Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Rondon-Giles Roulette

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What are you doing to us Houston? Hector Rondon ascended to the closer role for a brief span from June 6 through June 10. He pitched thrice – all in save situations. The three save streak triggered a race to the waiver wire. Just when it looked like change was in the air, Ken Giles stepped out of the bullpen to protect a three-run lead on Tuesday. Notably, Rondon’s saves came with one or two run leads. Perhaps both pitchers will share the role? Rondon is seemingly more trusted at the moment with close margins. Even if Giles clings to the job for now, the Astros have shown an extreme willingness to push him aside at the smallest hint of trouble. One more detail to note - the Houston Chronicle said Rondon was unavailable yesterday. The why of it – either a minor injury or simple slow recovery – is unknown.


In other news, Zach Britton is back in action. His velocity is down two mph, yet he’s still inducing insane ground ball rates. Command was an issue in his first outing – he walked three batters. The Orioles hope he can shove Brad Brach aside in time for a trade deadline haul. With Britton, Brach, and Darren O’Day all on the trade block, it’s anyone’s guess who will close for the Orioles after July 31. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier are early favorites, but there’s nothing preventing the club from trading them too.


The last week belonged to Edwin Diaz, Joakim Soria, and Aroldis Chapman. They each saved four games apiece. Soria in particular was a surprise since I thought Nate Jones still had a tenuous grasp on the job as of last Wednesday. For the season, Diaz (25) has opened up a sizable lead over Craig Kimbrel (21), Brad Hand (20), and Wade Davis (20).


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


Guess what? These two guys are still fantastic. Kimbrel did allow a couple runs in a non-save situation.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (9)


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


Last Thursday, Jansen allowed a solo home run to Francisco Cervelli. Jansen quickly raced to an 0-2 count via a couple nasty front door cutters. Cervelli appeared completely baffled by the pitch, diving out of the way of inside strikes. He baited Jansen into throwing it a third time, and hammered it deep to left. The Dodgers had a two-run lead. No harm, no foul for Jansen.


Diaz continues to roll unimpeded. He’s well on his way to 100 strikeouts. Doolittle also has an outside shot at a 100-strikeout season, and he’ll likely feature better ratios than Diaz.


Over the next couple months, we’re going to hear a lot of trade rumors revolving around Hand. After signing a long-term extension, the Padres won’t be highly motivated to deal him. However, they would be foolish to completely ignore overtures. They can credibly demand more than a top prospect as he compares favorably to pitchers like Chapman, Kimbrel, and Giles who were traded with less excess value on their contracts. Hand has also been rather abused over the last few seasons. Since 2016, no reliever has thrown more innings (it’s not even close). He’s also made the third most appearances over that span. The heavy workload will eventually catch up to him.


Davis last pitched a full week ago. He blew a save via a hit batter, single, and two wild pitches. It certainly wasn’t his cleanest appearance. Iglesias tossed a perfect three strikeout inning in the same game. The next day, working for the third game in a row, Iglesias took the loss via a walk, two hits, and one run allowed.


The Cubs skipped Morrow on Saturday, but it was just to get him an extra day of rest. Watch for similar skips in future weeks. It’s a possible sign he’s not entirely healthy. Minor injuries can sometimes manifest as slow recovery between outings. Steve Cishek could nab a save or two.


Tier 3: Maybe Good? (5)


Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks

Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals


Allen’s struggles continued last Saturday. A two-run home run led to another blown save and a loss. Now is a good time to buy low in the hopes he’ll soon go on one of his patented hot streaks. He does this every year.


Herrera blew a save on Tuesday via solo home run. He’s still having a solid season. Trade talks should pick up in the next few weeks. Vazquez has worked sparingly since his latest blow up on May 31. He’s held opponents scoreless in 3.1 innings.


Norris is in a mini-slump. Over his last eight appearances, he’s allowed a 7.71 ERA due entirely to an unfortunate blend of hits and home runs. His 2.29 xFIP (an ERA estimator) over the span suggests he’s doing just fine. Beware, “fine” won’t cut it with Jordan Hicks mid-breakout. The fireballing righty has adjusted his slider. Since doing so, he’s recorded 13.15 K/9 and a 2.08 ERA. Hicks is clearly the closer of the future for St. Louis.


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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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