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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The Steals Department
Old friend Adam Eaton emerged from a long slumber to nab three bases in the last week. He was joined by Delino DeShields as the only runners to reach three swipes. Fifteen others managed a pair of thefts. Mallex Smith finally overtook Adalberto Mondesi for the seasonal lead with 32 steals. Mondesi still ranks second with 31 steals followed by Ronald Acuna (28), Jonathan Villar (26), Trea Turner (25), and Jarrod Dyson (25).
Tier 1: The World Beaters (3)
Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
While Acuna’s performance is certainly noteworthy, he’s required 558 plate appearances to reach this level. Smith only has 437 plate appearances while Mondesi (360), Turner (370), and Dyson (347) have also needed far fewer opportunities to show off their wheels. That said, Acuna still deserves credit for leading all of baseball with 14 steals in the last calendar month. Nobody else reached double digits.
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (6)
Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Jonathan Villar, Baltimore Orioles
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Yelich was demoted from the top tier for a couple reasons. Like Acuna, he’s needed quite a few plate appearances to reach his current 23 swipes. A couple nagging injuries might also reduce his proclivity to run. If the Brewers fall out of the playoff race, he’s even more likely to drop anchor. For now, they’re in the thick of the action, 1.5 games back of the second Wild Card.
Tier 3: Assorted Rabbits (7)
Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
Gordon is back in action for the Mariners. He’s doing his usual swing-at-everything routine. His tenure as a starting major leaguer is probably coming to an end, although it’s not like the Mariners have anything better with which to replace him.
Tier 4: Names to Watch (11)
Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres
Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers
Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Oscar Mercado, Cleveland Indians
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies
Previous reports suggesting Mondesi will return this season have softened. While his rehab is progressing on pace, there are now hopes he’ll make it back before the end of the season. I still believe he could be a valuable stash for head-to-head playoffs. His price should be on the decline too.
Joining the list are Baez and Kingery, both of whom showed off their wheels in the last month. Real world playoff chases can trigger more stolen base attempts. Baez has plenty of experience creating havoc. Kingery hasn’t made much noise since nabbing 29 bases in 34 attempts between two minor league levels in 2017. He has more than enough speed and judgment to be a 20 steal threat.