Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Three things happened this week. The Felipe Vazquez scare continues in Pittsburgh. Seranthony Dominguez recorded a two-inning save, his second such save of the season. Last but certainly not least, Brad Ziegler is out as the Marlins closer.


Over in Pittsburgh, manager Clint Hurdle has issued the dreaded vote of confidence. After leaving the game on May 27 with an apparent serious injury, Vazquez miraculously recovered in time to pitch the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He performed well in the first two of those three appearances. Alas, three in a row was too much. On Thursday, he allowed five runs without recording an out – picking up the loss along the way. He returned to action yesterday, notching two strikeouts in a clean inning. The Pirates bullpen is rather deep. Kyle Crick is the latest handcuff. Richard Rodriguez, Tyler Glasnow, and Edgar Santana are all candidates to step in as well.


The Phillies are fighting a losing battle against the Nationals and Braves in the NL East. Strong contenders in the NL Central and NL West will make it hard for Philadelphia to capture a Wild Card. They can’t afford to give away games in the late innings. Thus, Hector Neris’ string of four straight appearances with a run allowed is… less than ideal. Seranthony Dominguez has allowed only two hits (no walks or runs) in 14.2 innings. Despite the short track record, it’s quite clear he’s the best reliever on the roster. While the Phillies may prefer to use him in a multi-inning role like Brewers fireman Josh Hader, perhaps they should put a pin in that plan.


The title of “Marlins closer” only matters to fantasy baseball managers. After a couple consecutive losses, the club decided to test some of their other pitchers in the ninth inning. Ziegler will shift into a middle relief role. He was always miscast as a closer. Kyle Barraclough is the man to roster in Miami, but there’s cause for concern. In 26.1 innings, he has 9.23 K/9, 5.13 BB/9, and a 1.37 ERA. However, the ERA is built upon a .117 BABIP. He doesn’t do anything special to limit quality of contact. In fact, hitters have managed a robust 37 percent hard hit rate. Wildness and regression probably add up to a 4.00 ERA going forward.


Let’s shift to the saves leaderboard. Keone Kela, Aroldis Chapman, and Sean Doolittle tied for the weekly lead with three saves apiece. For the season, Edwin Diaz’s 21 saves pace the league. Craig Kimbrel and Wade Davis are in close pursuit with 19 saves each.


Now, shall we go to the tiers?


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Tier 1: The Elite (2)


Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox


They’re still really good. Chapman did allow a run last Wednesday, but he was working with a comfy three run lead.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (10)


Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians


Last episode, I said Jansen was just one good week from rejoining the elite tier. He promptly confused me by averaging 91.7 mph on Thursday. We’re looking to see him around 93 mph or higher. We have a lot of data on Jansen. His ERA is closely associated with his velocity. When he’s down in the 91 mph range, he’s a 4.00 ERA guy. When he’s sitting 94, we can bank a sub-2.00 ERA. Since the shabby velo outing, he rebounded while at Coors Field. He did allow a run while recording the save on Friday.


Diaz blew the save on Friday. He immediately recovered with saves on Saturday and Sunday. Doolittle had a typically uneventful week.


Hand recorded another weird hold on Sunday. He came in the eighth to face Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett while protecting a 5-2 lead. Gennett actually hit a solo home run. However, the Padres pushed the lead back up to three runs in the home half of the eighth. Kirby Yates earned the save. For those looking to scrounge a few freebie saves, it looks like the Padres are increasingly eager to use Hand for tough left-handed hitters in the eighth inning. Yates could vulture a few more saves.


The Dodgers got to Davis on Sunday, piling up three runs in the process. He now has a 1.32 ERA on the road and a 5.91 ERA at home. I suspect those two rates will converge somewhere in the middle.


Allen seems to hit a rough patch every season. When the dust clears, he’s always a top five closer. This past week included a blown save loss and two saves in 2.1 innings. He allowed three runs across two outings – all scored via home run. History suggests I should be patient rather than demote him.


Last week, I cracked the third tier in half. Upon further reflection, I really just needed to promote a few guys into the “near elite” group. Treinen, Knebel, and Morrow have all the aspects of a valuable top closer. Iglesias is back from a short stint on the disabled list.


Tier 3: Maybe Good? (6)


Ken Giles, Houston Astros

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks

Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals


Giles flubbed a non-save situation on Sunday. I imagine the Astros don’t feel super confident about their 5.21 ERA closer, especially since they avoided using him in the postseason. However, they’re undoubtedly very aware of his advanced peripherals which support an ERA in the 2.00 to 3.25 range. I don’t think his job is at risk, although that can quickly change with another bad outing.


Norris had a week to forget. On Thursday, he was brought in for one batter in the eighth inning. With two inherited runners on base in a 5-5 tie, he promptly coughed up a three-run home run. He was immediately removed. The Cardinals later won when Vazquez melted down. A couple days later, Norris allowed a game tying solo home run. Once again, the St. Louis bats bailed him out. This time, he even notched a vulture win for his owners.


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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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