Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Discarded Box

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A season of closer mayhem continues unabated. For months, I’ve warned about the eggshells upon which Brad Boxberger tread. As a homer prone reliever, a contending ball club can only take so many risks. Boxberger is out as the Diamondbacks closer, replaced by a committee. The damage is already done. They’ve fallen 2.5 games behind the NL West lead and will need a minor miracle to overtake the Rockies and Dodgers. An unstable bullpen won’t help matters.


In other contender news, a string of three bad outings from Bud Norris was all it took for the Cardinals to abandon ship. While I’ve been preparing you to use Jordan Hicks in a post-Norris world, Carlos Martinez is actually the man to own - except he was already owned in most leagues. Those who couldn’t bear to part with the borderline ace will at least salvage some saves.


From a real world perspective, the least meaningful closer change came in Washington D.C. Sean Doolittle is back in saddle again. This should put to rest the Nationals on-going ninth inning issues. When healthy, Doolittle is a top closer. He’s still in the process of recovering his velocity and shaking off the rust. He allowed a run during a save on Tuesday.


Roberto Osuna is the only reliever to lock down four saves over the last week. Two others – Martinez and Jeremy Jeffress – recorded three saves. Edwin Diaz’s seasonal lead is secure. He’s completed 54 saves. Wade Davis (39) and Craig Kimbrel (38) are next on the list with no hope of catching Diaz. He still has an outside shot at the record for saves in a season. Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 save 2008 season rates as the only campaign of over 60 saves.


Now, shall we go to the tiers?



Tier 1: The Elite (3)


Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox


Diaz was handed a rare loss on Tuesday while defending a tied game. The Padres managed to string together three hits. Otherwise, our elite pitchers performed swimmingly.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)


Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals


With the exception of Betances, our second tier pitchers had a good week. We did receive news that Jansen would require another surgery for his irregular heartbeat, but it can wait until after the season. Osuna, Vazquez, and Betances each allowed one run. In the case of Osuna and Vazquez, they still recorded the save. Betances happened to be pitching in a tied game and thus earned a loss. If he struggles his next time out, don’t be surprised to see David Robertson jump to the ninth inning role.


Doolittle still has to prove he’s healthy and can pitch normally. A full-strength Doolittle would be adjacent to Vazquez.


Tier 3: Core Performers (6)


Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves


Iffy command and home runs have plagued Iglesias in recent weeks. A solo home run led to a loss on Sunday. He rebounded with a couple clean innings over the last two days. Expect him to be unavailable Wednesday night. Look for Jared Hughes to handle the ninth.


Jeffress and Smith are pitching well. Minter has suffered a few hiccups lately. They all have one thing in common – internal competition. Jeffress has to fend off former closer Corey Knebel who appears to have recovered from his earlier blip of poor production. Smith has Mark Melancon looming. Minter will need to fend off Arodys Vizcaino who’s scheduled to be activated on Friday. Vizcaino is probably at least a week away from a high leverage opportunity. Minter does have a 7.71 ERA in his last seven innings. Another meltdown could force the Braves’ hand.


Tier 4: Second Choice Closers (5)


Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Brad Hand, Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays


Back in March, none of the five teams in this tier expected to be finishing the season with these guys as their closer. The lone exception is Strop who was potentially a part of the Cubs late-inning formula. As is often the case, Martinez’s stuff plays up in relief. He’s an imposing figure in the closer role. One word of warning – starters sometimes struggle when pitching multiple days in a row. We saw this with Seranthony Dominguez earlier this year.


Interesting developments are afoot in Cleveland where Allen may have regained the primary closer job. He recorded saves on Saturday and Tuesday. Hand had a shot for a save on Monday, but he blew it in a messy loss. He played setup man on Tuesday. Ultimately, the Indians will continue to use their late-inning relievers based on matchups. It could get messier with Andrew Miller back from the disabled list.


Giles is having a deeply weird season. His best slider is still AWOL. I’m not sure the Blue Jays will opt to tender him a contract. I probably wouldn’t in their place. Romo is perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. When the Rays pushed him into closer duty, I thought he was on his way out of a big league job. He had a 6.33 ERA at the time. Since the start of June, he’s posted a shiny 1.43 ERA in 37.2 innings with 18 saves.


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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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