Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Saves and Steals: Knebel Down

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


We have a lot to cover today. Let’s start with some fun news. A “new” top 10 closer has emerged in Pittsburgh. The athlete formerly known as Felipe Rivero will henceforth be named Felipe Vazquez. Here he is earning his first save under his new moniker. On to more serious business...

 

Velocity matters. Last week, I demoted Kenley Jansen from the top tier. Poor performance combined with a steep drop in velocity led to my itchy trigger finger. Even so, he only actually dropped from first to fifth overall. I tend to be quite conservative about changes to the rankings. Even so, I caught some flak for moving Jansen down on such a small sample of performance.

 

I felt I had enough info to do it because velocity doesn’t suffer from the same small sample issues as most other stats. It’s instantly informative. This week, you should prepare for a little déjà vu. The column title probably tips where we’re headed. In other news, we have lost fourth-ranked Corey Knebel to what sounds like a Grade 2 hamstring strain.

 

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

 

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Tier 1: The Elite (3)

 

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

 

All three of our elite pitchers are experiencing a loss of velocity. While it’s true that pitchers build velocity in the early months of the season, the effect is usually small. Chapman, Kimbrel, and Allen have all lost over one mph on their heater. I’m least concerned about Allen since he lives and dies with his breaking ball. He’s a current-day Brad Lidge. Chapman has averaged his typical 99 mph in four of five outings. He’s probably fine too.

 

I’m legitimately worried about Kimbrel. He’s hummed at exactly 95.9 mph for four straight appearances. That’s two to three mph below where he usually sits. Although he hasn’t allowed a run, his swinging strike rate is down, and his command has been shaky (7.20 BB/9). When Corey Knebel was healthy, I described him as Kimbrel with iffy command. Now it’s Kimbrel himself who fills that role. If he doesn’t improve his peripherals, he may slide down below Jansen.

 

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)

 

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays

Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

 

Over on RotoGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman produced a fantastic graphic comparing Jansen’s velocity with his swinging strike rates. It’s the second chart in this link. As you can see, the relationship is noticeably linear. Jansen has partially recovered from his Opening Day 89.1 mph velocity, but he’s still regularly sitting below 92 mph. With five outings under his belt, I think it’s safe to say he’s lost a tick or two. With reduced velocity come fewer whiffs, more balls in play, more baserunners, and more runs. He’s still a superb closer – I have him ranked fourth for a reason – but there’s cause for concern.

 

Vazquez, formerly Rivero, is also dealing with reduced velocity. I’m hoping cold weather is the culprit (Jansen doesn’t have that excuse). The southpaw has induced an insane and unsustainable 21.3 percent swinging strike rate. As long as he’s getting whiffs, the two mph drop in velocity can be overlooked for now. His ratios will take a while to recover from his Opening Day meltdown.

 

Not everybody has lost velocity. Diaz is throwing slightly harder. Through four innings, he’s struck out 11 of 14 batters faced, good for 24.75 K/9. If he remains half this unhittable, he’ll slide up the rankings. For now, it’s just four really good innings.

 

Osuna could post elite strikeout rates. Instead, he tries to induce easy ground ball outs. The result is probably a higher floor and lower ceiling for his seasonal stats.

 

A couple shaky outings from Hand had everybody rushing to the waiver wire for Kirby Yates. First off, Yates is way too homer prone to close. Second, he's hurt now. Third, I don’t believe for a second the Padres are going to unceremoniously dump Hand from the ninth inning after signing him to an extension. The club would be wise to manage his workload this season. Six of the eight runs he’s allowed are unearned. He’s closed saves in three straight appearances and is probably unavailable today.

 

I’ve been saying I want to see how Davis performs at Coors Field before moving him towards his former position in the tiers. So far, he has one blown save in one attempt at his new home park. Speculators could stash Adam Ottavino. Too be clear, Davis isn’t anywhere near losing his job.

 

Tier 3: The Core Performers (5)

 

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

Ken Giles, Houston Astros

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs

 

Madson recorded the save last night in what might be a sign of things to come. The ninth inning didn’t begin as a save opportunity. Sammy Solis failed to shut the door, leaving it up to Madson to record the final two outs. Since Doolittle has recurring shoulder injuries, the Nationals may be wary of bringing him in mid-frame. Madson could sneak a few more saves as a result.

 

Familia is probably unavailable tonight after throwing 3.2 innings over the last four days. Along with the rest of the Mets, he’s off to a hot start. In eight innings, he has seven saves, 10 strikeouts, and no runs allowed. His opening week command issues have improved too.

 

My evaluation of Giles has not changed. However, it’s possible he’ll be sharing duties. Brad Peacock earned the save on Sunday. Giles was unavailable for unspecified reasons. The next day, Peacock grabbed a one-out hold. Giles later recorded a one-out save. It was his first of the season. The lack of role clarity led to the change in ranking.

 


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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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