slump from Boxberger for McGee to return to closing duties. That said, don't sell short just yet. The Rays like to manipulate arbitration pay days. Whoever closes for Tampa will quickly become expensive. That could influence their bullpen decisions.


Of course, the biggest news of the day comes to us from Miami. The Marlins have ousted Steve Cishek from the ninth inning after yet another meltdown. It's presumed that A.J. Ramos will serve as the ninth inning man. Pause in your reading and run to the wire now. Other names to watch include Bryan Morris, Mike Dunn, and free agent Rafael Soriano.


Collectively, players have stolen bases at a 70.5 percent success rate. It's the second week in a row at that rate and the first week without a decline. A total of 558 bases have been taken in 791 attempts. You'll find the usual suspects atop the leaderboard. Billy Hamilton (17) has a five steal lead on Dee Gordon (12). Five others are in double digit territory. Gordon has been caught seven times. For what it's worth, Bryce Harper has tried to snag a trio of bases, but he's 0-for-3.


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Tier 1: Elite (5)


Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

Andrew Miller, New York Yankees

Craig Kimbrel, San Diego Padres


It was an inauspicious week for Chapman. He's appeared in each of the last three games. He took the loss in the first two while allowing three hits in both outings. He picked up the win last night. He also snagged a save a week ago. His fastball has averaged over 100 mph in each of his last five appearances. Don't worry about him and his 1.17 ERA.


Holland pitched four times in his return to action. He's looked a little rough around the edges, especially on Sunday when he allowed a hit and three walks. He recorded two saves and a two inning, blown save vulture win. If he runs into problems with hits or walks, we could see Wade Davis return to the ninth inning. Hang onto Davis for now, but don't expect any imminent changes.


Robertson allowed his first earned run of the season on Sunday in a blown save to the Reds. Then Chapman turned around and returned the favor. Robertson only has six saves on the season. However, he's compiled 25 strikeouts, nine hits, and one walk allowed in 14 innings. He recorded two saves and a win in three appearances this week.


Miller has yet to allow a run on the season. Actually, he's only allowed three hits in 15.2 innings. The only blemish is a high walk rate (4.60 BB/9), but that's offset by an elite 14.94 K/9. Meanwhile, Dellin Betances has continued to keep pace. He's allowed a couple runs, but they were both unearned. He has eight hits, nine walks, and 31 strikeouts in 20 innings.


After blowing his most recent save attempt, the word on the street is that Kimbrel's command is shaky. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs explored the notion. He noted that Kimbrel had a similar rocky patch in 2013. Then he went and allowed a sub-.500 OPS over the rest of the season. Kimbrel may have an uncharacteristic 5.68 ERA, but now is not the time to panic. In fact, I'm going to take a short break from writing this column to send out some offers.


Tier 2: The Upside Crowd (5)


Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets


As we discussed in the intro, the return of McGee complicates things in Tampa. Here I have Boxberger listed as the sixth best relief asset. If McGee is closing games in a couple weeks, this will look pretty silly. Now is not a great time to buy shares of Boxberger unless they come at a sizable discount. As far as performance, he nabbed three saves in the last week.


Britton continues to post a robust 12.46 K/9. The strikeouts were the only thing missing from his profile last season. He's continued his worm burning ways. He rolled grounders on 75 percent of balls in play last season. In the small sample of 2015, he has a 77.4 percent ground ball rate. The combination of weak contact and strikeouts hints at elite upside.


Rondon came in with a four run lead on Friday. He proceeded to allow a three run home run to Ryan Braun before finishing off the Brewers. He picked up a couple more low stress saves during the week. His performance has been decent, but his whiff rate is down slightly from last year and his walk rate is up. He's starting to look a little more like a mid-tier guy.


Familia picked up two more easy saves. He's up to 13 saves and a hold on the season. He's locked down 20 strikeouts against three walks in 17 innings. Any thought of re-installing Bobby Parnell in the ninth inning should be forgotten.


After last week's column, a reader asked why Familia wasn't ranked ahead of pitchers like Cody Allen. The short answer was track record. Prior to this season, Familia was a mid-3's ERA guy. This year, he's cut the walk rate and buffed his whiff rate all while continuing to induce grounders. I'm ready to start believing in some of those gains. He'll need more than 17 innings of excellence before any further promotions.


Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (10)


Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Joakim Soria Detroit Tigers

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers


Grilli has been battling back spasms and could cede the ninth inning to Jim Johnson. Such a demotion would be temporary, but it's worth picking Johnson up off waivers if he happens to be available. Grilli appeared yesterday and allowed one run and two hits in 0.1 innings. He took the loss.


There's little to report regarding Perkins, Soria, and Papelbon. All three relievers appeared at least twice in the last week without any drama. The same can't be said of Street. He blew saves last Wednesday and Thursday. He coughed up four runs in the process. He has since rebounded with a couple one-two-three saves.


Uehara appeared on consecutive days for the first time since his April 25th blown save. He recorded two outs without any nonsense. I continue to be wary about using him on back-to-back days. Fastball velocity doesn't matter too much for the splitter ball pitcher, but it was at a season low in that second outing.


We discussed the perception that Storen more closely resembles a setup or middle reliever than a closer.

Clearly, Storen isn't listening. He earned two saves and a win. His 1.29 ERA, nine saves, and 9.00 K/9 mark him as one of the top relief performers. Projections for future numbers are less sanguine.


Rodney allowed a solo home run for the second week in a row. Such things happen. As long as he isn't dishing out too many walks, I'm not worried about his job security or fantasy numbers.


I've promoted Rodriguez to this tier because he hasn't allowed a home run in over a month. The changeup artist has struggled with the long ball since joining the Brewers. However, a 11.08 K/9 and 1.38 BB/9 mark him as a valuable asset when the ball stays in the park. With the Brewers falling out of contention, don't be surprised to see him join a team like the Tigers, Blue Jays, or Marlins before long.


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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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