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Blake Treinen
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Saves and Steals

Lost Command

by Brad Johnson

Finally, the saga is complete. The Chicago Cubs are the owners of a shiny new Craig Kimbrel. The former top reliever didn’t get anywhere near his original asking price in free agency – rumored to have been upwards of $100MM. Instead, he’ll settle for a three-year guarantee of between $43MM and $59MM. He’s expected to begin pitching in minor league games later this week with a return to the majors due by the end of the month.

Switching gears, three relievers tied for the league lead with three saves in the last week. Josh Hader and Hector Neris pitched well while Blake Treinen survived despite plenty of mistakes. My earlier concerns about Hader’s usage appear to have been unnecessary. He’s seventh in the league with 16 saves. Kirby Yates still leads by a comfortable margin with 23 saves. Brad Hand (19), Kenley Jansen (19), and Shane Green (19) are tied for second.

And now, shall we go to the tiers?

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Tier 1: The Elite (7)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Diaz, Yates, and Jansen had uneventful weeks. Chapman blew a save via an unearned run in his most recent appearance. Fortunately, the Yankees supplied him with a victory in the bottom half of the inning. Osuna blew a save in similar circumstances but didn’t stick around long enough to be credited with the win. Hader churned through 3.1 hit-less innings, recording nine strikeouts in the process. Vazquez seems to be in a mini-slump. He’s allowed a total of six runs in his last seven appearances. I see no cause for concern – his strikeout rate remains imposing.

Tier 2: Warty Relief Aces (3)

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

As a reminder, this tier consists of players who have pitched like Tier 1 closers but feature a fatal flaw. Giles is likely to be traded midseason, probably to a setup role. That’s increasingly likely for Hand and Doolittle too as the Indians and Nationals fall out of the playoff race. Both clubs have the potential to rebound enough to justify keeping their top relievers.

UPDATE: Giles is headed to the injured list with right elbow inflammation. Alternatives in Toronto are sparse. Joe Biagini is the guy I'd first try with Daniel Hudson as a possible second choice.

Tier 3: Core Performers (11)

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals

Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers

Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks

The “core” group has grown quite large. These are guys who either lack job security or standout strikeout rates. Treinen dropped to this tier due to command issues. He’s now allowed 5.13 BB/9 including six walks in his last six innings. His 8.91 K/9 isn’t helping matters. Even though he did manage to notch three saves in the last week, he also allowed three runs in the process.

Iglesias had a nice 12-game scoreless streak going before Tuesday. He was brought into a tied game and promptly allowed a run on two hits and two walks. Iglesias complained about pitching in tied games earlier in the season. It’s hard to wonder if he’s not deep inside his own head.

Jackson botched a save on Sunday, although he also struck out the side. He was back to close out the game on Tuesday, but the finally inning was rained out. A.J. Minter returned to the Atlanta bullpen and was immediately used in a setup role. He pitched well at Triple-A and could challenge Jackson for saves.

Although I still believe Ty Buttrey is the best reliever in the Angels ‘pen, Robles has done nothing to lose the job. That alone is worthy of a status upgrade. Colome had his worst week of the season, taking his first loss and allowing three runs in as many innings. Holland allowed a pair of solo blasts in a ridiculous homer-fest at Citizen’s Bank Park on Monday. Neris hammered out three saves. Smith and Hicks notched a pair.

Tier 4: Mess Hall (5)

Diego Castillo, Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs

Shawn Kelley, Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Alvarado remains on emergency leave. He might re-join the club later this week. Sadly for speculators, his absence has coincided with a blight of save opportunities for the Rays. In this case, the “mess” isn’t related to performance. We’ll have this pair promoted up a tier as soon as Alvarado returns.

Barnes is stuck in a downward spiral. He’s allowed six runs over his last 3.2 innings. The strikeouts are still present so, like with Vazquez, I’m not overly concerned. Whereas Vazquez’s ranking was practically unaffected, I’ve bumped Barnes down because he’s part of a four-pitcher bullpen committee.

Rogers is battling a minor back injury. Trevor May nabbed the latest save opportunity for the Twins which could be a taste of things to come. Parker was probably available and yet he was passed over for May.

Aside from a harmless solo home run, Strop hasn’t had any serious missteps since returning from injury. He is, however, on borrowed time. Kimbrel will ride to the Cubs ninth-inning rescue by the end of the month.

Kelley had a rough week, but his primary competition was even worse. The Rangers still believe Leclerc will regain the closer role, but they can’t be pleased their splitter specialist has now allowed four runs in his last three innings of work. Kelley coughed up two runs over the same span.

Tier 5: The Forgotten (4)

Anthony Bass, Seattle Mariners

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins

The Braves battered Romo on Sunday. Last week, I wrote about how his results were better than his fundamentals. That’s no longer the case after his latest disasterpiece. His 5.48 ERA is completely luck neutral. It’s truly an “earned” run average.

For the first time all season, the Royals managed to hand Kennedy multiple save opportunities in a week. He responded with two saves and six strikeouts in three innings.

Givens’ might be back on top of the Orioles bullpen. In four outings since May 31, he has a pair of saves eight strikeouts, and no hits allowed in 4.1 innings. His only baserunner came via a walk.

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Injured

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)

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

Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)

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

David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain)

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (family emergency)

Robertson is expected to begin a throwing progression soon. Strickland had a setback and will require reevaluation after a few days of rest.

The Deposed

Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

Anthony Swarzak, Atlanta Braves (deposed with Mariners)

Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox

Chris Martin, Texas Rangers

Steve Cishek, Chicago Cubs

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

Like Cishek, Oberg wasn’t expected to retain the job once the guy he was filling in for returned.

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