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Edwin Diaz
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Saves and Steals

Diaz Downgraded

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: August 14, 2019, 4:34 pm ET

Edwin Diaz entered 2019 as the consensus top closer in baseball. After three-quarters of the season, he’s been removed as the Mets primary ninth-inning guy. Seth Lugo is expected to receive most of the save opportunities going forward. Diaz remains in the late-inning mix. Remember when freshly minted general manager Brodie Van Wagenen traded Jarred Kelenic and others for Diaz and Robinson Cano? It’s safe to say this is one trade that has not worked out as hoped by the Mets new leadership.  

The Rays bullpen is full of surprising twists and turns. So, when Emilio Pagan rattled off four saves over a span of five days, it was rather unexpected. Usually, the Rays find an excuse to juggle the order of operations in their late-inning formulae. No other closer managed more than two saves in the week. The seasonal lead belongs to Kirby Yates with 33 saves closely followed by Aroldis Chapman (32), Brad Hand (29) and Will Smith (29).

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

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Tier 1: The Upper Elite (3)

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Yates has accomplished more than any other closer, and he has the skills to mostly maintain his present success. The one area where regression is likely is in home run rate. We can safely expect his 0.19 HR/9 and a 3.1 percent home run to fly ball ratio to quadruple over the final quarter of the season. That still yields around a 2.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.

Vazquez earned a promotion to the top tier in part because a one-closer tier feels disingenuous. He’s also earned the right to be counted among the best in the league. Unlike Yates, his season hasn’t required any special fortune. In fact, his rates are almost exactly what we should expect of Yates going forward.

If we’re going to offer acclaim for Vazquez, then we should also note that Smith is statistically a very similar pitcher except with a couple more home runs and a few missing strikeouts.

Tier 2: The Lower Elite (5)

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

Hand vulture a pair of wins on Sunday and Monday by giving up leads only to have the offense bail him out. Lucky him. There’s an argument to be made that he should be in the same tier as Vazquez and Smith. He probably would be without the recent blips.

Chapman’s temporary loss of command proved just that… temporary. He’s gone three straight outings without a walk and five straight without a run. It’s time to remove the training wheels.

At some point, we have to acknowledge all of these home runs Hader has allowed. He thrives on a single elite pitch, but his suspect command can lead to mistakes. It’s no accident that he’s allowed only 30 hits in 55.2 innings. It’s also no accident that 13 of those hits have gone over a wall.

Since the Dodgers have a healthy 18.5 game lead in the NL West, they can do silly things like schedule Jansen’s appearances. Technically, they’re only scheduling his off days His excellent rates and the Dodgers frequent wins should yield enough value to remain among the elite.

Tier 3: Core Performers (5)

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Ken Giles, Derek Law, Toronto Blue Jays

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

The problem with Osuna has always been his low (for an elite closer) strikeout rate. We expected him to make up for it in ERA and WHIP, but that has not been the case. Over the last calendar month, he’s posted a 6.97 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. If this goes on much longer, we could see Ryan Pressly climb the ladder.

Doolittle has blamed his recent struggles on fatigue. Since the Nationals are in a tight battle for a Wild Card slot, they can’t afford to manage his innings too carefully. It’s also possible that his long history of shoulder injuries is catching up to him. It’s not uncommon for pitching injuries to manifest as fatigue.

Giles returned to action last night after a brief hiatus. He looked sharp. If you happen to own Law, you should hang onto him. He’ll likely earn around a quarter of the Blue Jays remaining saves.

Tier 4: The Red Flag Club (7)

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Emilio Pagan, Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays

Seth Lugo, New York Mets

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

First, some accounting notes. Robles and Martinez were previously in the third tier. You’ll notice I did not append “down” arrows to their names. That’s because their demotion is purely technical – I changed where I drew the lines for each tier. They did nothing to earn a demotion, they’re simply below the new cutoff point.

Lugo would rank a tier higher if there was greater certainty in his role. The Mets are still invested in Diaz as their closer, and there’s reason to believe he can recover. On Twitter, there was some discussion of Diaz’s slider, specifically that the spin-axis has shifted, leading to different, less effective movement. A simple tweak could save the day.

After Rogers blew a save on Sunday via a grand slam to Carlos Santana, the Twins called upon Sergio Romo for the save on Tuesday. For now, I believe they were simply getting Rogers some extra rest. However, don’t be surprised if this turns back into an ugly committee situation.

Tier 5: Bland (5)

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers

Melancon pseudo-blew his first save opportunity with the Braves by allowing four runs. To the lowly Marlins! It’s been a long, long time since the Braves have had any consistency in their closer. Call it Craig’s Curse. Shane Greene was technically charged with the blown save in that ugly loss so it’s not like he’s looking like a better option. Luke Jackson and A.J. Minter may even re-enter the picture.

Tier 6: The Forgotten (4)

Ryne Stanek, Miami Marlins

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

Anthony Bass, Seattle Mariners

Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

As prophesied by yours truly, the Marlins do indeed to be leaning towards Stanek as their primary closer. It’s not yet locked in – Jose Quijada and Jarlin Garcia are among the alternative candidates. Stanek is ownable in a 12-team mixed league while the others can only be used in emergencies.

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Injured

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear – out for season)

Arodys Vizcaino, Seattle Mariners (shoulder inflammation – out for season)

David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain, out for season)

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (torn UCL, out for season)

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs (knee inflammation)

Jose Alvarado and Hunter Strickland returned to action in non-closing roles. Morrow’s forever rehab has progressed to live batting practice. Kimbrel will be activated in a few days if all goes according to plan.

The Deposed

Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

Anthony Swarzak, Atlanta Braves (deposed with Mariners)

Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox

Chris Martin, Texas Rangers

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs

Greg Holland, Washington Nationals (deposed with DBacks)

Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves

Sergio Romo, Minnesota Twins (traded)

Roenis Elias, Washington Nationals (traded)

Chris Martin, Atlanta Braves (traded)

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

Shane Greene, Atlanta Braves

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays

Hunter Strickland, Washington Nationals (traded)

Four erstwhile closers have been added to the List of Infinite Ignominy – two due to performance and two due to new circumstances upon their return from injury.

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.