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Mallex Smith
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Saves and Steals

Mallex on the Move

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: May 30, 2019, 12:41 am ET

It’s the year of the committee. At least nine clubs haven’t named a formal closer, instead preferring to play mix and match in the late-innings. Interestingly, some of the clubs have received good results (Twins and Rays) while others are outright disasters (Royals and Mariners).

This has only increased the value of primary closers. Sergio Romo, for example, leaves much to be desired in most categories. However, when the Marlins have a good week, he’ll pile on some fantasy numbers. He’s one of four closers to notch three saves this week. The others were Hector Neris, Aroldis Chapman, and Roberto Osuna. The seasonal lead belongs to Kirby Yates (21) with Shane Greene (17) trailing. Three others – Kenley Jansen, Chapman, and Osuna – are tied for third with 15 saves.

And now, shall we go to the tiers?

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Tier 1: The King (1)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been on velocity watch with Diaz. From April 22 through May 26, the King of Closers failed to eclipse an average of 97 mph in any outing. This was odd because he’s always had a very consistent fastball velocity. While he had occasional single-outing blips of this nature in the past, his 2019 velocity slump ran 14 consecutive appearances.

An astute reader will note the usage of the past tense. On Tuesday night, he averaged a more typical-for-him 97.3 mph. It’s just one outing so we should continue to keep an eye on him.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Chapman, Yates, and Hader are locked in cruise control. Jansen and Vazquez appeared only once.

Last week, I gushed about Osuna’s excellent walk and hit prevention while wondering if and when a lack of strikeouts could come back to haunt him. The answer was the past week. In four outings, he allowed five runs and three home runs. The Astros weren’t harmed in making of this slump – Osuna still recorded three saves and a win.

Tier 3: Warty Relief Aces (5)

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Treinen managed to skate through an ugly outing on Saturday. He was fortunate to be handed a three-run lead. While his stuff remains visually impressive, he’s failing to repeat his excellent 2018 from a statistical perspective. The suspect command he showed in years past has returned.

Hicks was taken to the cleaners on Sunday by the Braves. In his three most recent outings, he’s allowed five runs. He’s up to a 4.24 ERA, hardly the premium rate he teased earlier this year. The stuff, like Treinen’s, remains extremely impressive. He’s capable of going on binge of dominance.

Doolittle also had a shaky week, coughing up five runs across two bad outings. In a third appearance, he recovered to strike out the side.  

Tier 4: Core Performers (7)

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Boston Red Sox

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers

Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks

It would be easy to point to the numbers posted by Neris and Smith and claim they belong in a higher tier. We should remember Neris occasionally loses feel for his signature splitter. Additionally, don’t forget the Phillies are run by Gabe Kapler, a young manager who loves to tinker with player usage. As for Smith, he remains a prime trade candidate.

While nothing has technically changed about Barnes, it’s become increasingly clear he’ll be used any time after the start of the eighth inning when the opposing heart of the order is due up. This, such as last night, frequently leads to his usage at inopportune times for his fantasy owners. I specifically warned about his unsustainably low walk rate in recent weeks. He proceeded to hand out four free passes over his last three outings. One of those occurred during a loss last Saturday. Walden has taken over for Ryan Brasier as the second-string closer.

Colome has pitched two days in a row. Look for Kelvin Herrera or Evan Marshall to be used tonight. Greene had a meltdown outing last Thursday but all five runs were unearned. He still has an unusually crisp 1.17 ERA. Regression is coming.

Holland is the ultimate sell-high asset. I’m utterly convinced the walls will come crashing down on his heretofore excellent hit prevention. His stuff simply doesn’t support these outcomes. I’ve cited looming regression for weeks as a reason to leave him in the fifth tier. However, his case is very similar to Greene’s, right down to the shiny 1.53 ERA. Since he has no internal competition for the closer role, I’ve opted to include him here. As noted in the intro, there’s value in a closer with an unchallenged job.

Tier 5: Red Flag Club (4)

Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, Los Angeles Angels

Steve Cishek, Chicago Cubs

Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays

Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb, Atlanta Braves

Robles is inching closer to the hot seat. He nearly fumbled a win on Saturday by allowing two runs. The offense bailed him out. In Chicago, it’s unclear if Cishek will retain the closer job when Strop returns.

Alvarado and Castillo are both in simultaneous mini-slumps. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason to fuss. They both have six saves and will continue to split the bulk of the late-inning duties.

Newcomb’s run of excellent relief work came to an end last week. Pitching on consecutive days, he allowed two solo home runs. Jackson earned a win and a save in two scoreless appearances. He’s continued to pile up ground ball contact.

Brad Johnson

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