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Saves and Steals

Winding Down

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Poaching saves is particularly difficult at this late stage of the season. However, they're still out there. For example, Brandon Gomes earned a save for the Rays yesterday while their regular closer rested. The best way to snag one-off saves is to monitor usage. When a guy goes a few days in a row, pick up his setup man. A few clubs like the Rockies, A's, Rays, and Cubs strike me as slightly more likely to turn to a setup guy in the ninth.


While he's probably owned in your league, Wade Davis remains the best setup target. He's working on a relief no-hitter with two walks and 10 strikeouts (and, of course, no hits) over his last eight innings. The Royals bullpen is wilting at an inopportune time, and Davis could be asked to step up as a result.


Base thieves are on pace to pilfer about 2,500 bags in roughly 3,500 attempts. Dee Gordon is still five steals behind Billy Hamilton. The Reds outfielder returned to action this week and stole two bases in three tries. Four players stole three bases in three attempts – Xander Bogaerts, Kelby Tomlinson, Angel Pagan, and Joey Votto.


Tier 1: Elite (4)


Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Andrew Miller, New York Yankees

Craig Kimbrel, San Diego Padres


After striking out the side last Friday, Chapman blew the save yesterday. Luckily, he held on for the vulture win. Our top rated closer has 30 saves, a 1.80 ERA, and 107 strikeouts in 60 innings. A .360 BABIP and 4.50 BB/9 have led to a few disappointing outings. The Reds incomplete roster is the real villain. They've handed him just 33 opportunities.


Jansen pitched twice in non-save situations. His latest outing was ugly. He allowed three runs via a homer. He also struck out the side. Chris Hatcher is a candidate for the odd spot-save.


Miller pitched twice. He racked up seven strikeouts and a save in three perfect innings. Kimbrel didn't appear.


Tier 2: The Upside Crowd (6)


Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

Ken Giles, Philadelphia Phillies

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates


It was another full week of work for Familia. He saved three in four appearances. He allowed just one hit, no runs, and struck out five over four innings. Rosenthal was less busy with two saves in two outings.


Aside from Familia, Britton is probably the biggest revelation of the year. He was a solid closer last season, but a low strikeout rate hurt his overall value. He also relied heavily on a .215 BABIP. This season, the BABIP has regressed up to .308, but improvements to his strikeout rate have led to another sub-2.00 ERA. I anticipate viewing him as a top five closer entering 2016.


Robertson tossed one ugly frame in a non-save situation. He coughed up four runs (two earned) on two hits and a walk. He did strikeout the side though. Nate Jones is next in line if the White Sox opt to give Robertson some rest.


Despite often working more than one inning at a time, Giles has allowed just one run over the last two months. He's notched 13 saves and two wins over those 19 appearances. It would be nice if the Phillies handed him more save opportunities, but those will come in future seasons.


Allen had an odd week. First he allowed a run while locking down the save last Wednesday. Then he blew a save via inherited runner on Thursday. He lucked into a vulture win. Finally, he pitched in a non-save situation with little fanfare.


I bumped Melancon down to Tier 3 last week after two consecutive bad outings. Now I'm moving him back to the second tier. He has 46 saves on the season after adding three more in the last week. He no hit the competition over four innings and allowed just one walk.


Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (8)


Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays

Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Shawn Tolleson, Texas Rangers

Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals

Jonathan Papelbon, Washington Nationals

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros


After saving the day on Friday, Rondon blew it on Saturday. Even the best relievers allow the occasional home run and Rondon is a clear cut below the elite. He should maintain his ninth inning role. Pay attention to his next couple outings. If they're rocky, expect a quick hook from Joe Maddon.


On a stuff level, Tolleson has more in common with the typical middle reliever than a closer. However, there's no questioning his performance this season. He's saved 32 games in 34 opportunities. He picked up another win and a save in two outings. I worry about him retaining the role beyond this season, but he should finish strong.


We touched on Davis in the introduction. He has value because Greg Holland still doesn't look right. Holland didn't allow a run, but his velocity has plummeted in recent performances. He's down to about 90 mph. Loss of velocity can often signal an injury. It's poorly timed for the Royals, but at least they have elite alternatives. Holland's results were fine in two outings even if the velocity is worrisome.


It seems like Papelbon has struggled since joining the Nationals, but yesterday was his first blown save of the season. He allowed a solo home run but the Nats rallied to hand him a victory. Doug Fister of all people earned the save. Papelbon remains a solid if unspectacular closer.


