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Saves and Steals

Kela Ascending

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: September 20, 2019, 12:36 am ET

One of the perks of being a baseball writer is the relative unimportance of our subjects. In an increasingly strident world, baseball is just for fun. We find ways to take it very seriously, but we can also step back and acknowledge that it’s a game. On Tuesday morning, we were reminded that the wider world is a scary place from which the baseball community is not immune. Former Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested on a series of disturbing charges. In all likelihood, his career is over. Keone Kela will step into the ninth inning role for Pittsburgh.

In lighter news, Raisel Iglesias led the last week with four saves. Five more relievers netted a trio of saves. Kirby Yates (41) will probably finish the year atop the leaderboard. Aroldis Chapman (37) has a modest lead of second place with Roberto Osuna (35), Brad Hand (34), Josh Hader (33), Iglesias (33), and Will Smith (33) all in the mix for third place.

Tier 1: The Elite (5)

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Hendriks had a busy week, appearing five times. He recorded four saves but was handed a loss on Monday. Hader had a similar week. He also allowed a two-run home run. Fortunately, he was protecting a three-run lead. Smith is back in action after recovering from a back injury. He’s pitched effectively in two appearances. All three earned promotions due to their elite strikeout rates and run prevention.

Tier 2: The Good (6)

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twin

Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Cleveland Indians

Last night, Jansen was used on back-to-back days for the first time since late-June. He promptly coughed up two runs. While his strikeout and walk rates are fairly typical, Jansen has struggled to prevent runs this season (3.81 ERA). Neris may have recorded three saves, but he was also dinged for a couple runs. He was saddled with the loss on Saturday after failing to protect a tied game.

Kennedy is tied for the eighth-most saves this year, a feat all the more remarkable because he had a whopping three saves through the end of May. Taylor has a similar story. He tallied just four saves in the first two months of the season. Now he’s sitting on 28 saves. Both pitchers supply healthy strikeout totals and ratios.

If this column had run in its usual Wednesday slot, Hand would be listed among the injured with Wittgren ranked near the bottom of this tier. However, Hand threw a successful bullpen yesterday. It sounds like he’ll be available as early as Friday. He’s looked injured for some time so don’t be surprised if things turn sour.

Tier 3: Core Performers (10)

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Seth Lugo, New York Mets

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

Emilio Pagan, Tampa Bay Rays

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves

As a reminder, Giles and Lugo would be second tier relievers if they were used differently. Giles isn’t allowed to work multiple days in a row while Lugo almost exclusively makes two-inning appearances. If you need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a stray save, alternate Mets and Blue Jays relievers make for a good place to start.

Kela, a formerly successful closer with the Rangers, is expected to close for the Pirates. He has a 2.45 ERA with 10.87 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9. A hard-throwing fly ball pitcher, he relies on inducing soft contact. He’s consistently succeeded in this regard throughout his career.

Tier 4: Some Guys (6)

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

Doolittle hasn’t looked himself since before he went on the injured list. He still doesn’t look like himself. In particular, he’s struggling to induce whiffs. On the plus side, he’s only allowed one unearned run in six September appearances. He also has a hold, a loss, and no saves. Hudson locked down the save on Tuesday and might take the lead for any opportunities against heavily right-handed opponents. I expect this to turn into a straight handedness platoon.

Colome was called upon five times in the last week. He was touched for a couple runs. Givens also pitched five times and was spanked for five runs in 4.2 innings. He recorded no saves, a hold, and a loss over the span. Don’t be surprised if somebody else takes the next opportunity – perhaps Shawn Armstrong?

Workman, Leclerc, and Jimenez inched upwards within this tier due to potent strikeout rates and strong recent performances. All three have performed like second-tier closers recently, but the risk of a meltdown is too obvious to bump them into the third tier.

Tier 5: The Forgotten (3)

Matt Magill, Anthony Bass, Austin Adams, Seattle Mariners

Jose Urena, Miami Marlins

Jairo Diaz, Colorado Rockies

The Mariners are using their three best relievers in stopper roles, meaning they’re used at the first opportunity where their specific skills are valuable. Urena’s stuff hasn’t played up as effectively as hoped out of the bullpen. His fastball is two mph zippier, but it’s not leading to more whiffs. Unsurprisingly, Diaz was tattooed at Coors Field yesterday.



Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow – out for season)

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)

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies (blood clot, out for season)

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (elbow, out for season)

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

Shane Greene, Atlanta Braves

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays

Hunter Strickland, Washington Nationals (traded)

Ryne Stanek, Miami Marlins

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Brad Johnson

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