Street's week started out fine. He faced nine batters over three innings and notched three saves. On Sunday in his third day of work in a row and fourth in five days, Street took the loss and a blown save via five runs and two home runs.


It was a week of vulture wins. Rodriguez added his name to the list on Thursday after blowing a one run lead via a solo shot. He also pitched once more in a non-save situation without incident.


Tier 4: Questions (6)


A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins

Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

Sean Doolittle, Drew Pomeranz, Oakland Athletics

Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves

Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants

Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks


He suffered a few hiccups, but Ramos looks to be back on track. He earned three easy saves this week. Elsewhere in Florida, Boxberger continues to lay the occasional bad egg. Yesterday, he was tagged for four runs on three hits and two walks. The Rays don't really have a backup closer at the moment so Boxberger should continue to work the ninth.


The A's aren't creating any save opportunities. Doolittle will probably continue to be viewed as the ninth inning guy despite a rough outing in a non-save situation. Personally, I'm more comfortable with Pomeranz working high leverage situations, but that's not how it's going to shake out.


It was a bad week for Vizcaino, but I'm bumping him up a tier anyway. He allowed five runs (four earned) in 1.2 innings. He's still a solid reliever with a plus fastball and a strikeout per inning. Short of an injury, the Braves won't make any changes in the ninth inning.


I've also moved Casilla and Ziegler up a tier despite no change to their projections. In both cases, they're generally reliable closers for teams that can create frequent opportunities for saves. Casilla saved one and Ziegler finished two over the last week.


Tier 5: Roller Coasters (5)


Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners

Kevin Jepsen, Trevor May, Minnesota Twins

Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers

Robbie Ross, Jean Machi, Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox

John Axford, Colorado Rockies


Rondon continues to tantalize with velocity and frustrate with runs allowed. He gave up another one yesterday, but he had a two-run lead. Expect the Tigers to find a replacement over the offseason.


I suppose Ross is the closer du jour in Boston. Machi and Tazawa haven't finished a game recently while Ross shut the door on Sunday. He profiles as a typical middle reliever, but at least he's pitching decently. The same can't be said for Machi.


Axford saved three this week only to spoil everything with a blown save yesterday. The Rockies did eventually win, but Axford didn't figure in the decision. He struck out eight batters over his last four innings.






Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies

Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins


Perkins could return as early as Friday. I'm done trying to guess his prognosis. Last time he came back, his neck pain spontaneously recurred.


The Deposed


Chad Qualls

Joaquin Benoit

LaTroy Hawkins

Miguel Castro

Steve Cishek

Addison Reed

Neftali Feliz

Fernando Rodney

Brett Cecil

Jenrry Mejia

Drew Storen

Tyler Clippard

Joakim Soria

Jim Johnson

Tommy Kahnle

Alex Wilson

Edward Mujica

Carson Smith


While I haven't listed them here, it would be fair to consider Machi and/or Tazawa as deposed. The Red Sox ninth inning has been unstable since Uehara went on the disabled list. Nobody has stepped forward to claim the job.




The Steals Department


With Joe Panik expected to miss the rest of the season, Kelby Tomlinson will be the Giants every day second baseman. The righty has a high BABIP approach at the plate with minimal power. He does have a solid base running profile with 25 steals in 557 plate appearances. He stole 57 bags in 564 plate appearances last season. As an untouted prospect, there are few scouting reports available. It's hard to guess if he can continue to sustain a high BABIP. It's something he did successfully in the minors, but that often doesn't translate to the majors.


Aaron Hicks has broken out, but fantasy owners have yet to respond. He's hitting .266/.322/.410 in 320 plate appearances with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases. He's brought his strikeout rate under control (16.3 percent) and he walks at a decent clip (7.5 percent). Hicks is owned in just seven percent of Yahoo leagues. As the Twins leadoff hitter, he's a three to four category threat. I couldn't recommend him more highly.


Owners have adjusted more quickly to Francisco Lindor; probably because he's a touted prospect. He's still only 48 percent owned. He should be up around 99 percent owned. Lindor has shocked his owners with a .311/.353/.465 line, eight home runs, and eight stolen bases. Even when adjusting for a couple areas of regression, Lindor projects as a top five shortstop. Offensively, only Jung-ho Kang and Carlos Correa have been better.  

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